The Art of Being: Poetics of the Novel and Existentialist Philosophy 9780674916098

In this account of how the novel reorients philosophy toward the meaning of existence, Yi-Ping Ong shows that the existe

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Table of contents :
Prologue. The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram
Introduction. The Point of View of Existence
Chapter One. Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Novel
Chapter Two. The Character of Self-Consciousness: Representing Freedom in the Novel of Marriage
Chapter Three. Detotalized Totality: Situation, World, and Being-in- the- Novel
Chapter Four. The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art
Conclusion. The Novel and Philosophy
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The Art of Being


Yi-­Ping Ong

Cambridge, Mas­sa­chu­setts, and London, ­England 


For Popo

Copyright © 2018 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College All rights reserved Printed in the United States of Amer­i­ca First printing Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data Names: Ong, Yi-­Ping, author. Title: The art of being : poetics of the novel and existentialist philosophy /   Yi-­Ping Ong. Description: Cambridge, Mas­sa­chu­setts : Harvard University Press,   2018. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018009359 | ISBN 9780674983656 (alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Lit­er­a­ture—­Philosophy. | Lit­er­a­ture—­History and   criticism—­Theory, ­etc. | Fiction—­History and criticism. |   Existentialism. | Existentialism in lit­er­a­ture. Classification: LCC PN45 .O49 2018 | DDC 801—­dc23 LC rec­ord available at https://­lccn​.­loc​.­gov​/­2018009359 Cover Photograph: Photograph: Kawa-Flow #1650, Copyright © Yamamoto Masao, Courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston

Cover design: Tim Jones




The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram  1 The Point of View of Existence  18

O N E ­Toward

an Existentialist Poetics of the Novel  49


The Character of Self-­Consciousness: Representing Freedom in the Novel of Marriage  90


Detotalized Totality: Situation, World, and Being-­in-­the-­Novel  151


The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art  194

C O N C LU S I O N The Novel and Philosophy  235 Notes  245 Acknowl­edgments  285 Index  287


The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram

Cornell University. Spring 1951. Among Nabokov’s lecture notes for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1873–1877), we find a meticulously annotated diagram of the sleeping car in which Anna journeys home to St. Petersburg ­after meeting Vronsky for the first time (Figure 1).1 The exact position of the stove, the carriage win­dows, the iron post, and both the inner and outer vestibules are displayed. ­There is a seating chart for Anna and her fellow travelers. A small inset diagram contains sketches of Anna’s red handbag, her reading lamp, and her paper knife. Outside the train compartment, Nabokov has written “blizzard” with an arrow indicating the winds of the storm. Another arrow higher up marks the direction of the train, along which he has recorded the approximate travel time and the number of miles between Moscow and St. Petersburg. We are left only to imagine the slight gesture with which Professor Nabokov signals to his teaching assistant and wife, Véra, to replicate the diagram on the chalkboard. “Copy this, please, exactly as I draw it for you,” he says to his students.2 This, he seems to be saying, is the real­ity of the novel. Yet ­there is one ele­ment of Tolstoy’s scene missing from Nabokov’s diagram. It is the novel itself, the novel that Anna reads: “Anna said a few words in reply to the ladies, but, foreseeing no in­ter­est­ing conversation, G O L DW I N S M I T H H A L L ,



Figure 1. Illustration from Lectures on Rus­sian Lit­er­a­ture. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Vladimir Nabokov. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Com­pany. All rights reserved.

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


asked Annushka to bring out a l­ittle lamp, attached it to the armrest of her seat, and took a paper-­k nife and an En­glish novel from her handbag.”3 The absence of the novel from the ­later novelist’s scrupulous reconstruction of his pre­de­ces­sor’s scene is con­spic­u­ous and fascinating. For the scene aboard the train is, in essence, a scene of novel reading: its haunting depth and significance derive from a power­ful thematic and formal self-­reflexivity. What is it to read a novel? What is it to be a reader of a novel, and what is it to be a character in one? Taken in this sense, Nabokov’s omission may not be altogether unintentional. For he does not neglect to sketch the candle inside the lamp, nor, indeed, the paper knife that Anna draws from her handbag. The red handbag transports the novel; the candle of the lamp illuminates it; the paper knife opens its pages to the reader’s eyes. But if we are to perceive the novel itself in Nabokov’s diagram, then we must believe that for some unknown reason it remains hidden in the depths of the red handbag—­that it is not to be seen, but only, in some sense, to be ­imagined. If the novel exists, it exists only as an imaginary possibility.4 Scholarly accounts of Anna Karenina have long acknowledged the pivotal significance of this scene to the ethical and spiritual trajectory of its central figure. Attempts to link the ethical import of the scene to its overtly metafictional features often invoke standard assumptions about the dangers of novel reading, such as empathic identification and romantic self-­ aestheticization. As Kate Flint’s influential argument in The ­Woman Reader (1993) claims, nineteenth-­century constructions of the pliable and susceptible “­woman reader” exemplify “paternalistic surveillance” of the “moral, sexual, religious, ideological dangers [thought to] lie in a ­woman’s being absorbed by so preoccupying a pursuit,” and many critics view Anna as an example of the social anx­i­eties surrounding the female novel reader.5 David Sloane, for instance, maintains that “Anna’s way of reading has many literary pre­ce­dents,” including Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, Pushkin’s Tatyana, Turgenev’s Asya, and Tolstoy’s Masha.6 Novel reading in this tradition invariably figures as a prelude to the embrace of fatal desires: the desire to seek romantic extremes, the yearning to succumb to the lure of fantasy, and the temptation to turn life into art.7 In such interpretations, conventional accounts of what it means to read a novel are used to facilitate analy­sis of the scene, rather than being considered



as themselves in need of further scrutiny. In contrast, I propose that the scene itself may be viewed as a profound investigation into what it means to read a novel. Its extended attention to the phenomenology of novel reading, the nature of readerly subjectivity, and the poetics of the novel is not characteristic of the other depictions of novel reading to which it is frequently compared. If, as I ­shall argue, the scene goes beyond standard tropes of self-­ aestheticization and empathic identification, it does so in order to explore the way in which the classic nineteenth-­century realist novel posits a new and necessarily fictional form of readerly subjectivity: a “readerly subject” who not only differs from the empirical reader, but also makes necessary her ­imagined nonexistence. In actuality, first-­person knowledge of one’s existence—as phi­los­o­phers from Kierkegaard to Sartre contend, and as Tolstoy himself declares—­a lways places one in a position of responsibility and freedom with re­spect to the very beliefs, attitudes, and intentions that constitute one’s inner life. The act of novel reading, however, effectively enables the reader to separate an i­magined point of view of first-­person reflection upon the character’s lived experience from any sort of responsibility for actively shaping that life. (In what follows, I ­shall refer to the point of view of i­magined first-­person knowledge of character life that the novel enables as imaginative reflection, and to the form of self-­k nowledge that involves deliberation, acknowl­edgment, and avowal as deliberative reflection.) Through its lucid repre­sen­ta­tion of Anna’s vacillation between states of novel reading and living, the episode on the train connects the poetics of the novel with issues of consciousness, ­free ­will, and choice emphasized in classic interpretations of Anna Karenina.8 In so ­doing, it sets the scene for the central paradoxes and concepts at the heart of existentialist reflection on the novel that it ­will be the work of this book to unfold. As Tolstoy’s scene shows, Anna Karenina is able to read only when she si­mul­ta­neously sustains a perspective of imaginative reflection and suspends a standpoint of deliberative reflection upon the characters’ lives. Ultimately, however, the impossibility of suspending deliberative reflection in relation to oneself reveals the reason why the scene figures Anna’s attempt to adopt the point of view of a reader in relation to her own existence as a form of self-­destruction. Thus the episode of novel reading on the train foreshadows the scene of Anna’s death, in which the image of novel reading and hence

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


Anna’s situation as reader-­and-­character is recalled with tragic effect. The form of inward reflective awareness that involves a failure to attain first-­ person authority awakens a second life for the reader, but dooms the existing self to annihilation. I began by suggesting that, in Nabokov’s diagram of Anna Karenina’s train ­ride, we must imagine the novel for it to exist. I seek to show in what follows that Tolstoy’s scene of reading displays the ontological princi­ple of the novel. For the novel to exist, we must imagine the nonexistence of the novel’s reader.

Tolstoy’s scene itself suggests multiple ways in which the mode of existence evoked by the novel and by novel reading is implicated in the relation between imagination and actuality. Initially, Anna removes the novel from her handbag ­because she “foresees[s] no in­ter­est­ing conversation” with her fellow travelers. The novel appears first in the narrative as instrumental to a proj­ect of imaginative transport, away from the boredom of ­actual circumstances and into a realm of fiction. (The association of novelistic fiction with a special aesthetic concept of “interest” and imaginative possibility has a rich history, extending from Friedrich Schlegel to Henry James and beyond; the primacy of reflective subjectivity and attentiveness to the new in this tradition of “interest” is not unrelated to the issues raised by Tolstoy’s scene.9) Strangely, however, from this point onward, the scene resists any explicit repre­sen­ta­tion of Anna reading her novel, such as we might expect for the full development of a mise en abyme. The reading of the novel is not a pro­cess of inner visualization, nor is it akin to the unfurling of a personal fantasy that might play out in Anna’s imagination. It is almost as if the special mode of imaginative possibility in question—­narrated imaginative possibility—­vitiates any concrete rendering of the aesthetic experience of reading a novel, and in par­tic­u­lar, of reading a classic realist novel. Indeed, the novel that Anna pulls out of her small red bag belongs to the phase of novel history of which Anna Karenina itself is arguably the apotheosis.10 On the one hand, this novel—as its enclosure within the bag suggests—is a physically self-­contained entity, a collection of papers held between two covers and spread between two hands, a volume laid upon a lap in lamplight. On the other hand, the novel in its classic realist phase is poetically distinguished from other genres in part by



the manner in which it cultivates an immersive readerly experience that blurs the aesthetic boundary separating reader from work of art. The unique experience of novel reading is one of such phenomenological complexity and ambiguity that no incontrovertible account of it has yet been given.11 Paul Valéry attempts to render it vividly in his 1927 lecture “Propos sur la poésie” (“Remarks on Poetry”): Consider the comparative attitudes of the reader of novels and the reader of poems. They may be the same man, but he is entirely dif­fer­ent as he reads one or the other work. Watch the reader of a novel plunge into the imaginary life his book shows him. His body no longer exists. . . . ​ He exists, moves, acts, and suffers only in the mind. He is absorbed by what he is devouring; he cannot restrain himself, for a kind of demon drives him on. He wants the continuation and the end; he is prey to a kind of madness; he takes sides, he triumphs, he is saddened, he is no longer himself, he is no more than a brain separated from its outer forces, that is, given up to its images, ­going through a sort of crisis of credulity.12

The Cartesian frame of Valéry’s account of the novel reader is clear in the contrast between the nonexistence of the body of the reader and the confinement of readerly life within the mind; clear, too, is his evident foregrounding of the deep prob­lem of readerly identification. Yet the enigmas of the psy­chol­ogy of identification, undoubtedly central to the novel in its classic realist phase, are not my focus h ­ ere. What I am concerned with is the difficulty, marked in Valéry’s account partly by its absence, of characterizing the indeterminate relation of the reader to the aesthetic boundary of the novel. As Mikhail Bakhtin describes in “Epic and Novel” (1941), the novel establishes “a zone . . . ​[of] proximity and contact” with the contemporaneous pres­ent that allows the reader to “actually enter the novel” and experience it as if from the perspective of a participant.13 (What it would mean to be a participant in a novel, to be in some sense taken in by it, is not fully clarified ­here by Bakhtin; in the Introduction, I draw out further implications of the prob­lems related to conceptualizing the “point of view” of the reader.) The impact of this aesthetic effect finds expression in the perennial fear that readers of the novel may lose themselves in fictional realities, as well as

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


in the seemingly unrelated conception of the novel as “formless” within traditional genre theory. For although the very notion of art implies the necessity of the boundary that renders manifest the autonomy of the work, in the case of the novel this boundary is constituted so as to (in Bakhtin’s words) allow the reader to enter into the work of art.14 Perhaps this is why, to put it in the terms Michael Fried formulates, critics of the novel have historically been more concerned with the dangers of absorption and not theatricality.15 To return to the scene of Anna’s novel reading, then, we see anew what challenges may arise in the attempt to portray any encounter between the reader and the work of art so considered. Tolstoy’s solution is as ingenious as it is illuminating. He centers the scene instead on Anna’s failure to read her novel. Two successive forms of distraction from reading thus serve as a sort of via negativa, jointly circumscribing by contrast the mode of aesthetic attention proper to the novel. The first of ­these forms of distraction is presented by the changing sense perceptions that seize hold of Anna, disturbing her equilibrium: At first she was unable to read. To begin with, she was bothered by the bustle and movement; then, when the train started moving, she could not help listening to the noises; then the snow that beat against the left-­hand win­dow and stuck to the glass, and the sight of a conductor passing by, all bundled up and covered with snow on one side, and the talk about the terrible blizzard outside, distracted her attention. Further on it was all the same; the same jolting and knocking, the same snow on the win­dow, the same quick transitions from steaming heat to cold and back to heat, the same flashing of the same f­ aces in the semi-­darkness, and the same voices, and Anna began to read and understand what she was reading. (100)

All this shifting motion blurs and excites. Anna’s mind whirls like the blizzard outside in a million fragments of sound, sight, motion, and words. The incommensurate sensory ele­ments that occupy her consciousness leave it unsettled and disjointed, passing in between and through myriad levels at once—­some kinetic, some visual, some auditory. Yet gradually, the shuffling and jostling fall into a sort of lulling refrain: “the same,” “the same,” “the same,” “the same”—as if Anna’s consciousness is a needle drawing a single thread through several layers of experience at once. Paradoxically, her



awareness of them as “the same,” as repetitions of themselves, allows them to fall beneath the threshold of her attention. Thus it is not only sense perception as such, but also the agitation of the mind arrested by concrete, transient impressions that must be overcome by a state of reflective, suspended awareness in order for immersion in the novel to get underway. Similarly, the second form of distraction emerges from the desire to abandon a state of composed “reflection” by shifting to the realm of a­ ctual praxis: Anna Arkadyevna read and understood, but it was unpleasant for her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other p ­ eople’s lives. She wanted too much to live herself. When she read about the heroine of the novel taking care of a sick man, she wanted to walk with inaudible steps round the sick man’s room; when she read about a Member of Parliament making a speech, she wanted to make that speech; when she read about how Lady Mary rode to hounds, teasing her sister-­in-­law and surprising every­one with her courage, she wanted to do it herself. But ­there was nothing to do, and so . . . ​she forced herself to read. (100)

The form of the novel provides the occasion for a suspension of life, of living, and it is in turn beholden to such a suspension. For Anna, the occasion for suspended life is provided by the conditions of modern travel (“hours of her life lost in the passage over the Indian Ocean,” laments the eponymous heroine of J. M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello [2003]).16 It is not a coincidence that Nabokov’s careful drawing of her train compartment reminds one of a prison cell, upon which space and time, blizzard and journey, stand guard. The experience of novel reading requires prolonged solitude and stillness. It takes place in a context of isolation, if not physical confinement; recall ­here the retreat of a young Isabel Archer in James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1881) with her novels to an office whose condemned door is “fastened by bolts which a particularly slender l­ ittle girl found it impossible to slide.”17 Novel reading demands the singular concentration of the seated meditator, in whose ­silent awareness an encounter with consciousness itself unfolds. Yet if Anna’s reading of character-­life within the novel appears to be opposed to her longing “to live herself,” this opposition—­between life and

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


reading, characters and oneself—is internally tangled, and reveals the paradoxical relation between the novel and lived experience. On the one hand, the scene suggests that reading a novel is only pos­si­ble when “­there [is] nothing to do”: when Anna is not d ­ oing, not living, not taking the responsi­ bility of action upon herself, her imagination makes space for the narration of the lives of ­others. On the other hand, immediately upon abandoning her attempt “to follow the reflection of other ­people’s lives,” Anna is seized by the desire to take up t­hese existential possibilities herself. The paradox can be unfolded on yet a deeper level, if we consider the extent to which the “reflection” at work h ­ ere is not the speculative detachment of objective or theoretical inquiry, but rather a specific kind of perspective from which the lived experience of the character is made known in such a way that it becomes pos­si­ble for any reader to imagine assuming the point of view of the agent in that character’s life. It is not entirely dissimilar from the point of view, in other words, that may be taken upon oneself in a mode of deliberative reflection. In Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death (1849), Anti-­Climacus argues that the “self is reflection, and the imagination is reflection, is the rendition of the self as the self’s possibility. The imagination is the possibility of any and all reflection, and the intensity of this medium is the possibility of the intensity of the self.”18 ­Here, Kierkegaard is concerned with the dialectical relation between the purely aesthetic mode of imaginative reflection and the ethical mode of deliberative reflection previously delineated in such texts as ­Either / Or (1843) and Stages on Life’s Way (1845). In imaginative reflection, one temporarily suspends the concrete real­ity of one’s given self. One becomes aware of one’s attitudes, motives, beliefs, and proj­ects, and the price of this awareness is the withdrawal of one’s reflexive and spontaneous endorsement of them. From reflective suspension thus emerges the possibility that one might be other­wise than one is—­“the rendition of the self as the self’s possibility”—­a possibility that in turn places the self in a position of choice or deliberative reflection in relation to itself. The imbrication of t­ hese two modes of reflection is the subject of Richard Moran’s Authority and Estrangement (2001), in which he argues that reflection upon one’s states of mind is necessarily accompanied by the imaginative possibility of composing one’s mind differently:



For any person who is self-­consciously reflecting on his state of mind, ­there ­will be some answer to the question of what stance he takes ­toward what he discovers ­there, ­whether of “endorsement, permission, or disapproval.” Given his awareness, some such stance or other is unavoidable ­because it is unavoidably this person’s business ­whether some “­mental pre­sen­ta­tion” ­shall count for him as a reason or not. In this way, a situation of choice is made unavoidable for the person, since he is reflectively aware of his thought, and to be capable of thought is to recognize the possibility, in princi­ple, of thinking other­wise.19

As Moran puts it, embedded in all ordinary forms of self-­k nowledge is “a situation of choice,” expressed in terms of the person’s answerability for what she claims to know of herself. But what the novel uniquely aims to produce is a situation in which lived experience is made known from the point of view of a participant without the knower (­here, reader) thereby being burdened by the responsibility that she would normally take up by claiming this knowledge.20 The impossibility of the novel—or, put differently, its necessity qua fiction—­consists precisely in its being a narration, a making known, of the fantasy that it might be pos­si­ble to have knowledge of a life from within it without assuming the unavoidability of existential choice that this knowledge entails.21 We might say that the novel makes pos­si­ble as an impossibility within actuality that which would only be pos­si­ble in imagination as a state of nonactuality, nonbeing. This being-­ without-­ responsibility—or, to borrow a phrase from another Kierkegaardian text, “without authority”—is the condition of the novel reader.22 If the novel as a form expresses the sacrifice or sundering of the intrinsic connection between imaginative reflection and deliberative reflection that is, for Kierkegaard and Moran, constitutive of the authority of the self, then the relation of the self to itself qua novel reader consists somehow in entertaining this condition only to be recalled more intensely to the nature of its impossibility in actuality. The condition in which Anna Karenina finds herself in this scene is one in which she is able to “follow the reflection of other ­people’s lives” in the world of the novel only to the extent that she is able to maintain a steady suspension of the stance of deliberative reflection that she necessarily inhabits in relation to her own life. The instant she engages a stance of deliberative reflection in relation to the life of the character being

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


narrated, she is unable to continue reading. It is essential to quote the following passage from Anna Karenina in full, for Tolstoy deliberately unfolds the complex dialectic we have been tracing in one extended and unbroken paragraph, so as to indicate its internal cohesion: The hero of the novel was already beginning to achieve his En­glish happiness, a baronetcy and an estate, and Anna wished to go with him to this estate, when suddenly she felt that he must be ashamed and that she was ashamed of the same ­t hing. But what was he ashamed of? “What am I ashamed of?” she asked herself in offended astonishment. She put down the book and leaned back in the seat, clutching the paper-­k nife tightly in both hands. ­There was nothing shameful. She went through all her Moscow memories. They w ­ ere all good, pleasant. She remembered the ball, remembered Vronsky and his enamoured, obedient face, remembered all her relations with him: nothing was shameful. But just t­ here, at that very place in her memories, the feeling of shame became more intense, as if precisely then, when she remembered Vronsky, some inner voice w ­ ere telling her: “Warm, very warm, hot!” “Well, what then?” she said resolutely to herself, shifting her position in the seat. “What does it mean? Am I afraid to look at it directly? Well, what of it? Can it be that ­there exist or ever could exist any other relations between me and this boy-­officer than ­those that exist with any acquaintance?” She smiled scornfully and again picked up the book but now was decidedly unable to understand what she was reading. (100–101)

The rapid passage between six distinct psychic states is lucidly delineated ­here: first, a state of novel reading that consists of suspended imaginative reflection and immersive absorption in the lived experience of a character, in which Anna is no longer aware of herself as a subject or reader in relation to the “hero of the novel” (note that in the novelistic narration of this scene of reading, t­ here is no linguistic mark aside from “of the novel” to distinguish the narration of his life from her reading of it, almost as if such a distinction cannot in princi­ple be marked); second, a state of engaged imaginative reflection, in which Anna abandons her former self-­abandonment as a reader and entertains imaginatively the possibility of inhabiting the narrated world



herself from a first-­person point of view; third, a state of focalized deliberative imaginative reflection, in which she adopts the first-­person perspective of the character, taking up a second-­order attitude (shame) ­toward the character’s feeling (happiness) on behalf of the character; fourth, a state of engaged deliberative reflection, in which she assumes responsibility for the state of her own mind and heart, beginning to question her attitudes t­ oward her feelings, memories, and experiences; fifth, a state of attempted resolution, in which she ends the pro­cess of deliberative reflection by substituting an objective consideration of the possibilities made open to her by her experiences; and sixth, a state in which she finds herself unable to read. Displayed in this series, the spiral-­like unraveling of the subject qua reader and the concurrent self-­confrontation of the subject qua agent is marked out with analytic precision. The transition between the fifth and the sixth states is especially significant. For if novel reading requires, as I have argued, an imaginary suspension of the ordinary relation that exists within the first-­ person perspective between a stance of imaginative reflection and one of deliberative reflection, ­here what seems to prevent Anna from assuming the position of a reader is the circumvention of this suspension by the denial of the original relation altogether. In posing the question of ­whether “­there exist or ever could exist any other relations between me and this boy-­officer than ­those that exist with any acquaintance” as its own skeptical answer, she evades the issue of w ­ hether she herself would want such a relation to exist and thereby denies her own agency in bringing it about. What she attempts to assume, in other words, is the position of a reader in relation to her own life. Whereas in the case of the novel, the impossibility of this readerly relation is marked by its fictionality qua work of art, in the case of Anna herself, this impossibility can be expressed only in the form of her self-­dissolution. The text of Anna Karenina and Anna Karenina’s situation as a character within the novel are then literally brought together in the heightened self-­ reflexivity of Anna’s intent, which is given vivid expression by an unforgettable gesture. Anna places the paper-­knife that she has been using to separate the pages of her novel first upon the reflection of her face and then upon its very flesh, as if she herself has become a novel to be cut open and read: “She passed the paper-­knife over the glass, then put its smooth and cold surface to her cheek and nearly laughed aloud from the joy that suddenly came over her for no reason” (101). This climactic moment recalls the opening of the

