It is generally agreed that the postmodern period of world literature begins immediately following the end of World War II and extends at least through the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991). Perhaps this period of the novel’s development is identified most of all with experimentation. Worldwide, postmodern novels have flown in the face of much that preceded them, yet the novel remains an evolving, thriving genre. Testimony to its vitality is the fact that this formerly Eurocentric, male-dominated genre of literature now counts among its preeminent practitioners women from countries not traditionally identified with the novel at its best.
To appreciate such a turn of events in the novel’s development, one must know something about the history of the novel and its traditions. The novel is the only genre today that cannot also be found among the classical literatures of Rome and Greece, although these societies had their own forms of long fiction. The novel emerged as a budding literary form while philosophical thought and everyday life were undergoing changes of staggering breadth during the Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth century. The Enlightenment championed human reason at a time when God and the Church had begun to recede from the forefront of European consciousness as the defining elements of human existence, as evidenced by philosopher René Descartes’s dictum, “I think, therefore I am.” A new formulation of value and worth was in the offing as well, one imposed by humanity rather than by the heavens. Rising in tandem with the gold standard, international trade, and modern economics, the novel found its initial audience and practitioners amid a flowering, newly educated, secular middle class of people who had begun to appear on the horizons of mercantile Europe....
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