Famously Bad Plots

Bad Plots and Objectivity in Maria Edgeworth

by Yoon Sun Lee


The essay begins:

Maria Edgeworth (1767–1849) is famous for her bad plots. A contemporary reviewer of her 1814 novel Patronage complains that “the story is always the worst part of Miss Edgeworth’s novel.” There she consistently proves “inferior . . . to many of those that are vastly below her in everything else.” This backhanded compliment to a novelist publicly admired by Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott may suggest some of the reasons that Edgeworth has fallen into neglect. Despite her popularity and widespread readership in her lifetime, particularly in nineteenth-century America, this Anglo-Irish writer of national tales and novels never fully entered the literary canon. If read at all, Edgeworth’s novels are studied in relation to questions of Irish identity and history, rather than as examples of the genre’s possibilities. This may indeed be attributable to a certain quality that many of her plots possess. In their broad outlines, they are unobjectionable, if not exciting. Their protagonists, whether old or young, male or female, aristocratic or working class, must learn to choose for themselves the way of life most productive of happiness. They need to overcome prejudice, indolence, misdirected sympathies, and unhealthy influences. The alleged badness of her plots, then, does not concern any unfamiliarity of outline. Nor does it derive from over-reliance on arbitrary events, chance encounters, or coincidences. Though these can certainly be found in Edgeworth’s plots, sometimes concentrated toward the end, they are arguably standard features of narrative and certainly of the novel by 1800. Rather, it seems that Edgeworth’s “carelessness” has to do with not sufficiently disguising the epistemological responsibilities placed on fictional plot by the development of experimental science. Her plots usually tell the story of how characters learn to think rationally. But this requires more than learning to distinguish between truth and lies, genuine and false stories or feelings. As one character in her novel Belinda (1801) puts it, “Our reasonings as to the conduct of life . . . must depend ultimately on facts.” For Edgeworth, then, plot becomes the means of producing legitimately objective facts within a fictive universe. In a twist in the dialectic of fictionality, plot has to produce a hierarchy of epistemological certainty within its own orderings.

While fictional characters have been insightfully analyzed by Catherine Gallagher, Deidre Lynch, and others, plot has been relatively neglected by critics. Where noticed, plot is often assumed to embody ideological forces in a fairly straightforward manner. Fredric Jameson’s recent study of realism, for example, argues that “destiny” is “vehiculated” in various plot types that the realist novel can only rework at the expense of plot itself. The tendency to see plot as a conveyance for ideology, as well as the vehicular metaphor itself, were well established by the eighteenth century. In Clara Reeve’s Progress of Romance (1785), for example, novels are commended when they “promote the cause of religion and virtue,” with plots serving as “vehicles to convey [the author’s] tenets to the minds of such readers as were not likely to receive them in any other form.” Such understandings of plot rely on a high-level view that looks at general similarities between stories rather than at particular sequences within them. They also place more weight on the ending than on any other part of the story, since the ending is where poetic justice is supposedly executed. The disbursement of rewards and punishments, deaths, marriages, and property at the novel’s end is understood to constitute the bulk of its ideological work. But it is important to notice what such treatments of plot tend to overlook: that plot concerns not only what happens to whom at the end, but with how things happen along the way—or even with how things happen to happen. Plots ask and answer questions about causality as manifested in particular sequences, and this is the aspect of narrative that seems to concern Edgeworth the most. Her plots are worth examining because they are so keenly aware of the procedures through which actions are warranted and, above all, facts elicited. Edgeworth seems intensely interested in connecting these procedures with the outside world. Instead of trying to create a self-contained world in which occurrences generally reflect the probabilities of modern everyday life, Edgeworth tries to carry into her fictive plots some of the protocols and structures that warranted factuality in modern science. In her tales for children and young adults, for example, the plots focus on concrete objects: coins, flowerpots, thimbles, seeds, paper tickets, and notes. They aim to dispel uncertainties and establish facts about these objects. Usually, these facts concern who found, gave, stole, or used them and how they did so. But establishing a fact requires that certain protocols be carefully followed. Witnesses, authorities, and experiments conducted in neutral spaces are all needed. The protocols and structures of experimental science shape Edgeworth’s plots, the strange, dense network of objects that sometimes compose them, and the ways in which they sometimes frankly defy a larger probability. Sometimes they end with an astonishing pile-up of coincidences. But such outcomes emerge logically from Edgeworth’s desire to recalibrate the relationship between plot and probability. Probability becomes subordinate to the procedural establishment of factuality. Edgeworth’s plots turn on apparently objective events that diminish the centrality of human intentions and subjective desires. They represent a crucial step in the development of fictional realism. Continue reading …

