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After Gissing's death, Hudson would recall for Edward Garnett a letter in which Gissing had asked if he believed in immortality, a question that seems strange from the creedless Gissing to the creedless Hudson. Neither man could have foreseen the sympathetic interest their lives and works would continue to evoke, constituting an enviable literary immortality. Martha S. Vogeler California State University, Fullerton 12. COUNTERCULTURE Rachel Bowlby. Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola. New York: Methuen, 1985. Cloth $25.00 Paper $9.95 "Just looking," the leisure shopper's familiar, placatory response to the assistant, takes on unfamiliar resonances in Rachel Bowlby's book. Narcissus too spent a lot of time just looking. Bowlby traces the growth of the consumer society during the second half of the nineteenth century. With the opening of luxurious department stores in America, Britain and France, the woman with time and money to spend had more scope than Narcissus to bring to life the longedfor image. The difference was of course that the woman saw in the advertisement pictures or in the draperies behind the glass not what she was but what she might be. Consumerism caters to imagination, not reason, to fantasy, not need. To say that writing fiction, especially writing novels, became increasingly a commercial venture which catered to a wider audience as the century drew on is nothing new. But in this highly original and well-researched book Bowlby shows how, as fiction became commercial, commerce became fantasy. She discusses Gissing's Eve's Ransom, Dreiser's Sister Carrie, and Zola's Au Bonheur Des Dames, novels which implicitly or explicitly take as their subject the "commodification" of women, the turning of women into adjuncts of the shop. Gissing, Dreiser and Zola respectively loathed, welcomed and felt ambiguous about bringing art to the market place, and in three further chapters Bowlby traces their contrasting responses to their time in New Grub Street, The "Genius", and L'Oeuvre. Carrie, Denise, the heroine of Au Bonheur des Dames, and Eve are all poor, provincial girls who bargain successfully in the city. In Dreiser's world, identity is created through the props that money can buy, and through projecting theatrical illusions; all women are actresses, and Carrie becomes a successful one. Bowlby disagrees, however, with those critics who argue that Robert Ames's reproving voice is Dreiser's. In the opulent, maze-like department store which provides the title for Zola's novel, the fabrics, the "étoffes," are the stuff that dreams are made of. The women customers almost fall fainting with desire into pools of velvet: consumption and consummation are both consommation. In Eve s Ransom the indecisive Hilliard wonders whether Eve is an ideal, a problem, a patient to be cured. Gissing's names are always interesting, and Hilliard wants, I think, to miniaturize Eve, to "place" her safely by reducing her to a small art object. Eve opts for an even more banal 455 place of safety, marriage with Mr. Narramore. She enjoys spending her sixpences; but though it is the first of the six novels Bowlby discusses, Eve's Ransom seems to me to fit her thesis least well since it is less securely linked to the type of consumerism she describes earlier. In the second part of Just Looking, a novelist and two painters, Edmund Reardon, Eugene Witla and Claude Lantier, more or less disguised projections of their creators, reflect what may well be three national attitudes to the artist within a commercial democracy, though Bowlby is careful to defend herself from the charge of generalizing. Reardon still hankers after a gentlemanly independence and the company of people who know Greek. For the American Witla, even the artist must accept that masculine achievement means material gain. Lantier is unsuccessful, and "before his time," but for him as for the artisan, his work is "the daily task." Bowlby's account of the novels is of course historical and political, but one feels that her book grew slowly out of an acute and sympathetic reading; the novels are never truncated^ to fit the thesis. Bowlby, moreover, dissociates herself from the golden worldist tendency of Jean Baudrillard—and, one might...


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pp. 455-457
Launched on MUSE
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Will Be Archived 2021
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