Using the 180-year history of Keats's Eve of St. Agnes as a basis for theorizing about the reading process, Stillinger's book explores the nature and whereabouts of `meaning' in complex works. A proponent of authorial intent, Stillinger argues a theoretical compromise between author and reader, applying a theory of interpretive democracy tha includes the endlessly multifarious reader's response as well as Keats's guessed-at intent. Stillinger also ruminates on the process of constructing meaning, and posits an answer to why Keats's work is considered canonical, and why it is still being read and admired.

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