The fiction one is in - Notes on the Late Twentieth Century British Novel

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categorie: Engleza

nota: 9.78

nivel: Facultate

Despite the various ways in which the accomodating form of the novel has been stretched and twisted by ambitious technical innovators, despite the stunning diversity of texts on which the label ‘novel’ has been slapped, despite the great variety of personal visions informing it, the basic function of the novel has remained practically unchanged through the centuries: to tell a meaningf[...]
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Despite the various ways in which the accomodating form of the novel has been stretched and twisted by ambitious technical innovators, despite the stunning diversity of texts on which the label ‘novel’ has been slapped, despite the great variety of personal visions informing it, the basic function of the novel has remained practically unchanged through the centuries: to tell a meaningful story about man in his social milieu.

Radical fictional experiments that have attempted to ignore this fundamental imperative have, for the most part, ended in dismal failures. Reversely, it has been noticed that when fiction sticks to the function mentioned above and applies itself enthusiastically, with gusto, to its task (whether the vision be tragic, tragi-comic, allegorical, symbolical or what have you), it stands a fair chance to become noteworthy, even to stand out in the context of world literature.

Of course, the recent novel should be conceived as morphologically complex and thematically diverse. David Lodge describes it as ‘ … a new synthesis of pre-existing narrative traditions, rather than a continuation of one of them, or an entirely independent phenomenon – hence the great variety and inclusiveness of the novel form [ … ] [ …] if Scholes and Kellog are right in seeing the novel as a new synthesis of pre-existing narrative modes, the dominant mode, the synthesizing element, is realism’. It should be emphasized that “postmodernism has not replaced liberal humanism, even oif it has seriously challenged it.”

During the first half of the 20th century, English fiction lived under the sign of experimentalism. Taking advantage of the Protean genre’s fantastic malleability, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce or Virginia Woolf freed the novel from its dependence on socio-historical contingency in order to refer the microcosm of individual psychology to myth and archetype.

Their fresh visions and audacious approaches all but shattered the almost artisanal simplicity of old narrative conventions, making room for new ways of perceiving reality, in keeping with the mutations produced in the sensibility of 20th century man, consonant with the new theories in physics, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and, of course, linguistics. It is undeniable that the writers of ‘high modernism’ gave the form a new lustre, a new intellectual status and new substance, by annexing new territories (especially the ‘inscapes’, too superficially explored by the writers of the previous century) and by drilling to unsuspected depths.

And yet, somber warnings about the imminent death of the novel could be heard in those very years. This, for two reasons. First, because the new novel, deliberately taking an elitist stance, made it impossible to perpetrate the harmonious relation between sender and receiver: it was, as it were, way ahead of its time. Running too far ahead of his readers, the writer became not only socially, but also culturally alienated. Second, these authors’ experiments all but exhausted the possibilities of the form, leaving only dead-ends to the coming generations, which were more or less forced to fall back on traditional formulas, for after the total novel, what?

Such thoughts, reinforced by a certain amount of professional jealousy, made Alberto Moravia refer irreverently to Proust, Joyce, Musil and their ilk as ‘the gravediggers of the novel’. What is undeniable is that with the fiction of the ‘high modernists’ one witnesses a ‘breaking down of traditional realisms’ (Frederic Jameson) and an unballancing of the synthesis commended by Lodge. ‘ … the disintegration of the novel-synthesis should be associated with a radical undermining of realism as a literary mode.’
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