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Review Article Readers and Novels JENNIFER LEVINE John Fletcher. Novel and Reader London: Marion Boyars 1980. 192. £8.95, £4.95 paper Marthe Robert. Origins of the Novel, trans Sacha Rabinovitch Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1980. 235. $19.95 Walter Reed. An Exemplary History of the Novel: The Quixotic Versus the Picaresque Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1981. 334. $22.00 It would hardly be news to say that the New Criticism is no longer new. Over the last twenty years it has been challenged in many ways, largely by critics outside the Anglo-American tradition, and by now new labels have filtered down to our undergraduate courses: those of structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction , reader-response criticism, hermeneutics, feminism, Marxism. For theprofessional reader at least there has been a concomitant and growing self-consciousness . There is no longer, it seems, a natural approach to texts. And yet, paradoxically, along with this diversity has come a new consensus about the object ofstudy. For a long time poetry hasbeen the literary paradigm - the genre to which all the others supposedly aspire. Now narrative is privileged. For literary theory, at least, the novel is most decidedly not dead. In relatively recent works as diverse as Roland Barthes' 5/2, Wolfgang Iser's The Implied Reader, Terry Eagleton'S Criticism and Ideology - all of which claim to speak of fiction in the wider sense - the account of literature revolves around readings of prose fiction. In fact, the phenomenon is already evident in Wayne Booth's Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), where characteristics derived largely from the novel would seem to apply just as well to epic, drama, or even at times to the lyric. Although Booth keeps one foot firmly planted in New Criticism his break with its generic hierarchy, inherited from the Romantics, is significant. The New Critics made it clear at the outset that metaphysical and modern lyrics were the touchstone, and proceeded to read Homer, Pope, Donne, and Eliot - and then the other Eliot, Austen, and Joyce - in essentially similar ways. The force of their criticism is undeniable but the verbal icon and the well-wrought urn exist, ultimately, outside history. For a whole UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 53, NUMBER 3, SPRING 1984 READERS AND NOVELS 297 series of reasons - not least among them the pedagogic situation of the expanding post-war universities (in which certain demands on a student's historical and cultural knowledge could no longer be made) the question ofa literary history was bracketed off. Critical canons notwithstanding, the reading public's taste for novels has grown ever since the genre's early days in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Marthe Robert points out, the novel colonizes all that it surveys, establishing a larger and larger empire for itself and simultaneously subsidizing the higher but less popular genres. It is the massive sale of novels, after all, that allows publishers to list economically marginal works of poetry, drama, even criticism. Part ofthe phenomenon thatany account ofthe novel must consideris its relatively brief and extraordinarily successful career. Although literary historians may notagree on when and where precisely it was born it is clear thatin relation to other kinds of writing the novel is a parvenu. More obviously than others it has a history. Two of the authors discussed here, Marthe Robert and Walter Reed, take the question ofhistory as central. The third, John Fletcher, makes a gesture towards it, but it soon becomes clear that his interests lie elsewhere. All three writers organize their account of the novel in a historical way, offering a chronological series of texts for our consideration. That strategy itself provokes questions of similarity and difference, and suggests that the genre is neither homogeneous nor static. Their procedure is worth contrasting with some recent continental studies: Barthes's 5/2, Julia Kristeva's Le Texte du roman, and Gerard Genette's Narrative Discourse, which, as Reed points out, generate a universal grammar for the novel out of the painstaking elaboration of a single text. In the case of 5/2, Balzac's Sarrazine represents a pivotal moment in literary time. Nevertheless, if history is not repressed, one suspects it has been caricatured. Two points...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 296-312
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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