In this essay, Yoon Sun Lee shows how the early nineteenth-century novelist Maria Edgeworth develops objectivity as a dimension of plot rather than of narrative viewpoint, drawing on the protocols and structures of experimental science. In Edgeworth’s novels, plot becomes a means of producing legitimately objective facts within a fictive universe.

YOON SUN LEE is the author of Nationalism and Irony: Burke, Scott, Carlyle and Modern Minority: Asian American Literature and Everyday Life (both Oxford University Press); her articles can be found in MLQ, Studies in Romanticism, and The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel, as well as other journals and collections. Her current book project focuses on the question of how to theorize plot in the novel.

Novel Ethics

Reflexive Realism and Kinetic Ethics: The Case of Murakami Haruki’s 1Q84

by Christopher Weinberger


The essay begins:

In Anglo-European scholarship, theories of ethics in the novel over the last hundred years have drawn predominantly on the work of realist writers who, like Henry James (1843–1916) and Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), envelop verisimilar worlds in a literary haze, the multivalent ethos of which promises to resolve into real-life ethics under the right conceptual pressure. In Japanese scholarship, ethical criticism has similarly favored realist texts, bringing cultural studies approaches to the work of writers … who experiment with the capacity of literary language to represent the ambivalence and complexity of contemporaneous social experience. Despite methodological differences, ethical criticism in both Anglo-European and Japanese traditions of the novel has traditionally emphasized the mimetic capacity of the genre. This proclivity, in combination with the relative stagnation of studies on metafiction, has prevented recognition of an ethically driven reflexivity in the work of Murakami Haruki (1949–) and others.

Murakami has won international audiences and prizes, including the Jerusalem Prize and the Franz Kafka Prize, for novels describing how immersion in fictional worlds transforms the lives of characters. The Japanese literary community (bundan), however, has severely critiqued the ethics of his writing. Continue reading …

The recent metafictional novel 1Q84, by Japanese writer Murakami Haruki, has come under fire from literary critics for its apparent solipsism and misogyny. This essay argues that the novel makes a counterintuitive case for the continued relevance of novel ethics by pointing to the very real pressures that manifestly fictional beings—never mistaken for autonomous others and therefore never fully apprehensible as objects of empathetic identification—can place on characters and readers.

CHRISTOPHER WEINBERGER is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative and World Literature at San Francisco State University. He is currently finishing a book manuscript, Triangulating an Ethos: Ethics of Self-Consciousness in Modern Japanese Prose Fiction. The manuscript examines formal experimentation, especially reflexive practices of self-critique, in Japanese prose fiction from the turn of the twentieth century in order to address critical issues in contemporary theories of novel ethics.

The Matter of Character

Plasticity, Form, and the Matter of Character in Middlemarch

by S. Pearl Brilmyer

The essay begins:

George Eliot’s 1874 novel Middlemarch is said to both thematize and foster intersubjectivity through its psychologically rich and detailed portrait of human life. To elide the distinction between the human psychology and what I will refer to as its material substrate—character—however, risks overlooking the extent to which Eliot approaches subjectivity as an impersonal structure formed not just through intentional acts such as thought or speech but through physical actions and reactions as well. Deidre Lynch has shown how the protocols of interiority attributed to the novelistic modes of characterization were not endemic to the novel genre, but emerged, rather, in attempts to “validate and naturalize a concept of character as representational.” Extending and elaborating upon Lynch’s thesis, I show how, in conversation with nineteenth-century materialist science, Eliot pushed back against the interiorized novelistic subject so often attributed to her by producing not only sympathetic and real-seeming minds but also lively and responsive characterological bodies….

