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The ClassicSainte-Beuve and the Nineteenth-Century Culture Wars$
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Christopher Prendergast

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199215850

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199215850.001.0001

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Classic and Nation

Classic and Nation

(p.47) 3 Classic and Nation
The Classic

Christopher Prendergast (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

In his magisterial account of the long trajectory of literary canon formation in Europe, Ernst Robert Curtius confronts the thinking of French critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, who purportedly sensed the dilemma that the concept of a world literature could not but shatter the French canon but failed to solve it. The nature of this dilemma can be traced to Sainte-Beuve's 1850 essay ‘Qu'est-ce qu'un classique?’, which reaches, however incompletely, for a ‘vision of the classic’ that was ‘not national, but pluralistic and global’. Goethe's Weltliteratur was thought to be an attempt not so much to escape the restriction of literature to the national as to compensate for its absence. The classics may gather on the internationalized slopes of Mount Parnassus or Montserrat, but, at least in the case of modern literatures, their provenance and affiliation remain bounded by the parameters of nation.

Keywords:   Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, classic, nation, France, national literature, world literature, intellectual history, French literature

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