Surprise: The Poetics of the Unexpected from Milton to Austen (Hardback)
  • Surprise: The Poetics of the Unexpected from Milton to Austen (Hardback)
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Surprise: The Poetics of the Unexpected from Milton to Austen (Hardback)

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£38.00
Hardback 280 Pages / Published: 10/04/2015
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Today, in the era of the spoiler alert, "surprise" in fiction is primarily associated with an unexpected plot twist, but in earlier usage, the word had darker and more complex meanings. Originally denoting a military ambush or physical assault, surprise went through a major semantic shift in the eighteenth century: from violent attack to pleasurable experience, and from external event to internal feeling. In Surprise, Christopher R. Miller studies that change as it took shape in literature ranging from Paradise Lost through the novels of Jane Austen. Miller argues that writers of the period exploited and arbitrated the dual nature of surprise in its sinister and benign forms. Even as surprise came to be associated with pleasure, it continued to be perceived as a problem: a sign of ignorance or naivete, an uncontrollable reflex, a paralysis of rationality, and an experience of mere novelty or diversion for its own sake. In close readings of exemplary scenes-particularly those involving astonished or petrified characters-Miller shows how novelists sought to harness the energies of surprise toward edifying or comic ends, while registering its underpinnings in violence and mortal danger. In the Roman poet Horace's famous axiom, poetry should instruct and delight, but in the early eighteenth century, Joseph Addison signally amended that formula to suggest that the imaginative arts should surprise and delight. Investigating the significance of that substitution, Miller traces an intellectual history of surprise, involving Aristotelian poetics, Cartesian philosophy, Enlightenment concepts of the passions, eighteenth-century literary criticism and aesthetics, and modern emotion theory. Miller goes on to offer a fresh reading of what it means to be "surprised by sin" in Paradise Lost, showing how Milton's epic both harks back to the symbolic functions of violence in allegory and looks ahead to the moral contours of the novel. Subsequent chapters study the Miltonic ramifications of surprise in the novels of Defoe, Haywood, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne, as well as in the poems of Wordsworth and Keats. By focusing on surprise in its inflections as emotion, cognition, and event, Miller's book illuminates connections between allegory and formal realism, between aesthetic discourse and prose fiction, and between novel and lyric; and it offers new ways of thinking about the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of the novel as the genre emerged in the eighteenth century.

Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 9780801453694
Number of pages: 280
Weight: 567 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 23 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

"This study of surprise, providing new perspectives on familiar and much-discussed literary works of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century England, supplies abundant pleasant surprises of its own. Its complicated history of a commonplace word and of the concepts it engages powerfully supports Christopher Miller's investigation into the emotional life of poetry and fiction.Surprise instructs, delights, and provokes further thought. It is an important achievement.... To think about how the claims ofSurprise might expand provides a way to acknowledge the book's importance. Its intricate argument, revealing a subtle and capacious intelligence, illuminates all it touches."

-- Patricia Meyer Spacks * Review 19 *

"By the end of this book, one is amazed, astonished, thunder-struck, by the long hiostory of this emotiona's centrality to our understanding of psychological experience and the experience of literature."

-- Adela Pinch * Modern Philology (114.4) *

"Placing Austen in the context of a longer literary tradition, Christopher Miller's book, Surprise: The Poetics of the Unexpected from Milton to Austen, very clearly defines an area that has until now been overlooked by the affective turn in history and literary criticism. Miller's approach consistently sheds new light on canonical texts, occasionally supplementing more oblique examples with more readily apparent instances from lesser-known contemporary works. An engaging and very wide-ranging study, Surprise takes into account not only the kinds of experiences that might be thought surprising in various historical and literary contexts, but also the struggles of writers to depict their characters' surprise and to surprise their readers. It offers new ways of reading... while it sheds new light on texts that we might have thought incapable of surprising us still."

-- Olivia Murphy * European Romantic Review *

"Christopher Miller's Surprise is itself an unexpected pleasure. He presents a literary, personal, and cultural phenomenon vital to understanding the changing representation of experience from the early modern through the Romantic eras and down to today. Learned, ranging over prose fiction and poetry, and illuminating the work of many authors-Milton, Defoe, Richardson, Austen, Keats, and more-this book, eminently readable, combines the charm of novelty with the substance of originality. Conceptually deft, carefully attentive in his readings, Miller conveys insight after insight."

-- James Engellco, author of Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money

"Christopher R. Miller pursues the nature and development of surprise through extended close analysis of major texts by authors including Milton, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Walpole, Cleland, Austen, Wordsworth, and Keats, among others. Miller's range of reference, his conceptual subtlety, his depth of understanding of the concept of surprise and its history, his persuasive engagement with the details of texts, and the book's movement across genres and literary historical periods all make the book a model for innovative engagement with key aesthetic/cultural categories."

-- Laura Brown, John Wendell Anderson Professor of English and Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate EducationCornell University, author of Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination

"Deft, surprising, and delightful, Christopher Miller's book elucidates what it means to surprise or be surprised, and enhances our understanding of Milton, Romantic poetry, and the early English novel."

-- Adam Potkay, author of The Passion for Happiness: Samuel Johnson and David Hume

"Surprise is a refreshing, thoughtful study that offers insight into the aesthetics of surprise as it developed and changed over the course of the long eighteenth century. Miller's significant text will surely be referenced for many years to come. Those interested in the relationship between aesthetic discourse and the fiction of the period are strongly encouraged to read this important work."

-- Joel T. Terranova, University of Louisiana * Eighteenth-Century Fiction *

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