The characterological bodies that form the focus of this essay are … not verisimilitudinous human anatomies with faces and limbs. Consider, as an initial example, Eliot’s description of Rosamond’s persistence as that which “enables a white soft living substance to make its way in spite of opposing rock.” Importantly, this description of Rosamond’s tenacity relies not only on the reader’s experience of human intentionality but also on her sensual awareness of the basic properties of matter—in this case, the properties of fluids, which have the capacity to envelop solid bodies due to the sensitivity of their structure to encounter. The descriptive force of the figure inheres in the lively materiality of this “white soft living substance”—its soft texture, malleable form, unexplained animacy. The capacity of Rosamond’s intent to overpower, indeed, literally to engulf that of her father is aligned with the potential of a fluid to envelop a rock, no matter how rigid or firm. Much later in the novel, the narrator explains Rosamond’s behavior with a maxim that harkens back to her plastic quality:

We cannot be sure that any natures, however inflexible or peculiar, will resist this effect from a more massive being than their own. They may be taken by storm and for the moment converted, becoming part of the soul which enwraps them in the ardor of its movement. (714)

As we shall see, few natures in Middlemarch are so inflexible; most are like Rosamond in their affinity with a soft, amorphous matter. Arthur Brooke, for example, is described as “glutinously indefinite” (8). He is “a very good fellow, but pulpy; he will run into any mould, but he won’t keep shape” (65). Sir James Chettam, likewise, is made of a kind of “human dough”; he has but the “limpest personality,” furnished “with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition” (20). Taken separately, such descriptors might read as metaphors for particular personality traits (Brooke is fickle; Chettam, lacking in substance). Taken together, however, they develop a vocabulary for the plasticity of character that—while certainly figural in nature—exceeds the metaphorical in its consistent explanation of characterological traits and behaviors with reference to physical laws. Continue reading …

Brilmyer’s essay tracks George Eliot’s construction of a layer of descriptions of characters as soft matter—as liquids, polymers, and other types of condensed matter in a malleable state—in her 1874 novel Middlemarch, elucidating what she calls a physics of character from within its pages. In so doing, the essay suggests that even the most notoriously “brainy” of novels—on the level of its descriptions—resists a too-easy alignment of its characters with individual human psychologies.

s200_s._pearl.brilmyer S. PEARL BRILMYER is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oregon and postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin, Germany. She is currently at work on two projects, The Prism I Hold in My Hand, an experimental, excerpted edition of a 1926 novel by the South African writer Olive Schreiner, and a book project about problems of description and characterization in late Victorian fiction and philosophy. A companion article on Eliot and characterization has recently appeared in PMLA 129, no. 1.

Endō Shūsaku and Frantz Fanon

Crossed Geographies: Endō and Fanon in Lyon

By Christopher L. Hill

Textual evidence indicates that the novelist Endō Shūsaku read the anticolonialist writer Frantz Fanon in the early 1950s, incorporating Fanon’s arguments on color and colonialism into his depiction of Japanese subjects after 1945. In this essay, examination of that heretofore unnoticed encounter provides an opportunity to reconsider the paradigms by which each writer is understood today and the terms in which they imagined a world not ordered by empires, whether European, American, or Japanese.

The author writes:

“The paths writers trace in the world tell as much about the geographies scholars give them as the geographies they lived. Figures of international repute pass each other unnoticed if the conventions under which we labor don’t allow a meeting. Once acknowledged, such encounters are an opportunity. Unexpected encounters reveal greater forces at work; new questions demand answers. Through crossed paths we can see the world in a different shape, but only if we are willing. In disciplinary and conceptual terms, we shy away from the leap of scale that making sense of an encounter between, say, a novelist from Japan and an anticolonialist from Martinique requires. It is easier to blow up or clone—to ‘globalize’ a national field or to deploy a theory anew—than to struggle toward a geohistorical problematic, a transnational frame for criticism, that would not reduce the unevenness and heterogeneity of the geography of lived experience to a comforting, because familiar, model. Two discomforting journeys may suggest the way.