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


scene, in which “Anna settled herself with plea­sure and precision for the journey . . . ​and took a paper-­knife and an En­glish novel from her handbag” (99–100). The careful alignment of psychic and material ele­ments, so subtle, yet striking—­“pleasure” appears in the form of a novel, and “precision” in the form of the paper-­k nife that ­will slice open the pages as she proceeds— is h ­ ere rent asunder by Anna’s gesture of apparent self-­annihilation. She experiences an incoherent joy that she cannot explain, followed by an almost Dionysian ecstasy of self-­dissolution: She felt her nerves tighten more and more, like strings on winding pegs. She felt her eyes open wider and wider, her fin­gers and toes move ner­vous­ly; something inside her stopped her breath. . . . ​She kept having moments of doubt ­whether the carriage was moving forwards or backwards, or standing still. Was that Annushka beside her, or some stranger? “What is that on the armrest—­a fur coat or some animal?” It was frightening to surrender herself to this oblivion. But . . . ​she was able, at will, to surrender to it or hold back from it. (101)

In her trance-­like state, the lines between animate subject and inanimate object blur: her nerves are wound “like strings on winding pegs,” her fin­gers and toes move of their own accord, “something inside her” seems to arrest her very breath; she won­ders if the coat on the seat beside her is a live animal. This bewilderment ultimately culminates in an extreme state of self-­ estrangement and objectification: “ ‘And what am I? Myself or someone e­ lse?’ ” (101). It is as if Anna herself has entered into an ambiguous space between the third-­person and the first-­person perspectives, in which she both registers the irreducibility of her subjective orientation and attempts, in vain, to regard it from the perspective of one who could distinguish—­objectively, as it w ­ ere—­between herself and the being of another. Psychoanalytic interpretations of this passage emphasize the heightened state of sexual arousal that leads immediately to Anna’s examination of conscience, arguing that the allusions to heat, paper-­k nife, and storm reveal the resurgence of erotic mood and sensation a­ fter her unsuccessful attempt to repress her longing for Vronsky.23 Without denying the centrality of sexual desire and passion to Anna’s state of mind, we may also note that the scene draws a remarkable connection between the phenomenology of novel reading



and another kind of psychic and moral repression—­the attempted repression of the authority of self-­consciousness. As Robert Louis Jackson argues, the original text underscores the significance of w ­ ill and conscience: Tolstoy’s use of [proizvol] is marked by calculated ambiguity. In the context, Anna can freely choose to yield to oblivion (zabyt’ ë) or to resist it. Yet the phrase also suggests that yielding to oblivion involves a certain anarchic self-­will. If, as we read the passage silently or out loud, we take in as a unity the first semantic unit—­“ona po proizvolu mogla otdavat’sia emu”—we become aware of the meaning of proizvol as “self-­will” or “arbitrariness” (we might translate thus: “out of self-­will she could yield to [oblivion]”). As we read on, however and take in the phrase “i vozderzhivat’sia” (“or resist”), thereby forming a new and larger semantic unit, our understanding of the word proizvol reverts to the idea of “at ­will,” that is, to the idea of freedom to choose. . . . ​A nna, then, still possesses moral freedom, though this freedom (as with all freedom) is not unconditional, not absolute. It is manifested in her awareness that she can yield to or resist the forces drawing her into the abyss, but it is also—­her moral consciousness, her agonizing choice—­the storm she experiences, her disorientation, her terror.24

Throughout the climax of this scene, Anna vacillates between a state of consciousness, in which she knows herself to be ­free, and a state in which this consciousness is near obliteration. The idea that consciousness is precisely the k­ nowledge of oneself as a f­ ree ­will is central to Tolstoy’s psy­chol­ogy, as Richard Gustafson notes: To reshape the empiricist epistemology Tolstoy turned to the fourth component in his model, the “­will.” . . . ​“I recalled that the basis of the new philosophy consisted of the fact that man consists of a body, feeling, reason, and w ­ ill, but that the essence of the soul is ­will. Descartes (whom I had not read) said in vain cogito, ergo sum, for he thought ­because he wanted to think, therefore one should say volo, ergo sum.” . . . ​This “­will” is then in the epilogue to War and Peace said to be known within by what Tolstoy calls “consciousness” (soznanie). This concept of consciousness becomes central to his w ­ hole epistemology. . . . ​“Consciousness is a

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


source of self-­k nowledge (samopoznanie), which is separate and in­de­pen­ dent of reason. Through reason man observes himself. He knows himself only through consciousness.” . . . ​The self perceived through consciousness knows itself and the world differently. . . . ​The major feature of this self-­k nowledge in consciousness is, as already noted, the awareness of oneself as a being with ­free ­will. “In order to understand, observe, and draw inferences, a person must first of all be conscious of himself as willing; he must be conscious of his ­w ill. His ­w ill, which expresses the essence of his life, a person is conscious of and can only be conscious of as ­free.”25

Tolstoy’s correction of Descartes and his vehement distinction between self-­ knowledge as an essentially passive mode of observation and as an active mode of choosing oneself reveals a significant point of resonance between his thought and that of Kierkegaard, whose pseudonymous Judge Wilhelm claims in ­Either / Or: “The ethical individual knows himself, but this knowledge is not a mere contemplation (for with that the individual is determined by his necessity), it is a reflection upon himself which itself is an action, and therefore I have deliberately preferred to use the expression ‘choose oneself’ instead of know oneself.”26 Seen in light of this distinction, Anna’s unwillingness to know herself h ­ ere is not merely an unconscious act of repression, but also a refusal of what Moran calls “the authority of self-­knowledge,” of her responsibility to deliberate upon and acknowledge the intentions of her own heart.27 What gives “plea­sure” to the novel reader in imagination annihilates the subject in actuality. Unable to avow the meaning and force of her own desire for Vronsky, Anna’s self-­estrangement transmutes into a state in which the bound­aries between her self and the world appear to dissolve. The screen of Anna’s consciousness erupts in a kaleidoscope of grotesque, hellish impressions: For a moment she recovered and realized that the skinny muzhik coming in, wearing a long nankeen coat with a missing button, was the stoker, that he was looking at the thermometer, that wind and snow had burst in with him through the doorway; but then every­thing became confused again. . . . ​This muzhik with the long waist began to gnaw at



something on the wall; the old ­woman began to stretch her legs out the ­whole length of the carriage and filled it with a black cloud; then something screeched and banged terribly, as if someone was being torn to pieces; then a red fire blinded her eyes, and then every­thing was hidden by a wall. Anna felt as if she was falling through the floor. But all this was not frightening but exhilarating. (101)

Considered along with the passage immediately preceding it, each sentence in this remarkable scene expresses a shift in mood that is total and bizarre. One moment Anna feels “scorn”; this is replaced by “joy”; the next moment, overwrought tension; then a sort of “ner­vous[]” oversensitivity; “doubt”; a depersonalizing estrangement from what is most familiar, around her and within her; a “frightening” pull t­oward “oblivion”; a sort of claustrophobic confinement; a sense of being not grounded, so that she “felt as if she was falling through the floor”; and fi­nally, not fear but rather an “exhilarating” sense of liberation. This rapid and astonishingly irrational series of moods is not drawn out in relation to an entire life situation or to a changing set of external stimuli, but rather described more or less from the point of view of Anna’s momentary subjective experience. Each mood is assigned a single sentence, sometimes only a single clause within a sentence. Narrative pace seems to echo the frenetic and disjointed working of Anna’s mind. The juxtaposition of the ordinary with the apocalyptic, the marked use of parataxis, and the utter lack of causal sequence or explanation surrounding the intensity of Anna’s descent into this terrifying yet rapturous state of mind all place this passage in the realm of existential contingency. Several paradoxes at last emerge from the entanglement of narration and life, authorial position and readerly position, that mark Tolstoy’s masterful portrayal of novel reading in this scene. To read a novel is to attain a state of reflective, imaginative suspension that is proximate to and yet discontinuous with the condition for the exercise of self-­k nowledge through agential choice. (The boundary of the work of art establishes the radical discontinuity; certain aesthetic strategies of the realist novel achieve the effect of proximity.) The attempt to assume the position of a reader with re­spect to one’s own life precipitates an utter loss of self-­possession, a being-­outside of oneself, not unlike an experience of ecstasy and mysticism. Hence this scene of novel reading aboard the train foreshadows the demise of the character

The Existence of the Novel in Nabokov’s Diagram


whose palindromic name figures a form of identity as inward reflection. Anna’s situation as reader-­character returns in the dramatic image of reading that accompanies the moment of her death by suicide beneath the train: “The candle by the light of which she had been reading that book filled with anx­ i­eties, deceptions, grief and evil, flared up brighter than ever, lit up for her all that had once been in darkness, sputtered, grew dim, and went out for ever” (768). From the perspective of her own existence, we might say that when Anna attempts to read herself, she enters into a pro­cess of reflective self-­nihilating which, unlike the Sartrean nihilation of freedom, is unhinged from the authoritative self-­reflection that constitutes existence. Hence the law of the novel decrees that to attempt to read oneself in this way is to cease existing. From the perspective of the novel’s reader, however, the princi­ple is reversed. The suspension of an existence beyond the narrative ensures the very possibility of engaging with the imaginative real­ity of the novel. The existence of the novel depends upon the fiction of the nonexistence of the novel’s reader.


The Point of View of Existence

“N OT F O R A M O M E N T was I taken in, never did I forget my time; I went on existing, I felt myself living.”1 Thus Sartre describes the experience of reading François Mauriac’s novel La Fin de la Nuit (1935), in his 1939 essay “François Mauriac and Freedom.” Throughout the remainder of his devastating critique, he expands upon his claim that the ongoing existence of the reader and the capacity of the novel to conjure a power­ful fiction of life are mutually exclusive. Such a dialectic also lies at the heart of Kierke­ gaard’s literary review of Hans Christian Andersen’s realist novel Kun en Spillemand (Only a Fiddler) (1837), entitled “From the Papers of One Still Living, Published against His W ­ ill: Andersen as a Novelist with Continual Reference to His Latest Work, Only a Fiddler” (1838).2 Interpreted in light of Sartre’s statement, the meaning of the enigmatic title of Kierkegaard’s first published work at last reveals itself. The reviewer of Andersen’s novel is “still living” precisely due to the failure of the novel to draw him wholly into what Kierkegaard calls the “life-­view” of the novelist.3 To speak of “Andersen as a Novelist” in this regard is also significant. Kierkegaard argues that in order to attain a life-­view, any would-be writer of a novel “must first and foremost win a competent personality, and it is only this dead and transfigured personality that o­ ught to and is able to produce, not the many-­

The Point of View of Existence


angled, worldly, palpable one” (82). If a life-­view is to be understood as that which “is ­really providence in the novel . . . ​its deeper unity, which makes the novel have the center of gravity in itself,” then it follows that according to Kierkegaard, the poetic princi­ple that renders the novel an integral and convincing work of art is dependent on the condition of what Bakhtin calls “the author / beholder” as, in some sense, no longer existing (81).4 Both Kierkegaard and Sartre emphasize that when a novel is constructed so as not to preclude the ongoing existence of this “author / beholder,” the reader’s failure to be convinced by the real­ity of the novel registers in a growing awareness ­either of herself or of an authorial presence, who awkwardly intervenes within the unfolding of the work itself and thereby falsifies it. Consider two analyses of authorial intrusion from Kierkegaard and Sartre. First, “From the Papers of One Still Living”: With t­ hese individuals, who thus in ­every such moment cease to be merely poetic creatures, Andersen now makes contact as he does with other beings on this, our earth. That is, on the one hand he conceives an entirely worldly love for some individual, who of course in most cases is his hero but whom he now treats more as a client he is interested in and at ­every opportunity seeks to push forward in the world. Likewise also, each lack, as it seems to Andersen, of dutiful attentiveness, even in the case where attentiveness is so far from being dutiful that it would even be unreasonable, does not go unpunished, b­ ecause of the absolute power entrusted to Andersen as poet (to do what he likes). (90–91)

The critique is laid out in similar terms in “François Mauriac and Freedom”: “She stretched out her arms to draw him to her, but he drew violently away, and she realized that she had lost him.” The indications are uncertain, and besides, they involve only the pres­ent. But what does it ­matter? M. Mauriac has deci­ded that Georges is lost to Thérèse. . . . ​The author, impatient to have us grasp the character of his heroine, suddenly gives us the key. But what I maintain is precisely the fact that he has no right to make ­these absolute judgments. . . . ​Each of ­these interpretations must be in motion, drawn along, so to speak, by the very action it interprets. (13–15)



Both Kierkegaard and Sartre elucidate the aesthetic failure of ­these novels in terms of the reader’s being made to acknowledge, in the act of reading, what Kierkegaard calls “the absolute power entrusted to Andersen as poet” (91) and what Sartre refers to as “the sin of pride” (23), expressed in Mauriac’s claim that “the novelist is to his own creatures what God is to his” (14). The analogy to God suggests that in the failed novel, the mere presence of the form-­giving and creative ­w ill of the novelist is to be taken as a sufficient guarantee for the meaning and conceivability of any existential event. This exercise of authorial w ­ ill overshadows the contingency and situatedness of the characters to such an extent that they can no longer be plausibly i­magined as agents in their own lives. Thus the aesthetic effect of the novel as a believable and engrossing repre­ sen­ta­tion of inner life and action is utterly compromised by the unavoidable presence of the author, whose forceful and intrusive decisions, judgments, and dispositions now make as if to enter into the very world of the novel itself. The personification of what we may call the hyper-­responsible author in ­these passages suggests that the issue for Sartre and Kierkegaard is not so much a nosy witness whose presence provokes inauthentic and self-­conscious display, but rather a meddling know-­it-­all whose superior sense of what o­ ught to be done and what every­thing ultimately means is expressed from a perspective that threatens to render the meaning of the lives of the characters as lives impossible. Reduced to mere statements of authorial fiat, they become entirely thing-­like. As Sartre argues, “When M. Mauriac, making full use of his creative authority, forces us to accept ­these exterior views as the inner stuff of his creatures, he is transforming his characters into ­things. Only ­things can simply be; they have only exteriors. Minds cannot simply be; they become” (16). The conditions u ­ nder which the semblance of au­then­tic freedom may be convincingly represented are hence, for Kierkegaard and Sartre, internally related to the possibility of giving form to the work qua novel. Thus Bakhtin characterizes the necessarily contrasting orientations of the form-­conceiving “author / beholder” and the life that is subject to that form, in the following passage from Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity (ca. 1920–1923):

The Point of View of Existence


Indeed, the hero lives his life cognitionally and ethically: he orients his actions within the open ethical event of his lived life or within the projected world of cognition. The author, on the other hand, orients the hero and the hero’s own cognitive-­ethical orientation within a world of being that is in princi­ple consummated, that is, within a world which derives its value, in­de­pen­dently of the yet-­to-be meaning of the event of a lived life, purely from the concrete manifoldness of its already existing makeup. If I am consummated and my life is consummated, I am no longer capable of living and acting. For in order to live and act, I need to be unconsummated, I need to be open to myself—at least in all the essential moments constituting my life; I have to be, for myself, someone who is axiologically yet-­to-be, someone who does not coincide with his already existing makeup.5

What is at stake ­here is a distinction between two essentially opposing perspectives on the conditions u ­ nder which it is pos­si­ble to have authoritative, conclusive knowledge of existence. From the first-­person agential perspective, knowledge of one’s self and one’s life always places one in a position of freedom and responsibility with re­spect to how one w ­ ill go on. For example, to know that I hold a par­tic­u­lar motive, belief, or attitude is also to acknowledge that I am the one who holds it. I then have a choice: I could continue to hold it, I could disavow it, I could hold it in a more tentative way, and so on. My life unfolds within what Bakhtin calls “the open ethical event” of my own decisive choice. From the perspective of what Bakhtin identifies as the “author / beholder,” however, the life of the character is bounded within the aesthetic consummation, or form, of the work as a ­whole. The ongoing and unfinished task of first-­person existence is transformed into an aesthetically necessary and unified totality. As Ken Hirsch­kop states in his definitive reading of Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity: “One cannot—­a nd this is the distinctive move—­transform one’s own experience in this way, ­because what makes an author an author is his or her distance from the experience represented in the work. . . . ​The world as ‘one’s own’ is constituted by ethical and cognitive considerations inimical to the aesthetic as such.”6 The boundary appears where the being of the hero ends; the being of the beholder is born at the site of the limits that



constitute the work of art. The nature of the “author / beholder” is therefore to be understood as wholly in­de­pen­dent of—or, as Bakhtin puts it, “transgredient” to—the axiological orientation of first-­person lived existence and its open-­ended becoming within the world.7 We arrive h ­ ere at the tension that Sartre and Kierkegaard discover at the heart of the poetics of the realist novel. In order for the novel to attain the condition of a work of art—to be a novel, as opposed to a theoretical analy­sis, a psychological portrait, a so­cio­log­i­cal or historical account, or a subjective series of reflections—it must represent lives in such a compelling way that the reader may accept them as actually existing. To exist is to confront one’s freedom against the open horizon of possibility, and to assume responsibility for the exercise of one’s own agency. The aesthetic fiction of an existence as the progressive unfolding of undetermined f­ree w ­ ill thus depends upon the apparent absence of any perspective from which the consummated ­whole becomes comprehensible. The moment any fate, law, destiny, permanence, or transcendent totality appears to intervene from beyond the immanence of the life to establish its meaning, the reader is jolted back to an awareness of the artifice of the author and hence of her relation to the character as that of a beholder before a work of art. At the same time, however, the totality of the novel—­its necessary givenness as a work of art—­demands that such a consummating limit be definitively inscribed. Indeed, as Camus argues in the section of The Rebel (1956) entitled “Rebellion and the Novel,” this fiction of existence as a coherent destiny is precisely what is desired from the novel: What, in fact, is a novel but a universe in which action is endowed with form, where final words are pronounced, where p ­ eople possess one another completely, and where life assumes the aspect of destiny? The world of the novel is only a rectification of the world we live in, in pursuance of man’s deepest wishes. For the world is undoubtedly the same one we know. The suffering, the illusion, the love are the same. The heroes speak our language, have our weaknesses and our strength. Their universe is neither more beautiful nor more enlightening than ours. But they, at least, pursue their destinies to the b­ itter end. . . . ​It is ­here that we can no longer keep pace with them, for they complete ­things that we can never consummate.8

The Point of View of Existence


The form of the novel thus develops in response to the paradoxical requirement that it be true and untrue to life si­mul­ta­neously. The solution, as we have seen in both Sartre and Kierkegaard’s poetics of the novel, is elegant yet efficacious: the lives that the novel represents must be consummated, but the perspective from which this consummation can be said to occur must not appear to exist or to be open to explicit invocation. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, in answer to this demand, the chief poetic strategies governing the evolution of the novel in its classic realist phase are characterized by the deployment of narrative techniques and forms that render the delimiting boundary of the work of art in­de­pen­dently of any question of an “author / beholder’s” relation to it. Theory of the Novel and the Philosophy of Self-­Knowledge

The notion that the poetics of the nineteenth-­and twentieth-­century realist novel is radically marked, if not defined, by a tension between the form-­ giving agency of the author and the aesthetic illusion of characterological freedom is not new. As Dorothy Hale argues, “The centrality of characterological alterity to the modern novel has ­shaped its aesthetic problematic in two fundamental ways. First, the modern novel’s commitment to the creation of autonomous characters positions any act of narration as a potential encroachment on the existential freedom of t­ hose characters. Second, the commitment to characterological autonomy positions literariness as itself inimical to novelistic mimesis. . . . ​Th is is the ethico-­political basis of novelistic aesthetics.”9 Although the opposition between what Hale describes as “literariness” (the form-­giving totality of the novelistic work of art) and “mimesis” (the power of the novel to elicit readerly belief in the real­ity of its characters) is often used to facilitate approaches to the novel, it is rarely itself theorized. This lacuna within novel theory is the focus of existentialist reflection on the novel. Existentialist phi­los­o­phers are the first not only to identify this tension at the heart of novelistic poetics, but also to locate its genesis in a set of philosophical concerns about the nature of self-­knowledge. The Art of Being aims to develop an account of the impact of their discovery upon our understanding of the form of the novel and of the narrative strategies by which novels draw their readers into the fictional real­ity of the lives and worlds they represent.



