We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
OR
Real and Imagined Worlds (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Shorter Reviews Real and Imagined Worlds, by Monroe Berger; pp. 303. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977, $15.00. The literary world has long awaited a book which would elucidate powerfully and comprehensively the connection between the imagined worlds of fiction and the real social and cultural worlds they prismatically reflect and exemplify. Real and Imagined Worlds is not that book. It is instead a lengthy discussion of the relative merits of fiction and the social sciences as instruments for acquiring and conveying knowledge about social realities. For Berger has detected a Threat. Fiction and its proponents are once again poaching. Locked out of the domain of the natural sciences, they have turned their eyes to less well guarded turf, that of the social sciences. And they are claiming, it seems, that it was theirs all along. This concern of Berger's becomes explicit only in the final chapter, but it serves as an important principle of (dis)organization throughout. The first six chapters of the book are occupied by examples, some very interesting, of representations of social realities and comments on them from fiction and parallel passages from nonfiction. But initially, the organizational intent behind this collage of centuries, authors, styles, and themes is baffling. A nineteenthcentury novelist may as easily find himself paired with a twentieth-century theorist as with the nonfictional products of his own soberer moments. And the frequent examples of early novelists writing about fiction itself are at once too unsystematic to be meant as literary history and too numerous to be ignored. What binds them all together is Berger's interest in contraposing two methods of inquiry and their results. It is Berger's view that writers of fiction early sought to justify their works by making them serve the dual purpose of amusement and education; and that in pursuit of the latter objective, they commented on social realities, either indirectly in their narratives or directly in their "authorial intrusions." And to this day, it seems, novelists have kept it up. Authors who fit Berger's thesis, at least superficially, are handled well. His discussions of Cary's Mister Johnson as a comment on racial relations and of Silone's Bread and Wine as a portrait of the inner dynamics of political idealism are masterful. And George Eliot, whose judgmental intrusions are introduced in grim and numerous array, is appropriately treated as an author with a social mission, particularly since Berger explicitly does not wish to do literary criticism. But there are some errors in Berger's classifications. A treatment of Jane Austen which makes her a weaker and less decisive Eliot is not a 124 Shorter Reviews125 triumph for sense or sensibility. And there are curious omissions; surely Godwin ought to have been mentioned. The larger question is whether Berger is not fighting a war that never was. Most of the developments in fiction which he cites in support of his claim that there is a war on are better construed as crises in the development of fiction itself than as attempts to supplant the social sciences. Surely the early English novel and the work of Zola demonstrate a frequent concern for near-scientific verisimilitude and an interest in social problems—but in large part arguments for and against literalness and verisimilitude stem from a concern about what makes for effective fiction qua fiction, not from concern about what fiction most effectively argues social issues. The same is true, I think, of the modern French novel, and even in the cases of Capote and Mailer. Even if there is a war on, claims like Berger's (pp. 249-50) that "Nonfiction works on social problems sell much better than novels on the same or any other subjects," display a kind of complaining tone and logical imprecision which might be tolerated in fiction, but which is out of place in the social sciences. Louisiana State UniversityMary Sirridge The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, by Iris Murdoch; pp. 89. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, $5.95. We are brought up to believe that it is important to distinguish works of philosophy from works of literature; and we imagine that we know, roughly, how...