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Reviews209 Marx and Modern Fiction, by Edward Ahearn; xv & 231 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, $22.00. In Marx and Modern Fiction, Edward Ahearn argues convincingly that Marx's writings provide the key to understanding major themes and narrative form in modern Western fiction. Byjuxtaposing sets of novels written between 1836 and 1936 from England, Ireland, France, and America, he shows that our great writers of the last two centuries consciously point out the links between history and cultural creations. In doing so, Professor Ahearn corrects earlier Marxist critics, such as Lukács, Benjamin, and Jameson, draws upon feminist critics, especially Irigaray, and comes up with useful insights into Balzac, Austen, Flaubert, Joyce, Melville, James, and Faulkner in a book that is eminendy readable. The opening chapter draws upon a list of Marxist themes, namely the division oflabor, the creation ofcapital, modes ofproduction, the enslavementofwomen through marriage, and the perversion of erotic desire into lust for possessions that recur in all of the novels Ahearn studies. He suggests, moreover, that Marx's desire to formulate a comprehensive view ofhistory as well as to unmask the contradictions and deceptions inherent in capitalism is echoed by these artists' use of irony and complicated narrative techniques. A comparison of Pride and Prejudice and Madame Bovary establishes these books as complementary treatments of bondage to material objects, of the impact of industrialization on provincial life, and of the struggles between the aristocracy and the middle class. Together, these works "frame the period of the onset of the bourgeois order" (p. 31). Their largely impersonal narratives parallel Marx's efforts to overcome a subjective, ideologically tainted point of view in favor of objective social criticism. The pairing of Henry James's TL· Golden Bowl and James Joyce's Ulysses reveals two works haunted by colonial oppression which nevertheless "attain a cosmopolitan vision" (p. 76) in their awareness of international economic relations, racism, and "the prostitution of the human to the monetary in modern society" (p. 95).James and Joyce portray the extremes ofclass and wealth resulting from conquest and the accumulation of capital. These authors, often criticized for their complicated narrative techniques , such as the use of inner monologues, do not remove themselves to the aesthetic realm but rather underline the individual's alienation in the bourgeois world. Both Balzac's Le Père Goriot and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom grapple with two significant events in the history of class struggle, the French Revolution and the American Civil War. They offer a panorama of socio-economic development from Marx's tribal stage to the blossoming of urban, bureaucratic capitalism and stress the patriarchal character of bourgeois society. Although they differ in form—Balzac projects toward the future while Faulkner reconstitutes the past—both insist upon "the relationship between personal fate and 210Philosophy and Literature (inter) national history" (p. 152). A final chapter explores Moby Dick as a synthesis of Marxist elements. Melville's true subject is global exploration and commerce; he consistendy questions the values of American democracy and religion, envisages eroticism in economic terms and pushes alienation to schizophrenia. His style, which alternates between third-person narration and direct address, documentation and story telling, blurs the distinctions between fiction and historical facts and, "like Marx's writing, is a powerful incentive to liberation" (p. 198). One can only regret the brevity of this book, which hints at, but does not elucidate, either the relationship between Melville and the French symbolist tradition or Marxist interpretations of Balzac's other novels. Ahearn, nevertheless , is an admirable defender of both Marx and the novelists he examines. Perhaps the greatest merit of this study is its refusal to see these artists as naive, or as victims of ideology. As Ahearn asserts in every chapter, even if they do not come to the same conclusions as Marx, their complex, even contradictory, perspectives are based on an understanding of the economic forces that created their world and ofhuman beings as both pawns and shapers of history. Ahearn proves that Marxist thought does not impose reductive views on modern fiction but rather opens exciting avenues of literary exploration. Whitman CollegeMary Anne O'Neil PictorialistPoetics: Poetry andthe VisualArts inNineteenthCentury France, by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 209-210
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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