Against the Grain: Essays 1975-1985

An excellent introduction to the range of Eagleton’s thought and his considerable body of work.

These essays (and a ballad) have their origins in Terry Eagleton’s continuing engagement with the possibilities of a literary criticism that is both materialist and open to diverse currents of thought in the human sciences.

Eagleton’s combative intelligence here explores the encounter between Marxism and contemporary European and American literary theory. Included are a survey of the Althusserian contribution to literary analysis; thoughts on the fraught relations between Marxism and poststructuralism; and a brilliant evocation of the affinities and tensions between Wittgenstein, Derrida and Bakhtin.

Intellectual figures in this wide-ranging topography include Jacques Derrida; the radical critic Fredric Jameson; the apostle of deconstruction, Paul de Man; the liberal humanist John Bayley; Bertoit Brecht; William Empson and Pierre Machersy. The volume also includes Eagleton’s brilliant reading of Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

Against the Grain is an excellent introduction to the range of Terry Eagleton’s thought and his considerable body of work. It is also a useful primer for all readers interested in the vitality of literary theory today.


  • The Ballad of English Literature

    [Sung to the tune of "Land of Hope and Glory"]

    Chaucer was a class traitor
    Shakespeare hated the mob
    Donne sold out a bit later
    Sidney was a nob

    Marlowe was an elitist
    Ben Jonson was much the same
    Bunyan was a defeatist
    Dryden played the game

    There's a sniff of reaction
    About Alexander Pope
    Sam Johnson was a Tory
    And Walter Scott a dope

    Coleridge was a right winger
    Keats was lower middle class
    Wordsworth was a cringer
    But William Blake was a gas

    Dickens was a reformist
    Tennyson was a blue
    Disraeli was mostly pissed
    And nothing that Trollope said was true

    Willy Yeats was a fascist
    So were Eliot and Pound
    Lawrence was a sexist
    Virginia Woolf was unsound

    There are only three names
    To be plucked from this dismal set
    Milton Blake and Shelley
    Will smash the ruling class yet

    Milton Blake and Shelley
    Will smash the ruling class yet.


    in Against the Grain, Essays by Terry Eagleton, Verso Books.

Other books by Terry Eagleton