Synopses & Reviews
What makes a literary classic? In "Sensational Designs" Jane Tompkins argues that it is not the intrinsic merit of a text, but rather the circumstances of its writing. Against the modernist belief that art, in order to be art, must be free from propaganda, Tompkins contends that writers like Brockden Brown, Cooper, Stowe, and Warner wrote in order to alter the face of the social world, not to elicit aesthetic appreciation.Thus, the value and significance of the novels, for readers of their time, depended on precisely those characteristics that formalist criticism has taught us to deplore: stereotyped characters, sensational plots, and cliched language.
"One of the important works of the year....Contains some of the best arguments I know on the conventionality of canon formation."--Michael J. Hoffman, American Literary Scholarship
"Wide-ranging, clearly written, cogently argued.... One of those stimulating and significant seminal studies sure to be frequently cited."--Choice.
"A major reassessment of nineteenth-century 'sentimental' novels...Force[s] us to reconsider on every page our usual notions of literary valuation, interpretive bias, and canon formation."--Western Humanities Review
"Sensational Designs...is an eye-opener for those too much obsessed by their own academic and cultural investments to understand the true stylistic and ideological complexity of nineteenth-century American fiction."--Philip F. Gura, Esquire
"A cogently argued redefinition of the entire process of literary study."--Women's Review of Books
This challenging book works towards a redefinition of literature and literary study. The texts the author examines are viewed not as works of art embodying enduring themes, but as attempts to redefine the social order.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -227) and index.