THE TRUE STORY OF THE NOVEL by Margaret Anne Doody
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A massively erudite, groundbreaking revision of the novel's historical development. Traditionally, Anglo-American criticism located the rise of the novel in 18th-century England and the troika of Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. The realism that characterized their books--Robinson Crusoe, Pamela, etc.--was declared to be the hallmark of a new and wonderful genre: the novel. The thousands of prose fictions that had come before were dismissed as mere romances or that bland entity, ""extended prose works."" Doody's (Comparative Literature/Vanderbilt Univ.; Frances Burney, 1988, etc.) goal is nothing less than to restore these slighted works, particularly those from the classical world, to the novel's fold, to their proper and primary place in the Western canon. Starting in 100 B.C. with the oldest surviving novel, the Greek Chaireas and Kallirroe by Chariton, Doody convincingly demonstrates the underlying realism of these neglected novels as, point by point, from questions of character and voice to literary self-consciousness, she demolishes the previous quibbling barriers. She also demonstrates how the classical novels, particularly Apuleius's The Golden Ass, continued to influence more modern novels (her ability to cross-reference is truly breathtaking). Taking a few too many pages from Jung, Doody then goes on to elaborate the deep mythic structures--from dreams to death to goddess worship--that all novels share; apart from further proving her continuity thesis, most of this feels overlong and out of place. We will probably never know what really was the first novel, but Doody, building on the work of others, argues cogently for the form's religious beginnings--a ritual diary of an initiate's path to spiritual gnosis. In her view, the modern novel is not that different: ""We make a not unimportant spiritual and political as well as personal move when we open a novel and become initiates, entering upon the marshy margins of becoming."" Despite some minor imperfections, a major, even seminal work.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0813524539
Page count: 675pp
Publisher: Rutgers Univ.