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Without the Novel

Romance and the History of Prose Fiction
Scott Black

BUY Cloth · 220 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942841 · $45.00 · Aug 2019
BUY Ebook · 220 pp. · ISBN 9780813942858 · $45.00 · Aug 2019

No genre manifests the pleasure of reading—and its power to consume and enchant—more than romance. In suspending the category of the novel to rethink the way prose fiction works,  Without the Novel demonstrates what literary history looks like from the perspective of such readerly excesses and adventures.

Rejecting the assumption that novelistic realism is the most significant tendency in the history of prose fiction, Black asks three intertwined questions: What is fiction without the novel? What is literary history without the novel? What is reading without the novel? In answer, this study draws on the neglected genre of romance to reintegrate eighteenth-century British fiction with its classical and Continental counterparts. Black addresses works of prose fiction that self-consciously experiment with the formal structures and readerly affordances of romance: Heliodorus’s  Ethiopian Story, Cervantes’s  Don Quixote, Fielding’s  Tom Jones, Sterne’s  Tristram Shandy, and Burney’s  The Wanderer. Each text presents itself as a secondary, satiric adaptation of anachronistic and alien narratives, but in revising foreign stories each text also relays them. The recursive reading that these works portray and demand makes each a self-reflexive parable of romance itself. Ultimately, Without the Novel writes a wider, weirder history of fiction organized by the recurrences of romance and informed by the pleasures of reading that define the genre.


"An original, adventurous, and effervescent study of the pleasures of romance in the age of the novel’s endlessly revisited rise."

Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, University of California, Irvine, author of  Air’s Appearance: Literary Atmosphere in British Fiction, 1660-1794

"Important and timely, this beautifully executed thought-experiment has wide implications for literary studies."

Marcie Frank, Concordia University, author of The Novel Stage: Narrative Form from the Restoration to Jane Austen

"Black's compelling study challenges scholars to rethink approaches to the study of literature, interrogating both the linearity of literary history and the historicist gaze of literary criticism."

Modern Philology

"Scott Black argues, in his Without the Novel: Romance and the History of Prose Fiction, that our thinking about the eighteenth-century novel has been hampered by a blind spot and an unwarranted assumption. The blind spot is our tendency to overlook the affinities between the early novel and romance. The unwarranted assumption is the conviction that it was the destiny of the eighteenth-century novel to eventuate in realism.... [Black's] focus on romance, and on the different kind of reading it encourages, genuinely pays off here."

SEL Studies in English Literature

About the Author(s): 

Scott Black is Professor of English at the University of Utah and the author of Of Essays and Reading in Early Modern Britain.

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