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Palgrave Macmillan

The Novel-Essay, 1884-1947

ISBN 9781137404107
Publication Date April 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Studies in European Culture and History

The novel-essay emerged in France, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and reached its highest formal complexity in Austria and Germany, during the interwar period. The Novel-Essay, 1884-1947 focuses on this literary genre and makes the case that is crucial for a renovated understanding of the history of the novel in modernity. Stefano Ercolino frames the emergence of the novel-essay within the ideological crisis that fell upon the epistemological and symbolic apparatus of modernity in the last decades of the nineteenth century and culminated following the disasters first of World War I and subsequently of World War II.

Stefano Ercolino is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Underwood International College, Yonsei University, South Korea. A former Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University (USA) and DAAD Postdoctoral Fellow in the Peter Szondi Institute of Comparative Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin (Germany), he is the author of The Maximalist Novel: From Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow to Roberto Bolaño's 2666.

1. Beyond Naturalist Aesthetics
2. The Critique of Modern Rationality
3. The Emergence of the Novel-Essay
1. A Morphological Changeover
2. Mimicry
3. Dialectical Strains
1. Philosophical Mimesis
2. Totality and the Grand Style
3. The Tear of History
Works Cited


"The Novel-Essay is . . . a necessary step not just to understand the crisis of modernity or to study the premises of the ideology of postmodernism — it is a chapter of the history of the novel which will allow us to understand the development of our society through the mirror of literary forms." - Los Angeles Review of Books
"Bold and well-argued, Ercolino's book focuses on the novel-essay, a genre that emerged following the great crisis of the epistemological and symbolic apparatuses of modernity . . . An exceptionally gifted specialist in the history and theory of the novel, Ercolino steps forward dauntlessly. His book is compact and dense . . . Ercolino is a scholar of enviable brilliance." - Remo Ceserani, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, University of Bologna, Italy, Alias domenica—Il manifesto
"In an unusual combination, Ercolino is highly skilled at both close- and far-reading. His readers will appreciate the book's readable prose, its compressed argumentation, and its smooth synthesis of complex and varied discourses. He deftly analyzes the relationship between the novel-essay and Zolian naturalism, Cartesian rationality, the Bildungsroman, and philosophical mimesis. He demonstrates a deep understanding of the literary and philosophical landscape in modern Europe and includes even the most contemporary literary scholarship, including references to Franco Moretti's collaborative projects at the Stanford Literary Lab. This book is a must-read for specialists of the novel and the essay, and a helpful contribution for historians, philosophers, and cultural critics who focus on modernity and its transition into postmodernity. I anticipate that in our new millennium, Ercolino's will be the first of many upcoming analyses of one of the most fascinating hybrid literary forms to emerge in Europe since the last century. It is refreshing to find a new voice on the touchy question of essayistic fiction, which has been lacking since the illuminating contributions of Thomas Harrison and Claire de Obaldia. Ercolino's wide-ranging analysis delivers what it promises. One could say that he synthesizes major theories of the essay and the novel as separate genres into a new, dialectically integrated theory of the novel-essay, as though the criticism of a hybrid genre must also be hybrid." - Christy Wampole, Princeton University, USA, Modernism/modernity
"Stefano Ercolino's book is a splendid rediscovery of one of the most important modern narrative genres, the novel-essay. By showing how the various authors of novel-essays - J.-K. Huysmans, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil and Hermann Broch - propose a wide range of syntheses between thought and action, Ercolino's book offers a nuanced, innovative, and memorable view of modernity itself . . . Ercolino's beautiful, nuanced, and innovative work is one of the most notable recent debuts in literary history." - Thomas Pavel, Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor in French and Comparative Literature, University of Chicago, USA, Strumenti critici, and author of The Lives of the Novel
"The daring hypothesis of Ercolino's study - which ranges over a half century of literary history, over a half-dozen writers of the likes of Musil, Dostoevsky, Mann, and Huysmans, and over the insights of even more numerous literary theorists - is that the hybrid aesthetics of the novel-essay does not merely enact the symbolic crisis of modernist thinking; it also furnishes the most resounding intellectual reply." - Thomas Harrison, Professor of Italian, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
"The greatest achievement of the [book's] broad-ranging analysis . . . is being able and willing to tackle literary works - even some of the classics of our tradition - within dynamic systems such as genres, through which texts can describe effectively . . . the symbolic changes that took place in society and history." - Guido Mattia Gallerani, ITEM (Institut des textes et manuscrits modernes), ENS-CNRS, France, Between
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