Terry Eagleton Essay - Critical Essays

Eagleton, Terry


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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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. Myths of Power (1975) looks at the work of the Brontë sisters in light of the emerging industrial class of their time. Eagleton's next work, Marxism and Literary Criticism, exerted a significant impact on the practice of literary criticism. Here Eagleton argues that the artist does not “create” something from nothing, but instead “produces” a work that is determined by historical and ideological conditions. In addition to presenting the concept of the author as producer, Eagleton also considers the relationships between form and content and that of the writer and social commitment. Asserting in Criticism and Ideology (1976) that Marxism is the only methodology free of the ideological bias that other analytical approaches entail, Eagleton maintains that the goal of criticism is to reveal the ideological forces that make up a text. In Walter Benjamin (1981), Eagleton argues that Benjamin's revolutionary criticism has not been given proper attention. He also displays in this work an interest in feminism. In The Rape of Clarissa (1982) Eagleton applied a feminist approach, in addition to Marxist and psychoanalytic theories, to his interpretation of the eighteenth-century novel Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.

Eagleton is perhaps best known for Literary Theory, which has become a popular instructional text among academics. In this work, Eagleton not only surveys such major literary theories as structuralism, semiotics, and phenomenology, but also discusses the historical and ideological conditions behind each theory to demonstrate its limitations as well as its significance. Eagleton also contends that students would benefit from a study of rhetoric, as was practiced from antiquity to the eighteenth century. He also favors a cultural discourse that would eradicate the distinctions between literature and non-literature. In The Function of Criticism (1984), which offers a polemical history of the critical establishment from the eighteenth century to the present, Eagleton attempts to sway criticism away from its preoccupation with literary texts and estrangement from society in the interest of returning it to its traditional involvement in cultural politics. In Saints and Scholars (1987), his only novel to date, Eagleton satirically explores the beginnings of modern European thought. Set in Ireland in 1916, the novel involves Irish revolutionary James Connolly, who has escaped his real-life execution, and his encounters with philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell; Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses; and Mikhail Bakhtin's brother, Marxist literary critic Nikolai. Besides showing how religious, economic, and political forces affected society in the early twentieth century, their conversations serve as a debate of the theoretical and practical limitations of thought and social action.

Eagleton returned to criticism with The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990), in which he illustrates how social and political forces influence a society's aesthetic conceptualizations. His analysis considers the work of Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, G. W. F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Nietzsche to examine how these forces affect the formation of aesthetic thought. In Ideology (1991), Eagleton scrutinizes the concept of ideology itself and its various manifestations, again providing a survey of major theoretical positions and their proponents in the process. In Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (1995), Eagleton proposes that Heathcliff in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights was actually a refugee from the great Irish potato famine. In this series of essays, Eagleton confronts what he considers to be a revisionist view of Irish history, one that seeks to diminish the impact of the potato famine and nineteenth-century English politics on the period's writers. Eagleton also addressed issues concerning Irish culture in the essay collection Crazy John and the Bishop (1999). In The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996), Eagleton defends the relevance of Marxist theory against the current preference among critics for postmodernism. He argues that postmodernism, with its view of the world as fragmented and truth as indeterminate, is an inadequate successor to Marxism, which in its critique of capitalism can offer a more concrete moral vision for society.

Critical Reception

Even those colleagues who disagree with Eagleton's Marxist position and interpretation of ideology tend to commend his passionate writing. Eagleton has been praised for his humor and wit as well as for demonstrating a graceful style. In his first major work, Marxism and Literary Criticism, Eagleton was hailed not only for his writing technique but for his concise explication of the obtuse theories of European Marxist critics and his provoking treatment of the author as “producer.” He was criticized, however, for a lack of textual examples and for being too self-referential. His second major work, Literary Theory, was similarly lauded by critics for serving as an accessible, comprehensible introduction to its subject. The book was also praised for its consideration of the relationship between literary theories and the ideological conditions in which they arise. On the other hand, many critics rejected his suggestion that literature and literary theory are illusions and that the study of literature be replaced with the study of rhetoric. The Ideology of the Aesthetic and Ideology also elicited considerable critical response, with many commending Eagleton's impressive range and insight into their subjects, and others finding his arguments flawed and merely polemical. His critics notwithstanding, Eagleton remains a prominent literary theorist, one who, having reexamined the tradition of criticism and the role of the critic, has greatly influenced both students and professional academics.

