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The Novel: An Alternative History

The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800

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In the acclaimed first volume of his history of the world's most popular literary form, Steven Moore unearthed and told the stories of remarkable works of fiction that have been neglected in conventional histories of the novel. The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800 picks up the story, beginning with Cervantes's Don Quixote,examines the flowering of the novel in early modern Europe and the East, and concludes with the earliest novels written in the newly formed United States. By 1600 the novel was an established literary genre and experienced a remarkable growth spurt for the next two centuries as authors experimented with different approaches, transforming the novel from a rather disreputable form of entertainment into the respectable genre it became in the nineteenth century. For most readers, their familiarity with pre-1800 European fiction is limited to Don Quixote, Candide, The Sorrows of Young Werther, perhaps The Princess of Cleves, Dangerous Liaisons, or Jacques the Fatalist, and the names of Rousseau and Sade. Even familiarity with pre-1800 English novels is for most readers limited to a half-dozen classics (Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Pamela, Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy). Regarding Oriental fiction, few lovers of literature are aware of perhaps the greatest novel of that period (The Dream of Red Mansions) much less any of the dozens of other fascinating works published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800 covers all of the famous classics mentioned above, as well as hundreds of other novel novels. After his first volume, Moore's ability to read deeply and bring forgotten novels to the surface was praised by critics and readers alike. His exploration of the novel's formative age is sure to provoke and challenge what we know - or what we think we know - about the history of the novel.

Table of contents
Chapter 1: The Early Modern European Novel Spanish German Latin
Chapter 2: The Early Modern French Novel
Chapter 3: The Early Modern English Novel
Chapter 4: The Early Modern Eastern Novel Chinese Korean Japanese Tibetan Persian Indian
Chapter 5: The Early Modern American Novel
Chronological Index of Novels Discussed
General Index

1024 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Steven Moore

101 books165 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Steven Moore is a literary critic. He received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1988.

While Moore has been a teacher, bookstore owner, book reviewer, and columnist, he is most well known for his work as an editor and author of literary criticism. Moore is the foremost authority on William Gaddis, having written a book on this author, supervised the collection of several critical essays, and assisted in the translation of Gaddis' work into Chinese.

The wikipedia entry.

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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Scribble Orca.
213 reviews379 followers
September 1, 2013
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, living reasonably, Wreddaloght, Dydalotte, and Czedhallot. Wreddaloght, speaking sparsely, Dydalotte, reading rarely, and Czedhallot, thinking thinly. When meeting, drinking the local mead, the one discoursing, the other discussing, the third dogmasticating, but never in the expected habit according to hobbies.*

With a weight more appropriate to gym monkeys than bookworms, worth its wait as one tome comprising two in the making taking nearly a decade, and having a mass immeasurable, The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800 deserves more than its current (as of August 31, 2013) number of seventy-six appearances on Goodreads shelves (the argument that it has only just been released won’t wash, since of these seventy-six, all but a handful of shelves sported it after April this year) and given its literary and cultural significance, its currently-being-read statistics would make a character weep. A shame, since this book, together with its predecessor, could quite easily substitute for an entire library.

The discriminating reader might well be put off by the cover. Like The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600, we’re confronted (gasp) with nudity, and as to be expected (tsk tsk), female. But in the paraphrased words of the author (private correspondence):
“…meant ironically on a number of levels…less to do with "selling" per se than making the statement that the ladies are and were reading books, that an alternative history would also include more reference to the fairer gender (commencing with The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book - both written by females, as well as Tales from a Thousand and One Nights - narrated by a female: Scheherazade) and that literary analysis is starchy and needs enlivening…”

Certainly a statue of the David as the front cover (were I wearing my objectificationist hat) would have been enjoyable, but neither paintings of a nude lady at ease nor a photograph of a sculpture of a nude male should be regarded as a "cheap trick" to either attract or repel readers. Erotic scenes in books have always, somehow or other, been considered taboo, and short of one of Giulio Romano's etchings gracing the front covers, this is less provocative than Moore’s discourse is to the establishment.

