James Tuttleton's literary writings in such magazines as the New Criterion, the American Scholar, and the Yale Review have earned him a reputation as one of our most trenchant critics. Here he collects twenty essays derived from his long engagement with the masterworks of the American imagination. Discussions of Hawthorne and Emerson, Howells and James, Fuller and Chopin, and Fitzgerald and Anderson, among others, are counterpointed with an analysis of the effect of contemporary critical theory on the American canon. Mr. Tuttleton scrutinizes a century and a half of great American writing from the viewpoint of literature as an art rather than as a datum of "cultural studies" He is severe with those styles of criticism that in his view drain literature of its moral and social significance, or that manipulate literature to serve an ideological agenda. The essays in Vital Signs arise from a conviction that great literature is more than mere discourse or a semiotic freeplay of figurations. In Mr. Tuttleton's view, a great poem or novel is an ontological reality, has a living presence, and is a system of "vital signs" that, from generation to generation, illuminates the world and offers alternatives that might be our own.
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James W. Tuttleton, who died in November 1998, also wrote The Novel of Manners in America and edited volume one of The Works of Washington Irving for the Library of America. He was professor of English at New York University.
It is impossible to catalog all the merits of this rich book, packed as it is with tart observations, keen insights, and persuasive new readings of texts in American literature. -- Wilma R. Ebbitt * Sewanee Review * Informed, tactful, and passionate. -- William H. Pritchard * Times Literary Supplement * James Tuttleton is one of those rare critics who possesses both intellectual energy and generosity of the spirit...He is a critic who can be trusted. -- James Seaton * The Hudson Review * Mr. Tuttleton reminds us of what once required neither apology nor defense namely, the pleasure that reading great works can bring. -- Sanford Pinsker * The Wall Street Journal * The quality that sets this volume apart from others of its kind is its freshness, its sense of newness. . . .Tuttleton has brought together subjects that make a satisfying mix of such major writers as Emerson, Hawthorn, and James. . . .It is imporrible to catalog all the merits of this rich book, packed as it is with tart observations, keen insights, and persuasive new readings of texts in American literature. Professor Tuttleton's students are blessed. * Sewanee Review * This book approaches the status of an ideal literary object. Professor Tuttleton has managed to produce a luminous fusion of extensive scholarship and literary discernment. He succeeds in this because he has assimilated his learning and wears it lightly. . . .Here I find that his essays on Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald are among the most valuable I have read on those authors. His opening essay on Francis Parkman will lead many readers back to that epic American historian. . . .Even experts will learn much from these essays, and the general reader will be delighted. * National Review * Tuttleton's essays provide insights on American literature and critical developments, discussing works of notable and famous American writers from Stephen Crane to Edith Warton. Familiarity with the works of authors seleceted for critical review here will aid in an appreciation of Tuttleton's overall approach, which examines literature as an art. * Reviewer's Bookwatch *
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