Principal Works

The New Left Church (essays) 1966

Shakespeare and Society: Critical Studies in Shakespearean Drama (criticism) 1967

The Body as Language: Outline of a “New Left” Theology (nonfiction) 1970

Exiles and Emigrés: Studies in Modern Literature (criticism) 1970

Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës (criticism) 1975

Criticism and Ideology: A Study of Marxist Literary Theory (criticism) 1976

Marxism and Literary Criticism (criticism) 1976

Walter Benjamin; or, Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (criticism) 1981

The Rape of Clarissa: Writing, Sexuality, and Class Struggle in Samuel Richardson (criticism) 1982

Literary Theory: An Introduction (criticism) 1983

The Function of Criticism: From the Spectator to Post-Structuralism (criticism) 1984

Against the Grain: Selected Essays, 1975-1985 (essays) 1986

William Shakespeare (criticism) 1986

Saints and Scholars (novel) 1987

The Ideology of the Aesthetic (criticism) 1990

Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature [with Frederic Jameson and Edward W. Said] (criticism) 1990

Saint Oscar (drama) 1990

Ideology: An Introduction (criticism) 1991

Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script, the Derek Jarman Film (screenplay) 1993

Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (criticism) 1995

The Illusions of Postmodernism (criticism) 1996

Marxist Literary Theory: A Reader [editor] (criticism) 1996

Crazy John and the Bishop and Other Essays on Irish Culture (essays) 1999


Geoffrey Thurley (review date 24 September 1982)

SOURCE: “Phallic Woman,” in New Statesman, September 24, 1982, p. 28.

[In the following review of The Rape of Clarissa, Thurley concludes that the work is “a vigorous and sometimes brilliant book” marred by Eagleton's “dogmatic intensity.”]

We can read Clarissa again, says Terry Eagleton, thanks to feminism and post-structuralism. It is now relevant, he argues [in The Rape of Clarissa], because it dramatises the scandal of rape in patriarchal society and opens up the possibility of a fully feminised social order. Eagleton assumes fixed meanings for masculine and feminine throughout. Women are tender, gentle and considerate (though also...

(The entire section is 690 words.)

Terence Hawkes (review date 3 June 1983)

SOURCE: “Skull Caps,” in New Statesman, June 3, 1983, pp. 24-5.

[In the following review, Hawkes offers positive assessment of Literary Theory.]

As much goad as guide, Terry Eagleton's spirited introduction to literary theory [Literary Theory] has the sharp bite that only a trenchant and tough-minded argument can give. It puts an incisive and persuasive case: that in our society the discourses of literary criticism and of politics share a deep mutual involvement, so that to place something as ideologically sensitive as ‘English’ at the centre of a system of mass education implies and invokes relationships of real social power. Hence the urgency, the...

(The entire section is 874 words.)

Lennard J. Davis (review date 21 January 1984)

SOURCE: “Does Literature Exist?,” in Nation, January 21, 1984, pp. 59-60.

[In the following review, Davis offers positive evaluation of Literary Theory, though is skeptical of Eagleton's Marxist ideology and devaluation of literature in favor of other mediums of representation.]

Terry Eagleton's new book is a concise guide to the most interesting and mystifying trends in the study of literature over the last fifty years. Judging from Literary Theory's positive reception in Britain and now America, it answers a need—and answers it well. But as I read along, I kept imagining a TV ad: “Can't decide between hermeneutical and structural approaches to...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

Steven G. Kellman (review date Summer 1984)

SOURCE: “Miscellaneous,” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 30, No. 2, Summer, 1984, pp. 399-403.

[In the following excerpted review essay, Kellman offers tempered assessment of Literary Theory, concluding that it should be read with a “blend of enthusiasm and wariness.”]