In keeping with this visual nose-thumbing, Moore employs a lively, witty style, drawing the reader into his research, as if the contents of the book were not the product of passion and sheer dedication to literature and words in myriad forms, but rather an invitation to a stroll in the woods or a drink at the local pub or a chat at his favourite espresso bar where far from feeling pounded from the pulpit, the reader sits enthralled and in awe of this erudite and engaging raconteur.

As commenced in his first volume, he continues developing his central thesis that the “novel” is an invention far older than accredited in an Anglocentric version of the world, and he scatters his net far and wide linguistically to demonstrate the validity of what he contends. Most usefully for an uneducated reader (me), the book is structured accordingly:

Chapter 1: The European Novel (Spanish, German, and Latin);
Chapter 2: The French Novel;
Chapter 3: The Eastern Novel (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Persian, and Indian);
Chapter 4: The English Novel;
Chapter 5: The American Novel;
Bibliography, Chronological Index, and Index

Wildly hilarious is the last section of Chapter 4, Critifictions: a selection of novels about novels and pointing to the inventiveness of writers belonging to that period, whether satirising or defending the art form – and Moore again can’t help effortlessly making his reading relevant to the modern reader, citing a work from the 1700s and footnoting a similar-in-form example from the 21st century. Not just the interspersion of Moore’s commentary make for unguarded chuckles eg "...compared to the sophisticated novels that were appearing in the [16]80s, The Martyrdom of Theodora comes across like a leisure-suited geriatric dancing the Hustle", but the quotes in the text provoke outright snorts of disbelieving risibility:
The increase of novels help to account for the increase of prostitution and for the numerous adulteries and elopements that we hear of in the different parts of the kingdom.

Moore numbers Austen among the novelists defending its existence and castigating its denigration and after quoting from "that famous passage" of Austen pith repudiating the novel's naysayers: "...[it is] only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed", finishes the chapter with a proposition: Reader, I'd marry her. Even I recognised the origin of that line, and the sentiment behind it is a good summary of Moore's appreciation of the flexibility of the novel and its importance as an expression of art.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with either Moore’s labelling of what constitutes the novel (a work of book-length fiction), or his somewhat more muted (in this volume) condemnation of religion’s attempt to manipulate or burn it in the name of dubious ethics, both The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800 and The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600 stand unrivalled as invaluable and unique research material, contrary to the fumes emanating from establishment critics, not worth mentioning, who felt so threatened in their tenure by his scholarship (since they had no basis for refutation, and considerable ineffectual capital to lose), that they hyperboled themselves into ignominious arguments worthy of only passing attention and long-lasting scorn. Responding here in the Guardian in 2010, Moore writes:
What most people mean by a novel is the “conventional” novel, or “modern,” or “realistic” novel…[ie] its qualifying adjectives...most literature professors want to limit the term to realistic fictions set in identifiable sociocultural contexts, especially ones that make psychological probes into human nature...unfortunately, the first editors of many of these early novels labeled them “romances” or “sagas” or satires, folk epics, tales, pastorals, legends, picaresques, and other terms, which allowed literature professors to ignore them...I suspect most professors have never even heard of The Tale of Lady Ochikubo [Ochikubo Monogatari (落窪物語)] or The Golden Lotus [Jin Ping Mei (金瓶梅)], so their status as novels is a non-issue for them.

In his second volume, the same critic merited a mere footnote. Gone, and forgotten. But Moore is also careful to explicitly reference literature of the era under examination in comparison with what modern readers would consider avant-garde, in other words, derriere-garde has been around for substantially longer than the conventional, which is visible according to the epoch and culture in which it is located (Flaubert’s dictum on what constitutes literature), whereas innovation has a traceable lineage with recognisable elements, the first being that innovation is distinctly different to what surrounds it.
...the long line of eccentric, erudite novels that stretches from Petronius' Satyricon to Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew...the latter...an avant-garde novel satirising avant-gardism in the form of the desperate writer going mad...by definition [avant-garde novels] are always...out on the lunatic fringe.

