The Story of All Things

Writing the Self in English Renaissance Narrative Poetry

The Story of All Things

Post-Contemporary Interventions

More about this series

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: Published: July 1998

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies

In The Story of All Things Marshall Grossman analyzes the influence of major cultural developments, as well as significant events in the lives of Renaissance poets, to show how specific narratives characterize distinctive conceptions of the self in relation to historical action. To explore these conceptions of the self, Grossman focuses on the narrative poetry in the English Renaissance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Relating subjectivity to the nature of language, Grossman uses the theories of Lacan to analyze the concept of the self as it encounters a transforming environment. He shows how ideological tensions arose from the reorganization and "modernization" of social life in revolutionary England and how the major poets of the time represented the division of the self in writings that are suspended between lyric and narrative genres. Beginning with the portrayals of the self inherited from Augustine, Dante, and Petrarch, he describes the influence of historic developments such as innovations in agricultural technology, civil war and regicide, and the emergence of republican state institutions on the changing representation of characters in the works of Spenser, Donne, Marvell, and Milton. Furthering this psychoanalytic critique of literary history, Grossman probes the linguistic effects of social and personal factors such as Augustine’s strained relationship with his mother and the marital disharmony of Milton and Mary Powell. With its focus on these and other "literary historical events," The Story of All Things not only proposes a new structural theory of narrative but constitutes a significant challenge to New Historicist conceptions of the self.


“[A]n important statement in a growing critical conversation. . . .” — Lynn Enterline , Spenser Newsletter

“Even with its ambitious title, this book presents and illuminates yet more than is promised. Marshall Grossman incisively examines how the literary culture of Renaissance England proposed questions of identity (or selfhood) and then set about to answer them.” — Stephen M. Buhler , Seventeenth-Century News

“Marshall Grossman’s new work lives up to its Miltonic title through a brilliant examination of the emergence of modern subjectivity in English Renaissance poetic narrative and the determining effects this narration has for contemporary literary theory. . . . [L]iterary critics and historians concerned with the complex relations of language and material history will benefit enormously from Grossman’s powerful methodology, which historicizes rhetorical form in consistently original and often shockingly brilliant ways. Indeed, there are moments in the book, particularly the two essays on Marvell and Milton, where familiar texts are made new again through challenging and insightful readings. Perhaps most importantly, Grossman’s work leaves a reader feeling that literary history matters a great deal at a time when new forms of technology demand original modes of thinking. In this respect, Grossman’s book is not only brilliant, but it is timely in a way that few works of contemporary literary criticism can claim.” — Gary Kuchar , Sixteenth Century Journal

“This statement, with its bold articulation of details in the text to large conceptual formulations, has been won from a vigourous and exemplary self-questioning. Also won from that questioning is real and original thought about literary history. That is very rare.” — Gordon Teskey , Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“With uncommon grace and precision, this book demonstrates the critical force and historical pertinence of formal categories of analysis, and it reveals through a focused lens the profound and lingering impact of Augustinian allegory on the shape of subsequent narrative knowledge and experience of history registered in the English literary canon.” — Lowell Gallagher , Modern Philology

"The Story of All Things makes a major contribution to the literary history of the English Renaissance and to the theory of modernity and the modern subject. Grossman takes up what are surely the most compelling and widely discussed questions in literary studies today. . . with an elegance that makes the book as beautiful as it is important, as pleasurable to read as it is necessary to be read." — David Lee Miller, University of Kentucky

"Compelling, provocative, original, and often brilliant." — Laura Lunger Knoppers, Pennsylvania State University


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marshall Grossman is Professor of English at the University of Maryland and is author of ‘Authors to Themselves’: Milton and the Revelation of History.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2117-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2101-9
Publicity material