Although it mentions neither Wellek nor Warren, Literary Theory: An Introduction seems to aspire to be the Theory of Literature for a poststructuralist world, a more overtly partisan examination of the most influential schools of literary theory in recent decades. A Marxist with wit, Terry Eagleton is magisterial in his deployment of a wide range of ideas, but rarely...

(The entire section is 701 words.)

David Montrose (review date 5 October 1984)

SOURCE: A review of The Function of Criticism, in New Statesman, October 5, 1984, p. 33.

[In the following review, Montrose offers positive assessment of The Function of Criticism, though notes its similarity to his earlier work on Walter Benjamin.]

Terry Eagleton's essay [The Function of Criticism] seeks to ‘recall criticism to its traditional role’—engagement in cultural politics—from what he considers a position of crisis, where it is narrowly preoccupied with literary texts and estranged from social life through confinement to Academe and ‘the literary industry’ (public relations branch). Central to his argument is Jürgen...

(The entire section is 349 words.)

Andrew Rissik (review date 21 March 1986)

SOURCE: “Having Their Way with Will,” in New Statesman, March 21, 1986, pp. 26-7.

[In the following review, Rissik offers negative assessment of William Shakespeare.]

In her slim critical book [Shakespeare], Germaine Greer writes, ‘The public duty of the playwright was to bring the caviare of his angelic intellectual exercise within the grasp of those savage hordes, who were quite capable of disrupting performances they could not follow.’ In his study [William Shakespeare], Terry Eagleton, who is Tutor and Fellow in English at Wadham College, Oxford, tells us that ‘it is difficult to read Shakespeare without feeling that he was almost certainly...

(The entire section is 925 words.)

Jean E. Howard (review date Spring 1987)

SOURCE: “Recent Studies in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama,” in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring, 1987, pp. 321-79.

[In the following excerpted review essay, Howard offers unfavorable assessment of William Shakespeare, which, she concludes, “is a book that overreaches itself.”]

The crassly pragmatic purpose of an SEL review is—ugly phrase—“information management.” Publication proceeds at such a pace that no one can possibly absorb even a fraction of what is printed on Renaissance drama in a given year. An omnibus review such as this, published soon after the books themselves are published, supposedly gives...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)

Michael Sprinker (review date Winter 1991)

SOURCE: “After the Revolution: Eagleton on Aesthetics,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 573-79.

[In the following review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Sprinker discusses Eagleton's aesthetic perspective in light of Hegelian philosophy, and finds contradictions in the political aspects of Eagleton's conclusions.]

Having been a reasonably diligent observer of Terry Eagleton's career since the mid 1970s, I remain of two minds about the body of work that has poured forth since Criticism and Ideology—in my view, his most original and significant contribution to literary theory. On the one hand, I greatly admire...

(The entire section is 2583 words.)

Colin Lyas (review date April 1991)

SOURCE: A review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in British Journal of Aesthetics,Vol. 31, No. 2, April, 1991, pp. 169-71.

[In the following review, Lyas offers positive evaluation of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, though finds fault in its omission of several key philosophers and Eagleton's conclusion.]

[The Ideology of the Aesthetic], despite qualifications to which I will come, is one of the best reads in philosophy that I have had for many a long year. I turned to it, somewhat co-incidentally, after yet another of my periodic grazings in the fertile meadows of two works which illuminate many of the issues discussed by Eagleton, Bernard...

(The entire section is 1542 words.)

Eric Griffiths (review date 28 June 1991)

SOURCE: “Dialectic Without Detail,” in Times Literary Supplement, June 28, 1991, pp. 6-7.

[In the following review, Griffiths offers unfavorable assessment of Ideology.]

Though generally admiring William Empson's work, Terry Eagleton regretted that “it lacks … almost any concept of ideology”. This is not strictly true: a formulation such as “language is essentially a social product, and much concerned with social relations, but we tend to hide this in our forms of speech so as to appear to utter impersonal truths” (The Structure of Complex Words) states clearly one classic account of ideological function. But you see what Professor-Elect Eagleton...