As Moore stated in the same Guardian article, Joyce is credited by the conservative and hysteorically ignorant as having fomented the anarchy of the unconventional writers belonging to the 20th Century:
...[along with] later saboteurs like Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, Barthelme, and DeLillo...[who] were simply doing what the most interesting novelists have always done: keeping the novel "novel". The narrow definition preferred by some critics applies only to the most recent segment of fiction's long arc, which began with Egyptian and Sumerian tales in the 20th century BC, and which will continue to metamorphose into novel forms for as long as there are writers."

One criticism raised against his scholarship is that “it’s all just plot summaries.” True, and yet not. In developing his position that the novel is as ancient in form as our earliest efforts at story-telling, Moore analyses the similarities and differences of the various works he has highlighted as worthy of attention, according to time and location, form and content, to illuminate and confirm his claim. Moreover, these summaries are extremely useful to a time-poor reader (me) who, much like Kelly in Christine Brooke-Rose’ Textermination, can and will never hope to read and digest each of the novels Moore has so painstakingly unearthed and dusted off, but with his insight and guidance, can select the most personally appealing (for both the purposes of pleasure and finding out-of-the way texts to (re)translate) and feel a little more enriched in her or his reading life.

Jeff Bursey's xcellent review here: musicandliterature.org/2013/08/26/the...

Keep an eye out for NR's updates and review.

*The start of the alternative review amusing my imprecarious mind.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,370 followers
May 20, 2017

Statement of Intent

I intend eventually to post some Review=Like comments in this space, and comments otherwise. Later.

Meanwhile, I'll be shelving several/many books found herein, whether from the time period itself or just because their titles occur. Here's that shelf ::
http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/... Compiling this shelf will take some time given the necessity of finding adequate editions when even those might exist for some of these novels, many of which have been mal=treated by time and memory.

Also, there will be a ShandYian shelf. But you won't need that shelf so much because you have Moore's two volumes in your Reference Library already, and in Volume II, you can turn to pages 812ff to find what will find its own way onto that shelf .

As to the spoiler ::

Review by novelist and Friend Jeff Bursey ::

I choose as my excerpt from his review his single footnote which cites the very footnote of Moore's which I desired myself to quote ::

'In the new volume Moore roughs up Donoghue [critic; trashed/misread volume I in the WSJ in 2010] by classifying him as “a blinkered, conservative critic” for claiming, in his study Jonathan Swift: A Critical Introduction (1969), that “Swift ‘is not Flaubert or James. He is not, in the sense implied by those names, a novelist at all…” Broad-minded readers will groan. On the same page, in a footnote—and bless Moore for choosing footnotes over endnotes, and making them as numerous and as long as he wants—he asks: “But why not measure him by Rabelaisian standards, or Petronian, Sternean, or Joycean standards, not to mention Cao Xueqinean? Who made James the gold standard?” Mold-makers did. John Tytell drafts James into his review of The Letters of William Gaddis, in the pages of American Book Review (March/April 2013, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 10-11), and faults Gaddis for not being Jamesian. It’s sometimes the case that grad students teaching their first classes bring James up everywhere they can, as those before them would invoke Frankenstein, Dracula, Jane Bowles, Zora Neale Hurston, Gertrude Stein—in short, whoever they were exposed to in grad studies. This is the academic equivalent of someone who takes the advice of the last person to speak with them.'

[thnx to Friend Scribble for the attention=thither=directing]

Here's what to expect ::

Steven Moore's "10 Forgotten Classics You Need To Read" from the huff=post ----) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-...

Memoirs of the Life of Henriette-Sylvie de Moliere: A Novel
Galesia Trilogy & Sel Manuscript Poems Jane Barker Wwe E. Wilson
A Journal of the Plague Year
The Female Quixote : or, the Adventures of Arabella
A Dream of Red Mansions
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
The Sorrows of Young Werther
Caleb Williams
Modern Chivalry

That's only 10. There are 390+ more.

The essay on Don Quixote ::: http://www.collegehillreview.com/005/...

Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,887 reviews1,414 followers
November 27, 2013
Steven Moore's latest compendium is quite an achievement. That said, is it as good as the first volume? Frankly, no. I should qualify that. The first venture confronted standing definitions of the novel and peered into Antiquity and found fecund streams of previously undiagnosed cool machinations. The first volume was an atlas of uncharted forest rich in detail and delight. The second volume opens with Don Quixiote and ends upon the shores of the newborn United States.

By the time Swift published Gulliver's Travels in 1726, the Yahoos outnumbered the Houyhnhnms, so to speak, and have dominated the guns-and-Bibles population ever since.

What Moore achieves in this volume is an outlining of how the novel's evolution contained an ongoing process of authorial instruction in how to approach and process the novel. The novel ceases to be fictional episodes for the purpose of either edification or amusement. It becomes a vehicle for interpreting the other novels and finding associations throughout. This volume appears to be at cross-purposes with Amazon's strategy as I own almost all of the interesting novels under discussion.

In conclusion, Moore did whet my interests in his closing pages with his display of Modern Chivalry

I pledge to carry forward from this a 2014 reading of the following:

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

The Italian

The Monk

postrscript: these are included as well

The Nun

Dangerous Liaisons

Wilhelm Meister
Profile Image for Jim Elkins.
334 reviews355 followers
July 17, 2016
A Fascinating Critical History of Novels from the Point of View of Gaddis, Pynchon, and Wallace

At one point The Novel: An Alternative History was projected in two volumes, with the second covering novels from 1600 to 2012; as it turned out the second volume covered 1600 to 1800. In the event Moore decided not to write a third volume. (In its place will be publishing a collection of his essays, called My Back Pages: Reviews and Essays.) In the end, the points that interest me have to do with what a third volume of The Novel, covering 1800 to the present, might have looked like.

In preparing for these remarks I read volume 2, The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800 (2013), skimmed volume 1, The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600 (2010), and read at least ten reviews of both books. The reception of the first two volumes of The Novel is marked by several leitmotifs, which I think are unhelpful in the sense that they distract from a deeper and more intriguing theme. Among the reviewers’ concerns:

1. The Novel is inclusive; Moore doesn’t want to limit the novel to a bourgeois or romantic invention. For most reviewers, that’s salutary; for some, it’s anathema, and for a few, it’s true but not original. I can’t quite see the stakes here: as E.H. Gombrich once said, it’s hard to know exactly what the point of definitions is, if not to defend territory.

2. The Novel is anti-religious, and for some readers that has meant it’s seriously flawed. Moore doesn’t like A Pilgrim’s Progress, and he offers a strong but focused interpretation of Don Quixote, in which the novel’s hero is simply insane, and the book is a veiled allegory of the psychosis of “people of the book.” Don Quixote insists on the veracity of books of chivalry, just as religious fundamentalists insist on the truth of the Bible or Qur’an. Moore suggests Cervantes was hinting at this, and that it’s the book’s salient feature. But given that Moore is offering An Alternative History and not A Comprehensive History, I can’t see how it makes sense to chastise him for not seeing virtues in religious novels.

3. The Novel is erudite, so everyone says: but that is a mobile category, and not often useful in criticism. Diderot, one of the novelists described in The Novel, was far more “erudite” than some of the minor novelists Moore reviews, whose books are filled with arcane histories. Canetti was more “erudite” than Musil, but how exactly does that count in either author’s favor? Nabokov’s Eugene Onegin is “erudite” (I am reading it now: I’d like to be one of the few who has read every note), but that erudition produced a monstrosity. There are also always standards according to which erudition is ignorance. For some Chinese scholars, this won’t be an erudite book. For example there’s little about the history of the reception of Cao Xueqin in Chinese letters; that’s as if Moore had read Joyce but nothing about Joyce. This isn’t to say there aren’t surprising displays of reading in The Novel; my favorite is a footnote that gives a list of novels with indices, starting with Laurent Bordelon’s History of the Ridiculous Extravagances of Monsieur Oufle, and going on from Richardson to Nabokov, Julian Rios, Malcom Bradbury, Milorad Pavic, and a dozen others. But noting this sort of erudition isn’t a useful way to characterize The Novel’s contribution, except in that Moore is very much drawn to the specific version of “learned wit” and erudition he finds in Gaddis. (For this see the illuminating passage on Monsieur Oufle, whose “learned wit” is however motivated not by Moore’s own interest in experimental writing--see the fifth point, below--but by Oufle’s anti-religious polemic.)

