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112 THE MINNESOTA REVIEW RICHARD WASSON MYTH AND THE EX-NOMINATION OF CLASS IN THE TIME MACHINE An important difference between the modernist and pre-modernist novel is located in the rhetoric of social class. To put the matter briefly, if generally, pre-modernist novels, particularly those written within the critical canons of the realist tradition, refer directly to class, to class struggle, usually naming them both and developing character and plot out of the accompanying rhetorical tropes. Authors and readers share the assumption that the language of class carries important significations in relation to non-fictional reality and to the shaping of aesthetic forms. For example, Defoe in Robinson Crusoe charted, among other things, the psychology of the son's rise from the father's middle state; Fielding outlined class restored and the qualities of the true gentleman in Tom Jones; Dickens detailed the ambiguities of prospective inheritance and class mobility in Great Expectations; Hardy recorded the frustrations of working class hopes for education and love in Jude the Obscure. On the continent, the rhetoric of class was both more complex and more open: Julien Sorel and Cousin Bette depended for their existence on the rhetoric of crude, grasping peasants and refined but cruel nobles and the no man's land of class rise; Zola rooted his characters in their class situation and struggle, particularly in Germinal. But to the moderns the language of class referred only to inconsequential externals; like her boots, her coat, the railway carriage in which she rides, Mrs. Brown's class was extraneous to her subjective core, the real interest of modernists like Virginia Woolf. For this generation of writers the self was something of a subjective flux, not a set of relationships within a social world, and it was made real through language that directed attention toward the psychological, the spiritual, the mythological . For Hesse and Kafka, Joyce and Lawrence, reality lies hidden beyond social relations; and the rhetoric of class, except in rare cases, is the bluntest of linguistic instruments for defining it. In modernism, these loosely shared views of reality, of language, of the rhetorics available to fiction, led in diverse directions, two of which are the concern of this study. The first, which might tentatively be called the existential, focused on an individual isolated from society. Iris Murdoch was surely correct some years ago when she pointed to the tendency in certain modernist works to present characters faced with extreme situations making "choices against the apocalyptic background of the modern world."1 Such choices were usually made alone; others 113 WASSON were likely to be only insubstantial extensions of the character's mind or some other consciousness. Rhetoric describing social relationships in general, let alone the rhetoric of class, could have little or no efficacy in such works. Other works set characters in the framework of myths that defined the self and its actions. Myths were seen as psychological and moral structures replicated in individual minds and psyches, and characters acted out traditional patterns. T. S. Eliot, for example, in praising Ulysses evoked myth as the most significant principle of order in a disordered society and Northrop Frye saw all literature centered in the archetype of the crucified God.2 The concreteness and specifics of social life at a given time, the state of class antagonisms, had little relevance to the overriding patterns of human cognition and experience. H. G. Wells' novel The Time Machine is a transitional work illustrating the displacement of the rhetoric of class in fiction. Following some suggestions made by Roland Barthes in Mythologies, I have called that displacement "ex-nomination." "The bourgeoisie is defined," Barthes writes, "as the social class which does not want to be named (emphasis B.)."3 More precisely, Barthes points out, the bourgeoisie is willing to name itself in the economic realm where it openly professes capitalism. However, in the political realm the "bourgeoisie has some difficulty in acknowledging itself: there are no 'bourgeois' parties in the Chamber (or Congress [addition mine]). As an ideological fact it completely disappears : the bourgeoisie has obliterated its name in passing from reality to representation, from economic man to mental man. It makes its status...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 112-122
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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