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Conclusion. Outline. The Romantic novel Castle Rackrent Mansfield Park Waverley Frankenstein The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. The Romantic novel. The Romantic era of the late 18C and early 19C constitutes a remarkably fertile period for fiction

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  • The Romantic novel

  • Castle Rackrent

  • Mansfield Park

  • Waverley

  • Frankenstein

  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

The Romantic novel

  • The Romantic era of the late 18C and early 19C constitutes a remarkably fertile period for fiction

  • The story of the rise of realist fiction from the 18C can be told as being like a story within realist fiction itself – a movement from fragmentation to unity

The Romantic novel

  • Realism’s account of its own rise to dom-inance represents a case of ‘history written by the winners’

  • What gets suppressed in the realist narr-ative of realism’s triumph in the develop-ment of fiction?

  • Answer: the remarkable diversity, hybridity and adventurousness of novel-writing in the Romantic era

Castle Rackrent

  • CR (1800) – fiction in a ‘wild’ state

  • The story of the Rackrent dynasty as told by Thady Quirk – ‘quirkily’, more like a chronicle than a work of fiction

  • This ‘chronicle’ is supported by a complic-ated set of apparatuses: Preface, foot-notes, a postscript, an Advertisement, a Glossary

Castle Rackrent

  • Specific formal aspects of the novel here appear underdeveloped – plotting, characterization, di-alogue, etc.

  • Narrative voice as a specific formal aspect ap-pears highly developed by contrast

  • . . . ME shows that she can ‘speak like a man’; the honesty of ‘honest Thady’s’ narrative proves subversive; and the Editorial apparatus fails to check this (in fact, the ‘critique’ is sharpened)

Castle Rackrent

  • Symbolically speaking, CR is the last 18C novel and the first 19C novel

  • We discover the 18C wildness of fiction plus the 19C innovativeness in novel-writing (CR as the first Irish novel, etc.)

  • ME stands as the most celebrated novelist in the early 19C prior to the publication of the Waverley Novels

Mansfield Park

  • The inner hybridity of CR has an outward manifestation in terms of the novel’s ‘dia-logic’ relation to MP (1814) as a further in-stance of the country house novel

  • MP appears a properly 19C novel – well developed in terms of all its formal aspects (plotting, characterization, dialogue, etc.)

Mansfield Park

  • What also is ‘nineteenth-century’ about MP is the emergence of realism as the dominant genre in fiction

  • JA practises ‘the art of copying from nature as she really exists in the common walks of life, … presenting to the reader … a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him’ (Scott)

Mansfield Park

  • From the point of view of genre, JA in MP brings together romance, country house fiction, regionalist fiction, and satire within a structure that positions realism – a pic-turing of daily life – as dominant

  • Also, via her protagonist Fanny Price, JA articulates MP as a call for a renewal of the idea of tradition which the landed gen-try appears to be struggling to uphold

Mansfield Park

  • The emergent dominance of realism also brings to light one of the problems of real-ism itself – is it really a representation of daily life, of ‘things as they are’?

  • If MP is a representation of things as they are, then one might expect some treat-ment in the novel of the contemporary re-ality of colonialism

Mansfield Park

  • The issue of slavery is ultimately a ‘dead silence’ here, despite (and because of?) English tradition resting on the material productivity of the colonies

  • Said: ‘it is genuinely troubling to see [with regard to great novels like MP] … how little they stand in the way of the acceler-ating imperial process’

Mansfield Park

  • Thus, realism as a representation of things as they are begins to appear, as suggested pre-viously, a case of history being written by the winners

  • . . . things are as realism says they are when realism itself is in a position to determine their reality

  • In short, early 19C realism assimilates other genres within itself, arguably much as the British empire assimilates other cultures

  • . . . it is all a case of governing through native customs rather than despite them


  • W (1814) is precisely that novel that tells the story of realism becoming a dominant force in modern British politics and culture

  • From the end of the Jacobite rebellion (1745-46), realism proceeds to become the order of the day: the Highlands (romance) are defeated by the Lowlands (realism)

  • See Waverley’s abortive relationship with Flora (romance) and subsequent marriage to Rose (realism)


  • W is thus a form of metafiction – a novel about other novels, as well as about the novel’s own historical development

  • In this way, it tells the story of what proves to be the realist novel’s rise to dominance, beyond the Romantic era, into a full-blown 19C age of em-pire

  • Correspondingly, W is also claimed as the first historical novel – it makes historical events and historical change its specific subject-matter


  • WS’s historicism captures the imagination of the contemporary reading public

  • This ‘historicism’ appears an aspect of WS’s strategic masculinization of the novel as a literary form

  • The novel has previously been regarded as a women’s form and, by the same to-ken, valued as second-rate


  • Thus, the newly masculinized novel (real-ist, rational, respectable) is re-positioned as dominant within the hierarchy of genres of writing

  • WS emerges as the major novelist of the early 19C


  • What happens to the diversity, hybridity and adventurousness of novel-writing after the ascendancy of the Waverley Novels and of realism?

