The Classic: Sainte-Beuve and the Nineteenth-Century Culture Wars

Hardcover | June 21, 2007

byChristopher Prendergast

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Focusing on a moment and a source in nineteenth-century France, Christopher Prendergast takes up a big question that is still with us: What is a classic? The question is, by virtue of its insistent recurrence, itself a classic question. It returns to haunt us. It provided the title of a textfor French critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve in 1850 ('Qu'est-ce qu'un classique?'), as it did in the twentieth century for T.S. Eliot and John Coetzee. Centring on Sainte-Beuve in his nineteenth-century context, Prendergast's inquiry takes us historically to many places (antiquity, the middleages, the seventeenth and eighteenth as well as the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). He also provides an intellectual history that travels across multiple disciplinary territories (in addition to literary criticism and literary history, classical studies, comparative philology,historiography and political thought). Against this background, The Classic maps the evolution of Sainte-Beuve's thought from an initially cosmopolitan conception of the classic (close in spirit to Goethe's notion of Weltliteratur) to an increasingly nationalist conception, with a strong emphasis on the heritage of Latinity and Franceas its principal legatee. This emphasis was taken up by the extreme right in France after Sainte-Beuve's death, in a determined mobilizing of a version of the 'classic' on behalf of a proto-fascist agenda. The final chapter deals with this appropriation and ends with a question of our own aboutSainte-Beuve's original question: in the light of this bleak history, perhaps the time has come to dispense with the term 'classic' altogether.

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Focusing on a moment and a source in nineteenth-century France, Christopher Prendergast takes up a big question that is still with us: What is a classic? The question is, by virtue of its insistent recurrence, itself a classic question. It returns to haunt us. It provided the title of a textfor French critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beu...

Christopher Prendergast is a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge and a Fellow of the British Academy.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:328 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 1.02 inPublished:June 21, 2007Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199215855

ISBN - 13:9780199215850

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Profession of Criticism2. The View from the Mountain3. Classic and Nation4. Latinity and the Second Renaissance5. Homer or Virgil?6. Origins and the Middle Ages7. Romans, Gauls and Franks8. Literature and Democracy9. The Foundations of Culture10. The Modern Classic11. Postscript: The Good Frenchman