200px-Frantz_Fanon“In early 1943 Frantz Fanon, who later became famous for his writings on colonial psychology and the struggle against colonialism, dropped out of his lycée and took a boat from Martinique to Dominica, where he hoped to join the Free French army. He was sent home, but the following March, after Martinique rallied to Charles de Gaulle, he sailed for Morocco with some one thousand volunteers. Fanon told a teacher that when freedom was at stake, all were concerned—but only the officers and some of the noncommissioned officers onboard were white; the rest of the volunteers were black. In the training camp in Morocco, soldiers from Martinique and Guadeloupe (‘old’ French colonies) ate the same food and wore the same uniforms as white soldiers; they lived apart from recruits from Morocco, Algeria, and sub-Saharan Africa. Fanon and his friends quickly saw that the army that had been formed to fight fascism had a racial hierarchy: whites at the top, North Africans at the bottom, and black West Indians ambiguously above the African Tirailleurs sénégalais in the middle. When Fanon’s unit decamped to Algeria in July, he discovered that the locals loathed black men. By the time he was fighting in France, in autumn, he was doubting his position between European soldiers and the Tirailleurs, because the black soldiers seemed to face the worst action. In January 1945 he wrote his brother that his reasons for joining up had been wrong; in April he wrote his parents the same.

“Fanon returned to Martinique in late 1945 and finished his baccalaureate. With funds provided for veterans’ education, he sailed late the next year for Paris, where he planned to study dentistry. He left Paris abruptly a few weeks after arriving there and went on to Lyon, where he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine at its university, specializing in psychiatry. He read widely, attended classes by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and gave some lectures of his own. In May 1951 he published ‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’ (‘L’Expérience vécue du noir’), an essay on Antillean men’s discovery that in France they were considered to be black. He took a temporary post in Dôle while he finished his thesis, which he defended at the end of November. He spent several weeks in Martinique in February and March 1952, but, deciding against practicing there, he returned to France and took a post at the clinic in Saint-Alban run by François Tosquelles, where he developed the foundations of his social psychiatry. In February he published an essay on the psychosomatic illnesses of North African men in Lyon, ‘The North African Syndrome’ (‘Le Syndrome nord-africain’), and in June, Black Skin, White Masks (Peau noire, masques blancs). (‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’ was its fifth chapter.) After another temporary assignment in 1953, he took a post in Blida in Algeria, where he moved in November, and began learning about the struggle against French rule; in 1955 he began his work with the anticolonial Algerian National Liberation Front. He never returned to Martinique.

b2767b0b“In June 1950, Endō Shūsaku, who later became famous for fiction about Catholicism, began a journey in a different part of the world that, like Fanon’s, took him to Lyon. The first leg was a fourth-class voyage from Yokohama to Marseille. As Endō observed in his diary, relations among the passengers were determined by wealth, race, and the hierarchies of Western colonialism. A group of African soldiers from the French colonial army shared his compartment. They were returning to Saigon after escorting war criminals to Japan. During several port calls, Endō, and other Japanese students too, were treated as war criminals by local authorities. In Manila they were assembled on deck, while Filipinos on the docks shouted ‘Murderers!’ and ‘Assholes!’ in Japanese. In Singapore they were forbidden to disembark. While passing through the Suez Canal he learned of North Korea’s invasion of the South and US President Harry Truman’s order to intervene. After arriving in Marseille, Endō spent July and August with a Catholic family in Rouen, where he encountered a Japan-hating young man whose brother had served in Indochina during the Asia-Pacific War.

