The Idea of Difficulty in Literature

Edited by Alan C. Purves

Subjects: Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series, Literacy, Culture, and Learning: Theory and Practice
Paperback : 9780791406748, 176 pages, September 1991
Hardcover : 9780791406731, 176 pages, September 1991

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Table of contents

Alan C. Purves


1. Sources of Difficulty in the Processing of Written Language
Wallace Chafe

2. The Difficulty of Difficulty
Hazard Adams

3. Literary Theory and the Notion of Difficulty
William Touponce

4. The Difficulty of Reading
Helen Regeiro Elam


5. Kinds of Understanding, Kinds of Difficulties in the Reading of Literature
Gunnar Hansson

6. Questions of Difficulty in Literary Reading
Susan Hynds

7. Making it Hard: Curriculum and Instruction as Factors in the Difficulty of Literature
Martin Nystrand

8. Indeterminate Texts, Responsive Readers, and the Idea of Difficulty in Literature
Alan C. Purves


Name Index


This book redefines the nature of textual difficulty in literature and shows the implications of the new definition for teachers at all levels of education. Contrary to the traditional use of grade levels or readability formulae, the authors redefine difficulty in terms of readers and the texts they meet. They base their arguments on contemporary linguistic theory, on historical and comparative studies of criticism, on literary theory about readers and texts, on post-Freudian psychology, on empirical research concerning the nature of reading literature, and on studies of classrooms, curricula, and testing. What emerges is a coherent work that builds a case for seeing difficulty in literature as a human phenomenon more than a textual one.

Alan C. Purves is Director of the Center for Writing and Literacy, and Professor of English and Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany.


"I like the fact that this collection revolves around a single phenomenon, but examines that phenomenon from a range of different disciplinary perspectives — literary criticism, cognitive psychology, linguistics, educational research, post-structuralist criticism, etc. This text should be useful in addressing a central ambiguity in secondary and college literature instruction — the conflict between the need to provide 'appealing/relevant' texts and the need to intellectually challenge students. " — Richard Beach, University of Minnesota