Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature by Elizabeth Kantor

Kantor provides here an incredibly honest introduction to English literature, perhaps the most honest introduction to the subject you will find anywhere. It is an unfortunate fact that the great works of literature have come to be buried in a swamp of ideologies, agendas, and half-truths. Rather than allowing a great work to speak for itself, it instead it dissected through the lens of queer theory, Marxist theory, feminist theory, and the various theories of any number of other isms. It is even common to deny altogether that there is any such thing as a “great” work of literature, as all such value judgments, they say, are, by their very nature, subjective. The result is that the purpose of literature as a study of human nature has been lost and replaced with politicized obsession with sex and skin color. Kantor here offers a necessary corrective.

She begins by tracing the history of literature in the English language, beginning with medieval literature as exemplified by such works as Beowulf and, much later, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. She explains the origins and nature of this early English literature in the historical context of the culture and conflict of the era. She then moves on to English literature of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Early Modern and Modern periods, and finally to American literature, engaging in the same sort of explanation for each.

Along the way, she also takes some time to explore how the literature of these various periods is abused and misused by professional academics today. She also offers helpful correctives in each instance in which the academics have strayed from an authentic appreciation for great literature.

The last several chapters of the book are dedicated to inviting the reader to delve into English literature for himself. She offers cogent guidance, such as the suggestion to begin a study of poetry by memorizing great poems, for those first approaching literature as well as some perspective on what literature actually exists for and what it can do for and to the reader.

This book is an excellent introduction to English literature for both those who were subjected to a watered down ideologized version of it in a university as well as those with no background in it whatsoever. I recommend this book for anyone who desires to approach English literature, or any literature, with a real appreciation for great works of genius.

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