The novel is the most important form of Western art. It aims to represent the totality of life; it is the flagship that literature sends out against the systematic thought of science and philosophy. Indebted to Lukács and Bakhtin, to Auerbach and Ian Watt, Guido Mazzoni’s Theory of the Novel breaks new ground, building a historical understanding of how the novel became the modern book of life: one of the best representations of our experience of the world.
The genre arose during a long metamorphosis of narrative forms that took place between 1550 and 1800. By the nineteenth century it had come to encompass a corpus of texts distinguished by their freedom from traditional formal boundaries and by the particularity of their narratives. Mazzoni explains that modern novels consist of stories told in any way whatsoever, by narrators who exist—like us—as contingent beings within time and space. They therefore present an interpretation, not a copy, of the world.
Novels grant new importance to the stories of ordinary men and women and allow readers to step into other lives and other versions of truth. As Theory of the Novel makes clear, this art form narrates an epoch and a society in which individual experiences do not converge but proliferate, in which the common world has fragmented into a plurality of small, local worlds, each absolute in its particularity.
Guido Mazzoni’s book offers us one of the most profound and far-reaching reflections on the novel since the influential works of Georg Lukács and Frederic Jameson. Blending a persuasive theory of fiction with an innovative history of the genre, Mazzoni proposes convincing answers to virtually all questions raised by these topics. Incredibly learned and reader-friendly, this book is a true classic.
This is a magnificent theorization of the novel as a phenomenon of literary and cultural history: the novel as the most complete instantiation of what philosophy objected to in literary representation, and literature’s most complete refutation of that objection. In making the case for the novel, it makes the case for modernity itself: multiple, changing, democratic, imperfect. This book is destined to be a classic.
Mazzoni’s wide range of materials and time, together, make Theory of the Novel a fascinating read. As I read it, I thought often that I would like to assign it to my students, or propose it to someone from a field other than literature as an excellent example of what literature, and literary theory, can do.
Mazzoni offers an excellent history of the form…His account of the major shifts in the evolution of the form itself makes for a good history of the novel, and its rise in significance and stature is convincingly explained…Mazzoni leads the readers to a better understanding of how the novel became what it is, and why it has and continues to enjoy such success.
Mazzoni not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of both the novel and the theory of the novel at his command, but, moreover, possesses a gift for analysis and clarity: Theory of the Novel is probably the sharpest philosophical treatment of the novel since Lukács’s Theory of the Novel (1914–1916). In the past two decades, [other] books…have given us important historical and theoretical tools for understanding the genre. Mazzoni’s study stands out as a masterpiece of literary criticism, which makes use of these tools in order to fashion a wholly new concept of the novel, its origins, and its development. Beyond being a pleasurable read, Mazzoni’s book is a paragon of scholarship, which will give its readers a deeper appreciation of fictional worlds born of life itself.
- 408 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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