Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing literary criticism informed by the philosophy or the politics of Marxism. Its history is as long as Marxism itself, as both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels read widely (Marx had a great affection for Shakespeare, as well as contemporary writings like the work of his friend Heinrich Heine). In the twentieth century many of the foremost writers of Marxist theory have also been literary critics, from Georg Lukács to Fredric Jameson.
The English born Literary critic and cultural theorist Terry Eagleton, in his important 1976 work Marxism and Literary Criticism, defines Marxist criticism this way:
“Marxist criticism is not merely a ‘sociology of literature’, concerned with how novels get published and whether they mention the working class. It’s aim is to explain the literary work more fully; and this means a sensitive attention to its forms, styles and meanings. But it also means grasping those forms, styles and meanings as the product of a particular history.”
The simplest goals of Marxist literary criticism can include an assessment of the political “tendency” of a literary work, determining whether its social content or its literary form are “progressive”; however, this is by no means the only or the necessary goal. From Walter Benjamin to Fredric Jameson, Marxist literary critics have also been concerned with applying lessons drawn from the realm of aesthetics to the realm of politics.