Before turning to a detailed overview of the chapters of this book, I ­shall first elaborate the broader philosophical and theoretical context against which the significance of the existentialists’ discovery becomes clear. A striking agreement exists among critics of diverse ideological orientations concerning the primacy of subjective interiority to the poetics of the novel. ­These critics stake out the ethical, po­liti­cal, and theoretical significance of subjective interiority in disparate terms. Prominent among ­these accounts is some version of the robust historical claim, evinced in Nancy Armstrong’s declaration that “the history of the novel and the history of the modern subject are, quite literally, one and the same.”10 Critics who emphasize the modernity of this subject interpret it primarily as a sign of “an interiority in excess of the social position that [the] individual is supposed to occupy.”11 Thus Franco Moretti argues that the collapse of traditional social roles in modern Eu­rope “gives rise to unexpected hopes, thereby generating an interiority not only fuller than before, but also—as Hegel clearly saw, even though he deplored it—­perennially dissatisfied and restless.”12 (Prior to Hegel, the restlessness of the individual subject already emerges as a prominent theme in Locke and Hobbes.) The most fully ramified development of this view in relation to the form of the novel can be found in the earlier work of György Lukács. According to Lukács, the demise of an immanent and universally shared source of value in ­every crucial dimension—­transcendental, communal, experiential—­gives rise to the incommensurability of world and epic repre­sen­ta­tion, form-­giving activity and soul, individual and life-­world: The autonomous life of interiority is pos­si­ble and necessary only when the distinctions between men have made an unbridgeable chasm; when the gods are s­ ilent and neither sacrifices nor the ecstatic gift of tongues can solve their riddle; when the world of deeds separates itself from men and, ­because of this in­de­pen­dence, becomes hollow and incapable of absorbing the true meaning of deeds in itself, incapable of becoming a symbol through deeds and dissolving them in turn into symbols; when interiority and adventure are forever divorced from one another.13

The development of the novel as a literary form is, for Lukács, bound up with a radical re­orientation of the task of lit­er­a­ture in relation to life. No

The Point of View of Existence


longer capable of registering objective real­ity as a necessary and given ­whole, it must turn instead to the work of lending form to a self-­reflective, creative, individual subjectivity. As he claims, “The outside world cannot be represented. Both the parts and the ­whole of such an outside world defy any forms of directly sensuous repre­sen­ta­tion. They acquire life only when they can be related ­either to the life-­experiencing interiority of the individual lost in their labyrinth, or to the observing and creative eye of the artist’s subjectivity: when they become objects of mood or reflexion.”14 Thus defined, the art of the novel is forever poised between total impossibility and endless necessity. For e­ ither the self-­reflexivity of subjectivity implodes from within, unable to sustain the conceit of its own fictionality, or conversely it is never able to bring itself to an end (for any end must be arbitrary, imaginary, internal to the ongoing pro­cess of its self-­creation). The prob­lem of form in literary art, for Lukács, is born from the irreparable rift between soul and world. As improbable as it at first hearing sounds, the death of God and the birth of the theory of the novel are deeply intertwined. Po­liti­cal accounts of the interiority of the novelistic subject, by contrast, seek to diagnose its ideological function in terms of the emergence and consolidation of the liberal cap­i­tal­ist state. Fredric Jameson argues that within the history of the novel itself we may discover “quasi-­material transmission points which produce and institutionalize the new subjectivity of the bourgeois individual . . . ​such as Jamesian point of view or Flaubertian style indirect libre, which are thus strategic loci for the fully constituted or centered bourgeois subject or monadic ego.”15 For D. A. Miller, the novel does not merely produce new strategies for representing what Jameson calls “the lived experience of individual consciousness as a monadic and autonomous center of activity.”16 It also conjures up a new reading subject that corresponds to the idealized subject of liberalism. Noting that the “cultural hegemony and diffusion” of the Victorian novel “well qualified it to become the primary spiritual exercise of an entire age,” Miller contends that the novel’s exposure of private subjective lives enacts the corresponding reinscription of the reading subject’s own “fantasy” of herself as a f­ ree, autonomous, private being.17 Perhaps the most fundamental value that the Novel, as a cultural institution, may be said to uphold is privacy, the determination of an



integral, autonomous, “secret” self. Novel reading takes for granted the existence of a space in which the reading subject remains safe from the surveillance, suspicion, reading, and rape of o­ thers. Yet this privacy is always specified as the freedom to read about characters who oversee, suspect, read, and rape one another. It is not just that, strictly private subjects, we read about v­ iolated, objectified subjects but that, in the very act of reading about them, we contribute largely to constituting them as such. We enjoy our privacy in the act of watching privacy being ­violated, in the act of watching that is already itself a violation of privacy. Our most intense identification with characters never blinds us to our ontological privilege over them: they ­will never be reading about us. It is built into the structure of the Novel that ­every reader must realize the definitive fantasy of the liberal subject, who imagines himself ­free from the surveillance that he nonetheless sees operating everywhere around him.18

I ­shall return to Miller’s association of reading and surveillance, which exemplifies the dominant models of self-­k nowledge operative within novel theory, l­ater on. His analy­sis casts intense suspicion upon ethicalized accounts of the significance of novelistic subjectivity, such as Lionel Trilling’s claim that interiority plays the principal function of establishing an in­de­ pen­dent moral or spiritual sphere of activity—­a sphere in which the protagonist may be seen to resist or transcend the compromises demanded by the world he inhabits.19 My intention ­here is neither to critique nor to champion any one of ­these ways of thinking about the novel. What I want to call attention to is that although t­ hese accounts appear to share a tacit agreement that the poetics of the novel can be defined by the manner in which the novel makes manifest, even essential, a distinct chasm between interiority and exteriority, soul and world, individual and collective social being, their divergent implications stem from vastly dif­fer­ent views about the nature of subjective interiority, and, consequently, of self-­knowledge. What exactly is “subjective interiority”? How do we come to know it? What is the relation between interiority and individual freedom, between interiority and world? If narration is a pro­cess of making something known, how does the novel achieve its paradoxical aim of making sensations, thoughts, intentions, attitudes, beliefs,

The Point of View of Existence


and emotions—­essentially, ­those ­mental states that comprise the domain of what phi­los­o­phers have traditionally called “self-­k nowledge”—­k nown to the other? Th ­ ese questions have significant epistemological, ethical, and ontological implications for the theory of the novel. Taken together, the answers would furnish no less than an account of the philosophical commitments of the novel as a genre. The two phi­los­o­phers most often evoked in critical accounts of subjective interiority in the novel are Descartes and Locke. According to Tony Jackson, “The history—­that is, the temporal occurrence and sequence of changes—of the novel most nearly parallels the history of the Cartesian subject. . . . ​It is more than coincidence that the novel becomes its own genre in the same era with Descartes.”20 Similarly, Siân Silyn Roberts argues that “recent critics of the British tradition such as Wendy Jones, Adela Pinch, Pam Morris, Nancy Armstrong, and Deirdre Lynch have shown how the novel helped naturalize the Lockean individual as the modern standard of selfhood.”21 This convergence upon the dual importance of Descartes and Locke to novel theory can be traced back to Ian Watt’s influential account of the philosophical bases of realism in The Rise of the Novel (1957). Watt argues: Modern realism, of course, begins from the position that truth can be discovered by the individual through his senses: it has its origins in Descartes and Locke. . . . ​The greatness of Descartes was primarily one of method . . . ​and his Discourse on Method (1637) and his Meditations did much to bring about the modern assumption whereby the pursuit of truth is conceived of as a wholly individual m ­ atter, logically in­de­pen­ dent of the tradition of past thought. . . . ​The novel is the form of lit­er­a­ture which most fully reflects this individualist and innovating re­orientation.22

Setting aside the oddity of Watt’s proposition that Descartes be viewed as a founder of empiricism, what remains striking is his use of Cartesian and Lockean thought to advance the claim that “the distinctive narrative mode of the novel” consists in “the sum of literary techniques whereby the novel’s imitation of ­human life follows the procedures ­adopted by philosophical realism in its attempt to ascertain and report the truth.”23 An account of



literary realism must hence be grounded in the relation between individual lived experience and truth. This u ­ nion of the value of individual existence and a practice of truth-­ seeking underlies Watt’s influential account of novelistic realism. It implies, but does not analyze, a close link between the “individualist . . . ​re­orientation” of the novel and its concern with self-­k nowledge. In his words: Philosophically the particularizing approach to character resolves itself into the prob­lem of defining the individual person. Once Descartes had given the thought pro­cesses within the individual’s consciousness supreme importance, the philosophical prob­lems connected with personal identity naturally attracted a ­great deal of attention. . . . ​Locke had defined personal identity as an identity of consciousness through duration in time; the individual was in touch with his own continuing identity through memory of his past thoughts and actions. . . . ​Such a point of view is characteristic of the novel; many novelists, from Sterne to Proust, have made their subject the exploration of the personality as it is defined in the interpenetration of its past and pres­ent self-­awareness.24

In other words, if the individual self is to become the central focus of the novel, the novel’s characteristic narrative point of view must be capable of authoritative self-­k nowledge. Such self-­k nowledge establishes the individuality of consciousness and its identity as a subject of narration. What is most significant about the philosophical-­literary network that Watt attempts to construct between Descartes, Locke, and the realist novel is its implicit embrace of what the phi­los­o­pher Sydney Shoemaker refers to as the “perceptual model” of self-­k nowledge: “the idea that our access to our own minds is to be conceived on the model of sense-­perception, differing from other sorts of perception only in being, in Kantian terminology, ‘inner sense’ rather than ‘outer sense.’ ”25 The metaphysical, epistemological, and moral implications of this model are profound, and continue to be debated in con­temporary philosophy. In terms of novel theory, however, it is pos­si­ble to single out two implications that are especially relevant to any account of how the realist novel achieves its spellbinding force. The first concerns the perceptual model’s account of the relation between the mind

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and the world, and the second its account of the mind’s special relation to itself. First, the perceptual model positions the mind as a passive observer of an ineluctably subjective projection of the world. Despite the fact that it is conventional to consider Locke’s empiricism as deeply opposed to Descartes’s rationalism, the so-­called “Cartesian Theater” of perception is also operative within Lockean thought.26 As Locke declares at the opening of book 4 ­ uman Understanding (1689), “Since the mind, in of An Essay Concerning H all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other immediate object but its own ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate, it is evident, that our knowledge is only conversant about them.”27 The mind, according to this model, cordons off its own “ideas” and conscious experience as objects of introspection that are utterly distinct from materially existent objects. The consequences of this view for theories of novelistic depiction of worldhood, to which I ­shall return in Chapter 3, are profound and far-­reaching. The second aspect of the perceptual model—­its view of the mind’s special relation to itself—­has an even greater impact upon novel theory. For according to this view, self-­k nowledge is a m ­ atter of observation or awareness of the contents of inner consciousness. As the phi­los­o­pher Brie Gertler puts it, “For both Descartes and Locke, self-­k nowledge is at least sometimes—­ perhaps always—­purely observational. . . . ​In both cases, the introspecting subject may be entirely passive, relative to the thoughts she introspects.”28 Since Descartes, the unique authority of the first-­person perspective has been thought to lie in the infallibility, omniscience, and certainty of its observations of itself. In novel theory, as in philosophy, critiques of this account of the uniqueness of the first-­person perspective (or of what Roberts calls “the self-­enclosed, autonomous, unitary, property-­owning subject of the Lockean tradition, where ‘property’ includes one’s m ­ ental attributes and capabilities”) are assumed to threaten the cohesiveness of the idea of a subject altogether.29 Vanessa Ryan’s recent argument concerning the inadequacy of novel ­theories centered upon “interiority,” for instance, testifies to the enduring identification of “interiority” with a Cartesian-­L ockean view of subjective consciousness: The nineteenth-­century “psychological novel” has often been thought to convey in par­tic­u ­lar the inside of the mind seen from without.



Many histories of the novel reproduce aspects of this narrative: Leon Edel writes of the “inward turning” of the novel, Erich Kahler also speaks of the “inward turn of narrative,” Fredric Jameson identifies “strategies of inwardness” as “the most influential formal impulses of canonical modernism.” Sully’s essay on George Eliot’s fiction might teach us . . . ​t hat our emphasis on terms such as “consciousness” and “interiority” does not do full justice to the complexity of nineteenth-­ century psychological ideas. As they have customarily been used, t­ hese terms tend to evoke a conscious integral Cartesian subject, the central self that oversees the conscious flow that the psy­chol­ogy of the period questioned. Victorian psychologists and novelists alike show how much of our inner life remains obscure, even opaque, to our conscious minds: they question the conception of interiority, calling attention to the physiological, reflexive, and automatic aspects of mind and action.30

Once the metaphysical basis of subjectivity or selfhood is made to hinge upon the transparency and immediacy of inner life when witnessed from the all-­perceiving awareness of “a conscious integral Cartesian subject,” the “conception of interiority” itself appears to stand or fall upon the viability of this picture of self-­k nowledge. By far the most striking aspect of spectatorial accounts of self-­knowledge such as the “Inner Theater” accounts of Locke and Descartes is that they end up, in Richard Moran’s apt phrasing, “transposing an essentially third-­ person situation to some kind of m ­ ental interior” despite the fact that “nothing essentially first-­personal is captured by transferring the situation of a spectator from the outside to the inside, nor by construing the person as having any kind of especially good theoretical access to his own mind.”31 In other words, as phi­los­o­phers such as Shoemaker, Moran, Akeel Bilgrami, Tyler Burge, and Lucy O’Brien have shown, the attempt to describe self-­ knowledge in terms of epistemological privilege obscures the fundamental asymmetry between first-­and third-­person knowledge of the self.32 For only in the case of first-­personal reflection do I stand in a deliberative relation to the self of which I am conscious: only with re­spect to my own beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and states of mind does my knowledge put me in a position to alter, accept, allow, endorse, reject, or other­wise own what I

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have discovered. This responsibility and agency are not mine to wield in the case of my knowledge of other minds, no ­matter how intimately or accurately I may come to know them, nor are they capacities that ­others may exercise with re­spect to their knowledge of my ­mental states. The elision of this crucial difference between first-­and third-­person knowledge of the mind has critical consequences for any theory of the novel. In order to see why this is true, we must first note the extent to which the dominance of the perceptual model of self-­k nowledge in novel theory leads inevitably to a conception of the narrator as installed within the mind of the character as a sort of co-­observer, or spy. Indeed, this under­lying picture of what it means to have access to the first-­person point of view upon characterological existence is at work in countless influential theories of the novel, from Wayne Booth’s claim in The Rhe­toric of Fiction (1961) that “any sustained inside view, of what­ever depth, temporarily turns the character whose mind is shown into a narrator”33 to Miller’s thesis in The Novel and the Police (1988) that novelistic techniques of “panoptic narration” normalize a sophisticated pro­cess of surveillance with which the reader is made complicit.34 Vision and access are the two determining meta­phors of this model for thinking about novelistic narrative, as when, for instance, Gérard Genette speaks of “an omniscient narrator, capable like God himself of seeing beyond actions and of sounding body and soul,”35 or Watt declares that “domestic life and the private experience of the characters who belong to it: the two go together—we get inside their minds as well as inside their h ­ ouses.”36 “Mind” is conceptualized ­here as a private space to be entered, an inner terrain or scene to be voy­eur­is­tically observed. As Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth argues, the prevalence of spatial and visual meta­phors in novel theory can be explained in part by the fact that “critical language for describing narrative (‘scene,’ ‘dialogue,’ ‘monologue,’ ‘gesture,’ ‘action,’ ‘character’) has been imported from discussion of drama, without allowance for the fact that a narrative is something more than a supine play.”37 This importation of theoretical models for the study of dramatic lit­er­a­ture to narrative lit­er­a­ture threatens to elide the obvious fact that no theater is capable of furnishing the technology for the repre­sen­ta­tion of subjective life that the realist novel seeks to convey. Moreover, it conceals the naturalization of the “Inner Theater” model of self-­k nowledge within the theory of the novel.



The unchallenged importation of an “Inner Theater” model of self-­ knowledge to novel theory thus proves problematic for several reasons. First, as critics such as Ermarth, Jonathan Culler, and Ann Banfield have argued, the claim that novelistic narrative somehow requires a knower of other minds is unwarranted. Its elaboration leads, in Culler’s words, to “a fantasy of omniscience, which . . . ​oppresses at the same time that it obfuscates the narrative effects that lead us to posit it.”38 Quite apart from the ontological loneliness of an entity who must belong to no world, neither that of the fictional characters nor that of the empirically existing author, t­ here is the prob­lem of explaining how such a mind becomes capable of knowing the minds of beings with whom it does not consort. More importantly, the notion that the authority of the first-­person perspective arises from some special form of epistemic access that can be replicated only by super­natural powers in the case of the third-­person perspective obfuscates significant differences between first-­person and third-­person reflection upon the self. ­These differences are, in turn, vital to the poetics of the novel. As Moran contends, “If reflective self-­consciousness imposes e­ ither the assumption or the evasion of responsibilities peculiar to the first-­person position, responsibilities that involve the acknowl­edgment of one’s deliberative and not just theoretical role with re­spect to one’s own states of mind, then we should expect that the apprehension of one’s own mind ­will not only be a m ­ atter of special privilege and authority, but w ­ ill also involve its own complexities and uncertainties that are not characteristic of the apprehension of other minds” (153). When Bernard Williams, for instance, points out that “it is a notorious truth that a modest person does not act u ­ nder the title of modesty,” he is showing that it is pos­si­ble for an observation that might justly be made of my character by another person to immediately falsify itself when I venture to know myself in the very same terms.39 Thus Moran argues that “in vari­ous situations of reflection, we face the possibility of conflict between the thinking that is part of the description, assessment, or explanation of one’s state, and the thinking that is part of the determination of one’s state; between, for example, reflection about one’s desire and the reflection whose conclusion is some desire” (162). The possibilities generated by t­ hese conflicts involve distinct forms of self-­deception, bad faith, and akrasia—­a spects of moral psy­chol­ogy that arguably constitute the very stomping grounds of the nineteenth-­and twentieth-­century realist novel.

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(For this reason, although I am intrigued by Nicholas Royle’s suggestion that “ ‘telepathy’ opens possibilities of a humbler, more precise, less religiously freighted conceptuality than does ‘omniscience’, for thinking about the uncanniness of what is g­ oing on in narrative fiction,” I worry that the model of telepathy may also lead us to radically underdescribe the textual complexity and stakes of novelistic repre­sen­ta­tions of self-­k nowledge.40) Moreover, as Moran’s emphasis on the “responsibilities peculiar to the first-­person position” implies, self-­k nowledge is ineluctably bound up with the answerability of the self for itself to o­ thers. To the extent that novel theory remains mired in epistemological concerns regarding the special privileges that allow one mind access to another, it risks obscuring the genuinely ethical dimension of first-­person authority. In any number of everyday situations in which I am asked a question about my own beliefs, plans, or commitments, the presumption of my authority on ­these ­matters is not simply a privilege accorded to me by ­others based upon my superior access to my own mind, but also crucially an acknowl­edgment of the demands that ­others may reasonably make upon me: to speak for myself, to make up my own mind, and thereby to own my intentions.41 Imagine, for instance—­ “Will you be coming to our ­house for dinner tomorrow?” “­Every indication suggests that I might.” Even taken as a joke, the humor of this answer lies in an implied evasion of the demand that its speaker assume first-­person authority in avowing her own desires and intentions. This normative expectation reveals, in turn, the everyday embeddedness of such authority within a web of ordinary interpersonal demands and claims. Models that link the privilege of self-­knowledge with privacy or solipsism thus run the risk of distorting the fundamentally social and ethical nature of a form of life in which the first-­person authority of the self becomes meaningful.42 Fi­nally, an “Inner Theater” model of self-­k nowledge threatens to elide the extent to which the poetics of the realist novel preserves, by convention, the possibility of conflict between the first-­person authority of the character and narratorial authority. This possibility lies at the root of the phenomenological experience of novel-­reading, described by Sartre and Kierkegaard, as well as of the “ethico-­political basis of novelistic aesthetics” that Hale delineates. If—as existentialist thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir argue—­novelistic repre­sen­ta­tion of characterological being cannot be



understood without taking into account the fundamental asymmetry between the first-­and third-­person perspectives, then the extent to which this body of philosophical reflection on the nineteenth-­century novel has been virtually overlooked by theorists of the novel is not merely accidental. It stems from an untheorized incompatibility between the existentialist approach and many l­ater accounts of the nature of self-­knowledge in the novel. Elucidating the stakes of t­hese opposing views reveals the grounds of the poetic tension between characterological freedom and form that has long characterized the realist novel. Whereas other critics ascribe this tension to the novel’s ideological fiction of alterity, autonomy, and interiority, existentialist thinkers find it to be grounded in an alternative philosophical account of the authority of self-­knowledge. This authority may very well be aesthetically functionalized within the poetics of the novel, as Hale convincingly suggests. Nevertheless, an existentialist conception of self-­knowledge provides dif­fer­ent philosophical grounds for the potential conflict between authorial being and characterological freedom: ones that stem not from the difficulty of rendering an empirically precise and accurate repre­sen­ta­tion of another’s subjective interiority, but from the authority of the first-­person perspective itself. The existentialist poetics of the novel delineated in The Art of Being does not only help us to distinguish varying sources of authority pres­ent in mimetic discourse. It also recasts the problematization of aesthetic totalization from the perspective of the demands of first-­person authority over existence, thus addressing from a new perspective an aspect of novelistic poetics that has long been debated. Suspended disbelief, empathic involvement, knowing complicity, ironic impassivity, detached observation, intimate inhabitation: the prob­lem of characterizing how the novel situates its reader in relation to the lives and worlds it narrates arises in large part from the difficulty of conceptualizing the boundary that manifests the novel qua work of art and the reader. The complexity of this prob­lem recurs throughout novel theory in a range of seemingly unconnected debates over the phenomenology of reading, the epistemological status of the narrator, the aesthetic form (or formlessness) of the novel, and the ethics of the novel. Yet t­here is one archive of rich and rarely examined discourse on the novel that seeks to view ­these vari­ous debates as internally related to—­indeed, expressive of—­a single constellation of philosophical concerns. To call them “philosophical concerns” is perhaps misleading, for they cannot be defined within any par­tic­

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u­lar subfield of philosophy. What is at stake for the thinkers central to this study in their attempts to develop a poetics of the novel, and in their philosophical uses of novelistic form, is nothing less than the re­orientation of philosophy ­toward the meaning of existence. Existentialism and the Poetics of the Novel: Freedom, Worldhood, and Unfinished Form

In focusing upon the philosophical significance of novelistic form, and specifically upon an existentialist poetics of the novel, this book does not thereby seek to deny the force of ideological critiques of realism. Nothing I ­will say h ­ ere should be construed as an argument for or against the po­liti­cal or ideological implications of realist novels. Indeed, I take it that any account of what would make a novel po­liti­cally or ideologically efficacious would have to rest on a view of the philosophical commitments implicit in its repre­sen­ta­tion of self-­knowledge, freedom, and the relation between mind and world. Such a view, in turn, would necessarily raise the question of how we are to understand the relation between philosophy and lit­er­a­ture and, in par­tic­u­lar, between philosophical views and literary forms. This question is of central importance to The Art of Being. In order to appreciate the full complexity of existentialist engagement with the novel, it is necessary to re­orient our sense of how lit­er­a­ture and philosophy may collaborate with one another. Critics have long noted the influence of existentialist ideas on par­tic­u­lar novels.43 Equally established is the idea that the novel thematically anticipates the concerns of existentialism: in the words of Milan Kundera, “All the ­great existential themes Heidegger analyzes in Being and Time—­considering them to have been neglected by all earlier Eu­ro­pean philosophy—­had been unveiled, displayed, illuminated by four centuries of the Eu­ro­pean novel.”44 By contrast, the impact of novelistic form upon existentialist thought has yet to receive full interpretation. Indeed, the value of conceptualizing the relation between literary form and philosophy that is at stake for the existentialist thinkers is systematically obscured by tendencies in earlier approaches to existentialist engagement with the literary. ­Either the alliance of existentialism and lit­er­a­ture is naturalized, thereby implying that a philosophy of concrete existence finds obvious expression in narrative or drama—­the “or” belying a tendency to generalize



across dif­fer­ent genres, and hence to elide the differences in the philosophical implications of their forms u ­ nder the umbrella of the “literary”—or literary works are treated as allegories of existential theories articulated elsewhere in the analytic texts of a phi­los­o­pher’s oeuvre.45 ­W hether the use of literary form is considered as a sort of cosmetic enhancement, vivifying the dull features of philosophical argument, or as an artistic expression of ideas that nevertheless might be stated with l­ittle loss via analytical paraphrase, the philosophical significance of literary form itself is seldom subject to scrutiny. The tendency to view lit­er­a­ture as a vehicle for philosophical explication automatically dispenses with the uniqueness of form and genre, at the cost of making it impossible to say why the novel and not some other (nonfictional) narrative of lived experience might equally be conjured for philosophical use in any par­tic­u­lar instance.46 This turn from existential themes to existential forms, from existential subjects to existential subjectivity, informs the methodology of this book. Bringing philosophy, intellectual history, novel theory, and lit­er­a­ture into a conversation that invites us to rethink their bound­aries, I hope to show that ­t hese fields stand to gain in unexpected ways from one another. Literary forms inspire the re­orientation of philosophical modes of attention, expression, and thought. Philosophical reflection upon the poetics of the novel transforms our understanding of the significance of realism and revivifies the immersive power of classic realist novels such as Austen’s Emma (1815), Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–1872), Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1873–1877), Zola’s L’Œuvre (1885–1886), and James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1880–1881). Fi­nally, a history of philosophy from the point of view of the novel compels us to reexamine what lies at the core of the existentialist tradition. The methodological difference between this study and previous studies on existentialism and lit­er­a­ture requires clarification. Nowhere in this book am I concerned with analyzing classic existentialist themes—­angst, death, nothingness, alienation—in par­tic­u­lar novels, or with offering readings of novels written by existentialist authors. By adopting this limitation, I follow in the footsteps of the thinkers central to this study. Consider, for instance, the texts with which this Introduction begins. It is immediately striking that Kierkegaard and Sartre choose to analyze in ­great depth novels that do not portray any themes that might be considered “existentialist” in a conven-

