Classic Modern Fiction
An important debate in modern literary criticism concerns the exact relationship between the ancient epic and the novel. Both the epic and the most ambitious modern novels are large-scale attempts to present a comprehensive view of the world through the experience of a representative hero. However, in the older tradition the hero stood for the aspirations and highest ideals of his society. The protagonist of the modern novel is usually at odds with that society, whether as exile, active rebel, or antagonistic critic. In Novel Practices, the distinguished literary scholar Eugene Goodheart surveys a representative selection of modern novelists tracing how the epic impulse has been reshaped under the conditions of modernity.
Goodheart describes how George Eliot and James Joyce's comprehensive artistic creation enabled them to demonstrate a mastery of the world unattainable to their thwarted, flawed, or feckless heroes and heroines. Works such as Middlemarch and Ulysses, encyclopedic in their inclusiveness, share an ambitious scope that is virtually synonymous with epic. Goodheart shows that even in shorter works, such as James's The Beast in the Jungle and Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier, the standard of the epic hero acts as an ironic subtext. A chapter on Thomas Mann provides a European perspective, enacting conflict between self and society through a dramatized contest of ideas. Goodheart explores ambiguities of point of view as characteristic of modern uncertainty: how much authority or reliability should the reader concede to the narrator? What is the relationship between the narrator and the author? These and related questions are addressed in chapters on Lawrence, James, Bellow, Woolf, and Roth, which also deal with the place of literary biography in understanding fiction.
Goodheart's approach centers on fiction, and although he takes cognizance of the critical theory of the past several decades, he nevertheless emphasizes the centrality of the author and authorial intention. Novel Practices will be essential reading for students of literature, culture, and intellectual history.
"It is inspiriting to have a new collection of Eugene Goodheart's critical essays. He is one of our best—our most useful—critics. W. B. Yeats spoke of the need to "hold reality and justice in a single thought." Goodheart knows the need and works hard to fulfill it. He never struts in the presence of the book he is reading, but is always (as if by nature and on principle) attentive, acute, alive to the issues. No writer could ask for a better reader or a more conscientious intelligence."
—Denis Donoghue, University Professor, Henry James Chair of English and American Letters, New York University
"Eugene Goodheart is a critic whom this riven literary age cries out for. You'll find here none of the occult jargon or populist cant that pervades academic criticism or the increasingly glib present-mindedness of the higher literary journalism. His essays on George Eliot, Joyce, Lawrence, James, et al. each brilliantly reenvisions the interface of realism and modernism and those on Bellow, Roth, McEwan, Franzen, et" al. bring it up to date. Novel Practices is steadfast, resourceful, exhilarating."
—Ted Solotaroff, author First Loves; A Memoir
"When you read Professor Goodheart's shrewd and perspicuous and engaging criticism, you are pleasantly reminded of the enduring critics of an earlier generation that is associated with New York City: Lionel Trilling, Philip Rahv, Irving Howe. He has their catholicity of taste, wide-ranging ease of reference, original perspective, and idiomatic style. You are struck by how he can reveal angles of a classic work such as Ford's Good Soldier or James's "Beast in the Jungle" that have been overlooked by the legions of critics who have already considered that work. Goodheart is one of the few critics today who is worth rereading."
—George Core, editor, The Sewanee Review
"In earlier books a penetrating investigator of contemporary cultural and ideological controversy, Eugene Goodheart here surveys a range of classic modern fiction and related writings, exploring each work's and each author's emphases and contradictions against the relevant private or public background. In every instance it is the intelligence of the writer's reflection and of these determining backgrounds that serves as the critical focus. Frankly concerned with the "messages" conveyed by works of literature, his new book also stands as a long defense of narrational realism, not excluding those novels that pretend to live by language alone or by various deconstructive sophistries."
—Warner Berthoff, professor emeritus, Harvard University
"In the .subtle and probing essays collected in Novel Practices, Eugene Goodheart writes as both a sensitive reader of modern fiction and an analytic thinker shedding light on vital literary questions. On Philip Roth, for example, he offers not only a strong reading of Roth's late novels and curious memoir but also a illuminating account of the vexed relations between autobiography and fiction. This is a welcome book for any serious student of modern writing."
—Morris Dickstein, Distinguished Professor of English, Graduate Center, City University of New York