“In September Endō settled in Lyon, where he enrolled at the Catholic University and the University of Lyon’s Faculty of Letters to study French Catholic writers. In the streets Endō encountered plaques marking locations where fighters in the French Resistance had fallen; he also learned about a massacre of civilians by the Resistance in the town of Fons. His experiences on ship and the traces of the Resistance in France pushed him in the following years to write several stories, two novellas, and a novel about collaboration, resistance, and war crimes in France and Japan. Twice in 1952 Endō spent time in sanatoria in the Alps for tuberculosis. He moved to Paris in the autumn of that year and was hospitalized there in December. One of the patients in his four-bed room, a veteran, berated Endō with memories of his treatment by the Japanese army in Indochina. In January 1953 he departed Marseille for Japan because of his health. In 1954 he published a semi-autobiographical story called ‘As Far as Aden’ (‘Aden made’), about a Japanese student’s time in France, where he discovered he was un jaune, a yellow man, in the eyes of French whites….

“Yet the geographies of each writer’s lived experience are not as distinct as those in which scholarship presently confines them. The circumstances that shaped their writings on color and colonialism were at once personal and part of a history that encompassed both the Caribbean and East Asia. Reading Endō’s work through Fanon’s, and Fanon’s through Endō’s, reveals a mid-twentieth-century history of race and racialization on a large (I will not say global) scale. In this history decolonization and what should be called the de-imperialization of Japan by the victors in the Asia-Pacific War are entangled with the demise of the European empires and the rise of the American. The transformations coincided with manifold changes in the social meanings of black, white, and yellow and the rights associated with them. A history and a criticism in which this kind of encounter is plausible and meaningful must dismantle the analytically separate problematics of anticolonialism and decolonization, on the one hand, and of “postwar” and the Cold War in Asia, on the other. Reconstructing the history that connects Endō and Fanon does more than historicize these two writers’ early works. It suggests too what can be gained from an intellectual history and a criticism that ignores divisions more constructed than real while acknowledging, rather than trying to reconcile, the heterogeneous and sometimes contradictory qualities of the geography that results.” Continue reading …

CHRISTOPHER L. HILL is Assistant Professor of Japanese literature at the University of Michigan. The author of National History and the World of Nations: Capital, State, and the Rhetoric of History of Japan, France, and the United States (Durham, 2008), he is currently completing a book on the transnational career of the naturalist novel and beginning a project on Japanese writers in the “Bandung moment” of the 1950s.

Three Responses to “Ulysses by Numbers”

Eric Bulson’s “Ulysses by Numbers” (Representations 127) asks the literal question, “Why is James Joyce’s Ulysses as long as it is?” Here we have three responses to his question, his methods, and his conclusions:

JAMES F. ENGLISH | The Resistance to Counting, Recounting

Eric Bulson takes it as given that “quantitative readings of literature . . . get a bad rap.”   Indeed, the presumed hostility of literary scholars toward quantitative analysis provides the necessary friction for his essay, lending argumentative force and methodological point to what might otherwise seem a rather narrowly focused piece. And it is to highlight the wider stakes involved in Bulson’s contrarian decision to count rather than simply read the words of Ulysses that the editors have invited this accompanying cluster of responses and reflections.

I’m in no position to challenge the view of literary studies as a bastion of numerophobia. I wrote a few years ago that a “negative relation to numbers” is “foundational” to literary studies, which occupies a structural position in the university as the quintessential non-counting discipline. But what strikes me now is that neither Bulson nor I, nor anyone else hoping to expand the space for quantitative analysis in literary research, has presented any quantitative evidence to support this picture of literary scholars as the determined enemies of counting. Wouldn’t “quantitative data… actually help us” in this respect, too, enabling us to take the measure of our presumed hyper-commitment to the qualitative, to calculate its degree and scale relative to other disciplines and to other moments in our own history? (Continue reading … )

DAVID KURNICK | Numberiness

“We can indeed count” words, Eric Bulson observes, and concludes that therefore “the counting must go on” (4).  The reasons to move from the first remark to the second will not be self-evident to everyone.  But “Ulysses by Numbers” gives an unprecedentedly intimate sense of Joyce’s compositional practice, offering not just a fascinating picture of how Ulysses grew but also an account of why it grew in the increments it did.  Perhaps the most surprising discovery here for Joyce scholars is the fact that, as Bulson puts it, “even after serialization stopped, Joyce was still writing by the numbers” (26): even released from the 6,000-word increments suggested by Pound for the novel’s serial installments, Joyce kept creating at scales of 6,000.  It turns out that “Circe,” which seems to obey no rules save the volcanic logics of the unconscious and Joyce’s own ambition, is dutifully designed to fit into eight installments of The Little Review.  Figure 9, where you can see this finding visualized, offers a startling picture of genius in compromise with the materiality of publication.

