Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Schor, Hilary M.: Curious Subjects: Women and the Trials of Realism

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Schor, Hilary M.: Curious Subjects: Women and the Trials of Realism

Article excerpt

SCHOR, Hilary M. Curious Subjects: Women and the Trials of Realism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 288 pp. $65.00 hardcover.

At the start of Curious Subjects, Hilary M. Schor states: "My argument is not only that without curiosity there would never be any such thing as the realist novel, but that it was the novel that brought the modern feminist subject into being" (2). What might seem a straightforward claim becomes an interpretive curiosity cabinet, a rich collection of ideas and objects that intersect in unexpected, enlightening ways. To explore "the story of the realist heroine and her transgressive curiosity," Schor examines the realist novel, the Victorian social and intellectual context that fertilized it, the concept of curiosity, and the cultural role of fiction, past and future--while producing compelling readings of a multitude of Victorian novels, including Clarissa, Alice in Wonderland, Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, Vanity Fair, Bleak House, The Old Curiosity Shop, and The Portrait of a Lady, alongside contemporary fictions, graphic novels, and films.

"Curiosity, like love and pretzels, has a history," Schor writes, and in her capacious and witty account curiosity becomes "both a way of starting things and a potentially dangerous force" (18). Showing how the realist novel inherently involves a paradox between representation and invention ("what Ian Watt referred to as the realism of referentiality, a 'full and authentic report of human experience,' but one that gets beyond the mere world of stuff' [4]), Schor cites the work of scholars including Watt, George Levine, Elizabeth Ermath, Robert Newsom, Nancy Armstrong, Catherine Gallagher, Roland Barthes, and Franco Moretti to define and test realistic fiction. Schor claims that the "trickery of realism ... offers us both the curios of the real world and the curiosity of knowing we are in a fiction" (70), so the novel becomes an essential element in explaining the trials involved in women's acquisition of knowledge: what heroines want to know, and how they act on their knowledge. "These are questions that matter as much for readers as they do for heroines" (26), Schor notes, as she connects fiction, philosophy, history, law, and experience. …

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