4. The Novel doesn’t find much use for literary criticism or literary theory. The book “holds no brief for theory, or literary criticism in general” in the words of Roger Boylan (Boston Review). This is generally the case, although Todorov and many other critics make appearances. It would be a flaw if Moore were engaged in the debates that have emerged in literary theory. He doesn’t use De Man’s sense of romanticism isn’t noted in these two volumes, but it’s also not at stake. Like any critic, Moore deploys his own judgments, and if that cuts him off from other people’s conversations, it can also make his own arguments cleaner and clearer. Michael Orthofer of The Complete Review is similar in this regard: he has championed Arno Schmidt, but he hasn’t included any academic work on Schmidt, which he finds less than useful. In my field--art history, theory, and criticism--these traits would simple mark Moore’s book as an essay in criticism rather than history, and the question would be for whom this alternative (critical) history was written.(Incidentally, this is a different issue than the one William Vollmann raised by objecting to the time Moore spends summarizing plots: I agree with Moore’s response, namely that it’s time well spent when readers don’t know the novels in question.)

5. The Novel is partial because Moore is interested in “style”--that is, language--and not real-world politics, or society. As Moore said in an interview: “The reason some of us consider Ulysses the greatest novel ever written is not because it has a gripping story, lovable characters, or unique insights into the human situation, but because it is the most elaborate rhetorical performance ever mounted, making wider and more masterful use of all the forms and techniques of prose than any other novel." The Novel’s most contentious review was by Denis Donoghue, who said Moore prefers “long, difficult novels that ask to be read, he thinks, as stylish performances: he approaches them in the same spirit as that of watching a ballet or a figure-skating competition.” I think most reviewers have sided with Moore’s interests. As Jeff Bursey put it in a review in Quarterly Conversation, novels have in fact often been about things “far from portraying the real world”; for over “two and a half millennia” they’ve been about “grandiose conceits, lengthy sentences, and intricate structures.” This fifth concern is closer to mine, but the reviewers are still, I think, off-topic, partly because Moore shows plenty of interest in plot and reference, but mainly because, as I wrote regarding the second point, Moore doesn’t claim to be representing the entire history of novels with an equal hand: this is a critical history.

These five preoccupations of the critics all miss something I think is more interesting. I’ll call it the shape of history that’s implicit in The Novel. The shape is formed by the comparisons that Moore employs to explain unfamiliar texts. Most reviewers have observed the surprising links he proposes between his authors (writing before 1800) and Gaddis, Pynchon, Wallace, and others. There are many examples. An episode in Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen is described as “Pynchonesque telluro-mysticism”; Voltaire’s “complex metafictions” are said to “resemble those of Borges, Barth, and Coover”; Dong Yue’s Tower of the Myriad Mirrors is said to anticipate “Carroll, Freud, Kafka, Joyce, and Borges”; Wu Jingzi’s The Scholars has “a modernist feel” that prompts Moore to compare it to Gaddis’s J R; Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist gives us a world “characterized by what Pynchon calls ‘anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything’.” I haven’t made a full account, but I think Gaddis, Pynchon, and Wallace are the central pivots.

Such links are usually taken either as welcome insights into premodern authors (that is, as discoveries), or else as evidence that the “experimental novel” has been around long before Gaddis’s generation. I think both those conclusions are consonant with Moore’s intentions, but they miss the effect of such parallels on The Novel’s implicit shape of history. At the risk of being too systematic, let me take each of these interpretations in turn.

