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12 THE ARTIST-NOVEL IN TRANSITION Sy Gerald Jay Goldberg (Dartmouth Col lege) As a genre, the artist-novel stems from an extremely old literary form — the confession. Emanating from the confession are two discernible, though sometimes overlapping, types of fiction, the 3ildungsroman and the KUnst1erroman, both of which tend to be characterized by an autobiographical cast, The Sildungsroman has as its protagonist che young man who is an apprentice to life. The KUnst1erroman, on the other hand, does not necessarily deal with a young man; it is primarily identified by its artist-hero. Since the close of the eighteenth century, this artist-hero has gradually come to occupy an increasingly important position in British fiction, Noting the plethora of modern protagonists who are either writers, painters, sculptors, or musicians, P.» P. Slackmur has written: "...it should be an observation of commanding interest that the hero of some of the most ambitious art of our time should have become the artist himself and that in a vast amount of other work the theme of the role of art should have become dominant in value."' Although it is difficult to determine with any exactness the initial appearance of the artist in fiction, among the first English novels to contain a portrait of the artist are Frances Moore Brooke's THE EXCURSION (1777), Helen Maria Williams' JULIA (1790), Elizabeth lnchbald's NATURE AND ART (1796), and William Beckford's MODERN NOVEL WRITING (1796). Following the Götterdämmerung of the eighteenth-century novel — the closing of the careers of the great innovating practitioners of the form: Defoe, Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, Smollett — lady writers dominated the period. Many of them, in order to raise the status of the art they practiced, endeavored to achieve what might best be termed cultural bon ton by sprinkling poetry in their prose. Initially these poems, drawn largely from the works of Shakespeare and Pope, have little organic relationship to the novels in which they appear, serving primarily to "beautify" the surface of the work, or at best, to point a moral. Subsequently, however, they are woven more closely into the fabric of the story; they become original pieces, purportedly the work of the heroine, and illustrate her sensibility. Thus, the first artists who appear in British fiction are, like Maria ViI Hers in THE EXCURSION, daughters of Clarissa rather than sons of Lovelace, exponents of morality as well as metrics, and, above all, insiders and not outsiders. Less emotionally excessive but essentially comparable to eighteenth-century artist protagonists in the moral values they hold and their commitment to society are the heroes of most nineteenth-century artist-novels. Though these artistheroes are, if anything, more concerned than their predecessors with realizing themselves either personally or professionally through art, their instincts are similarly humanitärian„2 /\ncj the superiority of the claims of life over art is almost always asserted in those instances when the two are presented in conflict and a choice is to be made, as in Benjamin Disraeli's CONTARINI FLEMING (1832) where the author-hero, Contarini, decides at the conclusion of his peripatetic adventures to devote himself to "the amelioration of his kind." 13 The responsibility of the artist to be active in the affairs of men is evident in such works as Charles Kings ley's ALTON LOCKE: TAILOR AND POET (1350) and George Mereditivs VITTORIA (IO67). These novels represent the artist's subordination of his art to the demands of Iife,3 of more consequence, however, is the fact that the morality of the creative personally appears as neither personality expedient nor idiosyncratic, but rather rspresentative of ttie principal values of society, a society in which the artist not only lives and works, but acts as well.4 In the evolution of the artist-novel, it is not until the last two decades of the nineteenth century that the figure of the artist appears in 3ritish fiction with considerable frequency,^ And with the growing popularity of the form, the protagonist begins to assume a new character, a character that dramatically distinguishes the modern creative personality as represented in fiction from his socially committed and morally responsible predecessors. That a profound change has...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 12-27
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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