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178 5. The Making of Modern Fict'on Kenneth Graham. ENGLISH CRITICISM OF THE NOVEL I865-I9OO. (Oxford English Monographs) Lond: Oxford U P, I965. $3-40. In the compass of a mere 139 pages of text, Kenneth Graham has surveyed an amazingly large body of periodical criticism and the fiction it criticized. He has done this with gracious recognition of the limitations imposed by his highly disciplined selection of evidence,, He seeks clarity in a portion of literary history especially clouded by contradictions, complexity, and an extraordinary embarrassment of riches, He attains a surprising degree of clarity, He sacrifices much of the inherent historical complexity of detail and yet manages to suggest that the clear trail he has cut through the underbrush is still bounded on all sides by a dense growth constantly threatening the well-defined path. For the sake of clarity and to allow space for observations on critics and novelists who might otherwise have gone unnoticed, Graham has relegated Henry James "to the background of this study," James's criticism having been sufficiently discussed by others. Actually, relegating James to the background perhaps allows us to appreciate the critical currents in this period more justly than we might if James had been introduced, as he often is, as the giant whose proportions were more evident to post-World War I critics than to earlier ones, Graham rightly insists that the criticism of James's contemporaries "should for once be seen in its own right, as expressing Victorian ideas about Victorian fiction and not as mere Un-Jamesian fumblings or non-Jamesian i πelevancies." Further, Mr. Graham is wise, I think, to limit himself to professional criticism published in periodicals, rather than clouding critical issues with evidence of the whirligigs of public taste drawn from memoirs, autobiographies, and the like. This, then, is a book not so much about highly individual critics whose stature was not recognized until much later, nor about the shifts in the common readers' tastes, but rather about the development of various critical theories about the novel, which helped to from the modern novel, which encouraged novelists to assert the artistic validity of the genre, and which educated a large reading public to accept the novel as an art form warranting the same serious consideration as poetry and the drama, Mr. Graham's book does not focus on selected individual critics but rather on "general movements of opinion, arranged according to certain broad topics," In his opening section, he gives a brief but richly documented account of "The Status of Fiction," in which he suggests the kinds of critical debate thet the novel had to survive in order to win serious acceptance as a legitimate genre. In the section on "The Question of Realism," he presents concisely the very involved discussion of the realistic aesthetic. Whatever dissatisfaction the reader might find with this section probably stems from the fact that several other well-known books have presented this material in considerable detail, as Clarence Decker's THE VICTORIAN CONSCIENCE, W, C1 Frierson's THE ENGi.iSH NOVEL iN TRANSITION, the symposium on realism published in COMPARATIVE LITERATURE, ill (Summer 1950, the work of Gyorgy Lukacs, and so on, In the third section on "Morals, Ideas, and the Nove1," Mr, Graham wisely does not make hay of the much-discussed melodramatic Vizetelli trial, the Wilde trial, or the flamboyant lives of the YELLOW BOOK circle, but concentrates on the more profound aspects of the perennial problem: "the. exact nature of a literary 'idea.'" Mr. Graham makes ir clear that the debate between the moralists and the aesthetes did not concern so simple and clear-cut a problem as art-for life's sake versus art-for-art 1S sake. It was not a mere matter of either-or alternatives. 179 Most writers of the time, even Gissing and Moore, were concerned with the union of art and morals (in the broadest sense). They fought not for total moral anarchy but for the artist's freedom to represent any moral position and his freedom from the tyranny of a specific kind of moral dictatorship. George Moore, Charles Reade, and even Oscar Wilde, who often attacked...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 178-179
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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