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Example text

Works of fantasy—from Beowulf to The Faerie Queene to The Lord of the Rings—although they include purely imaginary features (enchanted lakes, dragons, elves) may, nonetheless, be works of powerful moral and spiritual realism. “Realism” in this latter sense is not, however, a strictly literary term denoting a generic characteristic. The genius of Don Quixote lies in its dwelling in the territory of rigorous realism while glancing continuously and longingly at the ideal kingdom of chivalric imagination, thus merging “realism” in its literary and moral senses.

Young Twelfth Night), his late romance, The Tempest, and the greatest of the tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. Among Shakespeare’s English contemporaries, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and at least a few of Ben Jonson’s comedies—for example, Volpone and The Alchemist—should not be missed. Seventeenth-century France boasts its great triumvirate: the tragedians Corneille and Racine and the comedian Molière. For Corneille, Le Cid is the obvious choice; for Racine, Andromache or Phaedra; for Molière, The Misanthrope or Tartuffe.

Writing about the domestic affairs of the rural gentry and village shopkeepers and the marital aspirations of their daughters—“the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labor” is her own description of her literary métier—Jane Austen captures a vision of ordinary life in society that is unsentimental, ironic, and morally acute. She is, as C. S. Lewis opines, less the mother of Henry James than the niece of Dr. Johnson—a classical mind in the age of Romanticism.

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A Student's Guide to Literature (ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines) by R.V. Young


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