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The Gatekeeper: A Memoir


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About the Author

Terry Eagleton is the author of, among other books, Literary Theory and The Truth About the Irish. He has also written a novel, several plays, and the screenplay for Derek Jarman's film Wittgenstein. He has been Thomas Warton Professor of English at Oxford, and Fellow at St. Catherine's College, Oxford, and is currently Professor of Cultural Theory at Manchester University.


Eagleton (The Truth About the Irish) has never been shy about expressing sharp, penetrating opinions. In this entertaining memoir of his childhood and intellectual development, Eagleton lives up to both sides of his reputation, coming off as both an astute social critic and a sharp-tongued cad. He expounds on his Cambridge adviser ("his role as a teacher was to relieve me of my ideas"), Mormons ("It was their lethal American blandness which proved hardest to take") and his Young Socialist cadre ("At one point in the group's career, venereal infections were circulating almost as rapidly as theories of neo-colonialism"). Clearly, Eagleton can be snide. But he can also be profound. He writes seriously and convincingly about Oscar Wilde, Wittgenstein, working-class intellectuals, Catholicism and liberal politics. Eagleton fiercely defends the radical left's ambitions and offers sharp critiques of globalization and the apparent triumph of capitalism. But he recognizes socialist failings his description of a typical leftist conference will elicit howls of laughter from those who have attended similar events. On his religious upbringing, Eagleton is even more damning. As an altar boy, he served as the "gatekeeper" in a convent whose nuns were never allowed to go outside or see a man. Later, he attended a seminary, which introduced him to the problems that have lately plagued the Church (how do you separate the boys from the men in a Catholic school? "[W]ith a crowbar," writes Eagleton). In little more than a hundred pages, Eagleton manages to be lewd, irritating, solemn and idealistic, all at the same time. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

When celebrated literary critics reach retirement, they produce memoirs. These are often revelations about the academy's insides or classic coming-of-age tales about a poor lout's triumph over humble beginnings to reach the life of the mind. Eagleton's almost egregiously witty and amusing memoir is of the latter kind. His story chronicles the ascent of an Irish Catholic working-class boy to Oxbridge and international recognition as the author of classic studies such as Literary Theory and Aesthetic Ideology. The book differs from others in the genre, such as Sir Frank Kermode's Not Entitled and Marcel Reich-Ranicki's The Author of Himself in that Eagleton unflinchingly displays the sharp teeth with which he bit quite a few hands that fed him along the way. As a prominent Marxist critic, Eagleton has proved a matchless debunker of the shortcomings of trendy literary theory. As a memoirist, he is equally merciless about the admittedly ludicrous characters encountered in his life. But even in this personal recollection of petty power play in the church and the academy, the eloquent Marxist privileges analysis over genuine insight into himself or others. Missing from this book is Eagleton the human being, the man behind his clever words. Recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries. Ulrich Baer, NYU Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"[A] hilarious and devastating little book." --The New York Times Book Review "Eagleton cracks jokes as easily as one would crack peanut shells." --Washington Post Book World
"Witty and entertaining...heady, brimming with blistering screeds against the sacred and the profane." --Entertainment Weekly "This superb memoir, which is riotously funny, philosophically illuminating, and raucously satirical, is so filled with good writing that you want to turn immediately to a friend and read whole swatches out loud....Eagleton's style dazzles, illuminates, and connects." --Providence Journal "Ireland has always provided England with some of its greatest wits. Past ages have seen Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde illuminating English letters; for the last several decades, Oxford, at least, has had Terry Eagleton...A very funny book, with wet-your-pants-laughing passages." --Booklist (starred and boxed review) "In this entertaining memoir of his childhood and intellectual development, Eagleton lives up to both sides of his reputation, coming off as both an astute social critic and a sharp-tongued cad." --Publishers Weekly

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