1. The idea that the parallels are discoveries. Jeff Bursey, writing for Music & Literature, notes that Moore “can look down the road and pick out descendants from this or that author (e.g., linking Goethe with David Foster Wallace).” Or again: “Young Werther/David Foster Wallace: the unexpected parallel is perfect, and unforgettable.” But this makes it sound as if the comparison is simply an insight, and it implies that all that’s happening in such passages is that Moore is discovering genealogies for Wallace. More is at stake, I think. First it needs to be said that Moore is following a modernist and postmodernist tradition in searching for antecedents to the apparent newness of 20th century fiction. One that I have studied is the link that’s been said to exist between Arno Schmidt’s Zettels Traum, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and Johann Fischart, the 16th century author of an “untranslatable” novel known as the Geschichtsklitterung that is full of portmanteau words. An academic approach to such lineages would see them as “origin myths”: Fischart isn’t like Joyce or Schmidt, but it has seemed important to provide both modern authors with deeper roots. So when Moore is praised for finding links “between linguistic innovators of the Renaissance like Colonna and Rabelais and modern ones like James Joyce and Germany’s own Arno Schmidt,” the question, for an historiographer--by which I mean someone, like me, who is interested in how historical narratives are constructed--is why it seems interesting to propose such lineages. I don’t think Moore is often motivated by a desire to provide deeper lineages for authors of his or recent generations; in The Novel it’s more the opposite: it’s a desire to record moments of recognition in earlier works. But the historiographic question mark should still be there: where does that desire come from? And for whom is it persuasive?

2. The idea that the parallels show the “experimental novel” has been around long before postmodernism. Boylan and others say Moore’s book “unearths evidence” that “‘experimental’ fiction has been around as long as storytelling itself” (Boston Review), and Moore says “experimental” means “to depart from the norm and try something new” (2010 interview for Porter Square Books), making many of the books he reviews “experimental”--but for me this doesn’t fully the question of what counts as “experimental” fiction. (I want also to note in passing that the claim that “‘experimental’ fiction has been around as long as storytelling itself” is different from the claim that novels have always been experimental, at least up to the bourgeois novel and the contemporary reaction against “experimental” prose: the latter would be much more difficult to argue.)

In my reading, “experimental” is understood in The Novel as a combination of at least four things: writing that goes against the norm; writing that explores form rather than pouring content into familiar molds; writing that experiments, self-consciously, with the novel; writing that is excessive in length, density of allusions, or logical complexity; and writing that is done with attention to the “style” rather than the content. (“Style” in quotation marks because it’s another complex word, in Empson’s sense.) Because it’s amalgamated from several potentially disparate elements, “experimental” is difficult to characterize. In art history and theory, anti-experimentalists like Franzen could be called antimodernist, which could ally them with nationalist literatures; people like Donoghue are a different sort of anti-experimentalist; in art and music theory they could be called modernists or late romantics. In the end, what counts as “experimental” in The Novel is writing that’s similar to the two or three generations from Finnegans Wake to Gaddis, Barth, Pynchon, Vollmann, and Wallace, and so it has an historical specificity that tempers some of its apparently transhistorical traits.

In The Novel, the general answer to the question of why it is of interest to link Goethe to Wallace, or give Finnegans Wake a genealogy that reaches back to Geschichtsklitterung, is that it’s important to show that novels have always been experimental. But if “experimental” is taken in the historically specific sense I’ve sketched, then what’s actually happening is a reading of novels from any number of cultures and periods in terms of postwar American fiction. If I put it this way, it sounds at once narrower and less convincing than the way it’s put in The Novel, or the way The Novel has been received. Certainly comparisons like the one between The Sorrows of Young Werther and David Foster Wallace are among the most obviously non-academic traits of The Novel: an academic historian of the novel would resist such a comparison. If you were an academic historian, and that comparison occurred to you, you’d probably want to ask yourself what misunderstanding of history had led you to link two such disparate figures; you’d probably interrogate your understanding of Goethe in order to recover his otherness, his distance from the present, his distinct character and difference, and you would never commit your comparison to print.