(The entire section is 2032 words.)

Richard Schusterman (review date Summer 1991)

SOURCE: A review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 49, No. 3, Summer, 1991, pp. 259-61.

[In the following review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Schusterman praises Eagleton's insight and rhetorical turns, though finds shortcomings in the book's omissions and contradictory assertions.]

The past decade of Anglo-American intellectual history has witnessed literary theory's undeniable emergence as the most influential, ambitious, and institutionally powerful genre of theoretical discourse in the humanities. The fact that it now prefers to call itself simply “theory,” as if to encompass and exhaust the...

(The entire section is 1935 words.)

Elizabeth Wright (review date July 1991)

SOURCE: A review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 86, Pt. 3, July, 1991, pp. 653-54.

[In the following review, Wright offers positive assessment of The Ideology of the Aesthetic.]

What R. H. Tawney did for religion, Arnold Hauser for art history, Adorno for music, and Raymond Williams for literature, Terry Eagleton has done for aesthetics: namely, to uncover the ideological motivation that ideology itself exists to conceal. In spite of a modest disavowal he comes challengingly close to doing the same for philosophy. In the favoured definitions, self-confirming premises, chosen controversies, chosen opponents, bland ignorances,...

(The entire section is 700 words.)

David Lloyd (review date December 1991)

SOURCE: “In the Defiles of Analogy,” in Art History, Vol. 14, No. 4, December, 1991, pp. 620-24.

[In the following review, Lloyd offers unfavorable evaluation of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, though credits Eagleton's elucidation of the work of other major theorists.]

At the time of writing, it is already clear enough to casual observation that Eagleton's Ideology of the Aesthetic has become something of an academic best seller. Accordingly, the usual concerns of an advance review give way here in this rather belated account to an assessment of the work's achievement, made all the more demanding by virtue of the book's wide circulation and probable...

(The entire section is 3274 words.)

Greig Henderson (review date Winter 1991-92)

SOURCE: “Eagleton on Ideology: Six Types of Ambiguity,” in University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 2, Winter, 1991-92, pp. 280-88.

[In the following review of Ideology, Henderson offers analysis of Eagleton's philosophical perspective and critical approach to the delineation of ideology. While citing many shortcomings and contradictions in the work, Henderson writes, “Eagleton's negotiation of this dense and difficult terrain is masterful.”]

‘Ideology’ is such a charged and vexed term that many people, taking in hand a volume about this topic, might well be tempted to follow Hume's famous advice. ‘Does it contain any abstract reasoning...

(The entire section is 4585 words.)

Kate Soper (review date March-April 1992)

SOURCE: “The Ideology of the Aesthetic,” in New Left Review, No. 192, March-April, 1992, pp. 120-32.

[In the following review, Soper examines the development of Eagleton's theoretical analysis and socialist perspective in The Ideology of the Aesthetic, drawing attention to the “tensions, ambivalences, irresolutions, in Eagleton's book.”]

In Ingmar Bergman's film of The Magic Flute, the camera, throughout the overture, traverses the faces of an audience divided by age, sex, ethnicity and style, but united in its common rapture. It is a compelling image of the power of the ‘aesthetic’ to realize—despite everything that tends to human...

(The entire section is 6675 words.)

John McGowan (review date Spring 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Ideology, in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 166-69.

[In the following review, McGowan offers positive evaluation of Ideology, though notes that some of Eagleton's arguments are undermined by equivocation.]

Terry Eagleton has written a remarkable book. To enter the swamps of theorizing about ideology and to shed light invariably on every dense obscurity examined is work that calls to mind the lonely and noble labors of Spenserian and Tennysonian knights. No doubt we view such knightly endeavors with suspicion today, sensitive not only to the quixotic nature of quests for lucidity, but also to the...

(The entire section is 1715 words.)

Michael Levenson (essay date Winter 1994)

SOURCE: “The Critic as Novelist,” in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 116-24.

[In the following excerpt, Levenson examines the motivation among literary theorists, including Eagleton, to write fiction and offers discussion of Eagleton's novel Saints and Scholars.]

