Time and the Novel
The Genealogical Imperative
Patricia Drechsel Tobin


Formalist criticism of the modern novel has concentrated on its spatial aspects. Patricia Tobin focuses, instead, on the modern novel's temporal structure. She notes that the "genealogical imperative" that dominated the nineteenth-century novel, in which one event gave birth to another, has broken down in the twentieth-century novels she studies. Further, she draws parallels between this collapse of linear narrative and the current challenge to linearity from many other areas of modern thought.

Beginning with Mann's Buddenbrooks as a family chronicle novel that fully embodies the classical genealogical structure, the author extends her analysis to include distortions of the linear perspective in Lawrence's The Rainbow, Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, Nabokov's Ada, or Ardor, and Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. She finds that in these novels about family relationships, the continuity of time, family, and story has dissolved so that past, present, and future have lost their distinctions; sins against the dynastic family are not only recognized but celebrated; and literary and existential meanings are suspended in unlikely juxtapositions, irrational metamorphoses, and proliferating possibilities. Professor Tobin suggests that the disappearance of the genealogical imperative in the contemporary world's sense of reality may account for much of what appears to be anonymous, peripheral, and excessive in post-modern fiction.

First published in 1979.

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