Introduction (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Literature is forever transforming. A new literary age is new precisely because its important writers do things differently from their predecessors. Thus, it could be said that almost all significant literature is in some sense innovative or experimental at its inception but inevitably becomes, over time, conventional. Regarding long fiction, however, the situation is a bit more complex.
It is apparent that, four centuries after Miguel de Cervantes wrote what is generally recognized the first important novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615), readers have come to accept a certain type of long fiction as most conventional and to regard significant departures from this type as experimental. This most conventional variety is the novel of realism as practiced by nineteenth century giants such as Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot.
The first task in surveying contemporary experiments in long fiction, therefore, is to determine what “conventional” means in reference to the novel of realism. Most nineteenth century novelists considered fiction to be an imitative form; that is, it presents in words a representation of reality. The underlying assumption of these writers and their readers was that there is a shared single reality, perceived by all—unless they are mad, ill, or hallucinatory—in a similar way. This reality is largely external and objectively verifiable. Time is orderly and moves forward....
(The entire section is 352 words.)
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