Yet I think that Moore’s unexpected comparisons are actually a tremendous strength, for at least three reasons. First, they’re honest. Second, they belong to the realm of criticism rather than history. In comparative literature there is virtually no criticism that involves judgment; “criticism” denotes a more circumspect and nonjudgmental engagement. Third, and most important to me, Moore’s comparisons register an awareness of literary history as a subject that is only visible when it is related to the present. Such a sense of history remains a minority interest in art history and music history. In my field I think of Keith Moxey, Michael Holly, and Mieke Bal; in music history, I think of the magnificently self-centered history of modern music written by Richard Taruskin. The overwhelming majority of historians of art and music repress the present as a condition for historical awareness: that is, they don’t write about the conditions of their own interest in historical periods, or if they do, they detach those conditions from their historical writing.

This brings me, at last, to the notion of the shape of history. The history of the novel has a particular shape in Moore’s books. Entirely aside from whatever erudition he might be said to have, his survey of the world’s novels proceeds across a remarkably level field: the chapters are divided mainly by languages, and sometimes by cultures or nations, and each is, in theory, as interesting as another. The field of history is like a plain, dotted with castles or villages representing achievements such as Don Quixote or The Tale of Genji. (My topographic metaphor is taken partly from La Mancha, and partly from 15th century Italian paintings of plains dotted with hill towns.) But sometime in the middle of the 20th century, especially in America, that field rises into foothills and then higher peaks. History has a shape. Moore looks down at the plain, across it, and into the distance as far as China, Greece, and Rome.

This kind of topological “distortion” is in fact the condition of the sense of any historical account, as Moxey and others have argued so well, but it is usually ignored or denied. This isn’t a perfect metaphor, in that novels from distant parts of the landscape can at least partly be “seen” from close up; but it captures the perspectival view that informs The Novel. What interests me here is how volume 3, if he had decided to write it, could have worked with that shape. When the terms of your interpretation are implicitly general (the “experimental” novel as a form that has always existed; the ideas of “style,” complexity, self-reflexivity, and allusion understood as things that have always been of interest), it can be difficult to describe your own generation. In art history and music history, this is the problem of the intersection of historical and critical writing. The problem is egregiously and traditionally confused in literary studies because of the expression “literary criticism,” which implies all writing about novels of the past is already criticism, despite the fact that scholars present themselves as historians. The problem is easier to see, if not to solve, in art history, because art historians know that it is conceptually problematic to write art histories of contemporary art.

If there had been a third volume it might not have been able to present itself in the way volumes 1 and 2 do--as a critically motivated history of the novel. Volume 3, I think, would have had to be more a project of advocacy, and would have needed to revisit terms such as “experimental,” “style,” and “displays of linguistic prowess” (that’s Boylan again). Those terms will necessarily lose some of their proposed trans-historical reach. If Gaddis, Pynchon, Wallace, and others are the writers we steer by (thinking of Wallace’s comment about the “25% of Pynchon”), then who do we steer by when we’re thinking about Gaddis, Pynchon, and Wallace?

Moore's purposes in searching for "experimental" novels in different cultures and languages is to challenge the idea that the novel has only recently become experimental, and to suggest that the novel didn't arise as a self-description of the bourgeoisie in the 18th century. I think both are salutary goals. What interests me is what happens to "experimental" in these contexts. If being experimental means mainly trying new forms, then it might lose its descriptive power for some postwar writers (it may seem too general). On the other hand, if being experimental means working with Sierpinski triangles (as David Foster Wallace once said he did), then "experimental" might be more historically specific. I tend toward the latter sense of "experimental," in which it's a postwar phenomenon mainly confined to English, French, and German literature; but it's also the case that such an understanding of "experimental" requires claims of a deeper genealogy: hence the curious place allotted to history, which becomes at once distant and immediately present.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,234 followers
Want to read
August 15, 2013
Umm okay I just got both volumes of this in the mail. That's a lotta book! It's like a side of beef of book!
Profile Image for Wes Allen.
51 reviews51 followers
November 24, 2020
Don't pick this up if your to-read shelf is already daunting and/or book-buying is bringing you to the brink of bankruptcy.

