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No Novel Here.

Others who are smarter and better read will be better able to answer the following question:

Why hasn't Sofia Western read Pamela? or Clarissa?

And this question, too:

Why hasn't Clarissa read Pamela?

Maybe even this question:

Why hasn't Arabella read either?

Or this question:

Why hasn't Miss Betsy Thoughtless read any of 'em?

You might say that just because they don't mention them doesn't mean they haven't read them. I might respond that given their effect on the genre and their involvement in a very presentist discourse about the education and entertainment of young women, they're conspicuously absent. The novel as it came to prominence during the 1740s and 50s seems to be missing from the novels of the 1740s and 50s.

I am the first to admit that I haven't read nearly enough to make this assessment with any certainty. I can say that in what I have read, there seems to be no diegetic cross-referencing--no acknowledgment by characters or narrators of the presence of those novels that were trying to do away with the pernicious novels of Behn, Manley, and Haywood (in her 1720s incarnation). It occurs to me that Charlotte Lennox, whose The Female Quixote is specifically and explicitly about what should and should not be read, might have mentioned a contemporary title or two by name. Samuel Johnson thought highly of Lennox; he likewise thought highly of Richardson. Why not plug the latter or offer Clarissa up as an acceptable substitute for all those ridiculous romances buckling the shelves and warping the minds of anyone who comes into contact with them?

The novel, for all its formal realism and pretensions to representing a world sans fairies and dragons, seems to have left itself out of the world it purports to depict. Does anyone out there know offhand when Tom Jones or Clarissa shows up in the library or hands of another character in a novel?

I suppose that each of the novels I have mentioned here set out to redefine the genre, and would therefore not be served by giving free press to a competitor. Perhaps it's simply a function of sustainable fictiveness--it always makes me slightly uncomfortable when characters on TV talk about shows that they watch (I just saw a rerun of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is accused of watching Melrose Place and is caught out by a polygraph test). There's something very disconcerting about hearing that theme music within the text of another program. (That's right, I said text. Cut me some slack.)

Maybe it's about elevating the novel in the hierarchy of genres. Novelists are happy to talk about old novels, and they quote freely from plays, poems, sermons, essays, and so on. Interestingly enough, though, even when they do make a reference, it's rarely to a contemporary piece. Pope gets quoted a lot, of course, but by 1749 (Tom Jones) he'd been dead for a few years and in any case most of what gets quoted is from poetry he wrote before 1730. Milton makes his contributions. Dryden was quite popular with Haywood; so was Edmund Waller. All men, and all well and truly dead by 1750. It's possible that the unattributed snippets are contemporary, and there's at least one occasion in MBT when Haywood interpolates a ballad fresh from the street, but the fact that they're given no attribution by the narrator or editor suggests that wherever they came from (unless composed by the author), the weren't thought enough of to find their own ways to fame and fortune.

In any case, I wonder if there's something there about the novel being self-contained, whereas all else is contained by the novel. That'd put it on top as a function of its ability to yoke the rest to its purpose.

Still doesn't really explain why Sofia hasn't read Clarissa.


Gumming up the Works

In the September 24, 2007 issue of New York Magazine (which I typically thumb through while waiting for the kettle to boil or waiting for The Simpsons to come on), I came across a brief article that rather flipped my switch. Other dissertators I know have spoken of the eerie synchronicity that comes with deep involvement in a project--the sense that somehow everything is relevant, that everything everyone is talking about somehow relates to your own work. Those of you who know me well will know that I already thought everything was about me, dissertation notwithstanding. Nevertheless, even the most hardened amongst you will have to acknowledge the appropriateness of what follows.

Gum, apparently, is proliferating. I've been writing about organizational mechanisms arising subsequent to proliferation, and have even gone so far as to suggest that the rise of the novel is more intimately involved in this than has usually been stipulated. A reading audience with a taste for poems, plays, romances, epics, comedies, treatises, sermons, essays etc. can have their thirsts slaked by the super-enriched vitamin smoothie that the novel becomes over the course of the first half of the 18th century.

But back to the gum.

