Study Guide

Reader-Response Theory Timeline

How It All Went Down

1900-1933: The psychoanalyst and theorist Sigmund Freud lectures and publishes extensively

He's the father of psychoanalysis, and he had a boatload of things to say about how we interpret symbolism in dreams and art. Is it any wonder that a number of later Reader-Response theorists would find inspiration in this dude's ideas?

1938: Louise Rosenblatt publishes Literature as Exploration

Rosenblatt was way ahead of the game when she published this book in 1938. It's the first work of literary theory that systematically lays out a Reader-Response perspective.

1940s-1960s: New Criticism reigns supreme

Reader-Response theorists reacted, in part, against the doctrines of New Criticism. Literary criticism is all about the text, you say? Reader-Response theorists might have a few things to say about that.

1967: Stanley Fish publishes Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost

Fish gives us a new perspective on an old classic, by focusing on how Milton's poem plays with us readers by making us—surprise!—like Satan.

1970: Stanley Fish publishes "Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics"

"What does literature do to us?" This, says Fish, is the one question we all need to be asking ourselves if we want to undertake any kind of literary criticism.

1972: Wolfgang Iser publishes The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett

Thanks to Iser, we now know that every text has an implied reader.

1975: Norman N. Holland publishes The Nature of Literary Response: 5 Readers Reading

Holland analyzes five readers reading and shows how they all respond in very different ways to the same literary texts.

1978: Wolfgang Iser publishes The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response

In this follow-up to The Implied Reader, Wolfgang shows us how meaning is to be found in the act of reading rather than in just the text itself.

1978: David Bleich publishes Subjective Criticism

Forget about analyzing the text—let's psychoanalyze the reader! Er, something like that.

1980: Stanley Fish publishes Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities

Fish is fishing in new waters in this book. He shows us how we need to take into account not just the reader but actually the entire interpretive community the reader is part of when we're studying a literary text.