In terms of the introduction offered by the editor, I actually like them. I
know some people frown at spoilers that often exist in those pages numbered
with roman numerals, but I like the context that the introductions offer.
Usually they offer some biographical detail about the author I didn't know,
or some historical fact I wasn't aware of, or some other work by the author
or that influenced the author or that responded to the work you're reading,
etc, etc. That kind of context, for me, is invaluable. Sure, 5-35 pages
(or however long they are) can't possibly replicate the exact historical
context of the author, the text, the period, but it does help.
I'm willing to use a crutch to limp along, even if it just offers a slight
glimmer of what it might have been like to be a reader approaching the text
when it first became available.
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
On Tue, Mar 25, 2008 at 3:50 PM, Gregg Camfield <[log in to unmask]>
> I assume you're not talking about an author's introduction, in which case,
> by all means read it first. In the case of a new introduction commisioned
> by a publisher in order to justify publishing a new edition (I've been hired
> write such an introduction, so in self-interest I suppose I shouldn't
> disparage the practice), I'd advise against it. My feeling is that you
> should engage the text on your own first. Then turn to the
> commentary--wherever you find it--as an aid in deepening your own
> understanding. The commentary may change your understanding, or it may give
> you better reasons for your first impressions. It may help you on your next
> reading. (As Robert Grudin says, and I paraphrase because I don't have his
> book _Time and the Art of Living_ to hand, "'To read' is verb that has no
> legitimate past tense." At least with good books it doesn't.)
> Sometimes publishers do put such commentary after the text; I wish that
> practice would become the norm.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Carmela Valente <[log in to unmask]>
> Date: Sunday, March 23, 2008 11:18 am
> Subject: When should one read an introduction to a novel?
> > Dear good professors on this list:
> > Besides being an avid admirer of Twain, I also am devoted to
> > Dickens. In
> > our Dickens group, we read and discuss his novels. My question is
> > this.
> > Does one read the introduction at the beginning of a novel or at
> > the end of
> > the novel when after having read it, one knows the plot and thus
> > can better
> > understand the symbolism? If the intro is meant to be read at the
> > end of a
> > novel, why isn't it put at the end of a novel? After perusing the
> > intro to
> > The Old Curiosity Shop, I mentioned the upcoming death of Little
> > knell and
> > was told that I was inconsiderate for giving away the plot. I
> > reminded
> > this "gentleman" that had he read the intro, and in fact had he
> > read any
> > biography of Dickens, (and I am stating it here, because this is
> > also true
> > of Twain), the plots of novels are discussed in detail. Would it
> > make more
> > sense to read the introduction twice, both at the beginning of the
> > novel and
> > again at the end?
> > Thank you, thank you for welcoming me and wanting me back, and
> > happy Easter
> > to all who celebrate it.
> > Camy