"It seems that new kinds of chewing gum proliferate daily," Ben Mathis-Lilley writes. "With bodega cash registers now besieged by both the classical brands and tortured-sounding variations thereon. We decided to determine the best of each genre--mint, fruit, and bubblegum--by doing a comprehensive taste test" (62).

If Fielding's comic epic in prose isn't a novelist's answer to Trident Minty Sweet Twist, I don't know what is. The "new" province of writing that he shaped into Tom Jones takes your classic brands (comedy, epic, mint) and combines them with new flavors (realism, moral ambiguity, Sweet Twist). But the point here is that as soon as there is proliferation, or the perception of proliferation (and I have to say I think it was "5" gum that put ME over the top), there follows a need or desire to establish a hierarchy of value. Some critic shows up to read/chew it all up and tell me what I can leave on the shelves with respect to book and gum alike. Wylie Dufresne and Alex Stupak, a chef-proprietor and pastry chef, inform me that in chew-wise the classics are actually the best. So your Iliad is Wrigley's Spearmint and your Margites (if we hadn't lost the thing) would undoubtedly be Bazooka Joe (valued by the critics here for its "classic" flavor).

Between them (both in flavor and on the actual magazine page) in the fruit category is Adams Sour Cherry, which I haven't tried, but which I am nonetheless confident would to an adept synaesthesiac taste like Tom Jones reads.

All other gums--and books--you can discard as being both literally and figuratively beneath your taste.


One Man's Trash

I had determined to begin my dissertation in earnest today, rather than blogging it a piece at a time in the hopes that each night some little Dissertation-Elves might come and cobble it together whilst I slept. I have written on encyclopedism, novels, Tristram Shandy, Clarissa, Tom Jones, and The Female Quixote; I have engaged Marshall McLuhan on generic mediation and considered the rise or emergence narratives of McKeon, Warner, Hunter, and Watt (for most of these I might as well just have read Reeve's Progress of Romance). I have noted that most leave Tristram out of their theorizations or give it little attention, despite the depth of that work's involvement in novelistic discourse. I have considered the roles of bastardry, inheritance, and gender in the generic formulation and posterity of the novel. And as soon as I opened Word to put virtual pen to paper, I fell subject to the Stooges Syndrome--everything trying to cram its way through the door at once, preventing anything getting through at all. All I have to do is everything; but where do you start a circle?

As if in sympathy with my state, Word began to crash. And crash, and crash, and crash. So while I wait for my computer to slog its way through a complete scan in search of a virus that probably isn't responsible, I thought I'd offer a note on the above--a picture of one volume of an incomplete set of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens that I rescued from the street this weekend. I have recovered fifteen volumes of at least twenty, and though as you can see they're mostly in a fairly sorry state I couldn't bear to see them hauled off to the dust-heap. The set is by Colonial Press, Inc., out of Clinton, Mass., and could be from sixty to more than a hundred years old. Colonial doesn't exist anymore, and their demise largely withered the town of Clinton, but the press was at one point one of the largest on the East Coast and was apparently the first to put the Warren Commission Report into public hands.

I am no Dickens scholar, whatever the MLA might reflect, and if I get a chance to read for pleasure again in my lifetime I'm not sure that Dickens will be the one to whom I look to fill the hours. I understand there were some interesting things written after 1900; I remain skeptical, but I think it might be worth investigating.

The question, then, is why did I bother to dedicate precious shelf-space to approximately 800 cubic inches of tattered Victorian literature that I might never get around to reading? I think it's both because I naturally (by which I mean inexplicably, as opposed to normally) like old books, and know that if I DO ever read them, I won't require the latest greatest aspiring-to-be-definitive editions. I won't require publishing histories, critical essays, or celebratory introductions. I'll just be able to go the shelf and pull down a nice piece of fiction unadulterated by my professional interests and undiminished by what here and there amounts to substantial foxing.

I think that sounds lovely.


Serving up a tasty Cavendish

Or, that's a fine how-to-ragoo!

I am, as ever, unable to resist doing that for which John Dennis would surely have condemned me. But Pope thought Dennis was a prat, so there's that.

