Circles of learning
narratology and the eighteenth-century French novel
Author: Jenny Mander
Publication Date: 1999
By according a central place to the history of reading, Circles of learning radically rethinks the nature of first-person narrative during this period and reconsiders its relation to the autobiographical discourse. Jenny Mander argues that to understand better both the history of the novel and that of the autobiography we need first to examine the position of the modern reader. The study begins with a critical analysis of Genettian narratology in order to foreground a number of important presuppositions of twentieth-century reading practices, and it goes on to show how these have shaped modern criticism of past texts. Through a detailed examination of eighteenth-century prefactory discourse and Marivaux’s concept of personal style as put forward in his journalistic writings, Jenny Mander demonstrates how twentieth-century interpretations can be brought into question by the eighteenth-century novel itself. Adducing models of good reading promoted by pedagogic literature and art as well as by specific scenes of reading within many novels, she is able to ground an alternative analysis of Marivaux’s Paysan parvenu and Prevost’s Memoires d’un homme de qualite in the practices of eighteenth-century readers, drawing further support from contemporary reviews. This challenging study concludes by showing not only how Prevost’s writing sets these practices in yet clearer relief, but also how he points to and participates in their transformation. Offering a fresh perspective on first-person narrative at a formative moment in the history of the French novel, Circles of leaning will interest scholars and theorists of modern prise fiction and autobiography aas well as tose specialising in eighteenth-century literature.
List of illustrations
1. Reading for the narrator: Genette’s first-person theory of narrative
2. Narratology, reading, and literary history
3. Prefatory discourse: dissolving the autobiographical link
4. Personal writing explored in Marivaux’s Journaux
5. Marivaux’s personal narrators: the case of Le Paysan parvenu
6. Reading and the early eighteenth-century French novel
7. Changing patterns of reading: the case of the abbé Prévost
List of works cited
Times Literary Supplement
‘How do we read?’ Jenny Mander puts the question at the heart of this careful study of the French novel between 1730 and 1750. […] To find an answer she applies theories of narrative discourse which derive from Gérard Genette’s narratological model setting all stories within an essentially autobiographical framework. […] This confident essay demonstrates that novels do more than amuse or furnish a room.
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