Terry Eagleton 1943-
(Full name Terrence Francis Eagleton) English critic, novelist, essayist, nonfiction writer, screenwriter, and playwright.
The following entry presents an overview of Eagleton's career through 1999.
An erudite scholar and influential cultural theorist, Terry Eagleton is widely regarded as the one of the foremost Marxist literary critics on the contemporary academic scene. With the publication of Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976) and Literary Theory (1983), a popular college text, Eagleton won recognition for producing highly informed though accessible works of literary criticism that explore the relationship between literature, history, and society. While Eagleton's Marxist perspective is clearly apparent in his writings, his work also demonstrates a regard for other theoretical approaches such as feminism and psychoanalysis. English by education as well as birth, Eagleton displays a notable concern for the history, politics, and culture of Ireland. By urging critics to move out of the isolation that academia tends to foster, he manifests a desire that criticism be used to promote a more equitable society.
Eagleton was born in Salford, England, where his father worked as an engineer. He attended local schools before studying at Cambridge University, where he received his B.A. in 1964. He earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge in 1968. While at Cambridge, he worked with the critic Raymond Williams, under whose influence he rejected the orthodoxies of New Criticism, a critical approach that treats the literary text as autonomous and unconnected to moral, historical, or political realities. Eagleton served as a fellow in English at Cambridge from 1964 to 1969 until moving to Oxford University. He was married from 1966 to 1976. At Oxford, he became a fellow and tutor in Poetry, a position that he held until 1989, when he became a lecturer in Critical Theory. Eagleton continues to work at Oxford, holding the post of Thomas Warton professor of English and Literature, which he received in 1992.
Eagleton's writings reflect his interest in examining ideologies as they are expressed in literature. The tool with which he prefers to explore ideologies is Marxist literary theory, which takes into account—unlike New Criticism—the relationships that historical, political, and social conditions have to works of literature. Eagleton's theoretical stance, while it has not remained static during his career, is apparent in his first book, The New Left Church (1966). In this work he combines literary criticism, Marxist political analysis, and Catholic theology in an attempt to reconcile Roman Catholicism with socialist humanism. With Shakespeare and Society (1967), he released his first book of criticism on a traditional literary topic. Demonstrating his rejection of New Criticism, Eagleton refuses to regard Shakespeare's work as an autonomous entity; instead, he treats his writings as inseparable from Elizabethan social issues. Investigating the conflict between individualism and social responsibility in Shakespeare's later plays, Eagleton argues that while Shakespeare was actually a political conservative who had an interest in maintaining the contemporary social order, his presentation of individualism and sexual desire undermines the conventional structures of law and marriage. Eagleton revisited this subject in William Shakespeare (1986).
In The Body as Language (1970), Eagleton confronts the human alienation that capitalism creates by advocating cooperation between Christianity and revolutionary socialism. Following this book, the author was not to return to Christian doctrine as a major topic in his writings. Instead, for his next two books Eagleton trained his Marxist theory on specific literary figures. Exiles and Emigrés (1970) examines why so much important twentieth-century English literature has been written by non-English authors such as Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Henry James, and James Joyce.
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