In my futile but ongoing attempt to audit the encyclopedic texts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I came across a word with which I unabashedly admit I had hitherto been utterly unfamiliar. Eliza Haywood, in Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) -- a novel which like so many of its mid-century peers is thoroughly involved in encyclopedic discourse -- titles Chapter XVI of the second volume thus: "Is a kind of olio, a mixture of many things, all of them very much to the purpose, though less entertaining than some others."

As Christine Blouch's footnote tells us, an olio is "a hodgepodge of heterogeneous elements." The note is somewhat severally redundant; "hodgepodge" itself refers to a mixture of heterogeneous elements, so indeed the note in itself adds nothing to the chapter title by way of explanation. The interesting part occurs in the etymologies of both olio and hodgepodge. Each comes from the world of food---the former from Spain (ollo), the latter from French (hochepot). This discovery put me in mind of Henry Fielding, who offers up Tom Jones as a "ragoo" of human nature, seasoned with all "the affectation and vice which courts and cities can afford."

So the links between literary variegation and the culinary arts are several. Having left "olio" out of my ESTC searches of "dictionary," "encyclopedia," and the like, I decided to go round once more with "olio," and discovered (as many of you are already undoubtedly aware) that it is Margaret Cavendish who gives us the first recorded use of "olio" to mean a sort of miscellany, or collection of literary pieces. The OED confirms her The Worlds Olio of 1655 as the earliest instance.

Cavendish has in the last few years started to get the attention she deserves, but even Paper Bodies (2000), the excellent Broadview Cavendish reader only offers the preface, and unless one happened to read the thing cover-to-cover one would likely pass over the Olio in favor of the better-known and complete The Blazing World. The entire Olio is available through EEBO, and those of you interested in aesthetics (pre-Romantic), genre studies, or indeed almost any subject under the sun might want to take a look at Cavendish's quasi-encyclopedic treatment. The organization leaves a great deal to be desired in an ease-of-use way, to be sure, but I think through no fault of their own the good people at OED reinforce a mischaracterization of the text. Miscellany an olio may be, and certainly the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were full of magazine-miscellanies that didn't shy away from advertising themselves as "universal," "compleat," or what have you. But a World's Olio--that to me suggests the foundation of a system, the suggestion that these heterogeneous elements are only heterogeneous in presentation. They are meant to cohere, or at least reflect and reinforce the possibility of coherence. It's a far cry from the encyclopedias of the eighteenth, but I think if they listened closely they might hear Cavendish shouting.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Cavendish's first entries are on fame, and why men write books (a subject to which she gave some attention in The Blazing World. Books, she hopes, will be the paper bodies that extend her life beyond the death of flesh). Here are perhaps my favorite of her words on the subject:

"Fame makes a difference between man and Beast."

"Next, the being born to the glory of God, Man is born to produce a Fame by some particular acts to prove himself a man, unlesse we shall say there is no difference in Nature, between man and beast; For beasts when they are dead, the rest of the beasts retain not their memory from one posterity to another, as we can perceive, and we study the natures of Beasts, and their way so subtilly, as surely we should discover some-what: but the difference betwixt man and beast, to speak naturally, and onely according to her works without any Divine influence, is, that dead men live in living men, where beasts die without Record of beasts; So that those men that die in oblivion, are beasts by nature, for the rational Soul in man is a work of nature, as well as the body, and therefore ought to be taught by nature to be as industrious to get a Fame to live to after Ages, as the body to get food for present life, for as natures principles are created to produced some effects, so the Soul to produce Fame."

Heady stuff. Does this go in my introduction, or my chapter on encyclopedias?


Dissertation Envy

In the course of preparing for the jungle war that will be the dissertation process, I have come across a fair few examples of the sorts of projects others have done and are doing. They are all more appealing, well-organized, and better thought out than my own. Or so it would seem from the outside.

The structure I have seen for a dissertation and a good number of shorter critical works is thus: introduction, three to five chapters, conclusion, bibliography. Almost without exception, the chapters are 40-70 pages, and each deals with a single author or text. I recently read a dissertation on the "inheritance novel," which makes an argument for establishing that genre using Clarissa, Evelina, and Pride and Prejudice. Another I encountered follows tropes of failed lineal descent through Tale of a Tub, The Dunciad, and Tristram Shandy (these three texts are perhaps too frequently put together, but that's another matter). The pattern repeats in book-length works. Catherine Gallagher's Nobody's Stories has six chapters dedicated to Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, Delarivier Manley, Charlotte Lennox, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth. This, apparently, is how you write a book.