Bulson thus indisputably helps us get a sharper sense of how “the serial logic of length” (6) conditioned this particular masterwork.  Accordingly, my questions about his essay are less about the findings themselves than his account of them, and they concern the charisma that the rhetoric of number itself exerts in the essay.  Surely Bulson’s most provocative claim is that his method will help us get at Ulysses’ “numerical unconscious” (4).  The formulation suggests an opaque but determining structure whose revelation will be decisive for our sense of the meaning of the whole.  And Bulson does tend to connect number with causality in just this way.  “More words on the page but fewer seconds passing in the plot: that is a discovery Joyce made while writing Ulysses” (19).  This can’t really be said to be a discovery, though, since Joyce could have learned that discursive time affects diegetic time from (to pick a name not quite at random) Homer, who interrupts a classic action-movie moment—an arrow whizzing by Menelaos—with a startling simile about Athena deflecting it “the way a mother / would keep a fly from settling on a child / when he is happily asleep”[1]: the words take longer to read (or to hear recited) than an arrow to miss its mark, and even longer if you pause to think about them.  And “more words” is only one way texts slow down story-time: arcane or boring or made-up words can achieve a similar end with relative verbal economy, as can disorienting shifts in point of view, or a lot of jokes, or odd images.  Every attempted reader of Finnegans Wake knows that the number of words on the page has relatively little to do with how long it takes to read that page and how much time it seems is passing in the “plot” as you do so (if I had to quantify, I’d say that word count in the Wake isn’t even the half of it). (Continue reading … )

HOYT LONG and RICHARD JEAN SO | “A Hail of Information”: Ulysses, Topic Modeled

What can a quantitative analysis of style tell us about James Joyce’s Ulysses? Quite a lot, according to Eric Bulson. In his “Ulysses by Numbers,” Bulson uses some of the simplest forms of “stylometrics”—word counts and measures of lexical diversity—to provide new insights into some fundamental questions: why do the novel’s episodes get longer? What’s the relationship between an episode’s length and its plot? Bulson productively correlates the concrete evidence given by word counts with questions of composition and the material constraints of serialization. While the straightforward empiricism of his argument is a strength, it left us to wonder what it misses by treating words as homogenous numerical units abstracted from their semantic contexts. But not because we believe numbers and counting are unsuited to an interpretation of the novel. One of Bulson’s great insights is that counting is hardly alien to the project of reading Ulysses, an insight encapsulated in an epigraph from Hugh Kenner (“‘Words’ are blocks delimited by spaces. So we can count them.”). For us, the question is how to push this counting further. Can we count the words in ways that do not elide their contextual signifying power? Kenner too was interested not just in the number of words on the page, but the likelihood of certain words appearing with others, in what he called “space-time block[s] of words.”[1]

As quantitative approaches to text analysis have evolved, they have similarly shifted from counting words to counting collocations of words, and even collocations of collocations. One popular innovation along these lines is probabilistic topic modeling, which we propose here as a method for exposing what Kenner calls Ulysses’s larger “verbal systems.”[2] What we discover in the process is in part obvious—that topic modeling as a method of counting is also constrained by its assumptions about words as numerical units and their relation to each other. Ulysses troubles these assumptions, which amount to a highly particular theory of information. Precisely because it does so, however, topic modeling the novel also reveals something of how the novel functions as its own form of literary information. If word counts help us understand Joyce as a “mechanical counter,” topic models help us understand him as a careful “arranger” of latent verbal structures.[3] (Continue reading … )

Credit in Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story”

Bad Credit: The Character of Credit Scoring

by Annie McClanahan

UnknownIn this essay McClanahan reads twenty-first-century credit scoring against eighteenth- and nineteenth-century forms of credit evaluation. While the latter famously draws its qualitative model of credibility from the novel, and the former predictably describes itself as quantitative and impersonal, in fact the credit score, the social person, and literary character remain significantly entangled. Through a reading of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, this essay shows what kinds of persons the practice of credit rating produces.

