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Hal H. Rennert, Judy Shoaf


Are there great and famous prefaces to literary works, including translations? A clever way of answering this question and in the process turning it into a substantial anthology of famous prefaces and one of the Harvard Classics is by James Spedding, who in 1910 produced a volume entitled Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books. Interestingly, only two of his seventeen titles—one from French, Victor Hugo’s preface (fifty pages!) to his play Cromwell (1827), and the other from German, Goethe’s preface to his journal Propyläen (1798)—were not drawn from English literature. Overall the prefaces fall into two groups: the shorter ones are advertisements and the longer ones are manifestos. Goethe’s preface merely advertises the contents of his journal, but Hugo’s preface is a true manifesto for French romanticism. Hugo points to the concept of the grotesque as the key to romantic literature.

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