Nicholas D. Paige. before Fiction: The Anden Regime of the Novel

By Laporta, Kathrina A. | The Romanic Review, May-November 2013 | Go to article overview

Nicholas D. Paige. before Fiction: The Anden Regime of the Novel


Laporta, Kathrina A., The Romanic Review


Nicholas D. Paige. Before Fiction: The Anden Regime of the Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Pp. 304.

Before Fiction is an innovative study of the French and English novel in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--a period "before fiction" in which novelists insist on the truth-status of their works in order to effectuate the moral and aesthetic goals that the genre aimed to achieve. Placing himself in dialogue with studies on fictionality by Dorrit Cohn, Lennerd Davis, Barbara Foley, and Catherine Gallagher, Nicholas Paige argues against teleological interpretations that seek in the early modern period the seeds of our own modernity, in favor of an approach that emphasizes shifts in literary practices over time. By deliberately eschewing the tendency to search for "innovative masterpieces" from the "rearview mirror of literary history" (36), Paige not only raises new questions about canonical works from the French and English traditions but also presents a methodological model for how we should analyze the evolution of literary forms in the first place.

Paige subtends his argument by delineating three regimes of literary invention: the Aristotelian, the pseudofactual, and the fictional (x). Drawing on the distinction between history and poetry in Aristotle's Poetics, authors in the first regime write works that transform the stories of historical figures and events into coherent narratives by adding their own measure of poetic invention. Beginning roughly in 1670, writers begin to challenge the Aristotelian regime by penning works that insist on their own authenticity. Paige calls this second regime the pseudofactual, a term he borrows from Foley's Telling the Truth: The Theory and Practice of Documentary Fiction. Such works rely on an ambiguous pseudofactual pact in which "novelists [...] pretend to offer their readers real documents ripped straight from history--found manuscripts, entrusted correspondence, true stories, and all the rest" (x). Only at the turn of the nineteenth century do novelists begin to write texts that are properly fictional--that is, novels that recount the tales of characters and events that are pure authorial invention. Works from the third regime paradoxically ask readers to accept fiction as a model for reality. Paige points to this often-overlooked paradox of realism: "Modern literature at its most splendidly realist is also removed from reality in a way it had never been before" (3).

As may already be apparent, Paige's notion of a literary regime refers neither to Michel Foucault's epistemes nor to Thomas Kuhn's paradigms but rather to "a dominant practice, modifiable over time, that corresponds to what enough people want their literature to do" (31). Central to Paige's own narrative is a conviction that the rise of fictionality corresponds not to shifts in human cognition (early modern Europeans were not incapable of discerning illusion from reality) but to shifts in novelistic practice: "If the Aristotelian critical tradition did not sanction the use of invented heroes, this was not because they didn't have the right 'mental equipment' but--much less dramatically--because they reasoned that heroes should be taken from history" (27). Understanding fiction as a specific writing practice, rather than as a cognitive ability, raises important questions about how, when, and why literary behavior changes.

The place of the fictional in the evolution of literary morphology is a map that must be charted with precision, and in navigating the novel's territory in a world "before fiction," Paige blends close readings with analyses of the critical reception of each work by its public and beyond. Focusing on six case studies from "the strange interregnum between Aristotelian poetics and modern fiction" (x), Paige demonstrates the ways in which the authors in his study--Lafayette, Subligny, Crebillon fils, Rousseau, Diderot, and Cazotte--experiment with the conventions of the pseudofactual. …

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