- Tradition Counter Tradition: Love and the Form of Fiction, and: Consuming Fiction
Both Boone's Tradition Counter Tradition and Lovell's Consuming Fiction are ambitious books about the history of the novel, about its realistic tradition in particular, and both are written from a feminist perspective. There the resemblances end.
Boone's well-argued and thorough study traces two complementary paths in the history of British and American fiction from its beginnings to the present. The first, concerned with the "stranglehold of literary convention" associated with the romantic love plot, explores the complex ways in which ideology is translated into narrative structures that both encode and perpetuate it. Boone examines three basic narrative patterns: courtship narratives (Pamela and Pride and Prejudice); seduction plots (Clarissa and Tess of the d'Urbervilles); and domestic dramas (Amelia and A Modern Instance). The second path uncovers "a simultaneous counter-narrative" that either explodes the ideal of romantic wedlock from within by following the events into "marital stalemate and impasse" or finds alternatives to marriage for the single protagonist.
The first half of the book, that concerned with tradition, is superb. Boone's broad acquaintance with other critics, both well-known and lesser known feminists, and Bakhtin, Tanner, and Althusser among others, sets his study firmly in a critical conversation as it extends it considerably. He is aware of the potential objections to his own work—his use of the terms tradition and counter-tradition, the relative lack of noncanonical literature in his discussion, his failure to distinguish British and American traditions—and discusses them in the introduction. In this section he also handles his situation as a male feminist critic with real sensitivity. Boone puts his discussion of romantic marriage in historical perspective, tracing the idealization of adulterous unions in courtly love to their evolution in the marriage plot. (In this section he might perhaps have made better use of the relevant feminist analyses of courtly love.) His discussion of the three narrative patterns draws on a variety of critical approaches. He is particularly interesting on the relationship between male sexual experience—Brooke's idea of "discharge" and Eagleton's of "expenditure" as the aim of a fictional plot—and narrative structure. Boone suggests that this relationship fosters "the illusion that all pleasure (of reading and of sex) is ejaculatory."
The second half of the book, that on the counter-tradition, is also rich. The novels he discusses range from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, are both British and American, are written by both women and men, and are both famous and hardly known. In his discussion of the novel of female community, for example, Boone includes Sarah Scott's A Description of Millenium Hall (1762) and Pat Barker's Union Street (1982). His analyses of better-known novels are frequently original and persuasive. For instance, he is excellent on Daniel Deronda, which becomes a more significant Eliot text as a result. [End Page 745]
Boone's reasons for selecting the particular novels he discusses are not always made sufficiently clear. Why, for example, choose Wuthering Heights, Daniel Deronda, The Golden Bowl, and To the Lighthouse as examples of "uneasy wedlock"? I found myself wondering whether To the Lighthouse is as disruptive of conventional narrative technique, particularly in its closure, as Boone would have us believe and was less than fully persuaded by his chapter on male independence and American quest romance as a counter-traditional genre. Boone himself is aware that "there may be at times a fine line separating innovative and conservative impulse in the writer's choice of quest as a narrative subject." And do differences in narrative patterns necessarily imply an "emphatic rejection" of the love plot? Nevertheless Tradition Counter Tradition is a fine book and demonstrates convincingly that "another story has always been present, muted but available, awaiting its chance to rewrite the history of the novel."
Terry Lovell's Consuming Fiction is a far less satisfying book than Boone...