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  • “Dream Made Flesh”: Sexual Difference and Narratives of Revolution in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show
  • Thomas Foster (bio)

While at home in large areas of life, the epic writer must be centered in the normal, he must measure the crooked by the straight, he must exemplify that sanity which has been claimed for true genius. No pronounced homosexual, for instance, could succeed in the epic, not so much for being one as for what his being one cuts him off from.

—E. M. W. Tillyard, “The Nature of the Epic” (48)1

Every action, every translation of a collision into deeds requires a certain common territory between the opponents, even if this “community” is one of sworn social enmity. Exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed may have this territory for their struggle; sexual abnormality, however, has no such battleground in its collision with society. Such a passion also lacks the relative, subjective justification either of being rooted in the social order of [End Page 531] the past, or of anticipating the future. The struggle of successive systems of love, marriage, family etc., thus has nothing to do with the “problematic” of this [historical] drama.

—Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel (113; emphasis added)

[T]he particular form of elsewhereness pertaining to the Modernist left-wing writer . . . is defined by the way she deconstructs a norm of socialist realism.

—Jane Marcus, “Alibis and Legends” (285)

In so far as [lesbian fiction] documents a world in which men are “between women” rather than vice versa, it is an insult to the conventional geometries of fictional eros. It dismantles the real, as it were, in a search for the not-yet-real, something unpredicted and unpredictable. As a consequence, it often looks odd, fantastical, implausible, “not there”—utopian in aspiration if not design.

—Terry Castle, “Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Counterplot of Lesbian Fiction” (231)

Marxist political practice can succeed only through the attempt to renarrativize experience, to construct a narrative whose narrating would be the production of a narratable world.

—J. M. Bernstein, The Philosophy of the Novel (266)

1. “Dream Made Flesh”: Narratable Worlds and Lesbian Fictions

By locating the story of a lesbian couple within the context of the 1848 revolution in Paris, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel Summer Will Show (1936) launches a double critique. 2 The novel attempts to intervene both in the Marxist tradition of historical narrative and in the modernist novel’s turn away from narrative to “lyrical” or “introspective” forms. 3 By incorporating modernist assumptions, Summer Will Show resists the totalizing tendency of Marxist historical narratives while at the same time insisting upon historical representation as a precondition for (re)narrativizing same-sex relationships. The novel, [End Page 532] therefore, also resists assertions like the one made by Marxist theorist Georg Lukács when he argues that the experience of “sexual abnormality” has no narrative structure because it has no temporal structure, being neither “rooted in the social order of the past” nor “anticipating the future” (Historical Novel 113). At the same time, “sexual abnormality” produces no significant historical effects because there is no social space, no “common territory,” where these “abnormalities” could come into conflict with heterosexual norms and enter into a historical dialectic with them. Without the possibility of such a dialectic, “sexual abnormality” can never become the “motor of history.” This assertion is only possible if Lukács assumes homosexuality to be located firmly within the private sphere of “love, marriage, family, etc.” and therefore clearly distinguishable from class relations. In other words, for Lukács “sexual abnormality” is always only a theme for domestic fiction, not the historical novel with its focus on real social enmities.

Summer Will Show, however, applies to narratives of both lesbian sexuality and class struggle the same point that J. M. Bernstein makes in his reading of Lukács’s theory of class consciousness as a theory of narrative. 4 By focusing on the centrality of narrative in Lukács’s thought, Bernstein locates an anti-foundational tendency within Lukács’s Marxism. For example, Bernstein concludes that “the premise of praxial action, of a collective narrating of experience, need not presuppose the actual...

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