“Bad Credit” is from Representations‘ current special issue Financialization and the Culture IndustryThe introduction to the issue by C. D. Blanton, Colleen Lye, and Kent Puckett, is available online free of charge.

Literal Ghosts

Ghostly Reference

by Elaine Freedgood

Ghostly reference is a malleable aspect of representation, a formal nexus that allows for the free play of belief and the production of worlds—two necessary conditions for the formation and sustenance of the liberal subject. In various fictions and one historical circumstance, this essay tries to take ghosts literally, to ask what they are as well as what they mean.

ELAINE FREEDGOOD is Professor of English at New York University, where she works on Victorian literature and culture, critical theory, and the history of the novel. She is the author of Victorian Writing About Risk: Imagining a Safe England in a Dangerous World (Cambridge 2000) and The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago 2006). Her current project is called “Worlds Enough: Fictionality and Reference in the Novel.”

“Ghostly Reference” is from Representations’ special issue Denotatively, Technically, LiterallyThe introduction to the issue by Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt is available online free of charge.

Maturity and the Maritime Lexicon

Technical Maturity in Robert Louis Stevenson

by Cannon Schmitt

Technical language in novels, rare in itself, is still more rarely interpreted. Focusing on Robert Louis Stevenson’s bildungsromans, in this essay Cannon Schmitt argues that a technical maritime lexicon marks their protagonists’ accession to maturity. But that lexicon and the love for the world it attests to and demands also forces a redefinition of what it means to be mature, offering an open, adventurous, never-to-be completed Bildung that refuses the stasis of marriage or a settled profession.rls

CANNON SCHMITT teaches English at the University of Toronto. The author of Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality (1997) and Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America (2009, paperback reprint 2013), he is currently at work on the Victorian novel, the sea, and the literal.

“Technical Maturity in Robert Louis Stevenson” is from Representations’ special issue Denotatively, Technically, LiterallyThe introduction to the issue by Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt is available online free of charge.

Preparation of the Novel and the Novel of Commission

Notation After “The Reality Effect”:
Remaking Reference with Roland Barthes and Sheila Heti
by Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan

In “The Reality Effect,” Roland Barthes reveals notation’s ideological function within the realist novel; a decade later in Preparation of the Novel, Barthes reconsiders notation as the practice by which the writer provisionally makes literary meaning. Barthes’s revision of his claims for the reality effect helps us see how an emerging genre—the novel of commission—pulls referential, preparatory materials into the novel in order to reimagine the sociality and institutionality of the writing process.


“Notation After ‘The Reality Effect’: Remaking Reference with Roland Barthes and Sheila Heti” is from Representations’ special issue Denotatively, Technically, LiterallyThe introduction to the issue by Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt is available online free of charge.

Colleen Lye on “Office Stories”

The UC Berkeley Consortium on the Novel presents The Immigrant Novel in America Wednesday, November 13, at 4 pm in 315 Wheeler Hall (The Maude Fife Room) at the University of California, Berkeley. Presentations include “The Void and the Missing: Memory’s Trace in Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth” by Karl Britto (UC Berkeley French and Comparative Literature), “The Future as Form: Imagining the Abolition of Social Categories in Ana Castillo’s Sapogonia” by Marcial Gonzalez (UC Berkeley English), and “Office Stories” by Colleen Lye (UC Berkeley English and Representations editorial board). Katherine Snyder (UC Berkeley English), respondent.


Washington, 1923. “Stamp Division, Post Office.” National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress.