Fictitious Authors and Imaginary Novels in French, English, and American Fiction from the 18th to the Start of the 21st Century (Studies in Comparativ

Fictitious Authors and Imaginary Novels in French, English, and American Fiction from the 18th to the Start of the 21st Century (Studies in Comparativ

By: George A. Kennedy (author)Hardback

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This study is concerned with collecting and examining the fictional creations by some of the most famous French, English, and American writers. I welcome the opportunity to write a preface to this work, which I find truly remarkable. It manages at once to be scholarly and entertaining. Let's admit it: most scholarly books are instructive but far from entertaining; in fact, they usually make hard, demanding reading. This work is different in this crucial respect that it is both interesting and pleasurable for the reader. I would like to begin by saying a little about how the book came into being for I think that to be apprised of its genesis will help readers better to understand and appreciate it. Its author, George A. Kennedy, has had a most distinguished career as a classicist. He is preeminent above all in the field of rhetoric in which he has for long been acknowledged as the leading, world-renowned scholar. He served for many years as chair of the Classics department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a department that he turned into one of the best in the United States, and he was also chair of the University's Faculty Council. But he did not limit himself to the Classical period; George Kennedy has also regularly engaged in a personal program of reading in modern literature. Because of the breadth of his interests and his knowledge he was appointed chair of the Curriculum of Comparative Literature. In this position, too, he showed the distinction characteristic of all his endeavors; the wise changes he instituted laid the foundations for the Curriculum's current program, especially its educationally sound balance of the history of literary criticism, modern theory, and textual analysis. What Professor Kennedy calls his "leisure" reading forms the basis for the present book. Over the years he repeatedly noticed the recurrence of the theme of imaginary novelists and imaginary novels in French, English, and American fiction from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. These meticulously collected observations have been developed into the material of the original book he has now written. I know of no other work like it. In German literary criticism there is a well-defined and popular type of narrative (to which Professor Kennedy refers) called the "Kunstlerroman," i.e., novels that portray artists, but it includes artists in all media (painters, sculptors, composers, etc. ). It has no direct counterpart in other literatures; the nearest approximation is the Bildungsroman (the term has been appropriated into English), the story of a young man's (or, more rarely, girl's) quest for selfhood and vocation. The Bildungsroman may, of course, overlap in some instances with the Kunstlerroman, but on the whole its concern is broader in nature. The work before us here, with its pronounced focus on imaginary novelists and imaginary novels, is, therefore, important in filling a gap in our knowledge of modern Western literature. As a result of his prodigiously wide-ranging reading over a lifetime, Professor Kennedy became uniquely qualified to compile this book. His span is phenomenal, extending from Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy", published between 1760 and 1767, right up to the 1990s and into the opening years of our century. If such mastery were not more than sufficient, he reaches back, too, to Classical Antiquity in order to give the background to the theme's earliest antecedents. What is more, he succeeds in doing all this without overwhelming readers with the rebarbative technical jargon typical of much literary criticism nowadays or even assuming our familiarity with the works he discusses. Carrying his own dazzling erudition lightly, he consistently shows utmost consideration for his readers by carefully explicating the - at times complex - ins and outs of the plots of the fictions he is dealing with. This approach makes the book readily accessible and very readable, despite the fact that it is obviously the fruit of extensive research and great ingenuity. With a modesty unusual in a scholar of his standing, Professor Kennedy has firmly resisted the temptation of showiness through a mere display of erudition for its own sake. The work will also appeal to readers through the urbane, polished manner in which it is written. Professor Kennedy explores the importance of imaginary novels and novelists in the diverse works in which they feature. He examines the bearing of the motif on the plot development with particular attention to its function and significance in the overall context. A good example of his method can be found in the very first fiction he discusses, Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy", notorious for its profusion of interpolated tales, which disrupt the main narrative line, but all of which contribute to the ironic humor of this highly eccentric work that so brilliantly exploits the apparently innocent but actually very ambiguous theme of the nose. A parallel though different instance of the role of an imaginary text is afforded by A. S. Byatt's "Possession: A Romance" (1990) whose entire plot hangs on the pursuit of drafts of letters by an imaginary Victorian poet to a woman who is eventually discovered to be a lesser known, also imaginary poet. Here the tracking down of these imaginary figures and their writings assumes the form of a detective story in which the alleged manuscripts from the past (of which extensive excerpts are included in the novel) cause considerable emotional havoc among the protagonists in the present. Yet another function of an imaginary novel is fulfilled in Edgar Allan Poe's famous story "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), by the reading of the romance "Mad Trist" that is identified as "a vehicle for locating and intensifying the fearful effect of the dire sounds in the house that lead to Roderick's breakdown, Poe's climax, and the literal fall of the House of Usher" (p. 23). It is such astute insights that make the reading of this book so rewarding and indeed exciting. As merely a glance at the table of contents will reveal, the work gives a most valuable introduction to many of the greatest writers of the past three centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. While many readers will undoubtedly already be fairly well acquainted with some of the writers, such as Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope, and certainly with the major American ones, such as Hawthorne, Melville, and Henry James, many of even the foremost European fiction writers, including Balzac, Proust, and even some British writers, such as Walpole, Somerset Maugham, and Anthony Powell are read all too little and remain relatively unknown unless their works have enjoyed diffusion through film, as in the case of Byatt's lengthy and complicated "Possession".Professor Kennedy therefore does a real service to today's readers by directing their attention to a variety of writers central to the Western tradition. The "overview" in the initial chapter as well as the summation in chapter twenty-three supplement the writers discussed in greater detail in the chapters devoted to them, thereby opening up even larger vistas and possibilities. The work has a concrete usefulness too as a fine source for a further reading list; I shall myself certainly draw on it for this purpose. A website on the topic is also mentioned. Although this is unquestionably a serious study, it has its amusing aspects too since the author possess a wry, impish sense of fun and humor. The idea of imaginary titles on dummy books covering doors is rather comical, and so are some of the literary hoaxes that Professor Kennedy enumerates. The notion of what he denotes as "scriptotherapy" crops up throughout the book in many examples that bridge the serious and the comical. As might be expected from a classicist, Professor Kennedy has a strong sense of history. The novels and stories discussed, arranged in chronological order, are, whenever relevant, contextualized in relation to the circumstances both of their period and of their authors' lives. Such historical siting strengthens the book, and is most helpful to readers' comprehension. Finally, this book allows us a glimpse behind the scenes into the writer's studio, and perhaps mind. As readers we are bound to have an interest too in the processes of creativity. How does the novelist set about the shaping of his/her work? How does it relate to previous works? The urge to refer to, and at times even to appropriate other novels is food for reflection on our part as readers. In short, this informative book's combination of the highest scholarly standards with the cosmopolitanism of its broad perspective temporally and spatially assures its appeal to a wide readership.

