This is a bold and original original history of the novel from ancient Greece to the vibrant world of contemporary fiction. In this wide-ranging survey, Thomas Pavel argues that the driving force behind the novel's evolution has been a rivalry between stories that idealize human behavior and those that ridicule and condemn it. Impelled by this conflict, the novel moved from depicting strong souls to sensitive hearts and, finally, to enigmatic psyches. Pavel analyzes more than a hundred novels from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and beyond, resulting in a provocative reinterpretation of its development. According to Pavel, the earliest novels were implausible because their characters were either perfect or villainous. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, novelists strove for greater credibility by describing the inner lives of ideal characters in minute detail (as in Samuel Richardson's case), or by closely examining the historical and social environment (as Walter Scott and Balzac did).
Yet the earlier rivalry continued: Henry Fielding held the line against idealism, defending the comic tradition with its flawed characters, while Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot offered a rejoinder to social realism with their idealized vision of strong, generous, and sensitive women. In the twentieth century, modernists like Proust and Joyce sought to move beyond this conflict and capture the enigmatic workings of the psyche. Pavel concludes his compelling account by showing how the old tensions persist even within today's pluralism, as popular novels about heroes coexist with a wealth of other kinds of works, from satire to social and psychological realism.
Thomas G. Pavel is Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor of French, Comparative Literature, and Social Thought at the University of Chicago. His books include Fictional Worlds and The Spell of Language.
Preface ix Introduction 1 Part One The Highest Ideals 21 Chapter 1 Strong Souls, Degrees of Perfection 23 The Ancient Greek Novel 23 Chivalric Novels 35 Chapter 2 Helpless Souls, Tricksters, and Rascals 51 Interlude The Ideographic Method 72 Chapter 3 The Center of Action: Elegiac Stories and Novellas 74 Chapter 4 An Isolated Realm, Hesitant Lovers: The Pastoral 91 Chapter 5 Don Quixote and the History of the Novel 107 Part Two The Enchantment of Interiority 117 Chapter 6 The New Idealism 119 Chapter 7 Resistance to New Idealism 135 Play and Laughter 135 Sublime Terror 147 Chapter 8 Love: Romantic and Impossible 152 Part Three The Roots of Greatness 167 Chapter 9 Novels and Society 169 Chapter 10 From Sensitive Hearts to Enigmatic Psyches 199 Chapter 11 Syntheses, High Points 226 Part Four The Art of Detachment 263 Chapter 12 Loners in a Strange World 265 Envoi 297 Reading List 301 Debts 313 Index 319