Misleading to call it a movement, and still worse to think of it as a program, but we now have seen enough minor literary eruptions to suspect that it is a cultural symptom that bears some reflection: this burst of novel-writing from people who have lived the conceptual life, the life of method and argument, who often carry leather cases, or who give public lectures and contribute...

(The entire section is 2645 words.)

Patrick Colm Hogan (review date March 1994)

SOURCE: “The Persistence of Idealism,” in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 24, No. 1, March, 1994, pp. 84-92.

[In the following review, Hogan offer positive evaluation of Ideology, though cites shortcomings in Eagleton's “idealist epistemology.”]

Ideology: An Introduction presents a conceptual and historical overview of the notion of ideology from the Enlightenment through “post-Marxism.” It is lucid, informative, engaging, and well-argued. Although aimed at non-expert readers broadly familiar with debates in critical theory, it may be read productively by anyone from an advanced undergraduate to a specialist in political criticism. It...

(The entire section is 4346 words.)

Christopher Norris (review date Fall 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Ideology, in Comparative Literature, Vol. 46, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 390-93.

[In the following review, Norris offers positive evaluation of Ideology.]

This book finds Eagleton returning once again to a topic that has often preoccupied his thinking, from the high Althusserian rigor of Criticism and Ideology (1976) to his recent major work on the history of aesthetics as a surrogate form of ideological discourse. Not that he is merely recycling old ideas in a different polemical context. On the contrary, Eagleton's analysis has deepened and evolved over the years through exposure to the various contending schools of post-Althusserian...

(The entire section is 1883 words.)

Patricia Craig (review date 27 May 1995)

SOURCE: “The Eternal Rocks Beneath,” in Spectator, May 27, 1995, pp. 43-4.

[In the following review, Craig offers positive evaluation of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]

Terry Eagleton's cast of mind is erudite and ingenious, and his ingenuity is nowhere more in evidence than in the opening essay of this collection. Heathcliff and the Great Hunger superimposes an allegory of Irishness, in the person of Heathcliff himself, over the narrative of Wuthering Heights: this intractable Brontë character, Eagleton says, ‘starts out as an image of the famished Irish immigrant, becomes a landless labourer set to work in the Heights, and ends up as a symbol...

(The entire section is 1083 words.)

Austen Morgan (review date 16 June 1995)

SOURCE: “Spud Bashing,” in New Statesman and Society, June 16, 1995, pp. 37, 39.

[In the following review, Morgan offers unfavorable assessment of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]

Terry Eagleton is a professor of English at Oxford; Roy Foster the professor of Irish history there. Last year, Eagleton launched a violent attack on his colleague, accusing Foster, and Irish historians, of revisionism. There was also a pre-emptive strike against Foster's current project, the biography of W. B. Yeats. Eagleton accused him of raiding literature in a “reductive” manner, “paying only passing attention to the politics and poetics of form”.

Now, with...

(The entire section is 1188 words.)

Denis Donoghue (review date 21-28 August 1995)

SOURCE: “I Am Not Heathcliff,” in New Republic, August 21-28, 1995, pp. 42-5.

[In the following review, Donoghue provides summary and tempered analysis of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]

“The British don't believe Ireland is real; they just drop their fantasies here.” In a wild romance called Saints and Scholars, which appeared in 1987, Terry Eagleton ascribed that assertion to James Connolly, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, 1916. It is also the main idea of Eagleton's new book.

In his very professorial novel, Eagleton developed the conceit that Connolly, Commandant-General of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army,...

(The entire section is 4316 words.)

Nicholas Daly (review date Winter 1996)

SOURCE: “Reading Irish Culture,” in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 29, No. 2, Winter, 1996, pp. 248-49.

[In the following review, Daly offers positive assessment of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]

In his “Introduction” to The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990), Terry Eagleton mentions that he had originally conceived of that work “as a kind of doubled text, in which an account of European aesthetic theory would be coupled at every point to a consideration of the literary culture of Ireland.” The daunting potential size of such a work led to his decision to “reserve [it] either for a patented board game, in which players would be awarded points for...

