Myths of Modern Individualism (Magill Book Reviews)
Ian Watt was one of the most distinguished modern scholar-critics and teachers of fiction. At the time of Watt’s death in 1995, this study was nearly completed. Watt’s widow and editor then put the final touches to the book, which constitutes an impressive investigation in comparative literature and mythography. Watt’s method combines formal textual analysis with intellectual history and socioeconomic background.
Watt considers the Faust myth as a new form of an ancient mythological pattern that makes human knowledge a threat to divine powers. As for Don Quixote, Cervantes has him setting out to do good in a world he believes to be neatly divided into virtues and vices. Soon the question of what is good or bad becomes exceedingly problematic, however, and Cervantes shows the world to be resistant to simple solutions.
Watt believes that Don Juan’s appeal as a trickster and sexual adventurer depends on the hypocrisy of a world that publicly condemns yet nevertheless secretly admires a successful, amoral hedonist. In ROBINSON CRUSOE (1719), Defoe shows how an ordinary man, stranded alone for many years on an island, can subdue nature to his own material purposes. Crusoe is both an individualistic Puritan and a utilitarian capitalist.
All four heroes are markedly individualistic, are isolated from their family members, avoid marriage, and form their only close tie with a male servant. None conforms to social norms....
(The entire section is 249 words.)
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Myths of Modern Individualism (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Ian Watt was one of the most distinguished modern scholar/critics and teachers of fiction. A renowned perfectionist, he published only two books before his death but virtually finished two others, of which this text is one. His first study, The Rise of the Novel (1957), analyzes the writings of three seminal authors: Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding; colleagues consider it definitive. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century (1979) examines Conrad’s influence on such contemporaneous writers as Henry James and undertakes a meticulous exegesis of the Polish-born Englishman’s work. The second volume, Conrad in the Twentieth Century, was still being edited when Watt died.
At the time of Watt’s death, Myths of Modern Individualism: Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Robinson Crusoe was nearly completed, after having been conceived in the late 1940’s. Watt’s widow and editor put the final touches to the book, which amounts to an impressive investigation and elucidation in the fields of comparative literature and mythography. Watt’s method is remarkably synthetic, combining formal textual analysis with intellectual history and socioeconomic background. His style is compressed yet clear, precise and painstaking. As revealed in this work, Watt’s mind and learning are formidable.
He chooses his quartet of myths as those most influential and lasting in modern European consciousness. No one would...
(The entire section is 2280 words.)