Volume 48, Number 2, Summer 2016
From Digressions to Intrusions: Authorial Commentary in the Novel—Paul Dawson
Authorial intrusions are typically characterized, and criticized, as interruptions to a narrative that disrupt the illusion of fictional truth to varying degrees. In this way, intrusions highlight by contrast our sense of two formative elements of the novel: its narrative structure, and its referential status. This article argues that the historically variable types and functions of authorial commentary, together with their critical reception, provide an important means for investigating changing concepts of novelistic realism. It traces a broad terminological shift, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, in which the common rhetorical practice of digression, or turning away from a narrative, came to be characterized as an intrusion into a narrative. In doing so, it demonstrates the paradoxical role authorial commentary has played in both establishing and challenging the conventions of realist fiction in relation to eighteenth-century theories of probability, nineteenth-century theories of sympathy, and twentieth-century theories of impersonality.
Mediation, Authority, and Critical Reading in The Warden—Andrew Willson
Anthony Trollope complained that too many readers “do the work of brainless idle men, to whom the trouble of thinking for themselves would be a pain too great for endurance.” In this essay, I examine his novel The Warden (1855) as a text that aims to make its readers into the kind of critical readers that Trollope finds so lacking in Victorian England. Through its depictions of a newspaper, its parodies of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle, and its own self-reflexive gestures, The Warden attempts to teach its readers about the limits of authority. Moreover, it draws its readers’ attention to the effects that both technical media (such as print and the book) and more abstract mediating categories (like genre) have on any given text in the hopes of training them to read with skepticism and an understanding of conventions.
Diaspora, Social Protest, and the Unreliable Narrator: Challenging Hierarchies of Race and Class in John Fante’s Ask the Dust—Suzanne Roszak
Whereas earlier readers of John Fante’s Ask the Dust interrogated how Fante’s Italian American narrator navigates the space between assimilation and cultural identification, more recent critics have examined how narrator Arturo Bandini demonstrates complicity with racist ideology in his prejudice against other diasporic communities in Los Angeles. This article builds on that development, exploring how Fante’s novel invites readers to critique both class hierarchy and white supremacist logic—particularly racist depictions of Chicana/o culture—through its narrator’s negative example. I argue that Fante makes his narrator intermittently aware of his own missteps, using him periodically as a voice for anti-racist and anti-classist discourse, while also undercutting his racial and class prejudices by painting him as egotistical, self-delusional, and therefore unreliable. In addition, I reveal that Ask the Dust develops the character of its Chicana protagonist in ways that contradict the narrator’s fetishism, while also making her his clearer-seeing counterpoint in matters of class, thereby presenting a positive alternative to his approach. In this way, I argue, the intersecting diasporic trajectories of Ask the Dust’s Italian American and Chicana characters ultimately encourage readers to resist racial and class oppression, while also representing the difficulty and the necessity of cross-cultural social resistance and solidarity.
Impersonal Style and the Form of Experience in W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn—Torleif Persson
This article argues that W. G. Sebald’s prose fiction reverses the traditional positioning of the witness as a point of singularity, theorizing instead a relationship to the act of witnessing that, while anchored in personal experience, is imbued at its core with impersonal form. Using The Rings of Saturn as my central example, I demonstrate that it is the tension between the immediacy of first-person experience and the characteristic distance of Sebald’s style that makes possible the narrator’s attunement to the “traces of destruction” that he encounters during his walk, and to which he bears witness both in and through his narrative. Sebald’s witnessing, then, is less a relation between past and present or witness and event than it is a critical orientation that produces the imperative to bear witness as a function of the very permeability of these categories.
Telling Run Away: Novel Testimony in Toni Cade Bambara’s Those Bones Are Not My Child—Kelley Wagers
This essay on Toni Cade Bambara’s little-studied final novel, Those Bones Are Not My Child (1999), examines the centrality of the novel form to Bambara’s investigation of testimony as a response to racial violence in the United States. As a novel, Bambara’s account of the real-life case of Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children can house opposing methods of giving testimony—a mother finds her voice, a son suffers and exercises the power of his silence, and writer and reader conspire to witness without hope of conclusion—and call attention to the complications of playing representational roles in the context of racial injury. Those Bones thus points the way to a more complex notion of agency and a reformulated theory of testimony calibrated to the particular challenges of responding to historical and immediate violence against black Americans.
A History of the Indian Novel in English by Ulka Anjara—Padmini Mongia
Sovereign Power and the Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Literature and the Problem of the Political by Peter Degabriele—Tony C. Brown
Serialization and the Novel in Mid-Victorian Magazines by Catherine Delafield—Julia Mccord Chavez
The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst—Sonya Sawyer Fritz
Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel by Leah Garrett—Brian Mcdonald
Possessing the Past: Trauma, Imagination, and Memory in Post-Plantation Southern Literature by Lisa Hinrichsen—Deborah Barker
A Tale of Two Capitalisms: Sacred Economics in Nineteenth-Century Britain by Supritha Rajan—Deanna K. Kreisel
Drawn from the Classics: Essays on Graphic Adaptations of Literary Works edited by Stephen E. Tabachnick and Esther Bendit Saltzman—Edward Brunner
Paul Dawson is the author of The Return of the Omniscient Narrator: Authorship and Authority in Twenty-first Century Fiction (OSU Press, 2013) and Creative Writing and the New Humanities (Routledge, 2005). His first book of poems, Imagining Winter (IP, 2006), won the national IP Picks Best Poetry award in 2006. He is currently a senior lecturer in the School of Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales.
Torleif Persson is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at Rutgers University. He is currently at work on a dissertation that focuses on the concept of the contemporary as both a theoretical object and as a lens through which to consider American fiction and culture since 1945. His wider research interests include twentieth-century global Anglophone literature, literary sociology, and the history of metafiction.
Suzanne Roszak received her PhD in comparative literature from Yale University. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Comparative Literature, Arizona Quarterly, Children’s Literature, and ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature. She teaches literature and writing at California State University, San Bernardino and Occidental College.
Kelley Wagers is an associate professor of English at Penn State Worthington Scranton. She primarily studies US literary modernism and her research is about ways of representing agency in writing about the past. Her articles have appeared in African American Review, Arizona Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, Journal of Modern Literature, and MELUS.
Andrew Willson is a PhD candidate in the English Department at Yale University. He is currently finishing his dissertation, “Idle Works: Unproductiveness, Literary Labor, and the Victorian Novel.”