(The entire section is 1210 words.)

Andrew R. Cooper (review date March 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Ideology, in Notes and Queries, Vol. 43, No. 1, March, 1996, pp. 119-21.

[In the following excerpted review, Cooper offers tempered analysis of Ideology, which he contrasts with Leonard Jackson's The Dematerialisation of Karl Marx.]

Eagleton and [Leonard] Jackson have produced two books that it is tempting to read as symptomatic of the state of Marxist literary theory in the 1990s at a time when ‘world Communism has collapsed’, (Jackson). Eagleton's anthology of extracts from eighteen writers [Ideology] takes its title from the claim that ideology is indeed the major concern of twentieth-century Marxist and...

(The entire section is 820 words.)

Katie Trumpener (review date March 1997)

SOURCE: A review of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, in Modern Language Quarterly,Vol. 58, No. 1, March, 1997, pp. 114-18.

[In the following review, Trumpener offers positive assessment of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger and comments on the book's critical reception.]

Over the last twenty years groundbreaking books by British, Irish, and American academics have shaped a new field of Irish literary and cultural studies. A series of monographic studies in the tradition of Daniel Corkery's Synge and Anglo Irish Literature (1931) have used the oeuvres and careers of particular authors to show how Ireland's social conditions and political tensions...

(The entire section is 1851 words.)

Ian Pindar (review date 28 March 1997)

SOURCE: “Tickling the Starving,” in Times Literary Supplement, March 28, 1997, p. 25.

[In the following review, Pindar offers unfavorable assessment of The Illusions of Postmodernism.]

“Speaking as a hierarchical, essentialistic, teleological, metahistorical, universalist humanist, I imagine I have some explaining to do.” Terry Eagleton begins and ends his latest book, The Illusions of Postmodernism, at a disadvantage to which he readily admits. Put at its crudest, postmodernism is in, hip, trendy, sexy. Marxism—or what he now prefers to call socialism—is not.

If his broad-brush approach to one of the most elusive movements of...

(The entire section is 1139 words.)

Colin Mooers (review date October 1997)

SOURCE: “The Illusions of Postmodernism,” in Monthly Review, Vol. 49, No. 5, October, 1997, pp. 58-61.

[In the following review, Mooers offers positive assessment of The Illusions of Postmodernism.]

A grammatically-correct friend explained to me recently that when terms like “Post-Modernism” are written as “Postmodernism” it represents the linguistic equivalent of coming of age. Which, like so many apparently momentous passages in life, may be full of sound and fury, but in the end signify very little. Nevertheless, as Terry Eagleton points out in the preface to this very clever and readable book, “Part of the power of postmodernism is that it exists,...

(The entire section is 1493 words.)

Brenda Maddox (review date 23 July 1999)

SOURCE: “Bogged Down,” in Times Literary Supplement, July 23, 1999, p. 30.

[In the following review, Maddox offers unfavorable assessment of Crazy John and the Bishop.]

This combative book [Crazy John and the Bishop] is aimed at unnamed foes. In the small world of Irish Studies, they presumably know who they are. The innocent reader can only guess.

What the enemies are guilty of is less obscure. Terry Eagleton, Warton Professor of English Literature at Oxford, dislikes postmodernism and revisionism applied to Irish culture. He wants the philosophy, poetry and prose written on what he calls “the wrong side of St George's Channel” to be...

(The entire section is 725 words.)

Further Reading


Alter, Robert. “The Decline and Fall of Literary Criticism.” Commentary 77, No. 3 (March 1984): 50-6.

A negative review of Literary Theory, which Alter cites as an example of the wayward and irrelevant critical concerns of poststructuralist and Marxist literary theorists.

Lord, Timothy C. “A Paradigm Case of Polemical History: Terry Eagleton's The Ideology of the Aesthetic.Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History 22, No. 4 (Summer 1993): 337-56.

Delineates and analyzes the characteristics of “polemical history” through the example of Eagleton's...

(The entire section is 120 words.)