Monday, 17 January 2011

'The True Story of the Novel'

Georg Lukács famously argued that "the novel is the epic of a world that has been abandoned by God.

Well, not according to Margaret Anne Doody. In The True Story of the Novel she argues not only that “the Novel has a religious well-spring" (p.172) but also that "a certain chauvinism leads English-speaking critics to treat the Novel as if it were somehow English, and as if the English were pioneers of novel-writing – ignoring, for instance, the very visible Spanish novels of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. A consideration of Spanish phenomena alone would lead to an admission that Catholicism and a pre-modern economic setting could also give rise to the Novel." (pp.1-2)

The novel need not be seen as a post-Protestant, secular genre. In fact she goes out of her way to point out that "in twentieth-century criticism the Novel is seen also as not only displacing but replacing myth, or religious narrative, or rather religion – customarily Christianity- itself. … We accept such a view as literal history (instead of as an image) only at the cost of ignoring the facts."(p.3)

Doody is no Catholic apologist and I wouldn't necessarily endorse all of her arguments but she does effectively demonstrate how narrow-minded English literary criticism has sometimes been. She also provides the groundwork for some interesting Catholic interpretations of the novel. She argues, for instance, that "what we term 'the Rise of the Novel,' meaning the advent of Prescriptive Realism, was Protestant enough to dismiss Mary out of hand" (p.453) and attempts to redress the balance by having a whole section of her book on Mary.

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