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Fictions of the Self, 1550-1800

Fictions of the Self, 1550-1800

Arnold Weinstein
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 314
  • Book Info
    Fictions of the Self, 1550-1800
    Book Description:

    The author charts the interaction between self and world through four major phases whereby the self initially has marginal status (the picaresque), begins to flourish and court recognition (Defoe, Marivaux, and Fielding), glows defiant and tries to impose its will on society and the other (Prevost, Richardson, Goethe, and Laclos), and finally makes a prophetic inward turn (Diderot, Sterne, and Rousseau). He shows how these phases also reflect the development of literature as it moves from mimetic to generative fiction, from the power of gesture to that of word.

    Originally published in 1981.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5738-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    To begin a book is to express a fundamental faith in the power of the word. Writing about literature is doubly pious, for literature itself is an act of belief, a transcription of life into language. To be sure, it is possible, from a linguistic or semiotic perspective, to assert the contrary, that language is thea prioribedrock and structure of whatever reality we can know or possess. Yet, as living creatures who inhabit a physical and social world, as laymen with bodies as well as tongues, we cannot help distinguishing between things and the words that denote them....

    (pp. 19-83)

    It is not fashionable to discuss character at all, but especially not in the picaresque novel. The protagonist of these fictions is more frequently assessed as lens, as means of viewing society bottom-side-up, exposing its foibles, etc. Hence, these tales are presumably short on psychological data and long on social satire and conventional role figures. But there is a strange urgency and energy in these fictions as well, an irresistible sense that the teller counts, that the story told is his story, not merely history.

    One need not interpret the plight of Lazarillo, Pablos and Simplicius as existentialist crises,¹ in...

    (pp. 84-128)

    With varying emphases, each of the texts studied in the last chapter depicts the obstacles that beset selfhood. The protagonists of these stories either fade into the setting or disappear altogether. Their own needs cannot be gratified within a social framework: Lazarillo goes wholly public; Pablos, now just so much skin, departs for the New World; Simplicius weathers the long war, but is emptied in the process; the Princess is overcome by the twin threat of anonymous passion and despotic Court.

    Yet, some novelists were able to dramatize the individual’s development as an optimistic undertaking, the encounter between self and...

    (pp. 129-199)

    Within the trajectory of this study, the three novels analyzed in the last chapter constitute a brief interlude of equilibrium and happiness. The three orphans—Moll, Marianne, and Joseph—are finally taken in by society in a mutual process of recognition. The protagonists variously assert their independence and achieve their special legitimacy. In the picaresque and Baroque models, such assertion was either impossible or lethal: Lazarillo sells out, Pablos moves on, Simplicius retreats, and the Princess disappears. Defoe and Marivaux tap the survival resources of the self, and Fielding shows that natural goodness must prevail. In no case do we...

    (pp. 200-251)

    All literature is at the end of an umbilical cord that connects, equates, and trades off language against reality. Even the most mimetic text, claiming language exclusively as reflection of a prior reality, suggests by its own presence that language makes rather than reflects. Balzac may have had his sights on theétat civil, but his world is every bit as much a word-world as Mallarmé’sCoup de dés. Within the texts themselves, however, language is only one avenue, one means for actualization or assertion. There are others. Relationship and material success, survival and love, are fundamental goals and activities...

    (pp. 252-262)

    Rousseau’sConfessionshave, I hope to have shown, effectively concluded my study by displaying virtually every phase in the drama of self-enactment. Like the serpent which eats its own tail (inscribed on Clarissa’s coffin), Rousseau takes us full circle, showing us that the coercive public and social world (the one so authoritative in the picaresque and baroque fictions) can ultimately be dealt with by the linguistic formula:écrire et se cacher.The self may choose to master its environment and to enact its relationships through internalization, by means of language.

    Language and thought may well constitute that “full circle” which...

  10. Notes of Original Language
    (pp. 263-300)
  11. Index
    (pp. 301-302)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)