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[Detail] Preface from Punchinello 1, no.1 (1870).

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism involves interpreting the meaning of a written work and evaluating its quality. The ways in which literary works are interpreted and the standards against which their quality is judged vary over time and from person to person.

The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals collection is filled with articles and reviews of contemporary authors. Literary criticism was a featured section in such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, The North American Review, and Putnam's Monthly Magazine. Analyze several reviews from these magazines. What common standards that the critics used to evaluate the quality of the works they were reviewing can you infer from these reviews?

Read conflicting reviews of Charles Dickens's Notes on America in The North American Review and New Englander and Yale Review. What accounts for the difference in the two critics' opinions? Do they use different standards to evaluate quality? Do they interpret the meaning of Dickens's work differently?

Search for conflicting reviews of recently published books in current newspapers and magazines. What accounts for differences in current critics' views of the same books? Are they using different standards to evaluate quality? Do they interpret the meaning of the work differently?

Scribner's regularly featured a "Point of View" column. The September 1892 column looked at the question of whether a work's popularity indicates anything about its literary worth. How relevant do you think this question is today? Explain.