Misfit Forms: Paths Not Taken by the British Novel

Misfit Forms: Paths Not Taken by the British Novel

Misfit Forms: Paths Not Taken by the British Novel

Misfit Forms: Paths Not Taken by the British Novel

Synopsis

The complicated junctions negotiated by the novel during the eighteenth century reveal not only achievements but also exclusions. Misfit Forms offers a speculative reconstruction of roads less traveled. What if typographical emphasis and its associated transmission of sensuality and feelinghad not lost out to "transparent" typography and its paradigms of sympathetic identification? What was truncated when cumulative narrative structures were declared primitive in relation to the unified teleological plot? What visions of the novel's value as an arena for experience were sidelined whennovel reading was linked to epistemological gain?Reading novels by Sterne, Charlotte Bronte, Defoe, Gaskell, Hardy, and Woolf in tandem with less-known works, Nandrea illuminates the modes and techniques that did not become mainstream. Following Deleuze, Nandrea traces the "dynamic repetitions" of these junctures in the work of later writers. Farfrom showing the eclipse of primitive modes, such moments of convergence allow us to imagine other possibilities for the novel's trajectory.

Excerpt

[B]e they good or bad, useless or necessary, [novels] circulate over the
land in every possible form, and enter more or less into the education
of almost every one who can read. They hold in solution a great deal
of experience. It would therefore surely be a most useful thing to
provide rules by which the experience might be precipitated….
We are not so vain as to suppose that we have done much towards
the accomplishment of such a task.

James Fitzjames Stephen,
“The Relation of Novels to Life,” 1855 (118)

Today’s scholars agree that the origins of the English novel were messy and heterogeneous: As a form, the novel emerged in fits and starts from a primordial soup of other textual kinds. Yet the story of the relationship between eighteenth-and nineteenth-century English novels is often narrated as a more linear, sequential progress or rise: Trials and errors on the part of novelists like Fielding and Richardson gave rise to the more perfect aesthetic achievements of writers like Austen, who opened the door for the novel’s full flowering during the Victorian era. Conceptualized in this way, the history of the novel resembles narratives of biological evolution that situate the homo sapiens as a culminating triumph, a quasi-inevitable outcome that subsumes and explains a series of struggles and problems. Yet scientifically rigorous understandings of evolution challenge the inevitability of this outcome by highlighting the role of accidental variations and the perennial presence of alternative paths. Likewise, a closer look at the complicated junctions that were negotiated during the eighteenth-century development of the novel in En gland illuminates not just achievements but also exclusions—roads less traveled, or divergences overshadowed by . . .

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