Now it's time for this anachronistic boyo to crack open vol I.
Profile Image for Jeff Bursey.
Author 12 books157 followers
May 16, 2022
This is a thorough, expansive, focused view of the continuation of the development of the novel form. Forget what you learned in school or university or college that the novel began in england in the mid-18th century. Moore's earlier book, The Novel: An alternative History, Beginnings to 1600, put that notion deep under the ground. Here he expands the exploration of the emerging novel in europe, asia, the u.s. and england. Definitely worth getting for anyone interested in seeing where writers today may have gotten some inspiration.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 3 books1 follower
March 12, 2018
An important, and often fascinating, read, but a bit of a slog at times. It covers so much ground it's kaleidoscopic: Two hundred prolific years of literature around the globe. That's a lot to stuff into even nearly 1,000 pages. There's just too much -- and, sadly for the world, the works are as not nearly as interesting as those in the first volume. Nor are they as obscure. In fact, many are covered in 'non alternative' histories. Sure, it's still great for anyone interested in looking more broadly at the topic, but it's not nearly as gripping as the previous volume. That said, I'm still looking forward to Moore's next installment.
167 reviews3 followers
March 29, 2017
Steven Moore does not write as a pure scientist. He does not set out to provide us with an objective history of prose over the course of two centuries: there is an agenda. Not only the usual quality-over-entertainment stance that you might remember from your (fill in native language) teacher: even among "higher" literature that teaches readers to become better readers he is especially interested in, and proselytizing for, books that analyze or advocate social change. Plus he likes maximalism.

Thus we are made aware that opposition to slavery before 1800, although not mainstream, was not the rare and exotic position it is sometimes depicted as; that female authors did not systematically hide behind male fronts or pseudonyms; that sexual liberation was not an original invention of the 1960s.

Sometimes the agenda takes over. Moore reads agnosticism into early European novels that appear to be merely criticizing the excesses of institutions and the stupidity of bigots: a common confusion among New Atheists.

The work itself has maximalist tendencies at least in sheer volume and breadth of scope. At 1024 pages, a large portion of which are plot summaries, this is not for the short-winded. Even the editor seems to have thought it a bit excessive: judging from the typoes the last 20% or so of the pages seem to have been proofread slightly less thoroughly than the rest. However, in good Christian fashion we are compensated for our efforts by the author pointing out the numerous real links and references, making it obvious that most great authors between 1600 and 1800 (and probably a good number of their readers) were acutely aware of the history of literature themselves.

It took me a while to realize that Moore does not read foreign languages. He even provides plot summaries only for novels that have been translated to English. WTF? Writing a 117-page essay on German books without being able to read them? It sounds like a scene from I am Charlotte Simmons and it almost made me put the thing aside until I realized that I was less offended by the pieces about languages that I do not read myself - in fact, the sections on Eastern fiction were eye-openers to me. As for the chapters on European languages, they serve a second purpose (apart from being read independently) as an introduction to the real meat, i.e., the English Novel and its promising baby brother across the puddle (he is uneasy about the definition of "American novel" because unwilling to limit it by country of residence of the author).

The real treasure of the book is in its function as a list of tips. I will re-read it, but never again in one piece: slow recaps of single chapters as I am looking for background or inspiration.
Profile Image for Ian.
885 reviews
October 20, 2022
If I breathed a huge sigh of relief at completing this doorstop of erudition, it was not because I didn't enjoy or appreciate it: it was just so big! But that is only to be expected of a thorough survey of two centuries' worth of longform imaginative fiction, encompassing not just our parochial English concerns, but what was being written in Europe, the colonies and further afield. Moore is an entertaining, opinionated and occasionally spicy guide. He does not shy away from telling you that a beloved classic is actually a clunker. He is savage on Defoe, more harsh on Richardson's Clarissa than I was, in full agreement with my opinion of Smollett and has opened my eyes regarding Fielding. I have The Mysteries of Udolfo on my shelf to be read; based on Moore's summary, it may stay there for a while. All in all, a titanic piece of readable scholarship.
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