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tional sense. Moreover, the subject of their inquiry is—as it w ­ ill also be for Beauvoir—­not merely a par­tic­u­lar novel or set of novels, but rather the more fundamental question of what a novel is. This question may appear to pose a potential stumbling block, insofar as virtually any plausible theory of the novel begins with the impossibility of giving an account of the novel in terms of its formal essence. I ­will not address this issue in advance, except to say that this focus on what we may think of as the ontology of the novel elucidates the reasons why thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir are constantly asking a question that seems counterintuitive: w ­ hether or not a par­tic­u­lar work that claims to be a novel actually is a novel. As I argue in Chapter 1, both Kierkegaard and Sartre claim that writing a text that is published as a “novel” does not make one a “novelist,” any more than breathing renders one an authentically existing individual. Grasping the conceptions of novel and novelist that are at stake for ­these thinkers allows us to perceive how the poetics of the novel are profoundly intertwined with integral notions of existentialist thought. Tracing the existentialist’s recognition of the dialectical tension between characterological self-­k nowledge and the totalizing form-­giving agency of the author thus sheds light on philosophically significant dimensions of the form of the novel that have yet to be integrated into discourse on the relation between existentialist philosophy and lit­er­a­ture. It allows us to give a deeper account of why phi­los­o­phers such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus manifest an interest in the poetics of the novel that is virtually unpre­ce­dented within the history of philosophy and lit­er­a­ture.47 (­Here, it is impor­tant to note that subsuming t­ hese thinkers u ­ nder the category of “existentialism” is not unproblematic, for Heidegger and Camus explic­itly disowned affiliation with the term. Yet they continue to be thus known, in part ­because their work is preoccupied with a recognizably existentialist set of prob­lems that emerge from their radical critique of previous philosophical approaches to the question of how ­human existence is to be understood. I s­ hall not address this much-­debated issue further ­here, except to note that a common philosophical interest in the novel also unites t­ hese thinkers.48) The same danger that threatens to implode the aesthetic effect of the novel from within also threatens the re­orientation of philosophy t­ oward the meaning of existence. If an authoritative perspective beyond the first-­ person agential point of view can be dogmatically invoked to account for



the meaning of an individual existence, then theoretical paraphrase may be favored over novel-­reading, and the value of existentialism in relation to speculative philosophy cannot be established. The valorization of the novel as a philosophically exemplary literary form is thus bound up for t­ hese thinkers with the assertion of the primacy of existence undergirding their philosophical methods and aims. Simone de Beauvoir’s defense of the novel in “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics” (1946), an essay based upon an earlier lecture entitled “The Novel and Metaphysics,” articulates this view: The novel is justified only if it is a mode of communication irreducible to any other. While the phi­los­o­pher and the essayist give the reader an intellectual reconstruction of their experience, the novelist claims to reconstitute on an imaginary plane this experience itself as it appears prior to any elucidation. In the real world, the meaning of an object is not a concept graspable by pure understanding. Its meaning is the object as it is disclosed to us in the overall relation we sustain with it, and which is action, emotion, and feeling. We ask novelists to evoke this flesh-­and-­blood presence whose complexity and singular and infinite richness exceed any subjective interpretation. The theoretician wants to compel us to adhere to the ideas that the t­ hing and the event suggested to him. Many minds find such intellectual docility repugnant. They want to retain their freedom of thought; they like instead a story that imitates life’s opacity, ambiguity, and impartiality. Bewitched by the tale that he is told, the reader h ­ ere reacts as if he ­were faced with live events. He is moved, he approves, he becomes indignant, responding with a movement of his entire being before formulating judgments that he draws from himself and that are not presumptuously dictated to him. This is what gives a good novel its value. It allows one to undergo imaginary experiences that are as complete and disturbing as lived experiences. The reader ponders, doubts, and takes sides; and this hesitant development of his thought enriches him in a way that no teaching of doctrine could.49

It is crucial to distinguish the stance that she takes h ­ ere and in such essays as “Que peut la littérature?” (“What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?”) (1965) from the

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idea that the novel surpasses the abstract analy­sis of philosophy through its faithful repre­sen­ta­tion of everyday life. Indeed, Beauvoir challenges the supporters of telquelism who join Roman Jakobson in characterizing realism as a form of artistic repre­sen­ta­tion aiming at “the highest degree of verisimilitude, the maximum faithfulness to life”—an aspiration that leaves realism vulnerable to the charge that it depends upon a conventional, tacit, and uncritical consensus on the nature of real­ity that ultimately reinforces dominant social ideologies.50 In contrast, Beauvoir does not agree that the novel aims at creating theoretical or even practical agreement on the nature of real­ity. In the first place, she argues, real­ity is not a fixed entity that can (even in princi­ple) be given to us in its totality; if it ­were, then literary works could be replaced by some combination of so­cio­log­i­c al, anthropological, or psychological documents that would enlarge our objective knowledge of the world.51 As she argues in “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” the value of the novel does not lie merely in its repre­sen­ta­tion of experience, but rather in the way that it proffers a communion that both overcomes and affirms our singularity. Novels give us what Beauvoir calls “the incommunicable . . . ​the taste of another life.”52 “Incommunicable”: this word takes us to the heart of the troubling paradox of existentialist interest in the novel, a paradox whose significance has never before been recognized by critics of existentialism and lit­er­a­ture. To make it vis­i­ble, we must first acknowledge that for the existentialists, conferring meaning upon one’s existence is a task that can be undertaken only by oneself. Johannes Climacus, the pseudonymous author of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments” (1846) puts the ­matter thus: “Whereas objective thinking invests every­thing in the result and assists all humankind to cheat by copying and reeling off the results and answers, subjective thinking invests every­thing in the pro­cess of becoming and omits the result, partly ­because this belongs to him, since he possesses the way, partly b­ ecause he as existing is continually in the pro­cess of becoming, as is e­ very h ­ uman being who has not permitted himself to be tricked into becoming objective, into inhumanly becoming speculative thought.”53 ­There is no single right answer to the question of one’s existence. ­There is no authority, not even God, who can render one’s life meaningful by an act of sheer definition. With fear and trembling, I alone must stand at the lip of the unfolding pres­ent and leap into the unknown of my existence.



This insistence upon the radical priority of the first-­person standpoint in undertaking the task of existence, over and above any purported objective synthesis of one’s life purpose or meaning, unites the diverse proj­ects of the thinkers considered h ­ ere. However, to assume the position of a novelistic author in relation to one’s character precisely demands that one attempt to inflect the w ­ hole of another person’s life with value—­requires one to taste the ambiguity of a h ­ uman life from within, while at the same time incorporating into this first-­person point of view insights that could be glimpsed only in retrospect from a third-­person perspective. Given that the position of the novel’s author is potentially fraught with what Sartre w ­ ill ­later call the “the bad faith of the novelist—­that so necessary bad faith,” the question of why the existentialist thinkers are drawn to novelistic form becomes a much more complex one.54 The manner in which novelistic forms embody certain philosophical prob­lems about what it means to live a life, to have a world, to find the meaning of one’s existence, must be seen to react upon and enfold the dialectical tension expressed in the opposing demands placed upon novelistic authorship. The first chapter of this study seeks to trace the contours of an existentialist view of novelistic form and its philosophical significance. Chapters 2 and 3 consider how this view illuminates our understanding of the aesthetic strategies by which realist novels enable their readers to enter into the lives and worlds of their characters. The last chapter returns to the prob­lem of totality and novelistic form, examining it through the lens of the novel’s own repre­sen­ta­tion of unfinished works of art. Fi­nally, the Conclusion outlines the broader implications of this study for our thinking about the relation between the novel and philosophy. Chapter 1, “­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Novel,” consists of an explication of three texts—­K ierkegaard’s “From the Papers of One Still Living, Published against His ­Will,” Sartre’s “François Mauriac and Freedom,” and Beauvoir’s “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics”—­which are central to the philosophical investigation of novelistic form in the existentialist tradition. In this chapter, I seek to view the common interest of Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir in the genre of the novel as a prob­lem: that is, as a reflection or indication of the philosophical nature of their interest in literary form. The fundamental concept of what a novel is and how it becomes philosophically significant is not taken as given or obvious, but is in fact a

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­ atter of dispute for ­these thinkers. Their investigations of novelistic form m hinge on a characterization of the relation between the form-­giving activity of the author and the lives that the author seeks to represent. Early on in “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” Beauvoir insists that the capacity of the novel to represent metaphysically significant aspects of life in a manner irreducible to abstract theory rests on its relation to the freedom of its reader: “The novel’s distinctive feature is, precisely, to appeal to his freedom.”55 ­Here, as in Sartre’s essay “François Mauriac and Freedom,” the existentialist investigation of the novel as a philosophically significant form is bound up with the seemingly contradictory demand that the author establish the reader’s encounter with her creation in a manner unconstrained by authorial presence or ideation. “Doubtless,” argues Beauvoir, “this object was constructed by a man and this man had a design. But his presence must be well hidden, other­wise this magical operation of bewitchment by the novel could not be accomplished. Just as a dream breaks into pieces if the dreamer has the slightest perception that it is a dream, the belief in the imaginary vanishes as soon as one considers confronting it with real­ity; one cannot posit the existence of the novelist without denying that of his protagonists” (270– 271). The condition of the reader disclosed in Beauvoir’s analy­sis is highly paradoxical: si­mul­ta­neously ­free and bewitched, in possession of her own faculties of judgment and in the thrall of a masterful illusion, the reader of the novel owes her own freedom and her conviction in the ­free existence of the characters precisely to the careful preservation of the fiction of the author’s absence. In order to compel the kind of imaginative credulity that allows the reader to respond fully and freely with her w ­ hole being, the author must somehow disclose a repre­sen­ta­tion of life that appears to exist entirely in­de­pen­dent of a designing agency. Any apparition of authorial presence broaches the plane of real­ity shared by author and reader, thereby rupturing the spell of illusion. (To the extent that the inheritance of existentialist thought by literary theory has been influenced by structuralist and poststructuralist critiques of the author, the implications of this emphasis upon the nature of authorial being in the existentialist reception of the novel have not received adequate critical attention.56) What lies at the heart of the novel’s philosophical-­literary process—­the unfolding interdependence of readerly freedom, characterological freedom, and a certain paradoxical form of authorial nonexistence—­must itself be subject to interrogation, if the relation



between the novel’s aesthetic strategies and its capacity for philosophical expression are to be understood. Against the philosophical background established by ­these texts, the subsequent chapters of this study examine the deeper implications of an existentialist poetics for our understanding of what novels do. Through close interpretations of the novels of Austen, Brontë, Eliot, James, Flaubert, and Zola, t­hese ­chapters seek to display the workings of the central paradox of existentialist poetics in novelistic repre­sen­ta­tions of characterological freedom, worldhood, and the detotalization of aesthetic form. Chapter 2, “The Character of Self-­Consciousness: Representing Freedom in the Novel of Marriage,” focuses specifically upon the subgenre of the realist novel of marriage, in which the importance of the chief paradox of novelistic poetics emerges with striking clarity. The protagonist of the novel of marriage must freely choose to wed, and yet this in­de­pen­dent and self-­determined choice is highly conditioned by the conventions of narrative closure. What it means for a character to manifest an authoritative point of view upon her own existence within a work of art that necessarily achieves aesthetic totality from a perspective other than her own is foregrounded both thematically and formally in classic realist novels of marriage such as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), Brontë’s Villette (1853), Eliot’s Middlemarch, and James’s The Portrait of a Lady. As E. M. Forster contends in Aspects of the Novel (1927), this prob­lem is traditionally understood in terms of the tension between “­human individuals” and “the plot,” which he “visualize[s] as a sort of higher government official”: an image of oppressive authority that subdues the claims of individuality.57 Yet whereas Forster casts characterological individuality and plot in a conflict that the latter inevitably dominates, an alternative account of the relation between individuality and plot in several key marriage novels is suggested by the existentialist repre­sen­ta­tion of selfhood found in Kierkegaard. What I take from Kierkegaard h ­ ere is not his critical thought on the form of the novel, but rather his poetic repre­sen­ta­tion of the stages of the selfhood delineated in works such as ­Either / Or (1843), Stages on Life’s Way (1845), and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. I appeal to his portrayal of ­these stages not as a theory to be demonstrated by specific novels, but as an intensely dialectical account of the transition from the aesthetic stage to the ethical stage and then its transcendence: a “portrait,” if you ­will, that yields an existential framework within which to unfold the interrelated tensions and

The Point of View of Existence


turning points of a narrative structure in which the inwardness of the self finds expression precisely in and through the pro­gress of the plot. A ­ fter outlining the workings of this narrative progression in the novels of Austen, Brontë, and Eliot, I turn to an extended reading of James’s The Portrait of a Lady. What is at stake for both James and Kierkegaard is nothing less than the possibility of representing the freedom and inwardness of the self, of portraying that which renders existence insusceptible to objective or speculative forms of understanding. In James’s novel, as in Kierkegaard’s thought, the perspective from which the relation of ­these stages to one another can be grasped is never open to invocation. The intimate relation between this narrative structure and the central poetic paradox of the novel yields a new interpretation of the significance of the enigmatic and perennially reviled ending of The Portrait of a Lady, which deliberately thwarts readerly desire for objective forms of finalization. Chapter 3, “Detotalized Totality: Situation, World, and Being-­in-­the-­ Novel,” turns from the relation between characterological freedom and plot to the relation between self-­k nowledge and the disclosure of worldhood in the poetics of the realist novel. The world of the novel is often described in terms that echo the paradoxes of characterological existence. Fundamental to classic accounts of the experience of novel-­reading is the sense that one enters into, inhabits, and becomes intimate with a fictional world that is both absolutely distinct from and yet as palpable and vivid as one’s ­actual world. Through a close reading of Beauvoir’s essay “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” I show that the difficulty of conceptualizing this paradoxical nature of the novel’s world may be addressed through the existentialist notion of situation. Such an understanding of situation in Heidegger and Sartre sheds light on the spellbinding and immersive worlds of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Eliot’s Middlemarch, James’s The Portrait of a Lady, and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. In this chapter, the implications of an existentialist poetics for the theory of the novel emerge most clearly. The mutual imbrication of readerly subjectivity, character life, and novelistic world marks a critical feature of world disclosure in the novel that is elided in dominant theoretical accounts of novelistic realism. If, as Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir argue, the novel is a form that aims to impart a par­tic­u­lar kind of understanding—an understanding of what it means to live another life—­then any poetics of the novel



must yield an account of how the repre­sen­ta­tion of character, consciousness, and agency in the novel is bound up with a portrayal of fictional worldhood. Crucially, the two dominant paradigms in novel theory for describing the portrayal of worldhood in the realist novel, empiricist and so­cio­log­i­cal, fail to take into account the unique character of readerly subjectivity that the novel aims to produce. Hence they underestimate and even obscure the implications of the aesthetic paradoxes alluded to above. (The consequences of this omission are apparent in diverse fields of novel theory, from analyses of realism to ethical criticism, in which the implications of the relation between this world and the world of the novel or between the experience of novel-­ reading and a­ ctual life remain conceptually tangled. Clearly, the experience of sympathetic identification with a character in fiction is manifestly distinct from the experience of sympathy with a person in real life, and the repre­sen­ta­tion of a ­thing in the novel is essentially dif­fer­ent from the historical existence of the object in the ­actual world. Yet despite widespread acknowl­edgment of ­these truisms, it is not uncommon for debates over the value of novel-­reading to proceed as if any plausible defense of the practice depends upon a quite literal transfer of knowledge or experience from forays into the other-­world of the novel to the realm of this world.) Neither the empiricist nor the so­cio­log­i­cal approach precludes the other. Many theorists of the novel draw upon a combination of ­these paradigms. However, distinguishing them allows us to isolate the dif­fer­ent philosophical assumptions that inflect analyses of worldhood in the novel and that ultimately promote the assimilation of the novel to extra-­literary forms of knowledge. First, the empiricist approach claims that the novel produces a convincing rendering of real­ity via the precision and indexicality with which sensations and perceptions are portrayed. This approach figures most prominently in Ian Watt’s influential account of the relation between formal realism and empiricism in The Rise of the Novel. According to Watt, the empiricist phi­ uman Understanding—in losophy articulated in Locke’s An Essay Concerning H par­tic­u­lar, the view that the senses “at first let in par­tic­u­lar ideas, and furnish the yet empty cabinet” of the mind—­fi nds literary expression in the novel’s treatment of both sensory particulars and ­human consciousness.58 Analyzing the work of Defoe and Richardson in Lockean terms, he seeks to demonstrate that their “prose aims exclusively at what Locke defined as the proper purpose of language, ‘to convey the knowledge of ­things’ ” and that

The Point of View of Existence


their “novels as a ­whole pretend to be no more than a transcription of real life.”59 The idea of transcription invoked ­here is a direct echo of Balzac’s claim in the 1842 preface to The H ­ uman Comedy: “Chance is the greatest romancer in the world; we have only to study it. French society would be the real author; I should only be the secretary.”60 Passively taking dictation at the elbow of history, Balzac envisions his role as one of “setting up an inventory” and “gathering the principal facts,” as he devotes himself to the h ­ umble and “rigorous reproduction” of observed experience. The figure of the “secretary” connotes both obedience and a lack of creativity. A secretary garners no praise for the original embellishments he makes to a given document. He is noted only for the fidelity, accuracy, and perfection with which he reproduces them. In Balzac’s secretary, we thus glimpse the forerunner of the instrument frequently cited in l­ater empiricist approaches to novelistic realism: the camera. The association of realist style with overt visuality is a striking consequence of the Lockean empiricist model.61 As Linda Nochlin notes, the writer “Mérimee was criticized for his ‘photographic method’ and for ‘daguerreotyping’ his characters; and the Realists as a w ­ hole ­were accused of making ‘a sort of daguerrean counter­proof of daily life.”62 The blank wax of consciousness, the waiting page of the secretary’s note­pad, the photosensitive plate of the camera: each metonymic ideal of novelistic prose in the empiricist paradigm vaunts a certain passive and impartial mechanism, a neutral efficiency, by which the world “as it is” may be registered and reproduced at once. Thus critics who draw upon this paradigm link the rise of the novel to the epistemology under­lying law courts, investigative journalism, photography, and ethnographic anthropological practices.63 In the empiricist paradigm, the novel satisfies readerly desire to access the real­ity of its world by interceding in a manner as transparent and fine as pos­si­ble, granting plea­sure through maximal contact with the objects of description. It is a direct correlate of this view that novels may be read in part as texts that seek to represent accurately the material and psychological texture of a historical milieu, or as documents that provide close and perceptive descriptions of con­temporary environments and persons. By contrast, the so­cio­log­i­cal approach to conceptualizing realist repre­ sen­ta­tion of worldhood focuses upon the novel’s capacity to place the individual within a milieu by depicting the workings of larger social institutions and classes to which she belongs. According to the so­cio­log­i­cal paradigm,



the individual within the novel appears as part of a larger real­ity insofar as she both acts and is acted upon by the social system to which she belongs. The novel is to be read according to ­whether it unmasks or is in fact complicit in masking the historical, social, and ideological forces that condition ­human subjectivity at a given point in time. Its generic forms and preoccupations are to be understood in terms of ­these dual possibilities of masking and unmasking, so that the extent to which it actually succeeds in offering a “true” analy­sis of a given society is conditioned by its subversion of or pandering to dominant class ideologies. Whereas the empirical paradigm imbues the poetics of the novel with an air of passive detachment, the so­cio­ log­i­cal paradigm restores its interpretive agency. Yet no sooner is this agency restored than it is challenged. For the so­cio­log­i­cal approach to the novel’s disclosure of a world insists that its repre­sen­ta­tion ­either reveals or conceals fundamental facts of historical development, facts that are in princi­ple attainable from sources other than the novel itself. The so­cio­log­i­cal paradigm opens a gap between the critical description of the novel and the fictional style and content of the ­actual novel, and this gap both credits and discredits at once the unique contribution of the novel to historical understanding. Thus Raymond Williams frames the role of the realist novel from Dickens to Hardy as the chronicler of “an impor­tant split . . . ​between knowable relationships and an unknown, unknowable, overwhelming society.”64 According to him, the novels of Eliot or Hardy describe small-­scale situations as an artistic response to the rapid economic and so­cio­log­i­cal changes that accompany industrialization: “the very rapidly increasing size and scale and complexity of communities . . . ​the growth of towns and especially of cities and of a metropolis; t​ he increasing division and complexity of ­labour; the altered and critical relations between and within social classes.”65 His analy­sis suggests that, as Lukács puts it, “The ­great realist writer is alone able to grasp and portray trends and phenomena truthfully in their historical development.”66 In such statements, the presumed greatness of the novelist qua realist writer is both lauded and subverted. The novelist is ­great, but not ­great enough to establish a distinctive standard of greatness. Rather, the novel’s depiction of a world is to be valued insofar as it upholds the standards of historical truth. By linking the novel so closely with the larger social and historical circumstances it portrays, the so­cio­log­i­cal paradigm is committed to a perpetual vacillation between the

The Point of View of Existence


role of the novel as historical document and the diagnosis of the novel as historical product or symptom, between the virtue of the novel as a source of historical insight and the vice of the novel as ideological instrument. As power­ful and fruitful as ­these two paradigms have proved, their assumptions work to deemphasize the manner in which the novel aims to represent something other than a detailed rec­ord of observed sense impressions, something besides a perceptive analy­sis of a historical and socioeconomic milieu. The means by which the realist novel becomes an utterly compelling work of art are ultimately obscured by theories that cannot adequately distinguish its purposes from so­cio­log­i­cal, anthropological, journalistic, scientific, or historical accounts of the relation between individual and world. If the novel is to be read b­ ecause of the empiricist account of mind and real­ity it yields, or ­because it reveals the ways in which we are ­shaped by the larger structures of state, economy, and society, then psychological case studies, detailed ethnographies, cultural histories, or works of investigative journalism w ­ ill serve equally in its stead. To reenvision the novel’s unique mode of world disclosure is hence to claim that the novel has a stake in conceptualizing worldhood. Chapter 4, “The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art,” turns once again to the interrelation between characterological freedom and worldhood, this time from the perspective of the crisis of totalized aesthetic form that is central to an existentialist poetics of the novel. I begin with a question that has, to my knowledge, never been asked before: Why is the realist novel the first literary genre to engage in extended and significant depictions of unfinished works of art? ­A fter sketching a brief overview of turning points in the history of conceptions of incomplete works of art, from Michaelangelo’s non finito to the Romantic view of the fragment, I argue that only an existentialist view of the relation between freedom, totality, and creation can adequately account for the significant presence of unfinished works of art in the novel. Realist novels embed within their depictions of unfinished art the human-­all-­too-­human urge ­toward a totalizing repre­sen­ta­tion. This urge inevitably falsifies the situatedness and freedom of the very ­human existence it seeks to portray, and must be overcome by the poetic strategies of the work of art itself. The unfinished work of art in the novel thus becomes both elegy and herald of the possibility of capturing existence in art. Close readings of Austen’s Emma and Zola’s L’Œuvre reveal that impor­tant



novelistic scenes depict not only the unfinished works of art themselves, but also the pro­cesses by which it becomes pos­si­ble to view the apparently finished work of art—­a nd hence the novel itself—as existing in a dialectical relation to a conception of the work as strikingly and perpetually unfinished. In the Conclusion, I return once more to a question that is central to existentialist thought on the novel: How can a literary form be, or become, philosophically significant? I summarize the significance of this study for new approaches to Socrates’s “ancient quarrel,” and show that the engagement of Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir with the novel shatters conventional paradigms for thinking about the relation between lit­er­a­ture and philosophy.67 What the existentialists discover in the novel is an art of being: a poetic form that transforms our understanding of the conditions ­under which it is pos­ si­ble to enter into the life and world of another, and that makes pos­si­ble reflection upon the meaning of existence.


