In Myths of Modern Individualism, the renowned critic Ian Watt treats Don Juan, Don Quixote, Faust, and Robinson Crusoe as "individualists," pursuing their own views of what they should be. The original Counter Reformation myths saw the individualism of Don Juan, Don Quixote, and Faust as a problem to be quelled by death or mockery. However, the Romantic period, a time more favorably disposed toward myth, saw their dissension not as unacceptable disorder, but rather as admirable and heroic behavior. This incisive study traces attitudes toward these figures and the Romantic product Robinson Crusoe from disapproval to awe to skepticism, examining them as icons of such problems as solitude, narcissism, and the claims of the self versus the claims of the community. Pointedly, none of these figures marries or has a lasting relationship, save for the selfless devotion of a single male servant. Watt argues that the myths of Don Juan, Don Quixote, Faust, and Robinson Crusoe remain the distinctive products of Western society, embodying the most basic values of modern culture.
'In its way this is as original a work as Watt's famous first book, The Rise of the Novel. It is a work of great maturity, testimony to the intelligence and civility of its author.' Frank Kermode 'Ian Watt's magisterial Myths of Modern Individualism is a critical account - historical, cultural, moral and aesthetic - of how four great Western myths have insinuated themselves into the actualities of modern culture. Like all of Watt's work this is a remarkable work of the historical imagination, sympathetic without being fussy, erudite but always deft, analytic but very warm and witty. This is a book everyone should read.' Edward Said 'Watt has dug deep and come up with indispensable revelations about where we come from and where we are now as we 'individuals' grapple with our inescapable complaints about, yet need for, 'society'.' The Boston Book Review