2007-08 BM1: Session 6

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Back to 2007-08 BM1 Introduction to the Critical and Scholarly Discussion of Literature, Part 1

Received Notions about nineteenth-century fiction:

  • The novel as the privileged art form of bourgeois self-reflection (The triumph of Realism)
  • The novel as the privileged medium of popular entertainment (popular fiction, circulating libraries)
  • The differentiation into subgenres

Questions and second thoughts

  • are realist novels "realistic"?
  • how do the first two characteristics go together: the popular and commercial character of fiction and the art quality?
  • what drives the production of subgenres: aesthetic progress, new fashions?

A concerted view of the development of fiction in the 19th century. — "The order of fictions"

In the course of the eighteenth century, the problematic overlappings between fiction and the real world have been severely cut down.

At least from around 1780 onwards, there is an "order of fictions" which circumscribes the place of fiction in public discourse and regulates the conditions of its development and circulation.

  1. all fictions now have obvious signs, by which they are recognized as fiction (narrative techniques, "unrealistically" comprehensive knowledge of narrators [omniscience], Intertextual references to the literary tradition, connections to topics of public debate, ...)
  2. all fictions are produced for and circulate on a market which is structured by internal criteria: -- a scale: popular vs. high art -- types: subgenres with typical features...
  3. beyond this market, there is the undiscussable production of "penny dreadfuls" ...

Example: Middlemarch (construction of the narrative voice; non-imitative; marketing choices; sensational aspects, condition of England, the positivist philosophy...)

What to do with 19th century novels

  • Look for signals of fictionality...

Question/Reflection: In this new order of fictions, what is the relation between fiction and scandal?