­ oward an Existentialist Poetics T of the Novel


On September 7, 1838, a twenty-­five-­year-­old university student who ­until then has been infamous only for spending prodigious amounts of other ­people’s money “on the theater, on purchasing volumes of philosophy and lit­er­a­ture, at cafés, and on chic coats” becomes at last a published author.1 The slim volume that bestows this status is a literary review, enigmatically entitled “From the Papers of One Still Living, Published against His W ­ ill.” Its subject is a novel published the previous year by a thirty-­ three-­year-­old writer, known for his melancholic fairy­tales and impecunious origins. A week before the review is to appear, Hans Christian Andersen confides the fretful sensitivity of a fledgling novelist to his almanac: “Experienced m ­ ental torture about Kierkegaard’s as yet unpublished critique.”2 The following week, another entry: “An atrocious letter from Wulff and immediately thereafter Kierkegaard’s critique. Eduard gave me cooling powders. Walked as if in a coma.”3 The review is intended from its inception for publication in the critical journal Perseus, whose editor Johan Ludvig Heiberg reigns over the Danish literary and intellectual scene. But the journal folds just as the manuscript is complete, and Kierkegaard elects to publish the review instead on a commission basis with the bookseller



Reitzel, to whom his f­ather has, only the year before, paid off his debt of 381 rixdollars. Between June 1839 and March 1850, 121 copies of the review are sold, yielding nearly forty-­three rixdollars in total—­enough, perhaps, to cover Kierkegaard’s expenses for paper and printing.4 Critical responses to this work have drawn attention to the historical conditions surrounding both Andersen’s rising literary fame and Kierke­ gaard’s nascent philosophical aspirations, which appear to heighten the stakes of the encounter. Only a Fiddler, Andersen’s third novel, is translated into German, Dutch, and Swedish, and Andersen is on the brink of international recognition when the relatively unknown Kierkegaard sets about reviewing his work. Despite Andersen’s formidable reputation, however, Kierkegaard’s biographer Joakim Garff notes that Andersen is “situated problematically with re­spect to the [Danish] establishment, in par­t ic­u ­lar to the Heiberg circle”—an exclusive group of the leading writers, scholars, and actors of the city, who gather at the home of the critic and poet J. L. Heiberg and his ­mother, the novelist Thomasine Gyllembourg. Insinuating himself into this influential group of Danish literary elites is a cherished ambition of the young Kierkegaard, who often shows up at their gatherings uninvited and ­will ­later send Heiberg unsolicited copies of all of his works. Since Andersen is seen as an “uncouth and eccentric” outsider beneath the recognition of the aristocratic Heibergs, he may serve as an easy target for Kierkegaard, who both in this review and in his ­later work ­will use his talent as a critic to curry ­favor with the Heibergs by flattering the anonymously published novels of Gyllembourg.5 What critics have less often emphasized, however, is the ambition of this early work to delineate a poetics of the novel that unites the aesthetic, philosophical, and existential implications of its form. Kierkegaard makes the radical proposal that what renders the novel a work of art—an entity that must be viewed as a necessary whole—is what he calls a “life-­v iew” (Livs-­Anskuelse): A life-­view is ­really providence in the novel; it is its deeper unity, which makes the novel have the center of gravity in itself. A life-­view ­frees it from being arbitrary or purposeless, since the purpose is immanently pres­ent everywhere in the work of art [Konstværket]. But when such a life-­view is lacking, the novel ­either seeks to insinuate some theory

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


(dogmatic, doctrinaire short novels) at the expense of poetry or it makes a finite and incidental contact with the author’s flesh and blood.6

Kierkegaard’s specification of a “life-­view” as preventing the degradation of the work of art into the direct appeal of speculative argument or the unmediated intrusion of a personal cri de cœur is hence not unrelated to the constellation of subjective thinking, the art of indirect or doubly reflected communication, and the essential secret that is delineated in the section of Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments” (1846) entitled “Pos­si­ble / Actual ­Theses by Lessing”: “Wherever the subjective is of importance in knowledge and appropriation is therefore the main point, communication is a work of art [Kuntsværk]; it is doubly reflected, and its first form is the subtlety that the subjective individuals must be held devoutly apart from one another and must not run coagulatingly together in objectivity.”7 Traditionally, commentators recognize the reference to the “work of art” (emphasis on “art”) ­here as an allusion to Kierkegaard’s literary strategies, but I wish to take this line of thought even further by suggesting that the context of the passage reveals the extent to which Kierkegaard is thinking explic­itly about a “work of art” (emphasis on “work”) in the sense of a necessary totality that thereby enables what Mikhail Bakhtin has called the “author / ­beholder” to view it as a unified and given w ­ hole.8 The work of art thus holds the subjectivities it represents “apart” from the subjectivities that behold it at an absolute and unbridgeable distance. In this sense, the infinite distance of art si­mul­ta­neously enables the communication of a life-­view and is achieved by it. The primacy of this issue is made clear in a key passage from the repeatedly revised but only posthumously published The Book on Adler, long considered a crucial text for any discussion of Kierkegaard’s view of authority, in which the aesthetic function of the life-­view is once again explained in terms of the need to construct and maintain an essential partition between the reader and the subjectivity portrayed in a work of art: The art in all communication is to come as close as pos­si­ble to actuality, to contemporaries in the role of readers, and yet at the same time to have the distance of a point of view, the reassuring, infinite distance of ideality from them. . . . ​If this ­were not an imaginary construction, if



no imaginary constructor w ­ ere pres­ent, if no life-­view ­were represented—­ then such a work, regardless of the talent it might display, would be only consuming. It would be unsettling to come in contact with it ­because it would only convey the impression of an a­ ctual person who prob­ably in the next moment would go insane. It is one ­t hing to portray a passionate person when t­ here are both the accompaniment of someone more power­ful and a view of life that can control him. . . . ​ It is something e­ lse that a passionate person, in his very own personal actuality through the means of a book, by becoming an author breaks loose and, as it ­were, assaults the rest of us with his unclarified doubt and his torments.9

This passage suggests several key insights into Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship, in which an “infinite distance of ideality” is made to separate the perspective of the author (and subsequently reader) from the utterances of the passionate personality who speaks through the text. His analy­sis underscores the degree to which he views the edifying potential of the text—­ that is, its capacity to communicate existential insight and to call forth self-­ reflection—as entirely reliant upon the boundary that delineates the work of art as a w ­ hole and separates it from any direct encounter with real­ity. Bakhtin’s elaboration of the meaning of “infinite distance” in Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity (ca. 1920–1923) illuminates the stakes of Kierkegaard’s concern: “­There can be no question of any properly theoretical correspondence or agreement between an author and a hero, for the relationship h ­ ere is of a completely dif­fer­ent order. What is constantly ignored in all such juxtapositions is that the ­whole of the author and the ­whole of the hero belong to dif­fer­ent planes—­d if­fer­ent in princi­ple; the very form of the relationship to an idea and even to the theoretical ­whole of a world view is ignored.”10 The distance between author and hero is not relative, not a m ­ atter of degree of vision or comprehension, but is rather rendered absolute by art. A character represented within a work of art does not and cannot actually take on the point of view that is manifested by the work as a ­whole, nor can an author merge entirely with a point of view that is “immanent . . . ​[to] the becoming of a lived life” and si­mul­ta­neously endow this characterological life with aesthetic form.11 To conflate art and existence in this manner would subvert the integrity of existential inwardness that is both the subject of the

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


communication and its meaning. Furthermore, it would threaten the completeness and unity of the aesthetic work, a unity that comes to expression as the internally related aspects of any repre­sen­ta­tion of existence coalesce in the form of a meaningful life-­view. Once the life-­view of the work of art is no longer v­ iable as a given ­whole, what remains is an unresolved existential issue that the author attempts to pass along, in what Kierkegaard characterizes as an irresponsible abnegation, or failure, of what Bakhtin calls authorial position. The vivid meta­phor of a dangerous personality that loosens its bounds and “assaults” the reader overturns the Platonic conception of art’s dangers—­insofar as art, in Kierkegaard’s scenario, protects its beholder from the violation or contamination that can beset the wrongful use of authority—­and, by extension, magnifies the stakes inherent in Kierkegaard’s own use of novelistic form. In what follows, I advance an interpretation of Kierkegaard’s conception of a life-­view as it is articulated in “From the Papers of One Still Living,” before turning to consider his account of its significance for the novelistic work of art. Kierkegaard’s account of authorial position has three intertwined aspects: existential, philosophical, and aesthetic. As critics have noted, the interdependence of ­these dimensions reveals the extent to which Kierke­ gaard’s concept of a “life-­view” is imprinted by his reception of Friedrich Schleiermacher, whose transposition of the originally epistemological concept of Weltanschauung to aesthetic and existential registers in Confidential Letters Concerning Schlegel’s “Lucinde” (1800) is highly regarded by Kierke­ gaard (“an example of how a review can be highly productive” and “a true work of art,” he notes in a journal entry dated October 1835), and also of Heiberg, the dominant representative of Hegelian aesthetics in the Danish Golden Age.12 Yet the greatest influence is undoubtedly furnished by the poet and phi­los­o­pher Poul Martin Møller, Kierkegaard’s beloved teacher, whose appeal to a “life-­view” in his philosophical and cultural critique of con­temporary nihilism integrates several concerns that ­will be central to Kierkegaard’s l­ater work.13 As we trace the working out of this concept in this early review, it becomes clear that Kierkegaard seeks to elaborate its meaning in markedly existentialist terms that break with the principal aesthetic concerns of the idealist tradition. In “From the Papers of One Still Living,” Kierkegaard repeatedly argues that Only a Fiddler falls short of what “poetic production . . . ​in the domain



of the short novel and novel” requires, insofar as its author lacks a life-­view (83). What is the existentialist significance of a life-­view, and what is the meaning of Kierkegaard’s claim that Andersen utterly lacks one? Could it not be claimed that ­every life automatically evinces some form of a view on life, no ­matter how incoherent, negative, or liable to critique? “To this I must reply,” writes Kierkegaard, that I have never maintained that an idea as such . . . ​is to be regarded as a life-­view, and furthermore, in order to embark upon this examination, I must have a ­little more detailed information about the content of this idea. If the idea is that life is not a pro­cess of development but a pro­cess of the downfall of the ­great and distinguished that would sprout up, then I think I can indeed justly protest against the application of the designation “life-­view” to this, insofar as one ­will agree with me at all that skepticism as such is not a theory of knowledge. (79–80)

By invoking the idea of skepticism, Kierkegaard reveals that the life-­view must take a certain form or orientation in relation to that which it is expected to answer. If Andersen should keep advancing the doubtful question—­“Is life r­ eally meaningful?”—­only to fall into endless reflection upon and reaction to each changing life circumstance, the resulting standpoint of bitterness and dissatisfaction in the absence of any undeniable proof that might defeat his skepticism cannot rightfully be called a view of life. A life-­view, I interpret Kierkegaard to suggest, must take the form of an answer to a very dif­fer­ent question, namely: “How s­ hall I live my life so that it is meaningful?” The opposing orientations provided by t­ hese two questions are essential to interpreting Kierkegaard’s account of how a life-­view is to be attained: If we now ask how such a life-­view is brought about, then we answer that for the one who does not allow his life to fizzle out too much but seeks as far as pos­si­ble to lead its single expressions back to himself again, ­there must necessarily come a moment in which a strange light spreads over life without one’s therefore even remotely needing to have understood all pos­si­ble particulars, to the progressive understanding of which, however, one now has the key. Th ­ ere must come a moment, I say, when, as [Carl] Daub observes, life is understood backward through

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the idea. If one has not yet come this far, yes, even totally lacks understanding of what all this means, then one comes to set oneself a life-­task parodically, ­either by its already having been solved, if one can call it that, though in another sense it has never been posed, or by its never being able to be solved. (77–78)

Whereas the question “Is life ­really meaningful?” opens into a series of contingent reflections upon the vicissitudes of life experience, invariably ending in an anxious uncertainty that is “never . . . ​able to be solved,” the question “How s­ hall I live my life so that it is meaningful?” is to be answered in the form of a life commitment. This commitment, inherently expressive of a decisive faith in one’s capacity to live out the meaning so resolved, transcends the flux of mood and circumstance by being made not conditional upon them. A life-­view is hence, as Kierkegaard puts it, the outcome of having set oneself a “life-­task.” The life-­task yields a “backward” understanding of life precisely b­ ecause it lies before one to be lived, as opposed to the dogmatic formula that appears to have “already . . . ​solved” the prob­lem of life while “never [having] posed” it. In light of this interpretation, Kierkegaard’s other­wise enigmatic diagnosis of Andersen as being unable to achieve a life-­view due to having “skipped over his epic [stage]” becomes comprehensible (70). Conceding that Andersen’s talents as a lyric poet allow him to imagine vari­ous inward moods and sensibilities, Kierkegaard maintains that one is nevertheless unable to find in Andersen signs of “a proper epic development . . . ​a deep and earnest embracing of a given actuality, no m ­ atter how one loses oneself in it, as a life-­strengthening rest in it and admiration of it, without the necessity of its ever coming to expression as such, but which can never have anything but the highest importance for the individual, even though it all went so unnoticed that the mood itself seemed born in secrecy and buried in silence” (71). ­These remarks on lyric and epic are greatly compressed, but they call to mind Kierkegaard’s signature distinction between what he w ­ ill ­later call the “aesthetic” stage of life and the “ethical” stage. Characterized by an infinite fragmentation of experience into vari­ous poetic moods, the aesthetic stage is tinged with negativity, afflicted by a world-­weary cynicism, and the product of a singular passivity. By contrast, the ethical stage is associated with a concrete commitment to real­ity.14 If, in the lyric stage, the poet achieves



freedom from the actuality of the prosaic world through the inward musings of imagination, in the epic stage he must transition from poetic self-­absorption and seriously affirm the givenness of the a­ ctual world. Kierkegaard goes to surprising length in the review to characterize the conditions for a successful transition between the two stages: If we now take a closer look at how, for a temperament such as the Andersenian, the transition from the lyric to the epic would have to have been realized . . . ​then we can see that ­either this must have been done by Andersen’s having dedicated, with Pythagorean silence, a period of his life to a serious study . . . ​or if the age through a colossal ­union of a large number of forces . . . ​had pointed absolutely undeviatingly to a single goal and had worked with such energy t­ oward it that such a striving must grip him for some time and yield the life-­ supplement necessary for him. (71)

Such claims are difficult to make sense of ­unless we assume that the very motivation to sustain a lengthy course of philosophical study or to participate in the historical transformation of an age is evinced (or can only be found) by posing the implicit question to oneself—­“How am I to live so that my life becomes meaningful?”—­a question to which, then, the under­lying orientation of one’s own serious life commitment may be seen to provide some answer. Kierkegaard’s diagnosis of the consequences of the lack of a life-­view therefore reveals the inseparability of the author’s existential development from the philosophical dimension of the work, or its “truth”: “To the extent that he had experienced much, to the extent that he had ­really participated in life’s vicissitudes . . . ​to the same extent one would for a long time feel tempted to believe in the truth of his conception of life” (80). The conceptions of truth and belief that Kierkegaard invokes ­here clearly do not correspond to ­either empirical or analytic truth. What is at stake is not a state of affairs or a concept, but rather a “conception of life”: a capacity to navigate existence according to an understanding of what it means to do so, and hence a capacity that coordinates complex volitional, emotional, and intellectual orientations to the w ­ hole of one’s own existence. (In a journal entry dated August 1, 1835, approximately three years before the publication of

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“From the Papers of One Still Living,” Kierkegaard writes: “The ­thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”15) To be “tempted to believe” in such a “truth” would be then in some sense to accept the necessity of re­orienting one’s entire being in light of the meaningfulness inherent in that act. Wittgenstein’s description of an exemplary scene of re­orientation in Culture and Value is relevant: Instruction in a religious faith . . . ​would have to take the form of a portrayal, a description, of that system of reference, while at the same time being an appeal to conscience. And this combination would have to result in the pupil himself, of his own accord, passionately taking hold of the system of reference. It would be as though someone ­were first to let me see the hopelessness of my situation and then show me the means of rescue ­until, of my own accord, or not at any rate led to it by my instructor, I ran to it and grasped it.16

What is crucial h ­ ere is not the grasp of some new piece of knowledge, but rather the meaning of life itself. The instantaneous and total character of such a conversion distinguishes Kierkegaard’s conception of existential truth from the banal notion of the “truth” manifested by one’s subjective experience. Indeed, Kierkegaard maintains that a­ ctual experience as such is not ultimately sufficient in and of itself to generate the force manifested by a life-­view, for experience itself is by necessity incomplete, contradictory, subject to historical contingency, and open to perpetual development and reinterpretation in light of further experience. “A life-­view,” he writes, “is more than a quintessence or a sum of propositions maintained in its abstract neutrality; it is more than experience [Erfaring], which as such is always fragmentary. It is, namely, the transubstantiation of experience; it is an unshakable certainty in oneself won from all experience [Empirie]” (76–77). The unity of the life-­view cannot be derived from the transcendence of ­experience, or from an abstraction of it. Rather it is “won from all experience,” and involves the mastery of lived experience through the decisive conversion and re­orientation of the ­whole. Thus Kierkegaard speaks repeatedly of confidence rather than of justified knowledge, of “unshakeable certainty in oneself” rather than of certainty in the known, when describing the consolidation of a life-­view.17



Having established the existential and philosophical significance of the concept of the life-­view, we are now in the position to grasp Kierkegaard’s aesthetic use of the term. A novel without a life-­view, he argues, fails to convince its readers of its internal formal necessity, of its givenness qua work of art. What is sought in this regard is not merely harmony or reconciliation of distinct ele­ments, but rather a purposiveness and decisiveness that lends temporal cohesion to a sequence of events and makes pos­si­ble the attribution of conclusive meaning. In the absence of a life-­view, plot and characterological development seem arbitrary, senseless, artificial, or unjustified. Of the ill-­fated trajectory of Andersen’s protagonist Christian, Kierkegaard raises several doubts as to ­whether he is “actually represented as a genius by the author, and . . . ​­whether sufficient ­factors are then procured to bring about his ruination” (95): As for his ­whole host of episodes, it is quite certain that not one of them, nor the ­whole lot together, would have been able to crush even a moderate genius. We learn that he belongs to the pietists. To make him one of t­ hese is not difficult; for this Andersen needs only paper and pen, and it has, of course, become almost a Sprichwort [saying] to become “religious” when one cannot make good in the world. From illustrating how he could become that and the most probable symptom of it, Andersen has exempted himself. On the ­whole, he is better suited to rushing off in a coach and seeing Eu­rope than to looking into the history of hearts. (100–101)

The perception of a vacuum of internal causality within the work of art leads the reader to attribute par­tic­u­lar narrative outcomes to the dogmatic authority of the novelist, whose exercise of it appears detached from any responsibility to the work as a ­whole. The uncertain muddle of haphazardness and overdetermination effectively compromises the realism of character and plot by diverting the reader’s absorption from the plane of real­ity determined by the work. Moreover, according to Kierkegaard, the internal relations of vari­ous ele­ments within the novel are not perspicuous without a life-­view: “On the one hand, single propositions stick out like hieroglyphs that at times are the object of a pious veneration. On the other, [Andersen] dwells on the individual

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phenomena coming from his own experience, which at times are further elevated to propositions and are then to be subsumed u ­ nder the previous class, and at times are brought out more as something experienced, without one’s therefore being rightly able, as long as ­these remain in their bachelor state, to draw any further conclusions from them” (77). Just as the simile of the “hieroglyphs” evokes a foreign and unassimilable ele­ment, the “bachelor state” of the “individual phenomena coming from his own experience” suggests a subjective experience that is insufficiently developed to merge with the w ­ hole in a fruitful manner. The theoretical or speculative conclusiveness of par­tic­u­lar propositions results in a distinct lack of aesthetic conclusiveness. Taken as a work of art, Andersen’s novel remains impossible to consummate as a concrete and given totality. To speak of “Andersen as a novelist” is therefore, as Kierkegaard’s subtitle emphasizes, not to speak of the historical person of the author, but rather of the agent of the form-­giving activity that renders the novel a convincing work of art. Yet the heart of Kierkegaard’s critique lies in the claim that Andersen’s failure to attain the “epic” stage in his own life is internally related to his failure to become an author in the aesthetic sense. It is impossible to see how the two are related in Kierkegaard’s view without acknowledging that the novel is a very specific form of art for Kierkegaard, one that inherits and advances the challenge of totality in a manner distinct from that of lyric and epic.18 This idea—­which to my knowledge is not emphasized in previous criticism—­appears in two key passages of Kierkegaard’s review: But precisely b­ ecause Andersen thus cannot separate the poetic from himself, ­because, so to speak, he cannot get rid of it, but as soon as a poetic mood has acquired freedom to act, this is immediately overwhelmed, with or without his w ­ ill, by the prosaic—­precisely therefore is it impossible to obtain a total impression from Andersen’s short novels. . . . ​A nd certainly it is undeniable that Andersen could become a very poetic person in a poem, in which case all his poetry would be understood in its fragmentary truth. (75–76) The poetic production proper, especially in the domain of the short novel and novel, is nothing but a copious second power, shaping itself in



a freer world and moving about in it, reproducing from what has already in vari­ous ways been poetically experienced to the first power. Moreover, in Andersen’s novels . . . ​one misses the consolidating total survey (a life-­view). (83)

To adapt a formulation that Beauvoir w ­ ill ­later develop in “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics” (1946), we might say that the novel is a metaphysically significant form insofar as it demands that the author posit herself in relation to the totality of the world and to the temporal w ­ hole of (con­temporary) life.19 Whereas the self that is arrested at the lyrical stage and volatilized in a disconnected series of moods, incidents, and immediate but transient longings might nevertheless be able to master a poetic production that takes the form of a fragment, Kierkegaard maintains that the “total impression” that constitutes a novel precisely demands a reconciliation with totality in real­ity—­totality as such—­before it may become aesthetically formative. (­Here, clearly Kierkegaard’s conception of the novel is in direct opposition to Schlegel’s, a fact that inflects his critique of Schlegel’s theory of the novel in the section of On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates [1841] that was most likely written during or immediately following his com­ ill pletion of “From the Papers of One Still Living.”20) In epic, as Bakhtin w ­later note in “Epic and Novel,” the necessary aesthetic consummation is wrought in part by the absolute separateness imposed by the temporal distance of the epic world; in the case of the novel, however, the contemporaneity of the life-­world it represents poses a new formal challenge to the demand that the author maintain a position that is in princi­ple inaccessible to the hero in order to consummate his existence.21 It is precisely this challenge, I argue, that is answered in the form of Kierkegaard’s conception of the life-­ view and his articulation of its existential and aesthetic implications. If we take a life-­view to be the very condition of the totalization demanded by the novel as a work of art, we may therefore conclude the following: a life-­view is not represented within the novelistic work in the form of a “philosophy” or “dogma”—­and even less so in the guise of a par­tic­u­lar subjective experience—­but rather, it is only by virtue of a life-­view that a novel may succeed at representing anything at all. Bakhtin’s reflections on authorial position are once again relevant to the problematic that Kierke­ gaard elucidates:

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The hero’s consciousness, his feeling, and his desire of the world (his object-­directed emotional and volitional attitude or posture) are enclosed on all sides, as if within a band, by the author’s consummating consciousness of the hero and his world; the hero’s self-­utterances are encompassed and permeated by the utterances of the author about the hero. The hero’s vital (cognitive-­ethical) interestedness in the event of his own lived life is encompassed by the author’s artistic interestedness in the hero and his life. In this sense, aesthetic objectivity aims in a direction dif­fer­ent from that of cognitive and ethical objectivity. . . . ​ The center of value for aesthetic objectivity is the ­whole of the hero and of the event of his lived life, and all values that are ethical and cognitive must be subordinated to that w ­ hole. Aesthetic objectivity, in other words, encompasses and comprises cognitive-­ethical objectivity. It should be clear, therefore, that cognitive and ethical values can no longer function h ­ ere as moments which bring about the consummation of the ­whole of a hero and his life. In this sense, the consummating moments are transgredient not only to the hero’s a­ ctual consciousness but also to his potential consciousness—­his consciousness extended in a dotted line, as it w ­ ere: the author knows and sees more not only in the direction in which the hero is looking and seeing, but also in a dif­fer­ent direction, in a direction which is in princi­ple inaccessible to the hero himself; it is precisely this position that an author must assume in relation to a hero.22

What Andersen lacks is this capacity to absent himself from ongoing cognitive-­ethical events of his protagonist’s existence and to contemplate the protagonist as a completed ­whole. Thus Kierkegaard repeatedly insists that Andersen’s failure as an author is manifest in his forced attempts to consummate the meaning of his protagonist’s life via plot events, narratorial incursions, and other interventions that strive ­toward establishing some cognitive-­ethical import. Let us return to the passage quoted early on in the Introduction: Andersen in the course of the narrative loses [tabe] his poetic balance and thereby drops [tabe] his poetic characters out of his poetic creator hand so that t­ hese even set themselves in opposition to him in a real



existence just as valid as his own. . . . ​With ­these individuals, who thus in ­every such moment cease to be merely poetic characters, Andersen now makes contact as he does with other beings on this, our earth. That is, on the one hand he conceives an entirely worldly love for some individual, who of course in most cases is his hero but whom he now treats more as a client he is interested in and at e­ very opportunity seeks to push forward in the world. Likewise also, each lack, as it seems to Andersen, of dutiful attentiveness, even in the case where attentiveness is so far from being dutiful that it would even be unreasonable, does not go unpunished, ­because of the absolute power entrusted to Andersen as poet (to do what he likes).—­On the other hand, he becomes extremely incensed with other characters appearing in his novels, and he is so out­spoken against them that one would believe it was impor­tant to him to destroy their civic welfare in the world where Andersen himself belongs but where they have absolutely no business to be. (90–92)

Without the “consolidating total survey” that a life-­view imparts, the special danger inherent to novelistic form noted by Bakhtin and o­ thers lies in the possibility that the accessibility of the life-­world represented appears to allow the beholder to enter into and participate in it. The integrity of the aesthetic work that enables it to be encountered as a w ­ hole dissolves, and one is simply left with the detritus of the author’s own experience: a disjointed succession of contingent views, incidents, and moods. The actuality that is imparted has a negative value for two reasons. First, the reader’s aesthetic enjoyment is ruined by the fact that the author interrupts the aesthetic work with his a­ ctual presence (in all the ways that Kierkegaard so vividly describes above). Second, the experience thereby conveyed is made disturbingly irresolvable by the fact that its author has not the power to resolve himself (an authorial powerlessness made palpable in Kierkegaard’s characterization of Andersen’s spiteful reactivity vis-­à-­vis the creatures of his imagination). In his attempt to resolve his ongoing and inconclusive strug­ gles with life within the work of art, Andersen not only runs the risk of passing along this disintegrated self to both the protagonist and the reader of the novel, but he also creates a weak and unpersuasive work of art, one that never succeeds in coming to life b­ ecause its author has not yet consented to live.

