literary History

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The practice of recounting in narrative form some process of change in a given body of literature (e.g. in a national literature or in a genre such as drama); or an example of such an account of literary developments. Literary history as we know it dates from the 18th century, and was at first strongly associated with the antiquarian and bibliographic cataloguing of rare manuscripts and books in a given country or language. With the development of 19th-century nationalism, it lent itself increasingly to the rediscovery and celebration of the literary treasures (understood to disclose the essential national ‘spirit’) of a given nation or linguistic community, e.g. the German- or English- or Spanish-speaking peoples. In the early 20th century it came under some challenge for its habits of tracing sources, influences, and movements on the larger scale without addressing the unique value of the individual literary work; and its former prestige in the academic study of literature suffered under the rival claims of criticism and Theory. Classic modern examples in English include C. S. Lewis's English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954) and Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel (1957).

Subjects: Literature.

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