According to the dominant tradition of literary criticism, the novel is the form par excellence of the private individual. Empty Houses challenges this consensus by reexamining the genre's development from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century and exploring what has until now seemed an anomaly--the frustrated theatrical ambitions of major novelists. Offering new interpretations of the careers of William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot, Henry James, James Joyce, and James Baldwin--writers known for mapping ever-narrower interior geographies--this book argues that the genre's inward-looking tendency has been misunderstood. Delving into the critical role of the theater in the origins of the novel of interiority, David Kurnick reinterprets the novel as a record of dissatisfaction with inwardness and an injunction to rethink human identity in radically collective and social terms.
Exploring neglected texts in order to reread canonical ones, Kurnick shows that the theatrical ambitions of major novelists had crucial formal and ideological effects on their masterworks. Investigating a key stretch of each of these novelistic careers, he establishes the theatrical genealogy of some of the signal techniques of narrative interiority. In the process he illustrates how the novel is marked by a hunger for palpable collectivity, and argues that the genre's discontents have been a shaping force in its evolution.
A groundbreaking rereading of the novel, Empty Houses provides new ways to consider the novelistic imagination.
David Kurnick is assistant professor of English at Rutgers University.
"Empty Houses is an admirable book. Its willingness to question established views on the novel has enlightening results. In the boldness and originality of its arguments, it makes a valuable contribution not only to scholarship on the novelists it considers, but also more widely to our understanding of the novel as a genre."--Matthew Peters, Times Literary Supplement
"Kurnick's thoughtful, subtle, well-argued book focuses on five writers closely associated with the movement toward, and the apotheosis of, interiority in the novel: Thackeray, George Eliot, Henry James, James Joyce, and James Baldwin. All had theatrical ambitions that were largely unsuccessful. Kurnick makes the case that the novel's shift from public spaces to psychological interior spaces is fraught with ambivalence, with 'longing references to the public worlds they would seem to have left behind.'"--Choice
"This brilliant book examines the close relations between theater and narrative fiction as the Anglophone novel took its famous interior turn between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on a wide range of critical approaches to unsettle prevailing ideas about the antitheatrical bias of the novel and the increasing separation between the two genres, this will be recognized immediately as a mind-changing contribution to the history of the novel."--Rosemarie Bodenheimer, Boston College
"Through masterly analyses of what he strikingly calls 'the melancholy of generic distinction,' Kurnick explores the relations between personal psychology and collective aspirations, and between aesthetic expression and various social formations and the political imagination. Original and brilliantly argued, Empty Houses will permanently change the way we look at the history of the modern novel."--Leo Bersani, professor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
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