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What is the relation between the not-­yet-­living, the “One Still Living,” and the one who has already lived? Fi­nally, we arrive at the principal ­dialectic that animates Kierkegaard’s account of Andersen’s authorship: a life-­view allows one to seize upon and live life, but the repre­sen­ta­tion of a life-­view in a novel may be achieved only by one who is no longer living, in a certain sense that must now be described. To achieve a life-­view, the author must somehow deepen his engagement with all of his experience while at the same time subjecting it to an active and creative pro­cess of “transubstantiation” (76). The theological overtones of this vocabulary are amplified by Kierkegaard’s claim further on in the review that “the poet himself must first and foremost win a competent personality, and it is only this dead and transfigured personality that o­ ught to and is able to produce, not the many-­a ngled, worldly, palpable one” (82). Both pro­cesses by which the “life-­view” and the poet come into being are thus characterized by the following paradox: that which is a­ ctual (experience, the “worldly” and “palpable” personality) surrenders its mode of actuality in order to achieve another form of being. The form of being that is achieved by this pro­cess is manifested in the productive and generative capacity of the transfigured entity. Kierkegaard’s description of a “dead and transfigured personality” that is somehow resurrected to activity within and through the work of art recalls his odd characterization of his own authorial position in the title of the review as “One Still Living,” and establishes a complex interplay between the open and evolving character of existence and the totalizing and finalized form of art. To be “Still Living” is on the one hand to be not-­yet-­completed, still becoming, f­ree to realize vari­ous possibilities that lie open in the horizon of ­future experience; on the other hand, as an author, to be “Still Living” is to have refused the task that Bakhtin eloquently describes thus: “The author must move the very center of value from the hero’s existence as a compelling task into his existence as a beautiful given.”23 Considered by the living person, the life-­view takes the form of a task—­one that is to be accepted as a necessity, but one that nevertheless remains continually open to fulfillment. Contemplated from the point of view of author qua form-­giving agent, however, the life-­view finalizes the novel as a work of art.24 It must be as Bakhtin’s “beautiful given”: marked, not unlike grace, by an absence of striving, indignation, duty, and madness.



The death or absence of the author, in the sense just described, from the novelistic work of art is simply the requirement that the boundary marking the work of art as a given and consummated ­whole must appear to be rendered in­de­pen­dently of any existing beholder’s relation to it. Kierkegaard marks this as an ultimately aesthetic strategy in the very form of “From the Papers of One Still Living.” Although a detailed study of the preface in the context of Kierkegaard’s authorship would require a separate analy­sis, to the extent that it emphasizes the themes explicated ­here, it is worth noting its most significant features. In the preface, Kierkegaard portrays the supposed author of the review as a quasi-­novelistic character, who surprisingly bears the same traits attributed to Andersen in the review: “S. Kjerkegaard,” as described by “The Publisher,” is melancholy, disheartened, and fearful of being misunderstood. He proclaims himself to be full of doubt at the prospect that any good w ­ ill come of publishing his essay, and laments his own pride in desiring to be known as an author. At the end of his conflict, “The Publisher” prevails by force and publishes the essay against his ­will. As glib as this trope may appear, it is clear, in light of the concerns raised in the essay, that this is no shallow attempt at wit. By volatilizing the author figure into a character, Kierkegaard signals his poetic intention of placing the a­ ctual author at a complete remove, thereby marking the prob­lem or paradox presented by novelistic form and authorship at the outset. The gesture of the preface, especially when taken in light of the title as we have read it, admittedly stops short of indicating that the review offers a full solution. But in its very form, it nevertheless supports the internal claim of the essay: namely, that the prob­lem is a prob­lem that only a text of novelistic form may even begin to encounter, and the paradox one that only a text risking the form of a novel may test, in the sense of proving. Sartre

In this section, I seek to connect the prob­lem of novelistic form in Kier­ kegaard’s “From the Papers of One Still Living,” outlined above, with a central preoccupation of Sartre’s essay “François Mauriac and Freedom” (1939). Sartre is commonly thought of as a phi­los­o­pher who turns to lit­er­a­ture in search of some vehicle to illustrate his preconceived notions. Only a few critics have noted the degree to which his critical engagement with

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novelistic form antedate and influence his philosophical method and theories.25 The period that spans Sartre’s early literary criticism precedes his 1943 work Being and Nothingness by almost a de­cade. The essays containing Sartre’s analy­sis of the philosophical significance of novelistic technique, first published in 1938 and 1939 in Le Nouvelle revue française, are derived from a series of public lectures that Sartre gave at Le Havre on Joyce, Faulkner, Dos Passos, ­Virginia Woolf, and Huxley in 1931 and 1932. Thus like Kierke­ gaard, whose works begin to appear in French translation during this period, Sartre becomes known to the public initially as a reader and critic of novels, not as a phi­los­o­pher.26 Furthermore, it is precisely at this same time—­the end of 1931 or the beginning of 1932—­that Simone de Beauvoir first advises Sartre to write his “lengthy, abstract dissertation on contingency” in the form of a novel.27 Sartre immediately heeds her advice, and the novel that emerges is published u ­ nder his publisher Gallimard’s title La Nausée. As his biographer Annie Cohen-­Solal argues, “The 1930s is a crucial period that ­will lead to the elaboration of the central Sartre, the phi­los­o­pher. . . . ​ The plan for an intimate u ­ nion between philosophy and lit­er­a­ture, which Sartre had already started formulating at the École Normale, is beginning to take shape.”28 The literary critical essays from the 1930s reveal the extent to which his philosophical ideas about contingency, finitude, and the nature of everyday real­ity are worked out in part through his deep engagement with novelistic form and techniques of repre­sen­ta­tion. Sartre repeatedly begins or concludes almost all of his early essays on the novel by invoking a primary criterion that inflects e­ very aspect of the form of the novel: namely, its repre­sen­ta­tion of ­human freedom. In “John Dos Passos and 1919” (1938), he appears to develop this idea in terms of the distinction between récit and roman advanced by Ramon Fernandez in “La Méthode de Balzac” (1926): “In the novel, the dice are not loaded, for fictional man is ­free. He develops before our eyes; our impatience, our ignorance, our expectancy are the same as the hero’s. The tale, on the other hand, as Fernandez has shown, develops in the past. But the tale explains. Chronological order, life’s order, barely conceals the causal order, which is an order for the understanding.”29 Yet as Fredric Jameson notes, whereas Fernandez’s account of the récit lends itself to precise formal specification, “for the novel itself, however . . . ​very ­little is to be deduced from Fernandez’ opposition, and writers have tended to fill in their own blank check according to their



aesthetic and their ideology.”30 What, then, is the blank on the check? Fernandez writes of the récit that it “tends to the substitution of an order of conceptual exposition for the order of living production, and of rational proofs for aesthetic proofs.”31 Sartre’s unique contribution to the theory of the novel hinges on his explication of the manner in which “aesthetic proofs” are to be made of “the order of living production.” His principal concerns can accordingly be framed in terms of the following three issues: (1) the animation and enlivenment of an other­wise static portrayal of h ­ uman fate via the aesthetic achievement of a convincing repre­sen­ta­tion of characterological freedom; (2) the mutual exclusivity, and hence dialectical interrelatedness, of a persuasive repre­sen­ta­tion of freedom and the possibility of a perspective from which that repre­sen­ta­tion may be apprehended (but which may not in princi­ple be embedded within it); (3) the reliance of any convincing repre­ sen­ta­tion of characterological freedom upon the achievement of an illusion of total authorial reticence, or withdrawal. The extent to which t­hese interrelated prob­lems inflect his theory of the novel becomes clear in “François Mauriac and Freedom.” Consider how he contrasts Dostoevsky’s The Possessed and Mauriac’s La Fin de la Nuit in ­these two passages from the opening of the essay: A novel is a series of readings, of l­ittle parasitic lives. . . . ​It swells and feeds on the reader’s time. But in order for the duration of my impatience and ignorance to be caught and then moulded and fi­nally presented to me as the flesh of t­ hese creatures of invention, the novelist must know how to draw it into the trap, how to hollow out in his book . . . ​a time resembling my own, one in which the ­future does not exist. If I suspect that the hero’s ­future actions are determined in advance by heredity, social influence or some other mechanism, my own time ebbs back into me; t­ here remains only myself, reading and persisting, confronted by a static book. Do you want your characters to live? See to it that they are ­free. . . . ​Neither you nor I know what Rogogine is ­going to do. . . . ​I cannot tell ­whether he ­will control himself or ­whether his anger ­will drive him to murder; he is ­free. I slip into his skin, and ­t here he is, awaiting himself with my waiting. He is afraid of himself, inside me; he is alive.32

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M. Mauriac[’s] . . . ​book, La Fin de la Nuit, tries to penetrate to the inmost depths of a w ­ oman’s freedom. He tells us in his preface that he is trying to depict “the power accorded to creatures who have all the odds against them, the power to say no to the law that beats them down.” ­Here we touch the heart of the art of fiction. . . . ​Nevertheless, I must admit that the book has disappointed me. Not for a moment was I taken in, never did I forget my time; I went on existing, I felt myself living. Occasionally I yawned. Now and then I said to myself, “Well done.” I thought more often of M. Mauriac than of Thérèse Desqueyroux—of M. Mauriac, subtle, sensitive and narrow, with his immodest discretion, his intermittent good w ­ ill, his ner­vous pathos, his ­bitter and fumbling poetry, his pinched style, his sudden vulgarity. Why was I unable to forget him or myself? . . . ​We must go back to the question of freedom. What are the pro­cesses by which M. Mauriac reveals to us the freedom he has conferred upon his heroine? (8–9)

Sartre’s vivid image of a literal transfusion between the reader and character, in which what circulates is not blood but the equally vital and quickening substance of temporality, is h ­ ere amplified by his striking suggestion that the enlivening of a novel’s character is to be achieved by the quasi-­alchemical transformation of the “duration of my impatience and ignorance” to the “flesh of ­these creatures.” The very medium of the novel’s art is ineluctably bound up with freedom and its temporality. This is made clear also in his claim ­toward the end of the essay that “if it is true that a novel is a ­thing, like a painting or architectural structure, if it is true that a novel is made with time and ­free minds, as a picture is painted with oil and pigments, then La Fin de la Nuit is not a novel” (23). By what means, then, is the aesthetic effect of lived freedom wrought? In order for the novel to grip the reader fully and to immerse her in the real­ity of a lived experience so compelling that she loses all awareness of herself, the reader must be convinced of the illusion of an open f­ uture in the novel in a way that recalls the indeterminacy, possibility, and freedom of her own existence. This temporal illusion of the fiction and the reader’s ongoing awareness of her position as a reader of a novel—­that is to say, as the “author / ­beholder” of an already-­ consummated and finalized work of art—­are mutually exclusive, and therefore dialectically linked. The moment the illusion dissipates, the reader is



confronted not only by this awareness of herself in relation to the novelistic work of art, but also necessarily by the authorial perspective that consummates the work of art. The significance of this critical observation for the implications of existentialist engagement with the poetics of the realist novel has to my knowledge not previously been recognized in t­ hese terms, but its centrality to existentialist engagement with the novel bears further exploration.33 The essential imbrication of Sartre’s conception of characterological freedom, readerly knowledge, and the fictional effect of a certain temporality can be expanded upon in terms of what Richard Moran delineates as a philosophical tradition in which both Kierkegaard and Sartre feature prominently. In this tradition, self-­k nowledge is not an epistemological m ­ atter of privileged introspective access to one’s consciousness, but rather an existential (and moral) ­matter of the extent to which one can be said to exercise authority and responsibility over one’s m ­ ental states: The question asked by the agent . . . ​is “­Shall I believe?,” which is a dif­fer­ent question from ­either the theoretical (predictive) question “­Will I believe?” or even the normative question “What o­ ught I to believe?” What it is shown to be is a “deliberative question” . . . ​a question that is answered by a decision or commitment of oneself rather than a discovery of some antecedent truth about oneself. This is a perfectly homely assertion of one’s freedom.  . . . ​To take oneself to be in a position to ask and answer this sort of question about one’s belief or intention is to take oneself to be in a position to make something true in one’s answering it. This is not a position one is in with re­spect to another person’s state of mind, what­ever influence one may be able to exercise upon it. And it is this capacity for counting or discounting something as a reason, and the agent’s awareness that the exercise of this capacity is part of understanding himself as engaged in reflection in the first place, which explains why, in Nagel’s words, “the reflective self cannot be a mere bystander.” The reason is that, unlike ­either descriptive or evaluative inquiry, reflective (deliberative) questioning takes upon itself the capacity to play a constituting role in determining the psychological facts themselves.34

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This explication of the relation between consciousness and choice, between what it might mean for a person to be minded and to be ­free, is invoked repeatedly in Sartre’s review of La Fin de la Nuit. It yields the aesthetic criterion by which the reader allows herself to suspend her awareness of her own existence temporarily and to be gripped by the real­ity of the character’s inner life. Freedom registers in time as the ex­pec­tant uncertainty that awaits resolution in the form of decision, not knowledge. Rogogine must appear, in Sartre’s words, to “await . . . ​himself,” and not knowledge of himself; what he ­will do depends only on his own deliberations, and so long as he lives, not even the most comprehensive theoretical or reflective knowledge of himself can answer that which only he can realize in acting. The achievement of the illusion of freedom in the novel is precisely problematized by the fact that in relation to ourselves, we know the contents of our m ­ ental beliefs, the intent of our f­ uture actions, or the disposition of our attitudes not by means of accessing a specially privileged perceptual or theoretical point of view, but rather by holding the unique responsibility for deciding what ­those beliefs, attitudes, or actions are and ­will be. Yet when we read a novel, we come to know the character’s consciousness without bearing this sort of authoritative, deliberative, agential answerability for the knowledge we possess. Hence the novel, more than any other form of art, approaches a dangerous paradox: the apparent possibility of knowledge of consciousness that ordinarily would be available only from a first-­person agential point of view, yielded by means of a passive, reflective third-­person perspective that consummates and finalizes that consciousness in the form of characterological existence within a narrative work of art. According to Sartre, both the logic of the poetics of the novel and the very fictional efficaciousness of any novelistic work depend on the capacity of the form to both embrace and refuse the paradox of its making. Before g­ oing on to enumerate the modes of refusal that Sartre outlines in “François Mauriac and Freedom,” it is impor­tant to emphasize that the issue at hand in this essay is aesthetic and intensely dialectical. To put it reductively, Sartre is not in the business of championing novels that pres­ent a specific philosophical view of freedom. The stakes of his intervention are, in some sense, much higher. He is concerned with what a novel is. This is why he can claim in an essay on the “anti-­novel” (as earlier quoted in the Introduction): “It is the bad faith of the novelist—­that so necessary bad faith—­



that horrifies Nathalie Sarraute. Is he ‘with’ his characters, ‘­behind’ them or outside? And when he is ­behind them, does he not try to convince us that he remains inside and outside?”35 What makes the bad faith of the novelist “necessary” is not a metaphysical or moral necessity, but an aesthetic one. Insofar as an unconsummated character lacks the ideal distance of art, the experience of reading would then be no dif­fer­ent from an encounter with lived experience. At the same time, the apparent (illusory) withdrawal or absence of the authorial standpoint in the novel is likewise necessitated as an aesthetic strategy to compel the reader to accept the fiction, and to take the represented consciousness of the character as a living consciousness. Sartre’s readiness to distinguish a critical appreciation of the poetics of novelistic repre­sen­ta­tion from any kind of adherence to or veneration of what we may call, following Kierkegaard, the “life-­views” of par­tic­u­lar novels is evident in his essays on Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929) and Sartoris (1929). In t­ hese essays, Sartre explains that his admiration of Faulkner’s technical mastery is sustained alongside a deep disagreement with the life-­ view evinced in ­these novels. The achievement of Faulkner’s work that he singles out as most impor­tant to his discussion is its revelation of the aesthetic impact of aligning certain novelistic techniques with the metaphysics of the novelistic world. In discussing the “technical oddity” of Faulkner’s episodic construction of plot, Sartre argues that the significance of this technique becomes most apparent when examined in relation to the metaphysics or worldview of the novelist: “It would be a m ­ istake to regard t­ hese irregularities as gratuitous exercises in virtuosity. A fictional technique always relates back to the novelist’s metaphysics. The critic’s task is to define the latter before evaluating the former.” Furthermore, to underscore the fact that technique, metaphysics, and form are separate ele­ments, Sartre concludes his essay “On The Sound and the Fury: Time in the Work of Faulkner” (1939) with a distinct evaluation of each: The nature of consciousness implies . . . ​that it proj­ect itself into the ­future. We can understand what it is only through what it ­will be. It is determined in its pres­ent being by its own possibilities. This is what Heidegger calls “the s­ ilent force of the pos­si­ble.” You ­will not recognize within yourself Faulkner’s man, a creature bereft of possibilities and explicable only in terms of what he has been. . . . ​Man is not the sum of

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what he has, but the totality of what he does not yet have, of what he might have. . . . ​W hy have Faulkner and so many other writers chosen this par­tic­u­lar absurdity which is so un-­novelistic and so untrue? . . . ​I like his art, but I do not believe in his metaphysics. A closed ­future is still a ­future. . . . ​“The loss of all hope, for example, does not deprive ­human real­ity of its possibilities; it is simply a way of being ­toward ­these same possibilities.”

Quoting from Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927) in the final sentence, Sartre deftly disentangles his appreciation of Faulkner’s “art” from his “metaphysics.” Three issues are carefully differentiated in his analy­sis: the author’s skill in deploying techniques of art, the philosophy evinced by the work, and last but not least, the kind or form of the work that is accomplished. Insofar as the characters themselves appear to live as if their own ­future is genuinely closed off to them, Faulkner achieves his artistic aim of depicting the world composed by this paradoxical orientation to time. However, as Sartre notes, such an orientation to time is philosophically incoherent, ­because it is “a way of being” ­toward the ­future rather than a fixed metaphysical necessity. Fi­nally, Sartre’s critique of Faulkner’s metaphysics as “so un-­novelistic and so untrue” implies therefore that certain kinds of philosophical untruth interfere with one’s enjoyment of the novel as a novel. This last claim discloses the close connection that he perceives between novelistic form and existentialist thought. Faulkner may have accomplished a sustained and fascinating textual experiment, but insofar as Quentin remains a victim to the fatality of his own suicide, Sartre insists that what Faulkner has written is not a novel.36 On this reading of Sartre’s theory of the novel, we can reject the view put forth by vari­ous critics that Sartre ­favors par­tic­u­lar novelists ­because they portray the kind of “absurd” universe in which he believes.37 It is misleading, if not potentially banalizing, to view his engagement with par­tic­u­lar novels as primarily thematic, when he clearly distinguishes aesthetic technique and strategy from questions of metaphysics, and is furthermore concerned with the complex relation between ­these arenas and the poetics of the novel itself. For Sartre, as for Kierkegaard, the intersection of t­ hese three domains manifests the philosophical expressivity of the novel as a genre, understood



in terms of its capacity to evince any life-­view at all (as opposed to the par­ tic­u­lar life-­view expressed in a given work). Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that on his view, the alliance between the novel and an existentialist conception of freedom is what makes pos­si­ble the novel’s projection of a total orientation t­ oward existence, of a metaphysics. (This would, in some sense, be merely a restatement of the argument put forward by Kierkegaard in “From the Papers of One Still Living.”) The deep resonance between Kierkegaard and Sartre’s receptions of the novel as a literary form is evident in nearly e­ very gesture of “François Mauriac and Freedom.” First, the series of searing comments on M. Mauriac’s personality, quoted earlier, cannot be dismissed as mere ad hominem remarks. The eclipse of the presence of the character to the reader by the presence of the author is furnished as proof of the poetic princi­ple governing the novel. The aesthetic failure of the novel precludes its capacity for what Kierkegaard calls indirect communication, as evidenced by the manner in which the author and the reader appear to draw into a direct relation to one another. Indeed, the intrusion of a quasi-­novelistic portrait of the author qua character as a strategy to indicate the artistic failure of the novel also occurs in Kierkegaard’s review of Andersen’s novel, and does not go wholly unnoticed by Andersen himself. As Andersen ­later writes of the author of “From the Papers of One Still Living”: For a short time the novel Only a Fiddler engrossed one of the brilliant young men of our country. This was Søren Kierkegaard. When we met on the street he told me that he would write a review of it, and that I would surely be more satisfied with it than with earlier reviews, since, he granted, I had been misunderstood! A long time passed. He read the book again, and his initial good impression was obliterated. I must assume that the more seriously he considered the composition, the more faulty it became. When the review appeared I could not be pleased with it. It was an entire book (the first, I believe, that Kierkegaard wrote), and somewhat difficult to read with its heavy Hegelian style. It was said in jest that only Kierkegaard and Andersen had read the w ­ hole book. Its title was From the Papers of One Still Living. At that time this is what I got out of it: that I was no writer, but a fictitious character who had slipped out of my category, and that it would be the task of some ­future

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writer to put me back into it or to use me as a character in a work in which he would create a supplement to me!38

