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Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Volume 15 | Issue 1 Article 10

10-31-2002

Review of: Michael McKeon, ed., Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach
Marshall Brown

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Review of: Michael McKeon, ed., Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach

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Reviews

Michael McKeon, ed. Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. xviii + 947pp. US$29.95 (paper); US$65 (cloth). ISBN 0-8018-6397-X.
At just under three and one-half pounds, Michael McKeon's anthology is not to be taken lightly. Fifty reading selections, quite properly including two pieces of his own work, are distributed in fourteen sections. The general and sectional introductions by themselves constitute virtually a new book approaching fifty thousand words. They are formidably intelligent confrontations with the reading selections and hence with the meaning of the novel in history. Dialectic is the order of the day, as McKeon debates and wrestles with his authors. He is willing to charge an author with "confusion" (Nancy Armstrong, in this case, in a footnote on p. 436), and is so serious in his purpose that he can do so without disrespect. All students, indeed all critics, can learn from his tone. Despite its subtitle, the book makes no pretence to being an historical approach to the theory of the novel. Its brief is neither history of criticism nor the historicist reckoning with literature in its social contexts featured in McKeon '8 earlier Politics and Poetry in Restoration England: The Case of Dryden's "Annus Mirabilis" (1975) and, some might say, his Origins of the English Novel (1987). In fact, novels to him are less representations than exempla, "Stories of Virtue" (the title of chapter 6 of Origins and also the focus of McKeon's chapter on the eighteenth-century novel from The CambridgeHistory of Litermy Criticism, reprinted in part here). Consequently, instead of either history of ideas or historicism, the anthology's subject is theories "of the novel as a historical phenomenon" (p. xiv), that is, of the novel as it has changed. The antithesis is Margaret Anne Doody, whose True Stoty of the Published by DigitalCommons@McMaster, 2002 Novelis acidly dismissed as "incoherent" for refusing "a basic diachronic difEIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 15, Number 1, October 2002

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ferential" (p. 807). The first three sections concern archetypal and structuralist criticism and psychoanalysis (Freud and Marthe Robert, a fine choice); they are followed by three varieties of "grand theory" (Lukacs early and late, Ortega y Gasset, and Bakhtin), then come to a point in"Revisionist Grand Theory," embracing Watt, McKeon's Origins,Jameson, and Benedict Anderson. This is part 7, the end of the book's first half and the turn from genre definition towards history of the genre. To be sure, formalist elements are still acknowledged in the second half, but only as they lead to developmental ones. Thus, part 9, "Subjectivity, Character, Development," opens with Dorrit Cohn and Ann Banfield writing about free indirect discourse but ends? some selections later, with Clifford Siskin's Historicity of Romantic Discourse. And part 10, "Realism," which uses an excerpt from Rosalind Coward and John Ellis as an uncharacteristically bad-awful, actually-stand-in for Barthes, ends with George Levine and Michael Davitt Bell on developments in nineteenth-century England and America, respectively. The last three parts are avowedly historical: "Modernism," "The New Novel, the Postmodern Novel," and "The Colonial and Postcolonial Novel." The anthology moves from asking what the novel is to asking how it changed. Indeed, the anthology inclines towards diachrony right from the start. Already in part 2 McKeon proffers an illuminating slant on structuralism. The section title is ''The Novel as Displacement I: Structuralism." Here Benjamin's "The Storyteller" prefaces Levi-Strauss and Northrop Frye. The collocation is surprising, even after allowance is made for a rare error that leads McKeon to call Benjamin's subject, Leskov, "a nineteenth-century novelist" (p. 72) when he actually wrote folk tales. Even more surprising than thinking of Benjamin as a structuralist is treating any of these readings as "historical" in their interest. I do not know what to make of the entailment in the following sentence: "Benjamin's interest is therefore historical: concerned both with the temporal persistence and with the structural relationality of discursive form" (p. 71, my emphasis). Yet McKeon's misapprehension of an essay concerned with ancient wisdom provides the occasion for a wonderfully usable partition of theories of the novel into the devolutionary and the evolutionary. Even structuralists judge and stratify. McKeon shows how novels for them are either better or worse than other kinds of narratives; with his simple tool (already adumbrated in Origins), McKeon enables us to read histories into their evaluations. McKeon's dissections are often breathtaking. He easily illuminates the dark passageways of Lukacs's Them) of the Novel and relates that book to the later work on the historical novel. In five rich pages McKeon brings life to categories as abstract as form and content by highlighting numerous motifs, such as the melancholy "second nature" that he brilliantly categorizes as a self-conscious "estrangement from an estrangement" (p. 179). History as discussed in Lukacs's work becomes reflected in the history of his works, .

