Once upon a time there were good American novels and bad ones, but none was thought of as a work of art. The Novel Art tells the story of how, beginning with Henry James, this began to change. Examining the late-nineteenth century movement to elevate the status of the novel, its sources, paradoxes, and reverberations into the twentieth century, Mark McGurl presents a more coherent and wide-ranging account of the development of American modernist fiction than ever before. Moving deftly from James to Stephen Crane, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, Dashiell Hammett, and Djuna Barnes among others, McGurl argues that what unifies this diverse group of ambitious writers is their agonized relation to a middling genre rarely included in discussions of the fine arts. He concludes that the new product, despite its authors' desire to distinguish it from popular forms, never quite forsook the intimacy the genre had long cultivated with the common reader. Indeed, the "art novel" sought status within the mass market, and among its prime strategies was a promotion of the mind as a source of value in an economy increasingly dependent on mental labor.
McGurl also shows how modernism's obsessive interest in simple-mindedness revealed a continued concern with the masses even as it attempted to use this simplicity to produce a heightened sophistication of form. Masterfully argued and set in elegant prose, The Novel Art provides a rich new understanding of the fascinating road the American novel has taken from being an artless enterprise to an aesthetic one.
Mark McGurl is Assistant Professor of English at UCLA.
Acknowledgments ix Introduction: The Rise of the Art-Novel and the Question of Class 1 Certain Novels 1 Mental Labor 10 Methodological Philistinism: From Difference to Distinction 19 One: The Mind's Eye and Mental Labor: Forms of Distinction in the Fiction of Henry James 30 The Novel as Masterpiece 30 Epistemologies of Social Class 42 The Romance of Romance: Virtue Unrewarded 49 Divisive Perspectivism 53 Two: Social Geometries: Taking Place in the Jamesian Modernist Text 57 The Hidden Dimensions of Class 57 Fictions of the Class 66 Extraordinary Readers 74 Three: Downward Mobilities: The Prison of the Womb and the Architecture of Career in Stephen Crane 78 House of Fiction, House of Shame 78 Urban Ambitions: Crane, Wharton, O. Henry 85 Transient Occupations: From Howells to Crane to Dos Passos 102 Four: Highbrows and Du b Blondes: Literary Intellectuals and the Romance of Intelligence 106 Playing Dumb with Anita Loos 106 Bad Students and Smart Sets 111 Morons and Moralizers: The Eugenic Romance 118 Smart White Blacks: Mencken, Stein, and Race 124 Pastoral Intellection 129 Five: Faulkner's Ambit: Modernism, Regionalism, and the Location of Cultural Capital 135 Racinations: A Deeper South 135 Relations: Modernism and Mules 146 Six Making "Literature" of It: Dashiell Ha ett and the Mysteries of High Culture 158 God, Mammon, and Willard Wright 158 Murdering Representation 166 Afterword: Mobius Fictions 177 Notes 183 Index 215