Andersen’s response refracts the sense in which, for both Kierkegaard and Sartre, the inability of the author to maintain a steady authorial position in relation to the work of art renders the aesthetic boundary so porous that the ­actual person of the author invades the novel and attempts to take up residence ­there in an aestheticized form. The inadvertent degradation of the author into a sort of character figure suggests the extent to which the author qua character absconds from the responsibility of consummating the work of art, thereby giving rise to the need for a second attempt at consummation or aesthetic containment by yet another author. For both Sartre and Kierkegaard, authorial failure to consummate the work of art not only registers in the assumption of a distorted form of quasi-­ character life on the part of the author, but also renders the lives of the characters it represents implausible and aesthetically unconvincing as lives. Mauriac’s grave error, Sartre maintains, lies in the manner in which he tries to make Thérèse known to the reader. Like Andersen before him, he attempts to endow a novelistic character with a destiny from a fairy­tale: It is a fixed law, in­de­pen­dent of Thérèse’s ­will, that governs her acts as soon as they escape from her, and that leads them all, even the best-­ intentioned of them, to unhappy consequences. It reminds one of the fairy’s punishment: “­Every time you open your mouth, frogs ­will jump out.” . . . ​Thérèse Desqueyroux’s destiny is composed, on the one hand, of a flaw in her character and, on the other hand, of a curse that hangs over her acts. But t­ hese two ­factors are incompatible. One of them is vis­i­ble from the inside, to the heroine herself; the other would require an infinite number of observations made from the outside by an observer intent on following Thérèse’s acts to their ultimate consequences. (10)

A character may assume such a belief about the destiny of her own life (in which case she would join the pantheon of novelistic exemplars of bad faith), for of course nothing prevents a person from the attempt to flee responsibility over her own life. The issue ­here is, once again, not characterological



in this narrow sense, but rather poetic and formal. To represent a character in terms of a totalizing third-­person account of the ultimate fate of her ­every action is to render the authoritative and deciding perspective upon her life as other than her own, relegating her by default to a role of passive spectatorship in relation to her own deliberations, resolutions, and choices. This automatically destroys the possibility of persuading the reader to accept the fiction that the character, like any a­ ctual existing person, assumes a position of agency with re­spect to her own life. According to Sartre, the falsity of this narrative technique sheds light on the reasons why Mauriac is unable to achieve the effect of characterological agency, even when he desires to portray Thérèse as possessing some minute degree of freedom: “When M. Mauriac . . . ​wants us to feel that she is no longer a mechanism, he suddenly finds that he lacks the necessary devices. . . . ​ Occasionally, in desperation, he tugs at our sleeve and whispers, ‘Look! This time it’s the real t­ hing! She’s ­free!’ ” (18). The meta­phor of the physical gesture with which Sartre imagines Mauriac accosting the reader with this new “truth” about his character suggests the extent to which the author, having lost the capacity to grip the reader through his fictional illusion, must resort to a crudely direct mode of literal clutching that is enacted outside the zone of readerly absorption. For this very reason, any freedom that the author accords his character in this manner must by definition appear overdetermined and falsified. Authorial intervention is symptomatic of the aesthetic failure of the novel. Fi­nally, Sartre, like Kierkegaard before him, levels an existential criticism at Mauriac himself—­one that requires close analy­sis in order to determine its precise aesthetic implications. The review ends with this devastating and sharply worded critique of Mauriac’s authorial arrogance: La Fin de la Nuit is not a novel. It is, at most, a collection of signs and intentions. M. Mauriac is not a novelist. Why? Why h ­ asn’t this serious and earnest writer achieved his purpose? ­Because, I think, of the sin of pride. Like most of our writers, he has tried to ignore the fact that the theory of relativity applies in full to the universe of fiction, that t­ here is no more place for a privileged observer in a real novel than in the world of Einstein, and that it is no more pos­si­ble to conduct an experiment in a fictional system in order to

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determine ­whether the system is in motion or at rest than ­there is in a physical system. M. Mauriac has put himself first. He has chosen divine omniscience and omnipotence. But novels are written by men and for men. In the eyes of God, Who cuts through appearances and goes beyond them, ­there is no novel, no art, for art thrives on appearances. God is not an artist. Neither is M. Mauriac. (23)

The allusion to Mauriac’s “sin of pride” is further elucidated by Sartre’s invocation of an ethos of humility in relation to the form of the novel in his essay “Camus’s The Outsider” (1943): “The very fact that M. Camus delivers his message in the form of a novel reveals a proud humility. This is not resignation, but the rebellious recognition of the limitations of h ­uman thought.”39 The remarkable insight that Sartre explores throughout this and other critical essays on the novel is that the “recognition of the limitations of ­human thought” does not amount to a predilection for unanalyzed action or the futility of all reflection. Rather, Sartre finds in the novel a genre that gives careful and deliberate form to the limits of reflection—to the meaning of point of view, subjectivity, consciousness, time, and freedom. Only an aesthetic understanding of the form of the novel can account for why it is pos­si­ble, on Sartre’s view, for La Fin de la Nuit both to be narrated from a God-­like point of view and yet to remain an arbitrary “collection of signs and intentions” rather than a novel. The claim must be that La Fin de la Nuit fails to achieve consummate unity as a totality, as a work of art, and not that it fails to achieve theoretical coherence. Sartre makes abundantly clear in his note to the passage above that he is thinking of the work of art in terms of its totality: “By fictional system, I mean the novel as a ­whole, as well as the partial systems that make it up (the minds of the characters, their combined psychological and moral judgments)” (23). Indeed, the preponderance of a theoretically and absolutely definitive point of view upon the nature of the characters threatens the aesthetic unity of the novel by preventing the integration of the characters as agents into the artistic ­whole that is composed of the plot, the repre­sen­ta­tion of characterological psy­chol­ogy, and the temporal illusion of the fiction. An omniscient narrator situated in the standpoint of eternity not only knows every­thing, but “sees the inside and outside, the depths of body and soul, the ­whole universe at once”; this instantaneous and total seeing renders the characters



into puppets who must act out a charade that is already fully disclosed and hence static (14). The misrelation between the novelist and the repre­sen­ta­ tion of freedom in the novel is thus an issue of the authoritative point of view on existence: The definitive judgments with which M. Mauriac is always ready to intersperse the narrative prove that he does not conceive his characters as he o­ ught. He fabricates their natures before setting them down, he decrees that they ­will be this or that. . . . ​W hen M. Mauriac, making full use of his creative authority, forces us to accept t­ hose exterior views as the inner stuff of his creatures, he is transforming his characters into ­things. Only t­ hings can simply be; they have only exteriors. Minds cannot simply be; they become. Thus, in shaping his Thérèse sub specie aeternitatis, M. Mauriac first makes of her a ­thing, ­a fter which he adds, on the sly, a ­whole ­mental thickness. But in vain. Fictional beings have their laws, the most rigorous of which is the following: the novelist may be ­either their witness or their accomplice, but never both at the same time. The novelist must be e­ ither inside or out. ­Because M. Mauriac does not observe t­ hese laws, he does away with his characters’ minds. (15–16)

In making this argument, Sartre transposes a philosophical point about the nature of freedom in the world to a literary and formal point about the conditions for representing freedom in the novel. His view of h ­ uman freedom can be summarized in the dictum that appears in “Existentialism Is a Humanism” (1945): “Existence precedes essence.” Whereas the formula that determines the function of an object like a ­table or a paper-­k nife exists prior to the making of a par­tic­u­lar ­table or paper-­k nife and guides its formation, in the case of a par­tic­u­lar ­human being, ­there is no such formula or essence. We must first exist and then in the course of existing determine who we w ­ ill be. When we read a novel, Sartre argues, the characters “live” insofar as they can be ­imagined to exist in this ­human sense. The limits of fictional existence must appear to be continuous with the limits of our own existence.40 In closing, I wish to briefly consider Sartre’s use of an explicit contrast between tragedy and the novel throughout the essay on Mauriac. Although ­these remarks fall far short of a comprehensive view of the relation between

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the two genres, it is worth noting the extent to which they may be interpreted in a manner that amplifies his general point about the poetics of the novel. In the following passage, for instance, he aims to differentiate two literary traditions for the portrayal of freedom: Thérèse Desqueyroux strug­gles against her destiny. Well and good. ­There are thus two ele­ments in her make-up. One part of her is entirely an ele­ment of Nature; we can say this of her as we would of a stone or log. But another w ­ hole side of her defies description or definition, ­because it is simply an absence. If freedom accepts Nature, the reign of fatality begins. If it rejects and resists it, Thérèse Desqueyroux is ­free, ­free to say no, or ­free, at least, not to say yes. . . . ​The first ­thing to be said is that this suspensive ­will seems more tragic than novelistic. Thérèse’s oscillations between the impulses of her nature and the action of her w ­ ill are reminiscent of Rotrou’s stanzas. The real conflict in a novel is rather between freedom and itself. In Dostoevsky, freedom is poisoned at its very source. It gets tangled up in the very time it wants to untangle. Dmitri Karamazov’s pride and irascibility are as ­free as Aliosha’s profound peace. The nature that stifles him and against which he strug­gles is not God-­made but self-­made; it is what he has sworn to be and what remains fixed b­ ecause of the irreversibility of time. (9)

The portrayal of f­ree w ­ ill in La Fin de la Nuit is “more tragic than novelistic” ­because in Mauriac’s novel, as in a tragedy, the “author / ­beholder” is situated primarily as a third-­person observer to the constant wavering of Thérèse’s ­will. It is only from the perspective of a passive spectator that the objectified outcome of her wavering may be viewed as a conflict between freedom and the influence of nature or fate. In contrast, Sartre claims that a novelistic portrayal of freedom, focalized through the perspective of agential consciousness, renders the entanglements “between freedom and itself” more pronounced. The character strug­gles with a past that she cannot change, but this past is wrought by the character herself: the destiny she confronts is composed by her own choices, propensities, dispositions, beliefs, and promises. Moreover, the novel must represent in the character’s e­ very gesture and word an orientation t­ oward a ­future that only she herself may forge.



­Toward the end of “François Mauriac and Freedom,” Sartre calls attention to the aesthetic strategies that establish this temporal illusion in his discussion of the contrast between novelistic and dramatic dialogue: The novel has its own kind of stylization. The transition to dialogue ­ought to be marked by a kind of flickering of the lights. It is dark, the hero strug­gles to express himself; his words are not pictures of his soul, but rather f­ ree and clumsy acts, which say too much and too ­little. The reader gets impatient; he tries to see beyond t­ hese involved and fumbling statements. Dostoevsky, Conrad, and Faulkner have known how to use this re­sis­t ance of words, which is a source of endless misunderstandings and involuntary revelations, and thereby to make of dialogue “the fictional moment,” the time when the sense of duration is richest. M. Mauriac’s classicism is prob­ably repelled by such wooly conversation. But every­one knows that French classicism is rhetorical and theatrical. (21–22)

Novelistic dialogue, Sartre argues, lacks the economy and efficiency of dramatic dialogue and purposefully uses this lack for a par­tic­u­lar effect. Why does a character speak in words that “say too much and too ­little,” and why are his statements both “involved and fumbling”? Dialogue with ­these characteristics evokes the existence of a boundary or limit that a character attempts to surpass but finds to be impassable. Frustrated, suspended, and arrested in this in-­between time, the reader almost wishes to go beyond the text of the novel and “see beyond” t­ hese words to an essence of character or an immediate action that ­will obliterate the distance between pres­ent and ­f uture. Yet in not being able to go beyond “this re­sis­tance of words,” the reader becomes deeply aware of the character’s f­ree existence in a moment when nothing articulable is taking place and the strug­gle itself is all.41 Novelistic narrative, as Sartre puts it, “is, in short, the testimony of a participant and should reveal the man who testifies as well as the event to which he testifies” (15). The remark suggests another impor­tant contrast between the novel and tragedy. Whereas the audience of a drama traditionally views the action directly from a dark realm outside the space of the dramatic event, the novel unfolds from the point of view of a person who is other than the reader and who necessarily reveals this point of view in revealing the ac-

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


tion. The novel is thus significant as an existentially expressive form for Sartre, as for Kierkegaard, b­ ecause its evolution as a literary form is bounded by the aesthetic necessity of drawing the reader into a convincing repre­sen­ ta­tion of the simultaneous opacity and transparency of ­free, subjective consciousness.42 Beauvoir

In the previous two sections, I have argued that Kierkegaard’s and Sartre’s concern with the poetics of the novel is inextricably bound up with their investigation into the special limits and responsibilities attendant to self-­k nowledge and individual consciousness. In this final section, I undertake a reading of Beauvoir’s theory of the novel that situates it within an existential tradition of thought. Between 1946 and 1965, a period during which her contemporaries are calling into question the value of traditional novelistic realism, Beauvoir develops an extended and nuanced account of the philosophical significance of the realist novel in essays such as “Lit­er­a­ ture and Metaphysics” (1946), “An American Re­nais­sance in France” (1947), and “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?” (1965). The rudimentary but vivid conceptions of novelistic form and philosophy sketched in the early phase of Beauvoir’s ­career, when as an eighteen-­year-­old philosophy student at the Sorbonne she first articulates her interest in the question of how it is pos­si­ble for the novel to be a philosophically expressive form without becoming a roman à thèse or roman métaphysique in 1926, reach their full elaboration in ­these essays. Of par­tic­u­lar interest is “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” which is based upon a lecture called “Roman et métaphysique” (the novel and metaphysics) and focuses almost exclusively on the form of the novel. In this essay, Beauvoir establishes a systematic account of how novels attempt to disclose fundamental ontological aspects of lived experience: opacity, ambiguity, and impartiality. Each of ­these terms, often quoted but seldom analyzed at length, seems at first glance abstruse. They are not evidently drawn from the technical vocabulary of existentialist philosophy, nor are they obvious platitudes on the nature of lived experience. Beauvoir argues that the techniques and forms developed by the novel illuminate ­these metaphysical aspects of lived experience that would other­wise be obscured or eclipsed by traditional forms of philosophical writing. Novels thereby



allow us, she contends, to reconceptualize the aims and methods of philosophy. In “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” ­there is a heightened emphasis on the fiction of entering fully into the experiences described in the novel. Beauvoir argues that novelistic form yields a singular mode of communication by enabling a unique and profound form of virtual readerly engagement with the repre­sen­ta­tion of life. Let us return briefly to the passage quoted earlier in the Introduction: The novel is justified only if it is a mode of communication irreducible to any other. While the phi­los­o­pher and the essayist give the reader an intellectual reconstruction of their experience, the novelist claims to reconstitute on an imaginary plane this experience itself as it appears prior to any elucidation. . . . ​The theoretician wants to compel us to adhere to the ideas that the t­ hing and the event suggested to him. Many minds find such intellectual docility repugnant. They want to retain their freedom of thought; they like instead a story that imitates life’s opacity, ambiguity, and impartiality. Bewitched by the tale that he is told, the reader h ­ ere reacts as if he ­were faced with live events. He is moved, he approves, he becomes indignant, responding with a movement of his entire being before formulating judgments that he draws from himself and that are not presumptuously dictated to him. This is what gives a good novel its value. It allows one to undergo imaginary experiences that are as complete and disturbing as lived experiences. The reader ponders, doubts, and takes sides; and this hesitant development of his thought enriches him in a way that no teaching of doctrine could. (270)

The claim that the reader “respond[s] with a movement of his entire being” implicates primarily the emotions, w ­ ill, and thoughts of the reader (as opposed to the physical body), with an emphasis on what we might characterize as moral actions and reactions: approving, becoming indignant, formulating judgments, pondering, and taking sides. Beauvoir focuses on t­ hese kinds of responses insofar as their meaning depends on the reader’s freedom to respond differently at any point. The “hesitant development of . . . ​ thought” that the reader undergoes emerges from her own deliberative re-

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


sponses to the unfolding narrative, responses that cannot in princi­ple be determined in advance of her deliberation and that therefore implicate her as an agent of their making. A novel that succeeds in spellbinding its reader thus offers what Beauvoir repeatedly characterizes as a task of reading that involves genuine risks on the part of the reader: “The novel w ­ ill appear as 43 an au­then­tic adventure of the mind.” The ethical and existential possibilities of novel reading are, for Beauvoir, made pos­si­ble by its aesthetic qualities. What enables the novel to evoke deliberative experience on the part of the reader is its mimesis or “imitat[ion]” of “life’s opacity, ambiguity, and impartiality [l’opacité, l’ambiguïté, l’ impartialité de la vie].” Each of t­ hese terms crystallizes an aspect of lived experience that renders it impervious to being captured by abstract laws or theories. The compelling fictional repre­sen­ta­tion of t­ hese qualities thereby captivates the reader, appearing to confront her with the inescapability of the type of freely elicited response described above. First, what can Beauvoir mean by “opacity”? The term surfaces again twice in the essay, both times in passages concerning the nature of characterological freedom: The novel is endowed with value and dignity only if it constitutes a living discovery for the author as for the reader. . . . ​Doubtless, in the literal meaning of the word, it is absurd to claim that a novel’s protagonist is ­free, that his reactions are unpredictable and mysterious. But, in truth, this freedom one admires in Dostoevsky’s characters, for example, is the freedom that the novelist himself has with regard to his own proj­ects; and the opacity of the events he relates shows the re­sis­ tance that he encounters during the creative act itself. (271–272) Theoretical psy­chol­ogy also exists, and if the psychological novel ­were devoted to illustrating Ribot, Bergson, or Freud, it would be utterly useless. One could claim that the protagonists, enslaved to the character the author chose for them and the psychological laws he is obliged to re­spect, lose all freedom and opacity. (273)

The “opacity” of events and characters is deeply intertwined with their seeming “re­sis­tance” to being “enslaved” by the author. Being “enslaved,” in



turn, means being transparently knowable in advance of one’s own unfolding, susceptible to capture by abstract laws and thereby turned into a rigid essence. The lexicon of rebellion and freedom is no accident. If an author w ­ ere to create a repre­sen­ta­tion of event or a character that did not possess opacity in this sense, the reader would not have a novel in her hands but a t­ hing akin to Sartre’s paper knife, readily manufactured in its entirety by a formula.44 If we consider a manufactured object, such as a . . . ​paper knife, we note that this object was produced by a craftsman who . . . ​referred both to the concept of what a paper knife is, and to a known production technique that is part of that concept and is, by and large, a formula . . . ​ Let us say, therefore, that the essence of the paper knife—­that is, the sum of formulae and properties that enable it to be produced and defined—­precedes its existence.45

Sartre delivered ­these lines in his lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism” on October 29, 1945, less than two months before December 11, 1945, the date of Beauvoir’s lecture on the novel and metaphysics. In the eventually revised text of “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” this same distinction between the manufactured product and the ­human situation emerges in the context of Beauvoir’s theory of the novel: “neither does one want fictional characters to be fashioned, a priori, out of a heavy reliance on theories, formulas, and labels. One does not want the plot to be a pure machination unfolding mechanically. A novel is not a manufactured object” (271). “Opacity,” in other words, is a quality that is linked with an aspiration to authenticity, in the Sartrean and Heideggerian sense of the term. The essence of a being who is f­ ree to perpetually define herself cannot be known in advance of her existence, hence its opacity to theoretical or analytic determination. The second key critical term Beauvoir introduces, “ambiguity,” is central to a work published two years ­after “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics” entitled The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), in which Beauvoir explores the ethical implications of the ontology described in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. ­Here, she defines ambiguity in terms of the paradoxical condition of h ­ uman existence. We find ourselves to be transcendence and facticity, consciousness and ­matter, si­mul­ta­neously and irreducibly: “[Man] asserts himself as a

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


pure internality against which no external power can take hold, and he also experiences himself as a t­ hing crushed by the dark weight of other ­things.”46 For both Beauvoir and Sartre, the capacity of the novel to render both first­and third-­person perspectives on experience si­mul­ta­neously through the use of style indirect libre constitutes a stunning aesthetic achievement with ontological implications.47 The richness of the ambiguity in novelistic form emerges precisely from the novel’s repre­sen­ta­tion of an existentialist structure of experience, in which the notion of situation as a synthesis of transcendence and facticity plays a crucial role.48 The importance of an existentialist concept of situation to an understanding of the novel’s disclosure of worldhood is explored in greater depth in Chapter 3; for the time being, it is simply impor­tant to note that in the idea of situation, as in Beauvoir’s conception of ambiguity in The Ethics of Ambiguity, the traditional distinction between subject and object no longer applies ­because the subject’s proj­ects and the objects that are revealed through their place and significance within ­those proj­ects are mutually implicated. The term “ambiguity” appears in Beauvoir’s memoir The Prime of Life (1960), and ­here the context is more immediately relevant to the discussion of the relation between lit­er­a­ture and philosophy: “In his essay on the roman à ­these Blanchot observes, with perfect justice, that to criticize a book for suggesting some ulterior idea is ridicu­lous. But, he adds, t­ here is a g­ reat difference between suggesting and demonstrating; ­every facet of life is always rich in suggestion, yet this never proves anything conclusively. The writer’s aim is to make ­people see the world, by re-­creating it in words; he betrays and impoverishes it if he does not re­spect its essential ambiguity.”49 Several issues are at stake in the apparently well-­worn contrast between the conclusive demonstration of the truth of an idea and its suggestion, which resonates with Sartre’s use of the récit-­roman dichotomy as well as with Henry James’s famous distinction between “telling” and “showing”: first, the difference between direct assertion and indirect modes of communication by means of a work of art; second, the prob­lem of how to establish the freedom of the reader to come to her own conclusions regarding what is represented in the work of art; and fi­nally, what we may call an issue of realism—­the difficulty of capturing “life” or “the world” in “its essential ambiguity.”50 All three of t­ hese issues are deeply related to one another, insofar as the novel strives to capture “ambiguity” by rendering the fullness of the surrounding



circumstances that ground an understanding of world and experience. As Beauvoir puts it, “In the real world, the meaning of an object is not a concept graspable by pure understanding. Its meaning is the object as it is disclosed to us in the overall relation we sustain with it, and which is action, emotion, and feeling. We ask novelists to evoke this flesh-­and-­blood presence whose complexity and singular and infinite richness exceed any subjective interpretation” (270). Drawing upon a Heideggerian sense of understanding, Beauvoir proposes that we become oriented with re­spect to ­things not by knowing how to designate them with abstract concepts, but rather by finding them situated in a world of activity in which we have uses for them—­uses that are determined by our aims and attitudes, infused by our moods and our affinities. It is crucial to recognize that the richness of ambiguity is for Beauvoir what she calls “an aspect of metaphysical experience” (272). Invoking the term “ambiguity” is therefore not meant to set us at a remove from philosophical modes of understanding, or to signal some aspect of lived experience that is so vague and elusive as to be without any philosophical significance whatsoever. Indeed, Beauvoir takes the term to designate a metaphysical quality of life that arises from the embeddedness of reflection within a dynamic context of feeling and action. The repre­sen­ta­tional forms and strategies of the novel, she suggests, portray this essential embeddedness of life that “cannot other­wise be manifested”: Metaphysics is, first of all, not a system; one does not “do” metaphysics as one “does” mathe­matics or physics. In real­ity, “to do” metaphysics is “to be” metaphysical; it is to realize in oneself the metaphysical attitude, which consists in positing oneself in one’s totality before the totality of the world. . . . ​For the writer, it is not a ­matter of exploiting on a literary plane truths established beforehand on the philosophical plane, but, rather, of manifesting an aspect of metaphysical experience that cannot other­wise be manifested: its subjective, singular, and dramatic character, as well as its ambiguity. Since real­ity is not graspable by the intelligence alone, no intellectual description could give an adequate expression of it. One must attempt to pres­ent it in its integrity, as it is disclosed in the living relation that is action and feeling before making itself thought. (273–275)

