This book is a comparative study of 12 works of fiction broadly representative of the Western canon. Its aim is to discover what gives these 12 works their lasting appeal and vitality over and beyond their formal qualities. It focuses on the interplay of text and subtext within each work after defining these terms at the outset. It then compares its 12 sample classics systematically in a conclusion that argues from the works themselves to classics in general. Binion's key finding is that for a piece of fiction to feel deep, whole, and great, as classics do, its text must be underpinned from start to finish by a subtext, or alternative reading, which calls that text itself into question. A book for scholar, student and educated public alike, no serious reader will be able to consider what makes a classic without reference to this work.
RUDOLPH BINION is Leff Professor of History at Brandeis University. He is the author of numerous works including Hitler Among the Germans (1979) and Love Beyond Death (1993).
Text and Subtext; The Trouble with Oedipus - Sophocles' "Oedipus the King"; Blood for Blood - "The Gospel According to Matthew"; In You My Death, In You My Life - "The Tristan Legend"; Lust Forever - Dante's "Inferno", The Francesca Episode; Strange Mutations - Shakespeare's "King Lear"; In Flames and In Tears - Racine's "Phaedra"; A Wanderer on Earth - Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther"; On Death Row - Stendhal's "The Red and The Black"; Like an Echo Fading - Flaubert's "A Simple Heart"; Mankind Revisited - Dostoyevsky's "The Grand Inquisitor"; A Lamed and Tamed Duck - Ibsen's "The Wild Duck"; Death Beckoning - Thomas Mann's "Death In Venice"; From Plagued Thebes to Plagued Venice.