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as a later focus on content and context displaces an earlier priority of form. Even without commenting directly on style, McKeon reveals how the linguistic thickets of Lukacs's early book are transmuted in The Historical Novel into conceptual sophistication hidden under a clear surface; here, as he says, "'history' is not the diachronic antithesis of synchronic 'structure,' but a complex dialectic of diachronic and synchronic relations" (p. 181). Similarly, by scrutinizing Ian Watt's use of the metaphor of "home," McKeon persuades me for the first time to regard The Rise of the Novel as a thinker's book that should not be reduced to its familiar slogans. To be sure, the conceptual detailing of McKeon's work is always impoverished in a summary like this; his insight is much less spare than any given excerpt sounds. Yet as the anthology unfolds, topics turn insistent and invention flags. The later sections land too hard on debates about whether there are three stages of history (the past, the modern, and the postmodern), or only two with a shifting border. In an ultimately incisive critique of Kwame Anthony Appiah's essay "Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?" the dialectical editor confronts an ethical philosopher writing literary criticism and struggles to rewrite Appiah's evocations as logical junctures: "It may be, then ..."; "It therefore may be useful.,;"; "Appiah may be acknowledging the pitfalls I've just tried to formulate" (p. 855). The effect is to replace Appiah's complexly nostalgic modernism with a schema of alienation and deliverance that to me evokes the brilliant discussion of this theme in Robinson Crusoe in Origins. McKeon forces such an author into his own mould. For so insistent a dialectician, he evinces little negative capability. McKeon's greatest strength as a critic has always resided in an ability to seize thematic currents and pry them open dialectically. He is decidedly more limited in bringing resolution. A crucial passage in the general introduction defines Mckeon's understanding of dialectic. He writes of "the familiar 'Hegelian' progression from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. Posited from the outset, such a method finds what it wants to find, not what's there, and it shapes what it finds according to a progressive ('synthesizing') model of improvement that's predictable, even inevitable" (p. xvii). I hope the quotation marks around "Hegelian" are meant as scare quotes and not as a labelling device. For this is a caricature of Hegelian method, which in its conceptual leaps and verbal puns is continuously inventive and surprising. McKeon is too sober. As J.N. Findlay rightly points out in The Philosophy of Hegel: An Introduction and Re-Examination. (New York: Collier, 1962), the formula thesis-antithesis-synthesis is "in fact not frequently used by Hegel" and is "much more characteristic ofFichte" (p. 67). Theodor Adorno makes the same point in the section entitled "Synthesis" in the second part of Negative Dialectics; see NegativeDialektik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1975), pp. 158-61. Rather, Hegel's dialectic actually instances what McKeon attribPublished by DigitalCommons@McMaster, 2002 utes only to Marx, for it is complexly progressive and regressive at once. The

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progressive element is lodged in the familiar term AuJhebung, a resolution that (punningly) preserves and suspends differences: nothing is ever lost on Hegel. The complementary regressive element is named by the less familiar term Zugrundegehen, which means both destruction and grounding. Hegel goes up and down at once, hence the circular (not trivially teleological) structure of both the Phenomenology and the Science oj Logic. (Hegel's fullest account of dialectical method-explicit on all these points and, for Hegel, remarkably clear-occupies the last chapter of the Science of Logic and includes an extended passage inveighing against the superficial empty formalism of Kantian "triplicity. ") Seeing only linearity, McKeon prefers an open-ended "technique of discovery" that "acknowledges the contingency of its choices by incorporating the provisional nature of all categories, of all wholes and parts, into its procedure" (p. xvii). Contingency remains a topic in the introduction to part 1, but not later, and the logic of incorporation leaves discovery open at only one end-new bricks to add to the pile. Hence in McKeon's powerful yet inauthentic "Hegelianism," totalization is the name of the game. That is why he is less satisfying in summary than in detail. He often asks profoundly interesting questions but comprehension becomes too comprehensive to be of much use. The nouns of the title are relentlessly singular, in contrast, for instance, to the too little remembered book by my great teacher Peter Demetz, Formen des Realismus. Theory oj the Novel morphs into a system, beautifully architectonic, machine-like. Even as McKeon announces that his organization detaches history from chronology in order to follow "a different procedure" (p. xv), he seems not to recognize that history is inseparable from change. Hence in a curious symmetry Doody could accuse Origins of the same sin of erasing difference that McKeon finds in her book. One of his rock-like strengths lies in discovering impressive correspondences between macro- and micro-levels of analysis, yet progression is compromised by a self-repeating dialectic in which what goes around comes around. The problems can be seen in the conjoint treatments of Freud and of plausibility. In turning Freud into a theorist of the novel, McKeon collapses essential differences. "Freud's interpretation of dreams provides one micromodel for the macro-devolution evident in the structuralist account of how myth degenerates into the novel, how tradition degenerates into modernity. In these terms, the latent content of the unconscious dream thoughts corresponds to the pure and essentialform of myth. The dream-work transforms these thoughts into a conscious or manifest content-the dream that we remember when we awake-that corresponds to the more elaborated representations of romance or novelistic narrative.... The process of 'condensation' ...selects only a few elements from the latent content to include in the manifest content of the dream, namely, those elements that are

