Hospitality and Treachery in Western Literature


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James A. W. Heffernan

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In works of Western literature ranging from Homer’s Odyssey to Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the giving and taking of hospitality is sometimes pleasurable, but more often perilous. Heffernan traces this leitmotiv through the history of our greatest writings, including Christ’s Last Supper, Macbeth’s murder of his royal guest, and Camus’s short story on French colonialism in Arab Algeria. By means of such examples and many more, this book considers what literary hosts, hostesses, and guests do to as well as for each other. In doing so, it shows how often treachery rends the fabric of trust that hospitality weaves.

James A. W. Heffernan is Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College and founding editor of Review 19, an online review of books on nineteenth-century English and American literature.
"Writing with the candor and generosity of a true host, James Heffernan delivers a literary feast drawn from three millennia of Western literature. Entertaining as well as enlightening, this book affirms the virtues of hospitality while reminding us of its risks."—Julia Reinhard Lupton, author of Thinking with Shakespeare
“This wide-ranging and intellectually vibrant study is stunning. Heffernan crosses boundaries of culture and language cheerfully, bravely, and with vast sympathies for the subject at hand. As he amply demonstrates, the conflict between hospitality and treachery makes for plot itself. It is nothing less than the story of our lives.”—Jay Parini, novelist, critic, poet, biographer
“A superb book in every way: learned, original, highly readable, and written with elegance and ease. Heffernan explores examples from the whole range of Western literature—from Homer and the Bible to twentieth-century modernism—to offer an authoritative reading of an immensely important topic.”—J. Hillis Miller, author of The Conflagration of Community

“Heffernan is an excellent and intuitive critic, and Hospitality and Treachery is an engaging and often absorbing study. I hope that this book will spark a wide-scale rediscovery of hospitality as an object of critical inquiry. If what we have here is a new sub-field in literary and cultural studies more broadly, we will all have James Heffernan to thank. If not, then this book will act as a shade at the feast: a haunting, insistent reminder of an immense area of study that cannot, and should not, be ignored.”—James Alexander Fraser, Modernism/modernity
ISBN: 9780300195583
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
440 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
2 b/w illus.