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New Left Review 49, January-February 2008


John Frow on Franco Moretti, ed., The Novel. Landmark collection of essays tracing the history and geography of the novel, and relations between morphology, themes and social forms.

JOHN FROW

THINKING THE NOVEL

Along with the movie and the advertisement, the novel is the central aesthetic form of our time. Yet it is clear that, despite our association of the novel with modernity, narrative forms looking remarkably like the modern novel arise in periods as diverse as Hellenistic antiquity and medieval France, and can be found in quite other civilizations, notably China. It is tempting to describe the novel as a collection of very disparate genres (as an influential essay by Gustavo PĂ©rez Firmat once put it) rather than a singular and coherent form. Alternatively, we can think, as Mikhail Bakhtin does, of a series of parallel histories working through successive transformations and incorporating a range of other genres in the shaping of the loosely related forms that we think of as making up the contemporary novel.

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