I am having difficulty duplicating this structure in my own work--narrowing down the focus, as it were. For the moment at least I've settled on a breakdown by genre: encyclopedias/dictionaries, poetry, periodicals, novels. I've got a neat little structure there that makes a great deal of sense to me in the abstract. The project is about generic organization of literature with respect to time, or how each genre negotiates its past, present, and future. Encyclopedias, as I will establish in the first chapter, began the century by collecting past knowledge and aspiring to completeness. It ended the century by morphing into a more progressive genre, unable to systematize fully the knowledge of all things and settling into a long life as a research tool. Rather than containing all knowledge, it became about producing more knowledge within disciplines. It's the Britannica I'm speaking of towards the end, and the first edition came out in 1768. The novel, I mean to suggest, underwent largely the same trajectory, so I shall close with Tristram Shandy, a full-on encyclopedic novel more deeply involved in novelistic tradition than is usually appreciated. The last volume of Shandy appeared in 1767, which closes the dissertation into a nice circle in terms of texts and time.

Haven't sorted out the middle, yet.

Encyclopedias are easy. There are a lot of them, but it's easy to talk about the Big Three: Chambers, Diderot, Britannica. Half of this chapter already exists in a term paper waiting to be reworked. Also, they're "closed" units with far fewer and better-defined generic conventions governing their operation. Despite the mind-boggling nature of their stated purpose--collecting and arranging all knowledge--they're quite simple things to think about. Novels, on the other hand, are ridiculously complex beasts, each the spawn of a bastard genre uncertain of its parentage and searching for literary legitimacy. Tristram Shandy is not just encyclopedic the way a novel is encyclopedic, by which I mean capable of containing and mediating and/or remediating all forms of writing. Other novels (Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, Clarissa, The Female Quixote, Evelina, Miss Betsy Thoughtless, A Simple Story) traffic in encyclopedic terms, or at least the discourse of completeness, order, epistemological utility. This is intergeneric encyclopedism--a novel, in its post-taxonomic-free-for-all definition, gives you poems, songs, ballads, plays, letters, essays, treatises, sermons, romances, newspapers, magazines, epics, fables, true histories, amatory fiction, didacticism, and so on. They're recognizably present, though fundamentally altered in their synthesis by the novel's fictive status and formal realism. Chivalry isn't dead, it's just been burdened with jointures. Shandy of course takes this to extremes. It has the intergeneric encyclopedism of the novel even as it mocks the claims to characterological and epistemological completeness made so loudly by and by others on behalf of Clarissa, which despite its popularity and number of imitators actually threatened to kill the genre where it stood--a fact reflected, I think, though perhaps not intentionally, by the death of its heroine and the high probability of suicidal tendencies in any of its readers who thought story might count for as much as sentiment. Shandy also, however, has intrageneric encyclopedism. It brings together the entire history of the novel's "rise" by containing and (comically, satirically) abridging the principle concerns of half a century's imaginative prose.

If one wanted to know the history of the novel, one could practically do away with every novel but Tristram Shandy. This is course precisely what Chambers wanted with his Cyclopaedia--to render a great many other books unnecessary. The problem in novelism is that unless you've read a great amount of what Tristram contains and digests, however messily, you wouldn't know it was doing it. To a reader in Sterne's time, though--to an avid devourer of prose fiction--perhaps it was clearer. I certainly like to think it was, because the text is made much richer the more specific its references. The problem I keep running up against in approaching this chapter is how to talk about the nature of Tristram's problematic encyclopedism without becoming problematically encyclopedic myself. To write about Tristram Shandy is to write about a lot of eighteenth-century novels. I'm just not sure for how many or how much of them I have to account.

How do I write about a whole genre in fifty or sixty pages, even if I approach it through one book, when other, better, and smarter dissertators dedicate whole dissertations to single genres, and even then select only three or four works to support their examinations of a single theme?