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  • Introduction:Everything Old Is Novel Again
  • Nora Gilbert

I've always thought it was a dirty trick, naming a literary genre after a temporal status. There was, no doubt, a point in time when the idea of reading "a long fictional prose narrative, usually filling one or more volumes and typically representing character and action with some degree of realism and complexity" (OED) seemed so exciting and revelatory and new that calling it a "novel" felt like the right thing to do. But how was the genre supposed to retain its novelty? On a certain level, of course, it can be said that the novel is constantly renewing and reinventing itself—formally, stylistically, thematically. As is the case with snowflakes, no two novels are alike. Still, the "long fictional prose narrative" has been with us for several hundred years now, and the name with which it was christened at birth has begun to feel, at times, like a bit of an oxymoron. For those of us working in the field of novel studies, there is a similarly inherent tension between the need to be retrospectively, reflectively oriented and the drive to be theoretically cutting-edge. In putting together the special issue that follows—an issue whose purpose is to memorialize fifty years of thinking and writing about "the new"—I have tried to embrace the inner oxymoron of novel studies. How, this collection of essays invites us to consider, can looking backward help us to think forward?

To start, let's look back to the summer of 1965. It was at some point during this summer that a handful of faculty members working in the English department of what was then called North Texas State University decided that they wanted to start a new scholarly journal. They formed an impromptu, informal committee to decide what kind of journal it should be, and soon settled on the idea of focusing exclusively on the literary genre that they considered to be the most influential of the twentieth century. The committee drew up a formal proposal and submitted it to NTSU's then-president James [End Page 1] Carl Matthews in the fall of 1965, but Matthews sent the proposal back to them and said he would reconsider it in another two years. In 1967, the proposal was revised and resubmitted, at which point Matthews agreed to start funding the journal another two years down the line. After four years of prepping and planning, the first issue of Studies in the Novel was published in the spring of 1969, with James Lee appointed as editor, Gerald Kirk as managing editor, and Lee Miller as business manager. While a four-year delay is not a terribly long one in the grand scheme of higher education bureaucracy, it did make a difference in terms of the journal's "novelty" bragging rights: two years after the concept of SitN was first floated at NTSU, faculty members at Brown University hit on a similar idea and began publishing NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction in 1967. As disheartening as the news of a rival, Ivy League–funded journal must have been to the founding editorial members of Studies in the Novel, they were determined to put their own stamp on the field of novel studies nonetheless. Fifty years, 196 issues, and 1,337 articles later, it is safe to say that that determination has paid off.

Over the course of the journal's five-decade run, there have been six editors-in-chief: James Lee (1969-1975), Gerald Kirk (1975-1993), Scott Simpkins (1994-2003), Jacqueline Foertsch (2004-2012), Stephanie Hawkins (2013-2017), and myself (2017-present), all of whom have been faculty members of the formerly-NTSU/currently-University of North Texas English department. The fact that the journal has managed to grow and flourish in spite of all the cuts to library budgets and public university funding that have been increasingly implemented over the past few decades is a testament to the shrewdness, resourcefulness, and hard work of the five editors and numerous staff members (including its present, inimitable managing editor Timothy Boswell) who came before me. Taking over the stewardship of the journal just as...


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