Some Sociopolitical Literary Criticism Excerpts


EXCERPTS: 1800s-2003 

From Works on Political, Social, and Cultural Criticism of Imaginative Literature
(with an emphasis on the nature and role of propaganda)


note: I agree with much but not everything I’ve chosen to excerpt. As far as the books as a whole go – as they seem to me – many are very good, plenty are solid, some are mixed, some are less insightful or unfortunate in part. On the whole, in my judgment, the books make some thoughtful and useful exploration of imaginative literature and its relation to society, individuals and social and political change.




1864 – Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare
–William Morris, On Art and Socialism
1885, 1888Frederick Engels, Letters
1898 –Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?
1903 –Frank Norris, The Responsibilities of the Novelist 
1905 –Vladimir Lenin, “Party Organization and Party Literature,” in Novaia Jizn
1924 –Upton Sinclair, Mammonart: An Essay in Economic Interpretation

1926 –W.E.B. DuBois, African American Literary Criticism, 1773-2000

1928 –Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda
1931 –Edmund Wilson, Axel’s Castle
1932 –V. F. Calverton, The Liberation of American Literature
1934 –John Dewey, Art as Experience


  Sequence of relatively recent literary commercial essays on the social novel:

  1961 – Philip Roth, “Writing American Fiction,” Commentary, March, 1961 (also in Reading
              Myself and Others, 1985)
  1989 – Tom Wolfe, “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast,” Harpers, 1989
  1995 – Jane Smiley, “Say It Ain’t So, Huck: Second Thoughts on Mark Twain’s ‘Masterpiece’,” 
              Harpers, December 1995
  1996 – Jonathan Franzen, “Perchance to Dream,” Harpers, 1996 [Revised, retitled as “Why
              Bother?” in How to Be Alone, 2002]
  2001 – James Wood, “Human, All Too Inhuman,” The New Republic, August 30, 2001;
              “Abhorring a Vacuum,” The New Republic, October 18, 2001



Bibliography – 1800s to 2003            
Critical Excerpts – 1883 to 2003 
Quick Views    
Social and Political Novel  
Social and Political Literature