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maximally 'overdetermined.' ... The dream-work, then, corresponds at the micro-level of psychic production to the macro-level production of narrative content that adapts myth to the plausibility demands of social context; the dream-work does to the dream-thoughts what 'history' does to structure" (p. 145, with more scare quotes around a term that should not scare McKeon). There follows a paragraph proposing a second model in which the novel corresponds to the dream analysis rather than to the dream content. Both paragraphs falsify Freud. For Freud identifies fiction neither with dream nor with dream analysis, but with a different mode of representation. The key passage is in the Dora analysis. "I must now turn to consider a further complication, to which I should certainly give no space if I were a man of letters [Dichter] engaged upon the creation of a mental state like this for a short story [Novelle], instead of being a medical man engaged upon its dissection. The element to which I must now allude can only serve to obscure and efface the outlines of the fine poetic conflict [den schonen, poesiegerechten Konflikt] which we have been able to ascribe to Dora. This element would rightly fall a sacrifice to the censorship of a writer [eines Dichtersi, for he, after all, simplifies and abstracts when he appears in the character of a psychologist. But in the world of reality, which I am trying to depict here, a complication of motives, and accumulation and conjunction of mental activities-in a word, overdetermination-is the rule." (See Sigmund Freud, Dora: An Analysis of a Case ofHysteria, ed. Philip Rieff [New York: Collier, 1963], p. 77.) Dreams and novels are amenable to similar hermeneutic procedures, but they differ in crucial respects, chief among them being that the novelist simplifies where dreams complicate and overdetermine. The novel is a fine life story, well wrought and most unlike a dream. Freud's preface says that Dora's troubled life is not a cheap "roman d clef' (Schlusselroman, p. 23), but then it turns out to be an artful one: it hinges on the question, "Where is the key" (" Wo ist der Schliissel?," p. 117, the whole sentence italicized in the original), and is "unlock]ed]" by Freud's suggested "conclusions" i Schliisse, p. 120), which, in sum, were "that sexuality is the key [Schliissel] to the problem," even if not in the form of a "deus ex machina, on a single occasion" (p. 136). It turns out, then, that Dora's life story is a Schlusselroman after all, only of a different sort that is to be decoded in terms of psychic forces rather than personal agents. But the novel is only in the life story, not in the dreams, nor in the analysis. All these complications and distinctions disappear in McKeon's consolidating correspondences. At the end of the sentences quoted in the previous paragraph McKeon associates "plausibility demands" with coherence or conformity. He allies plausibility here with "context" and on the ensuing page with "emplacement that culminates a three-part periodization" (p. 146)-that is, with totalizing synthesis. As his sense of "novel" runs counter to Freud's, so his

