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P r e f a c e This book proposes a new history of the novel in France and England in which fiction itself is the primary variable; my account then provides the ground for understanding the fictional status of a series of (mostly) canonical novels from the early French tradition—or, more to the point, for understanding why they may not in fact be fictional. Both the larger narrative and the individual readings are subtended by an approach to the evolution of literary forms that parts company with most work on the novel’s history, and this, as much as fiction, is my subject as well. First, the big picture: I sketch out here a history of fiction. Elaborating and substantially modifying the arguments of a number of specialists of the English novel, I argue that fiction is not at all coterminous with “literature” or what used to be called “poetry,” but is a rather recent phenomenon. Saying this, I am not following common modern usage and taking fiction as a synonym for the novel; though the present study is restricted to novels, it is not about their birth. By fiction, I mean something better though more awkwardly captured by the substantive “fictionality,” which is to say the peculiar yet for us intuitive way that novels refer to the world: via invented characters and plots, they purport to tell us how people and institutions and abstractions like money or power work. This is peculiar logically: how can writers possibly persuade readers of their view of the world if they are just making up their evidence? More important, it is historically peculiar. For one thing, the type of invention commonly practiced by novelists starting in the nineteenth century has few analogues in earlier times, which accorded little respect to writers dabbling in subject matter entirely of their own creation, and which largely understood the term fiction to designate a form of lying as deplorable as any other. Moreover, openly invented characters were a rarity for a good chunk of the novel’s development in France and England: in the late seventeenth century and for almost all the eighteenth, novelists presented themselves as mere editors, and their inventions as real documents or reports. Modern readers x preface have often looked back on such pretense of literal truth with a certain degree of bafflement, but our present reflex, according to which the real-world existence of the characters we read about matters not a bit, would have proved just as baffling to readers throughout the two preceding millennia. No doubt there are many valid and useful definitions of fiction and fictionality according to which the above distinctions seem but split hairs: isn’t all literary imagining a part of what philosopher Kendall Walton has called the human propensity to “make believe”? And more seriously, perhaps: doesn’t Aristotle, in the West’s founding document of literary criticism, place the distinction between poetry and history front and center? Such are two main obstacles between us and a history of fiction, but they are far from insurmountable . As we will see, the principal hurdle of the Poetics is simply that we read it through our knowledge of what is to come, which is to say, fiction. And though my definition of fiction is undeniably only one of many possible definitions, it has the advantage of enabling us to distinguish between three historical regimes of literary invention in a way we cannot if we just make some “consciousness of fiction” the bedrock of all literary endeavor. The three regimes, which succeed one another in their dominance, are the following . Most of the Western literary tradition since Homer can be understood through the lens of Aristotle’s Poetics, which described and sanctioned an enduring articulation (not opposition) of poetry and history; according to this model, the poet adds his inventions to the renowned heroes and events of history so as to make a good plot. The second regime starts around 1670 and lasts until roughly the turn of the nineteenth century. During this time, novelists cease posing as Aristotelian poets and instead pretend to offer their readers real documents ripped straight from history—found manuscripts, entrusted correspondence, true stories, and all the rest. Following Barbara Foley, I will be calling this type of novel pseudofactual, in that it masquerades as a serious utterance. That the masquerade is almost always patent should not tempt us to confuse it with what...


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