Self-Reflexive Long Fiction Misguided self-consciousness

Misguided self-consciousness

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The malice-devoured narrator of Zapiski iz podpolya (1864; Letters from the Underworld, 1913; better known as Notes from the Underground), by Fyodor Dostoevski, set a pattern for misguided self-consciousness in twentieth century fiction: A narrator analyzes his or her own text, indeed is often a would-be artist, but lacks sufficient insight. Irony thus divides author and narrator. For example, Humbert Humbert, the protagonist of Lolita (1955), by Vladimir Nabokov, wishes to immortalize statutory rape as serious literature; however, his account is classified in the preface as a psychological case, and the novel is ultimately darkly comic, ridiculing Humbert Humbert.

Comparably, The Great American Novel (1938), by Clyde Brion Davis, purports to be the diaries of a journalist who spends his whole obtuse life planning a never-written novel. The first-person voice in Grendel (1971), by John Gardner, becomes fascinated with a narrative poet but ultimately rejects art, morality, and any other order. In fictions primarily about misguided self-consciousness, the monstrous or moronic narrator is an artist manqué.