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In an exciting and important book, The Transformation of the English Novel: 1890-1930, Daniel Schwarz seeks to "reinvigorate the humanistic study of fiction by creating a dialogue between traditional theory as well as between theory and texts." The critic takes aim at the New Criticism for its insistence on excluding the author of a work from consideration and for ignoring the historical content of a text. At the same time, he questions the contribution to an understanding of a rich text by proponents of deconstruction and other recent critical approaches whose vagueness and convolution blur exegesis.
The novelists chosen for study are Hardy, Lawrence, Conrad, Joyce, Forster, and Woolf. Schwarz posits a contemporary world in which earlier certainty has given way to doubt, affecting not only readers but the novelists as well, beset by personal troubles and social malaise that are reflected in their manner of creative expression. He posits too a transformation in the informed reader's stance that impels him to seek order and pattern in the often ostensibly chaotic literary work.
The critic is particularly sensitive in his treatment of D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers —offering ample biographical and historical evidence to prove Lawrence's own presence in the text through his narrator. And even in passages when author and narrator are at odds, the latter as "embodiment of the present self" to judge [End Page 849] Paul's actions, the former sympathizing with Paul as representative of Lawrence's younger self, "We as readers, participate in Lawrence's continuous and often ineffectual struggles with his mother's influence and his oedipal love." The critic concludes that readers learn much from Lawrence's narrator's inability to remain objective and to realize how sometimes ostensible detachment and omniscience fail to result in objectivity. He goes on to demonstrate with incisive argument that Lawrence is equally (though in other ways) present in The Rainbow, in which the author invents a non-Christian cosmology but one inappropriate to the tale the novel tells. Thus Ursula's epiphany is not in equilibrium with the plot as it develops. Schwarz sees this tension between plot and a mystic final vision as evidence of Lawrence's personal involvement in this novel—just the reverse of the situation in which the writer of fiction is supposed to depersonalize his presence. Space requirements of this review preclude mention of similar treatments of novels by Forster and Hardy.
Part II of Schwarz's book begins with two long chapters: "The Case for Humanistic Formalism" and "Modes of Literary Inquiry: A Primer for Humanistic Formalism" followed by chapters on reading Conrad, Joyce, and Woolf. Although this organization is somewhat strange, it works. The two theoretical pieces attempt sensible analysis of deconstruction and its sister theories with a view toward a reasonable assessment and an incorporation of relevant, useful techniques into the armory of the humanistic formalist. The chapters are a model of elegantly styled accommodation; yet they brook no fudging of the issues, no comfortable ambiguities.
Professor Schwarz is an excellent reader of modern texts, thorough in the extreme whether in looking at the text or evaluating critical and biographical background. In dealing with Conrad and Joyce, he sticks close to points elaborated in his introduction, whereas in the section on Woolf he is less explicit regarding theoretical implications but rigorously illuminating in his insights.
David H. Lynn's The Hero's Tale: Narrators in the Early Modern Novel is a small but intelligently argued book that emphasizes the role of the narrator in works by Conrad, Ford, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. Avoiding the jargon of contemporary critical speculation, Lynn sticks closely to the text of whatever fictional work he is discussing, offering his readers...