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8. Early Literary Modernism

Andrew Lawson

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics modernism, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00011.x


If the subject matter of the late realist text is typically the testing of character under the pressures of environment and circumstance, then it's perhaps not surprising that the realist novel becomes increasingly preoccupied with its own containing structures of narrative form and point of view. A sustained focus on the fate of character in relation to context runs parallel, in the novels of Henry James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Edith Wharton, and Theodore Dreiser, with a self-conscious meditation on the formal constraints and possibilities of narrative. Following Perry Meisel, we might call this heightened sense of structural limits reflexive realism , a form that “takes the tale it (re)presents, not as immediate, self-sufficient, and available to mimesis, but as a distinct and analagous function of the conventions of its own narration” ( Meisel 1987 : 6). This is a self-conscious fiction, one that communicates an awareness of its own partial and constructed grasp of “reality” to its readers. These are novels which won't let us forget that we are reading novels, novels that can't quite be sure about what, in late capitalist society, reading novels might mean. What gives rise to this reflexive awareness is the antagonistic relation of the literary novel to its debased, commercial form in the mass publishing market. By the 1880s, the reading public had ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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