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Reviews139 Forms ofLife: Character and Moral Imagination in the Novel, by Martin Price; xvii & 373 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983, $27.50. Price studies the novel as an example of the "creation of form" (p. 8), defining in his introduction the two terms that serve as the basis of his theory: what, in his title, he calls forms oflife, "those shared activities which give us our language" (p. xiii) and moral imagination , "the depth and adequacy of [one's] conception of experience" (p. xii). In his first three chapters, he presents the reader with the theoretical assumptions necessary to our understanding of these terms. He writes about the "fictional contract" (pi) which exists between our language and its "peculiar use" (p. 2) by novelists, about the relevance the details of fiction hold for our lives, and about the importance of the novelist's use of character to our understanding of "the self" (p. 39). His treatment of these concerns grows out of Ae chapters which follow, chapters on Austen, Stendhal, Dickens, Eliot, Tolstoy, Conrad, Lawrence, Forster, and a chapter on Joyce, Woolf, and Mann. In each of these discussions, Price looks at the forms oflife and at moral imagination by presenting attitudes peculiar to the author under consideration. He starts with Austen's "comic celebration of ingenious villainy as a way ofinsisting all the more, through ironic understatement, upon its evil" (p. 72), while in his last chapter he works among three writers who create a portrait of the modern world in their treatments of solitariness. By devoting all but this last chapter to individual writers, Price gives the reader opportunity to consider his theories from the viewpoint of a number of works produced by the novelist. Thus, when he speaks of George Eliot's great concern with "moral experience" (p. 147), he moves easily among Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, Felix Holt, and Daniel Deronda. When Price turns to the authors and the works themselves as examples, I find myself at times disagreeing with his statements but moved to reconsider the material in light of the implications of his broad assumptions. In his chapter on Dickens, he writes: "Dickens has some ofJeremy Bentham's scorn for the fictions by which men enslave themselves, but he has sympathy for the needs, whether real or imaginary, which they fulfill" (p. 136). The comparison suggests an appealing way of understanding Dickens. Dickens does have such sympathy and that men in his novels often seek enslavement for what it makes possible for them is an exciting thought, a paradox which is clearly Dickensian in its nature. However, when Price writes that those "who succeed are oblivious ofothers, superbly efficient operators but deficient persons" (p. 115), the assumption is too broad and therefore incomplete and misleading. Referring to Bleak House, he mentions Tulkinghorn who does not, finally, succeed while Esther Summerson and Jarndyce succeed precisely because they are not oblivious to others. Surely Price sees this, but he has been overwhelmed by the idea of systems in Dickens and so has stated too generally an idea central to Dickensian thought. Price's use ofWittgenstein to comment on Levin's "skepticism" (p. 178) in Anna Karenina is thought-provoking; his treatment of Vronsky seems simplistic. It gives credit merely to Vronsk/s process of development (p. 196), not to what he has become as a result ofthat 140Philosophy and Literature development. Price's statement on Forster^ view of India as a country where "everything is ambiguous" (p. 300) is important; his understanding of Mrs. Moore and Godbole seems superficial. What has been suggested by interesting theories and an impressive list of authors is marred by simplistic assumptions whenever Price fails to control his overview . An overview is always an exciting process but it carries with it the danger of misleading generalization. Whitman CollegeMichael McClintick The Literary Speech Act: Donjuán withJ. L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages, by Shoshana Felman, translated by Catherine Porter; 150 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983, $19.50. One of the most extensive subliteratures provoked by deconstructive thought focuses on the unlikely figure ofJ. L. Austin. It began, as so many have, with a few pages by Derrida...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 139-140
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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