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sense of plausibility runs counter to the mainline accounts of realismnot just the missing Barthes essay "L'effet de reel," but others whom he does include. Ortega y Gasset's wonderful Meditations on Quixote repeats insistently how his model author "deliberately sought .., improbability" (p. 273) and how "verisimilitude and determinism" have "buried poetry" (p. 293); correspondence and social predictability are death to the imagination. And George Levine reminds us of "the continuing literary problem that plagued realism from the start," namely, "the incompatibility of tight form with plausibility" (p. 619). What is plausible in a novel, on such accounts, is the opposed of the tried and true; instead, it lies on the side of the unexpected, the revelatory, the quirkish, the whimsical. McKeon's anthology, by contrast, is solid, commandingly centred, and unsurprising. It offers a correspondingly monochrome theory of the novel. In taking off from genre theory and structuralism, it lacks the great eighteenth-century virtue, wit. Harry Levin's Gates ofHorn emphasized the dependence of realism on comedy; as unsystematic as they come, it is rightly not in the anthology, but wrongly not even in the bibliography. Parody is acknowledged, perforce, yet in McKeon's usage it fades into imitation, quotation, "the matching of matter to form peculiar to the novel genre" (p. 320, concluding the Bakhtin introduction), and finally "a way of naming the dialectical process itself" (p, 486). The implicit ideal of perfected matching or total form is no fun. It grows numbing reading sentences such as this, from "Realism": "The effort to 'naturalize' narrative, to efface its rhetoricity, was briefly sustained not by an emergent realist doctrine but by the claim to historicity, for which truth was coextensive with the transparent facticity of the documentary object" (p. 588). Abstractions are not the problem as such, yet the ugly homoioteleuton does reflect the grinding impoverishment of McKeon's dialectical machine. He lives in ideas; there are no people behind them. (To be sure, the sentence quoted suffers particular alienation from being written about himself in the third person, but the effect is pervasive.) It is telling that while the index of names covers the entire anthology, the index of concepts covers only the synthesizing introductions. The authors' ideas are subordinated to the anthologist's. That is why the realism section in general and the absence of the man Barthes in particular are so disabling. If ever an academic critic positioned himself as writer more than thinker, it was Barthes; even a good summary of his doctrines kills the spirit. And Coward and Ellis give a bad summary, intelligible only as a reminder if you have read the man himself, and instancing Sterne's whimsy as repression. It simply is not true that "Tristram Shandy is concerned with what it cannot speak both because of censorship and the nature of realist language: sexuality and castration" (p. 595). Sterne has ways to say "bugger" when he needs to; his aposiopesis is a joyful trap to enlist the reader in complicity with bodily functions. To be sure, either

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Barthes's SjZ or even The Pleasure ofthe Text is a tough nut for an anthologist to crack; the writerly Barthes resists teaching. But before being deconstructed his history of the novel was encoded in Writing Degree Zero, which would be both clear and effective, and would introduce into this vast anthology a topic whose absence is both remarkable and symptomatic-style. McKeon's conception of theory "rules out ... the practical activity" of novel criticism (p. xiii): historically, other conceptions of theory have been receptive to critics omitted from selections and bibliographies alike, notably Auerbach and (even more jarringly) Raymond Williams. Ruling out practical criticism reinforces the collection's overriding characteristic, the repression of individualities, personalities, varieties, multiplicities. What does McKeon's immense consolidation mean for the eighteenthcentury novel? So I ask the question, but I really mean and will answer a different one: what does it cost the eighteenth-century novel? The answers will not surprise readers of McKeon's earlier work. One cost is the travesty of Sterne, who, apart from being no fun (Coward and Ellis), turns out to have written a book that is not a novel at all (Northrop Frye, in the anthology's first selection), or else one that "is complete in itself' and "selfcontained" (Virginia Woolf, p. 750). Likewise, Fielding is subordinated to Richardson; indeed, the TomJones prefaces are unmentioned in the entire volume of The Cambridge History of Litera1J Criticism from which McKeon's "Prose Fiction: Great Britain" is reprinted. Fielding is the great theorist of plot, consecrated in the famous essay by Richard McKeon's associate R.S. Crane, "The Concept of Plot and the Plot of TomJones." Michael McKeon establishes his modernist, historically progressive credentials by rejecting the formalism associated with his father's Aristotelian school, yet (as I have been trying to show) the repressed returns in the structuring drive of his own collection. A third sacrifice is the French novel. Again no surprise. A disingenuous note reads, "Space limitations require exemplifying one among several language traditions.... My choice of the Anglophone novel has been dictated by my own area of expertise" (p. xvi). Many books of fewer than 947 pages, and many essays and monographs of 50,000 words or less, have not felt thus constrained. But here Mme de Lafayette makes only two indexed appearances (plus a few more tangential, unindexed ones). In one Ian Watt says, "French fiction from La Princesse de Cleoes to Les Liaisons dangereuses stands outside the main tradition of the novel" (p. 377). In the other Alain Robbe-Griller makes her into the absolutely representative whipping-boy of the main tradition. He expresses himself with sarcasm: "A 'good' novel, ever since, has remained the study of a passion ... in a given milieu" (p. 811). No more of that! Along with whimsy and with plot, in other words, the theory of the novel as a social-historical enterprise transcends character. Yet from the origins to Freud, a novel is pre-eminently a love story. That, after all, is one of the meanings of roman-a romantic

