Useful chunky and descriptive review by Tony Mckenna of S.S. Prawer's Karl Marx and World Literature (long a favourite of mine, so great to see Verso bring this back into print recently) over on Marx & Philosophy Review of Books:

Prawer’s book, Karl Marx and World Literature – a reprint of the publication which first appeared in 1976 – represents a significant undertaking. This book endeavours to chart the vast array of literary works which most profoundly influenced Marx, and to show how these were channelled through the prism of his political philosophy as it developed over time.

The difficulty of such a project cannot be overstated. Marx was a polymath; a voracious reader who moved easily and swiftly between philosophy and economics, politics and natural science, while his tastes in fiction and poetry were no less diverse. To try to map such movements across the panorama of his life and to exhibit their necessary but often invisible interconnection makes for a daunting task. Nevertheless it is one Professor Prawer has approached with the tenacity of a bloodhound, aided by his own encyclopaedic knowledge of literature and an indigenous familiarity with the German literary milieu...

Prawer’s incisive descriptions and connections of Marx’s reading of Shakespeare stand out. It is not unknown that Marx had a fondness for Shakespeare; and yet part of the beauty of this book, written in the 1970s, shows in detail just how Marx registered in Shakespeare an intuitive, mystified understanding of the nature of the society which was coming into being at the time of his writing, and which Marx would later relate to the nineteenth century providing a more forensic diagnosis – Timon of Athens would describe gold as making ‘Wrong, right; base, noble; old young; coward, Valiant’ – and so Prawer draws attention to a similar passage in Marx only one which springs from his scientific methodology – ‘I am ugly, but I can buy myself the most beautiful woman … I am a wicked, dishonest, unscrupulous, dull-witted man, but money is honoured and so is its possesor’. (77) There is not a causal connection between the two, as Prawer is sometimes liable to suggest, but rather it is the culmination of classical German philosophy applied to British political economy by Marx, which allows him to perceive, and quite correctly so, those elements in literature which anticipate the true nature of a society underwritten by the commodity form...

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