What is the relation between Marxism and New Historicism?

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The New Historicism attempts to embed a work of literature in its historical context. This goes beyond the traditional historical approach to literature, which might discuss a "period," like "the Elizabethan era," large political events, and the spirit of the age in broad, general terms. New Historicism's aim is to...

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The New Historicism attempts to embed a work of literature in its historical context. This goes beyond the traditional historical approach to literature, which might discuss a "period," like "the Elizabethan era," large political events, and the spirit of the age in broad, general terms. New Historicism's aim is to get much more detailed and granular about what was going at a particular time and in a particular place. If characters in a novel, for example, live on a real, historical street, a New Historicist might research what was going on on that street in the time the novel is set.

New Historicism often also places an emphasis on looking at "little people," such as the servant classes in a novel, or the nitty-gritty of how small items are paid for or how seemingly small technological changes impact the lives of characters. For example, in her book Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Worldly Realism, Pam Morris discusses on a granular level changes in electricity—the increasing access people had to electricity in the early twentieth century in and around London—in relation to Virginia Woolf's novel The Years, citing the dates of various government acts to expand the electrical grid. This is not "big story" history: it is not Hitler and the ascension of new monarchs and elections and grand sweeps, but the little stuff that impacts daily life.

With that said, the connection to Marxism is clear. Marxism and Marxist literary criticism root themselves in an ideology that privileges the historical, insisting that nobody lives in an ideal space outside of history. The historical moment you live in minutely determines how you live. Marxism rejects any kind of "universalist" reading of literature that tries to take a work out of time, space, or the economic world as if those forces don't matter. Marxist criticism, instead, focuses on all the ways the historical moment plays out in literature and impacts the daily lives of characters.

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Both Marxist and New Historicist criticism emphasize the cultural context of a work of literature in their techniques of analysis. In opposition to schools of thought like the New Criticism, these critical theories argue that one cannot understand a work independent of the environment in which it was produced. The main difference between the two is that Marxist literary criticism is more focused on the economic aspects of power relations, while New Historicism has a broader approach. A New Historicist might analyze power relations in a text, but they could also deal with how elements of the cultural context such as religion, visual art, the status of science, etc. would have affected the production of the literary text. To distinguish between a Marxist and a New Historicist critique of a text, find out what aspect of the cultural context they are using to illuminate the work. If the contextual element is socioeconomic, the piece is most likely using a Marxist approach; if the historical context provided deals with something well outside the range of economic power relations, it is more likely New Historicist. Marxist criticism also began substantially earlier than New Historicism, which emerged in the 1980s.

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New Historicism is a literary theory that hopes to study intellectual history by examining authors. It is the idea that no author can be unbiased. The culture of the time in which a work was written influence the author's perspective. Therefore, in order to understand the text, one must analyze the social, political, and economic climate in which the author lived.

A focal point of Marxism is the abolition of the class system. Though opposed to it, Marxists do not underestimate the influence of the class system, seeing it as a force of oppression. Political philosophers Marx and Engels also claimed to have hacked the rules of history, which is pushed forward by incessant class warfare.

New Historicism and Marxism are linked in their appreciation of cultural context. Both believe in the impact of history on cultural developments.

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New Historicism is an approach to a text that looks at the historical context of the author and his or her time and the ways in which the time period influenced the author's work. New Historicism does not prioritize the literary study of a text. For critics who practice New Historicism, the text, as the source below suggests, is a jumping-off point to understand an historical era. In a similar manner, another school of literary theory called Cultural Materialism also uses the text as a way to examine history. Cultural Materialists use a Marxist approach to understand the way in which what people read is influenced by power dynamics in the society. Therefore, both movements look at the ways in which the society and the time period influence the creation of a text and prioritize this way of looking at a text over a literary analysis of a text.

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New Historicism is a theory that argues that any text must be studied from the context of the author and the text itself - the historical forces that influenced the work must be analysed. New Historicism therefore investigates how a work of literature was influenced by the time in which it was produced.

A New Historicist often looks at the ways in which specific groups of people are marginalised in work of literature. This is where New Historicism and Marxism share some links, as Marxism is an approach that emphasises the importance of class struggle in society. Thus, an examination of a novel by Jane Austen, say, might identify that the sphere of reference is focussed upon the landed gentry alone. Combining New Historicism and Marxism would result in an approach that would explore how the working class are exluded and marginalised in her works, and also critically identify how marrying beneath oneself or below one's social sphere was frowned upon by Austen.

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