Introduction to Literature
insisted that to understand a literary piece, we need to understand
the author's biography and social background, ideas circulating
at the time, and the cultural milieu. This school of criticism
fell into disfavor as the New Critics emerged.
seeks to find meaning in a text by considering the work within
the framework of the prevailing ideas and assumptions of its historical
era. New Historicists concern themselves with the political function
of literature and with the concept of power, the intricate means
by which cultures produce and reproduce themselves. These critics
focus on revealing the historically specific model of truth and
authority (not a "truth" but a "cultural construct")
reflected in a given work.
In other words, history here is not a mere
chronicle of facts and events, but rather a complex description
of human reality and evolution of preconceived notions. Literary
works may or may not tell us about various factual aspects of
the world from which they emerge, but they will tell us about
prevailing ways of thinking at the time: ideas of social organization,
prejudices, taboos, etc. They raise questions of interest to
New Historicism is more "sociohistorical"
than it is a delving into factoids: concerned with ideological
products or cultural constructs which are formations of any era.
(It's not just where would Keats have seen a Grecian urn in England,
but from where he may have absorbed the definitions of art and
So, New Historicists, insisting that ideology
manifests itself in literary productions and discourse, interest
themselves in the interpretive constructions which the members
of a society or culture apply to their experience.
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Biddle, Arthur W., and Toby Fulwiler. Reading, Writing, and the Study of Literature. NY: Random House, 1989.
Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. 2nd ed. NY: Longman, 1998.
Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.