About Author

Lilian R. Furst is Marcel Bataillon Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author or editor of over twenty books, including Fictions of Romantic Irony (Harvard University Press, 1986), Realism (Longman, 1992), Through the Lens of the Reader: Explorations of European Narrative (State University of New York Press, 1992), All is True: The Claims and Strategies of Realist Fiction (Duke University Press, 1995), and Medical Progress and Social Reality: A Reader in Nineteenth Century Medicine and Literature (State University of New York Press, 2000).


Preface by Lilian Furst, vii; Introduction, 1; Chapters; 1. An Overview of Fictional Fiction, 9; 2. Laurence Sterne, 47; 3. Benjamin Disraeli, 53; 4. Honore de Balzac and George Sand, 57; 5. W. M. Thackeray and Charles Dickens, 79; 6. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, 85; 7. Anthony Trollope, 91; 8. George Gissing, 103; 9. Henry James, 113; 10. Max Beerbohm, 121; 11. Hugh Walpole and Somerset Maugham, 127; 12. Marcel Proust, 139; 13. Anthony Powell, 157; 14. Aldous Huxley, 177; 15. Jorge Luis Borges, 181; 16. John Wain, 185; 17. Thomas Wolfe and Herman Wouk, 191; 18. Iris Murdoch, 197; 19. John Updike, 205; 20. Philip Roth, 213; 21. A. S. Byatt, 217; 22. Escaping the Text: Flann O'Brien, Raymond Queneau, and Another Look at Philip Roth's Zimmerman, 227; 23. Some General Observations, 235. Appendices; 1. On the Names of Imaginary Authors, 245; Catalogue of Imaginary Authors, 253; 2. On the Titles of Imaginary Novels, 273; Catalogue of Imaginary Novels, 279; General Bibliography, 295; Index, 297.

Product Details

  • ISBN13: 9780773462519
  • Format: Hardback
  • Number Of Pages: 313
  • ID: 9780773462519
  • ISBN10: 0773462511

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