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book. The second half of McKeon's anthology opens with "Privacy, Domesticity, Women," an odd compilation consisting half of Ian Watt, half of the confused Armstrong together with the unaccommodated introduction to Gillian Brown's Domestic Individualism (chapter summaries and all). Here one does miss feminism. My choices would be Kristeva, Nancy Miller, and Susan Winnett. Others would select differently, of course, but would probably also recognize that the French novel-especially in the eighteenth century, but not only then, nor only the French novel-is typically an account of men's and women's passions. An historical approach to the theory of the novel in which Rousseau makes only fleeting appearances as a philosophe and none as a novelist is missing a beat-the beat of the heart. (An important complement to McKeon's anthology is the special issue of this journal, 13:2-3 [jan.s-April 2001], Transformations du genre romanesque au XVIII' siecle, ed. English Showalter, in particular the national comparisons in Joan deJean, "Was the Eighteenth Century Long Only in England?" [pp. 155-62], and the critique of Watt's Anglocentrism in Philip Stewart, "The Rise of T " [pp. 163-81].) Neither Them) of the Novel: A Historical Approach nor The Origins of the English Novel really reflects on the history of the word "novel." Both works presume an eighteenth-century and Anglophone consensus which I do not believe existed. In Origins we read: "By the middle of the eighteenth century, the stabilizing of terminology-the increasing acceptance of 'the novel' as a canonic term, so that contemporaries can 'speak of it as such'-signifies the stability of the conceptual category and of the class of literary products that it encloses" (Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740 [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987], p. 19). But no evidence is presented. My own investigations in writing on the theory of the novel for the romanticism volume of the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism suggested that terminology stabilized only at the end of the century. (The French Encyclopedic, for instance, gives roman very short shrift, and Sulzer's Allgemeine Theorie der schimeti Kiinste does not even have an entry for Roman.) I do think that the novel "rose," in the sense that it became identified as a distinct literary kind, but only in the romantic period, with a consensus codified by German theorists, and not in mid-century England around Richardson. It is not surprising that McKeon, like almost everyone else, misses the German novel and the abundant Gelman theory since the Second World War. But it is worth remembering that Werther is the subject, or at least the occasion, for Barthes's A Lover's Discourse; that Bakhtin wrote a lost book on Wilhelm Meister; and that the most original current theorist of the novel, Franco Moretti, launches The Way ofthe World (represented here only by its brilliant but brief introduction) with the same novel; and that of Benjamin's many writings on novels (unrepresented here, in favour of Leskov and photography) the most ambitious is an essay on Elective Affinities. From the German perspective before and after 1800 the novel is fanciful, prolific, encyclopedic,

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intensely psychological, and as cosmopolitan as European culture got until very recent times. Indeed, German romantic novels look a lot like the postmodern, post-boom novels splendidly surveyed in the essay (more pragmatic than theoretical, but very welcome) by Doris Sommer and George Yudice that McKeon includes. But then even the eighteenth-century novel (or the English or French romantic novel) also looks profuse if you take it whole and do not prune it down to a single type, with a single tradition and a single theory. My history would be chronological, diverse, and restlessly inventive, not achronological and systematically three-staged. At the end, I hardly know whether to extol McKeon's work for its massive integrity or castigate it for its massive perversity. Dialectically, these two qualities go hand in hand. Massive it is in any event, superbly energetic, uniquely powerful. Any user will quibble about some individual selection or other, but it is difficult to imagine any single collection coming out more comprehensive and representative than this one is. The editing is scrupulous if perhaps too discreet: one French word in Henry James is glossed, but sentences ofFrench stand naked elsewhere, as does Keith Cohen's typo dating Hegel's Aesthetics to 1801, and as do numerous allusions to works and authors students might like help with. The introductions are condensed essays, not presentations. As in "real life," students will have to work hard to confront the texts, and at least as hard to reckon with McKeon's reflections. There is no relaxing into mere content here; everything moves in the most demanding sphere of ideas. It should be a great pedagogical exercise for students to struggle with texts and introductions conjointly, in a constructively critical and dialectical spirit. I look forward with anticipation to assigning Theory of the Novel: A Historical App1vach when I next teach a seminar on the topic. Marshall Brown University of Washington

Bradford K. Mudge. The Whore~ Story: Women, Pomography, and the British Novel, 1684-1830. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. xiv + 276pp. $56. ISBN 0-19-513509-9.
We have come a long way since 1982, when Paul-Gabriel Bouce kicked off what might be termed the serious, scholarly research about pornography in its Enlightenment embedding with his seminal volume of essays entitled Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century Britain. At the threshold of the third millennium, Bradford K. Mudge does not need to waste even a word of "apology"

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