  • The ‘wild’ writing that preceded WS be-comes constituted as an undercurrent in British fiction

  • F (1818) appears a symbol of the exist-ence of this undercurrent


  • F is not regarded by contemporary critics as a novel of the first order

  • Quarterly Review (1818): ‘[the novel] will not even amuse its readers unless their taste has been deplorably vitiated’

  • Criticism of the novel is remarkably strong – why?


  • Perhaps because it is a work that reflects the extraordinary variety of the contemporary under-current in modern fiction

  • F is a novel that embodies, in the space of a sin-gle work, so many of the forms of popular liter-ature that exist within the Romantic era

  • . . . an epistolary novel, a fictional journal, a Bild-ungsroman, a romance, a science fiction novel, a Gothic novel, a supernatural tale, a satire, a sentimental novel, a form of travel writing, an epistolary novel again!


  • The symbol in MS’s text for all this ‘diversity’ – Frankenstein’s monster assembled from the body parts of other human beings

  • It is precisely the hybrid nature of the monster that signifies its monstrousness

  • The more ‘wild’ (hybrid, diverse) the monster is the more it poses a threat to that which is realist, rational and respectable about the realist novel and its ruling ideology


  • Thus, F threatens a return of the repressed in relation to realism’s growing dominance over other fictional genres

  • The very monstrousness of MS’s novel – ‘my hideous progeny’ (MS) – testifies to the vitality of the literature of those whose taste has become ‘deplorably vitiated’

  • The degree of hostility expressed in ‘deplorably vitiated’ suggests, perhaps, a certain anxiety about preserving realism’s dominance on the part of the critical establishment

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • JS (1824) – a further instance of the ‘re-turn of the repressed’ in relation to a pol-itically and culturally dominant realism

  • The novel is damned critically for catering to depraved tastes

  • JS is another remarkably hybrid work of fiction: the Editor’s narrative, the Confes-sions proper, the Editor’s postscript

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • Hybridity itself appears imaged in the text in terms of the shape(s) of Gil-Martin

  • Satan as shapeshifter – not a pantomime devil!

  • Gil-Martin’s shifting identities correspond to the monstrosity that is Frankenstein’s hybridized creation (and MS’s hybridized novel)

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • Thus, JH works a return of the repressed through his novel as the work unfolds

  • The above is signified by the presence of the ‘uncanny’ to JH’s text – the figure of the double, making the inanimate animate, ‘making strange’, etc.

  • See Sigmund Freud, ‘The “Uncanny”’ (1919)

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • SF: ‘[the uncanny is an experience of] something repressed which recurs’ (Rivkin and Ryan, Lit-erary Theory (1998), p. 166)

  • SF: ‘[the uncanny may be understood as] some-thing which ought to have been kept concealed but which has nevertheless come to light’ (ibid.)

  • In short, JS appears a stranger, even more un-canny work than F, perhaps, due to JH’s deploy-ment of many of the traits of the ‘Freudian’ un-canny

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • The above strong uncanniness of JS seems an index of the repressed coming through the more strongly in JH than in MS

  • But at the same time, contemporary real-ism can be seen as acting in such a way as to neutralize the disruptive forces erupting within such works as F and JS

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • E.g. the subversiveness of F appears contained from MS’s use of the frame narrative

  • Robert Walton’s point of view in the epistolary, beginning-and-ending parts of the work is ess-entially realist – Walton everywhere assumes he is representing things as they are, and this con-ditions the ‘truth’ of the novel

  • What of realism’s corresponding neutralization of a ‘subversive’ JS?

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • Note how the George Colwans are pre-sented as more sympathetic characters than the Robert Wringhams in JH’s novel

  • What makes them sympathetic in this way is precisely that which is moderate, com-mon-sensical, level-headed about them

  • In other words, they represent a version of Walter Scott’s middle-of-the-road hero, hence a ‘Waverley effect’

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • In the end, JS is evidently as much about the evils of extremism as W is with its pointed re-jection of the passion of Highland romance

  • (See W’s turning-point: ‘the romance of [Waver-ley’s] life was ended . . . its real history had now commenced. He was soon called upon to justify his pretensions to reason and philosophy’ (ch. LX)

  • Interestingly, WS has previously been respon-sible for discovering JH (the ‘Ettrick Shepherd’) as a writer – is able to exert a degree of control-ling influence

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

  • In sum, despite the challenges from below, re-alism goes on to strengthen its hegemony as the Romantic era passes into the Victorian era

  • . . . realist fiction functions as a symbolic model for empire itself within the context of Victorian-ism’s imperial project

  • Conclusion: the twenty-nine novels now known as the Waverley Novels (1814-31) constitute, for good and ill, the single most powerful form of novel-writing in the Romantic era – a total Wav-erley effect

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