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In Praise of Antiheroes

Figures and Themes in Modern European Literature, 1830-1980

In an age of upheaval and challenged faith, traditional heroes are hard to come by, and harder still to love, with their bloodstained hands and backs unbowed by the consequences of their actions. Through penetrating readings of key works of modern European literature, Victor Brombert shows how a new kind of hero—the antihero—has arisen to replace the toppled heroic model.

Though they fail, by design, to live up to conventional expectations of mythic heroes, antiheroes are not necessarily "failures." They display different kinds of courage more in tune with our time and our needs: deficiency translated into strength, failure experienced as honesty, dignity achieved through humiliation. Brombert explores these paradoxes in the works of Büchner, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Svevo, Hašek, Frisch, Camus, and Levi. Coming from diverse cultural and linguistic traditions, these writers all use the figure of the antihero to question handed-down assumptions, to reexamine moral categories, and to raise issues of survival and renewal embodying the spirit of an uneasy age.

178 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1999

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory, Germanic Languages, Romance Languages, Slavic Languages

Table of Contents

1. Unheroic Modes
2. Georg Büchner: The Idiom of Antiheroism
3. Gogol’s "The Overcoat": The Meanings of a Downfall
4. Dostoevsky’s Underground Man: Portrait of the Paradoxalist
5. Flaubert’s "A Simple Heart": Pathos and Irony
6. Italo Svevo, or The Paradoxes of the Antihero
7. Idiot Schweik, or In Praise of Cunning
8. Max Frisch: The Courage of Failure
9. The Voice of Camus: Neither Saint nor Hero
10. Primo Levi and the Canto of Ulysses
Appendix: Svevo’s Witness
Index of Names


Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award
Honorable Mention

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