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


When we attempt to think through the par­tic­u­lar aspects of lived experience and of real­ity that bear upon what Beauvoir w ­ ill ­later call the “detotalized totality” of our lived experience, we turn from “intellectual description” to the novel that grasps life in its “integrity,” or w ­ holeness.51 “Suggesting” rather than “demonstrating,” to return to Blanchot’s distinction, the novel details the imbricated overlay of action, emotion, consciousness, and embeddedness within the world, displaying the manner in which they constitute a complex and multifaceted w ­ hole that is irreducible to a single premise or set of assertions. “Ambiguity” in this sense also suggests an aesthetic strategy of the novel, by which it pres­ents the givenness of an individual situation as a necessary totality or unity that cannot be summed up by precise maxims or concepts. The novel invites a metaphysical response from the reader insofar as it makes pos­si­ble the sort of response that requires the reader to put the ­whole of her existence into question, to suspend her entire being in relation to the existence portrayed as she would before the w ­ hole of life itself. The sense in which the novel strives to represent the many-­sidedness inherent in any given experience is also suggested by the last of Beauvoir’s critical terms. “Impartiality” denotes the many-­sidedness of lived experience, which unfolds through contingency and time, constantly prompting new questions and predicaments that challenge previously settled perspectives. Although we usually think of this term as denoting fairness or objectivity, in this context the moral and l­egal overtones are less apt. Far better to recall the etymology of “impartial,” from the Latin in, or “not,” and Latin pars, or “part.”52 A “part” of something is a fragment or piece of it—­hence, the idea of “one-­sidedness” as a meaning of partiality. In contrast, impartiality suggests many-­sidedness, fullness, and (to return to the exposition of “ambiguity”) richness. The two senses in which we might read “impartiality”—as objectivity, on the one hand, and as many-­sidedness, on the other—­seem at first glance to encounter one another in a fascinating passage of “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” in which Beauvoir discusses the analogy between scientific experiment and novelistic writing: The scientific experiment is the confrontation of the fact, that is, of the hypothesis considered as verified, with the new idea. In an analogous manner, the author must constantly confront his sketches with their realization, which is outlined by them and immediately reacts upon



them. If he wants the reader to believe in the inventions he proposes, the novelist must first believe strongly enough in them himself to discover a meaning in them that ­will flow back into the original idea, a meaning that ­will suggest prob­lems, new twists, and unforeseen developments. Thus, as the story unfolds, he sees truths appear that ­were previously unknown to him, questions whose solutions he does not possess. He questions himself, takes sides, and runs risks; and, at the end of his creation, he ­will consider the work he has accomplished with astonishment. (272)

Upon closer examination, however, the comparison with science in this striking passage verges not ­toward objectivity, but surprisingly ­toward adventurousness. When one allows oneself to test a hypothesis or realize a sketch, one undertakes this endeavor with the understanding that one may discover something entirely dif­fer­ent from what one initially thought. The novelist or scientist is both active and passive with re­spect to the sketch or experiment: first setting it up, and then allowing it to “react” and “unfold” with “new twists and unforeseen developments.” Th ­ ese motions of “unfold[ing]” and “twist[ing]” suggest a many-­sided phenomenon that cannot be comprehended with a single approach. The necessary attitude is hence one of openness to the appearance of truths previously unknown. The result cannot simply be summarized as the confirmation or disconfirmation of the idea with which one started. What is discovered is best comprehended as an entire pro­cess, unfurling through successive and unexpected turns and revelations. To say that a novel imitates life’s “impartiality” is to claim, then, that a novel incorporates the impression of chance, spontaneous decision, and progressive development within its very structure, so that one would find it impossible to stop at any single point or part of the story and, by examining it, expect to grasp the ­whole. This argument resonates vividly with an observation that Beauvoir makes in her journal entry of August 16, 1926: “What I like in the discoveries of a Barrès, of a Rivière, is . . . ​an unforeseen resemblance and one whose unexpectedness itself charms me. With Bergson, ­t hese impressions lose their adventurous character.”53 The impressions communicated by lit­ er­ a­ ture, Beauvoir argues, are in danger of losing a certain tentative, haphazard quality—­“their adventurous character”—­when converted to the intellectu-

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


alized and definitive explanations of philosophy. But t­ here is more. At the end of the passage quoted above, Beauvoir subtly links the artistic pro­cess she describes to the achievement of the unified w ­ hole of the aesthetic work: “[the author] himself could not furnish an abstract translation of it b­ ecause, in one single movement, the work gives itself both meaning and flesh.” The presence of the author as form-­giving agent completely dis­appears in the motion by which the totality of the work incarnates its meaning—as if, that is to say, the impartiality of the work is verified by its having composed itself seemingly without regard to the impositions, conceptions, or conclusions of any authorial figure. Careful attention to Beauvoir’s use of “opacity,” “ambiguity,” or “impartiality” in relation to the task of the literary text reveals that she intends no mystification of lived experience or of the novel. Her view of the relation between lit­er­a­ture and philosophy can thus be distinguished from that advanced by critics such as the novelist-­philosopher Iris Murdoch. Murdoch claims that whereas lit­er­a­ture “is full of tricks and magic and deliberate mystification,” “philosophy aims to clarify and to explain, it states and attempts to solve very difficult highly technical prob­lems and the writing must be subservient to this aim. . . . ​­There is an ideal philosophical style which has a special unambiguous plainness and hardness about it, an austere unselfish candid style.” Thus, according to Murdoch, “Philosophy is abstract and discursive and direct,” but in contrast “good lit­er­a­ture does not look like ‘analy­sis’ ­because what the imagination produces is sensuous, fused, reified, mysterious, ambiguous, par­tic­u­lar.” For Murdoch, however, the cost of maintaining this rigid distinction between philosophical and literary modes of expression is a commitment to the view that Kierkegaard and Nietz­sche are not phi­los­o­phers, and that Sartre and Beauvoir are not actually novelists. “In general,” she argues, “I am reluctant to say that the deep structure of any good literary work could be a philosophical one. . . . ​For better and worse art goes deeper than philosophy.” Whereas Murdoch rehearses the assumptions of the Anglo-­American analytic tradition, attributing to lit­er­a­ture a magical, inexplicable particularity and to philosophy an abstract and technical austerity, Beauvoir contends that the techniques and forms of the novel make pos­si­ble a genuine fusion between literary repre­sen­ta­tion and philosophical thinking.54 Given her accomplishments as a novelist in France (Merleau-­Ponty lauds her 1943 novel, L’Invitée, as an exemplar of the new “metaphysical novel”;



her 1954 novel Les Mandarins is awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt), Beauvoir’s focus on the genre of the novel in her literary-­philosophical criticism is hardly unexpected. Yet despite Beauvoir’s repeated emphasis on novelistic form, the deeper implications of her views on this subject have received surprisingly l­ittle critical attention. Thus Toril Moi, whose work is a notable exception to this lacuna, describes her as a “ ‘formidably hidden’ literary theorist.”55 As Ursula Tidd suggests in “État présent,” ­there is a tendency in Beauvoir criticism to “neglect both the discursive differences between philosophy and lit­er­a­ture and also Beauvoir’s own situated choice of genre to express the conceptual and / or the imaginary.”56 Tidd argues that “Beauvoir’s broadly realist and ‘committed’ approach to lit­er­a­ture has been deemed less technically challenging than experimental w ­ omen’s writing,” implying that the reception of Beauvoir’s literary writing has been influenced, and perhaps distorted, by the ascendancy of poststructuralist trends in literary criticism.57 Beyond casting her literary work and her theoretical predilections as “broadly realist,” however, few have attempted to say what “realism” means to Beauvoir, or why she endows such a “situated . . . ​genre” with philosophical significance.58 Beauvoir’s theory of the realist novel stands to enrich con­temporary scholarship on the relation between the novel and philosophy along several dimensions. First, the account Beauvoir develops of the philosophical expressivity of the form of the novel is especially relevant to con­temporary discussions of lit­er­a­ture and philosophy, b­ ecause it rejects the standard assumptions made by analytic approaches to the novel and establishes a strong counterargument to the view that novels have philosophical value insofar as they supply paraphraseable theories. As she asserts in “My Experience as a Writer” (1979), a “thesis novel is a novel which speaks, in the weak sense of the word; it is a novel which preaches a lesson. . . . ​If that is what one has to say, ­there is no need to construct a ­whole complicated story, a ­whole imaginary world, one has only to say it; one must write an essay.”59 Second, Beauvoir’s comprehensive approach to the philosophical aims of the novel provides a much-­needed alternative to perennial debates about the seeming paradoxes of truth-­seeking ­under the guise of fiction. Beauvoir’s poetics of the novel identifies the aesthetic strategies that are intended to provide a more compelling repre­sen­ta­tion of key aspects of lived experience, and then explicates how and why t­hese literary strategies are crucial to the existential

­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Nove


and ethical impact of the novel upon its reader. Fi­nally, for Beauvoir, the close relationship between the novel and vital aspects of existentialist thought exhibits the manner in which philosophical notions of truth are reframed or transformed by an encounter with literary form. The novel is what she calls a “­silent ­whole” that “says nothing but rather shows a w ­ hole set of difficulties, ambiguities and contradictions which constitute the lived meaning of an existence.”60 The demand that the novel be both “whole”—­a meaningfully unified aesthetic totality—­and “­silent” with regards to its ultimate communication to the reader is expressed in the vari­ous paradoxes attending novelistic authorship that Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Beauvoir articulate. In the following chapters, I examine the integration of ­these paradoxes into novelistic form through the novel’s repre­sen­ta­tion of freedom, worldhood, and detotalized aesthetic form.


The Character of Self-­Consciousness: Representing Freedom in the Novel of Marriage

the existentialist poetics of Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir, the form of the novel arises from a tension between two equally compelling aesthetic demands. The novel must establish its manifest autonomy qua artwork. Si­mul­ta­neously, it must convince the reader of the in­de­pen­dent existence of its characters, to the point that the aesthetic boundary separating reader from novel virtually vanishes, giving rise to the effect of immersive inhabitation within the fictional real­ity of the characters’ lives and world. In the tradition of the nineteenth-­and twentieth-­century realist novel, this repre­sen­ta­tional paradox is resolved by attempts to establish the aesthetic boundary of the novel through strategies that appear to obviate the possibility of assuming an objective, totalizing perspective upon the lives of the characters. The philosophical stakes implicit in novelistic repre­sen­ta­tions of characterological freedom and self-­consciousness emerge with greater acuity in the work of Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir. According to ­t hese thinkers, the repre­sen­ta­tion of a character’s own agential perspective upon her existence is falsified when it appears to be displaced by another point of view that asserts authority over the meaning of her life, even as a mode of life unity that is distinct from characterological self-­consciousness is necessarily AC C O R D I N G TO

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


manifested in and through the totality of its aesthetic repre­sen­ta­tion. The implications of this poetic claim for any consideration of the ethics of the realist novel are vast, and this chapter cannot pretend to encompass more than a fraction of them. I focus h ­ ere on a single issue: namely, how this aesthetic paradox is both thematically and formally amplified in the realist subgenre of the novel of marriage, in which vital philosophical issues concerning the emergence of an authoritative point of view on one’s own existence inflect the development of novelistic form. The novel of marriage is governed by certain plot conventions that intensify the poetic difficulty of representing the heroine’s choice as fully ­f ree and self-­determined. If the heroine’s final choice to wed is (aesthetically) conditioned by the demands of narrative closure, then the force of generic necessity threatens to subvert the character’s own authoritative self-­knowledge. “If it was not for death and marriage I do not know how the average ­novelist would conclude,” observes E. M. Forster ironically.1 But even if marriage “brings the plot to closure and thus ends the writer’s work,” in the words of Mary Poovey, critics protest that reprieve from writerly ­labor is obtained at the cost of characterological realism and hence readerly belief.2 As Janice Radway argues, the “conclusion’s repeated overpowering of the heroine’s individual difference by her enthusiastic assumption of an abstract, unvarying role . . . ​undercuts the realism of its novelistic rendering of an individual ­woman’s story.”3 Pamela Regis states the difficulty in terms even more starkly relevant to the poetic paradox at issue: “A marriage—­promised or actually dramatized—­ends ­every romance novel. Ironically, it is this universal feature of the romance novel that elicits the fiercest condemnation from its critics. The marriage, they claim, enslaves the heroine, and, by extension the reader.”4 The reader’s conviction in the individual agency of the character is seen to be compromised by “universal” conventions, which threaten to seal the open horizon of the character’s life within the tomb of a predetermined form. Beyond this formal issue, the prob­lem of what it means to choose for oneself in a situation of ideological overdetermination is widely recognized as central to the novel of marriage. The tension between ­free choice and a socially normative conclusion is viewed largely through the lens of a theoretical ­either / or. On one end of the spectrum, Ian Watt argues that the novel of marriage offers a realistic repre­sen­ta­tion of the endpoint of social transformations



that meld the traditions of courtly love with the institution of marriage, which thereby comes to be regarded as “primarily the result of a ­free choice by the individuals concerned.” Thus the very “rise of the novel,” he claims, “would seem to be connected with the much greater freedom of ­women in modern society, a freedom which, especially as regards marriage, was achieved earlier and more completely in ­England than elsewhere.”5 On the other end of the spectrum, Franco Moretti views the novel of marriage as the paragon of a plot in which “events acquire meaning when they [lead] to one ending, and one only.” Further, he argues, “at the end of the Bildungs­ roman’s development, marriage w ­ ill even be disembodied into an abstract princi­ple by Eliot’s Daniel Deronda who marries not so much a ­woman, as a rigidly normative culture.”6 What is striking in the contrast of ­these views is that despite their seeming opposition, both assume a similar stance upon the relation between literary form and the repre­sen­ta­tion of characterological freedom. In the encounter between characterological freedom and the calculated destiny of plot, one must dominate: e­ ither the pro­gress of the narrative is determined by the contingency of individual ­free choice, or the fiction of individual agency is merely a narrative pawn to be discarded once the ultimate plot structure is established in its entirety. Forster makes this implied dichotomy between individuality and narrative form explicit in his analy­sis of “Plot” in Aspects of the Novel (1927): In most literary works t­ here are two ele­ments: ­human individuals, whom we have recently discussed, and the ele­ment vaguely called art. Art we have also dallied with, but with a very low form of it. . . . ​Now we arrive at a much higher aspect: the plot, and the plot, instead of finding ­human beings more or less cut to its requirements, as they are in the drama, finds them enormous, shadowy and intractable, and three-­quarters hidden like an iceberg. In vain it points out to ­these unwieldy creatures the advantages of the ­triple pro­cess of complication, crisis, and solution so persuasively expounded by Aristotle. . . . ​But ­t here is no general response. They want to sit apart and brood or something, and the plot (whom I ­here visualize as a sort of higher government official) is concerned at their lack of public spirit: “This ­will not do,” it seems to say. “Individualism is a most valuable quality; indeed my own position depends upon individuals; I have always

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admitted as much freely. Nevertheless ­there are certain limits, and ­those limits are being overstepped. Characters must not brood too long, they must not waste time r­ unning up and down ladders in their own insides, they must contribute, or higher interests ­will be jeopardised.”

Plot emerges as a masterful stratagem, one ultimately fatal to the existence of the protagonist qua individual. Bemoaning the cases in which “a plot triumphs too completely,” Forster notes that in such novels the “characters have to suspend their natures at ­every turn, or ­else are so swept away by the course of Fate that our sense of their real­ity is weakened.”7 Whereas this generally assumed opposition between the dominance of plot and the real­ity of individual character often shapes the analy­sis of par­ tic­u­lar novels, few critics have noted that it elides the manner in which novelistic repre­sen­ta­tions of individual agency never exist in­de­pen­dently of plot.8 Indeed, Forster virtually equates characterological freedom with rebellion against the plot: “The characters arrive when evoked, but full of the spirit of mutiny. For they have ­these numerous parallels with ­people like ourselves, they try to live their own lives and are consequently often engaged in treason against the main scheme of the book.”9 Forster naturalizes the agency of the character and treats it as a preexisting point of re­sis­tance to the formative influence of plot. In so d ­ oing, he conceals the fact that a character’s agency always comes into view precisely at the seam between her apparent in­de­pen­dence from any totalizing, form-­giving authorial act and her embeddedness within the novelistic plot. The extent to which the poetics of the realist novel is s­ haped by the paradoxical demand that characterological agency emerge in and through the plot, not merely in spite of it, is consequently obscured. In Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1880–1881), the attempt to discover an aesthetic form that might reflectively disclose characterological freedom without reification or falsification is foregrounded to the extent of being nearly overdetermined. As many critics have noted, scenes in which characters behold works of art and scenes in which characters describe other characters in markedly aesthetic terms are prominent.10 “ ‘For a ­woman of my age ­there is no more becoming ornament than an attractive niece,’ ” confesses Mrs. Touchett of her motive for bringing Isabel to Eu­rope.11 Her invalid son Ralph Touchett inwardly finds his cousin’s character “ ‘finer than



the finest work of art,’ ” thinking of Isabel: “ ‘Suddenly I receive a Titian, by the post, to hang on my wall—­a Greek bas-­relief to stick over my chimney piece’ ” (254). Fi­nally, the conniving Gilbert Osmond wishes for a wife whose “intelligence . . . ​was to be a silver plate . . . ​a plate that he might heap up with ripe fruits, to which it would give a decorative value,” and “found the silvery quality in perfection in Isabel” (552). Osmond’s ­daughter Pansy, admired chiefly as an ornament to her f­ather’s existence, also proves to be a particularly attractive target for the impulse of aestheticization. Isabel perceives “Osmond’s aesthetic relish of Pansy’s innocence,” a form of regard rendered all the more disturbing by the fact that he considers himself the primary stylist of its object (555). In an exemplary display of what David Kurnick describes as the “stylistic consistency of James’s characters . . . ​as if, what­ever role they occupy in the story (innocent, villain, ficelle), Jamesian characters retain an extradiegetic consciousness of themselves as engaged in precisely ­those roles and thus in a larger fictional proj­ect,” Pansy confides to Isabel that Osmond “ ‘wished to speak about my education; it ­isn’t finished yet, you know. . . . ​Papa told me one day he thought he would finish it himself’ ” (515–516).12 Indeed, Isabel already discerns in her first impression of Pansy “a kind of finish which was not entirely artless” (453). In both Isabel and Pansy, the novel figures the relation between aesthetic reification and individual freedom in terms of the prob­lem of what it would mean for an artistic repre­sen­ta­tion of a person to be “finished,” or regarded from the totalizing point of view of Mikhail Bakhtin’s author / ­beholder. From the outset, the issue of characterological autonomy in The Portrait of a Lady is entangled with the problematic nature of totality in novelistic poetics. Isabel Archer’s status as protagonist is intensified in part by her arrival on a scene in which the principal personages have already formed their life views: Mr. Touchett, b­ ecause he is retired and near death; Ralph, b­ ecause he is an invalid; and Lord Warburton, ­because his aristocratic identity ­settles entirely the question of his personal fate and orientation to the world.13 The character system of the novel is pervaded early on by figures whose lives, in some sense or another, partake of an air of having already been finalized or predetermined.14 This effect is amplified by the fact that Isabel’s ­mother and ­father are both deceased. Although the forms of existential finality involved in ­these characters’ situations differ in significant ways from one another and from the form of aesthetic finalization implied by Isabel’s observation of

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Pansy, nevertheless both existential finality and aesthetic “finish” are linked throughout the novel so as to bring into focus the prob­lem of totality in novelistic poetics. Take, for instance, Madame Merle’s insistence to Isabel that her own life is, in some sense, finished: “ ‘If I could only begin again—if I could have my life before me!’ ” (395). “ ‘I am old, and stale, and faded,’ ” she declares. “ ‘I am of no more interest than last week’s newspaper. You are young and fresh, and of to-­day; you have the ­great ­thing—­you have actuality’ ” (391). Attributing to Isabel a state of existential possibility that she herself professes to lack (and thereby ironically concealing the presence of her greatest unfinished proj­ect, the ­future of her ­daughter Pansy), Madame Merle concludes her reflections with a remark that subtly pivots to the metafictional issue of what constitutes the “ ‘actuality’ ” of a fictional character like Isabel. H ­ ere, her conclusion accords exactly with the logic traced in Chapter 1. If the form of aesthetic finalization imparted by a novel upon a character threatens to break readerly immersion in the lived experience of the character, then readerly belief in the “actuality” of a character’s life is achieved precisely insofar as it is pos­si­ble to suspend awareness of an ending that exists no ­matter what the character herself feels or does. Madame Merle’s aside that she, in contrast with Isabel, is of “ ‘no interest’ ” recalls Lord Warburton’s exclamation to Ralph Touchett upon the introduction of Isabel’s character at the opening of the novel: “ ‘You wished a while ago to see my idea of an in­ter­est­ing ­woman. ­There it is!’ ” (210). To borrow Kierkegaard’s description of the figure of the author in “From the Papers of One Still Living,” ­these characters who are “no longer living” serve to bring into focus the conditions of readerly interest in Isabel. They function as stand-­ins for the temptation of assuming the perspective of an author / ­beholder vis-­à-­vis a protagonist who has “an im­mense curiosity about life” and “carrie[s] within herself a g­ reat fund of life” (225). Madame Merle tells Isabel, “ ‘I am glad ­you’ve done nothing yet—­that you have it still to do’ ” (399). Isabel emerges more distinctly as one who is still in the business of living ­because she is surrounded by ­those whose destinies are supposedly settled, and who are thus all the more ­eager to take a vicarious interest in the question of how she o­ ught to determine her own course. The supreme irony of Madame Merle’s observation lies, of course, in the fact that she herself “ ‘ha[s] it still to do.’ ” What Madame Merle displays—­the interventionist power of a still-­living author to render the life of her character into a fixed, immobile



form, a mere tool or extension of authorial desire—is ultimately revealed to be true as well of ostensibly benevolent characters such as Ralph. His spectatorship of Isabel’s life bestows the greatest of threats and burdens upon her. The bequest that he hopes ­will set her ­free instead renders her vulnerable to her own idealistic delusions and the mercenary plots of o­ thers. In ­these figures, as in the character of Gilbert Osmond, the recurrent specter of authorial interference becomes thematically central within the frame of the fiction itself.15 If the constant threat of finalization on the terms of an authority other than the self pervades the novel’s plot and character system, then this internal dynamic serves only to heighten the stakes of the novel’s engagement with the poetic paradox of representing characterological freedom. Scholars have long recognized that the friction between Portrait’s fatalism and its insistence on choice threatens to render both plot and protagonist bewilderingly opaque.16 As Dorothy Berkson puts it, “Why does she marry Osmond?”—­and why, even ­after she has come to know of his terrible deception, does she choose to return to him at the end?17 “ ‘I’ve only one ambition,’ ” declares Isabel to Ralph, by way of explanation for her choice: “ ‘to be ­free to follow out a good feeling.’ ” Few readers wish to believe that Isabel’s noble aim of in­de­pen­dence leads her straight into the trap of a devious and unscrupulous world.18 Yet attempts to shift the locus of responsibility for her choice invariably fail. Th ­ ose who argue that Isabel is imprisoned within the confines of a patriarchal order too power­ful for any individual to resist must contend with Nina Baym’s observation that by including figures such as Mrs. Touchett and Henrietta, James clearly “does not want to say that in­de­ pen­dence is . . . ​incompatible with love and marriage” (199).19 (The logic of Baym’s argument could also be extended to characters such as Countess Gemini and Madame Merle; as Gary Saul Morson’s theory of “sideshadowing” suggests, the proliferation of alternative ways of being-­in-­marriage that appear throughout the novel’s character system only intensifies the fictional illusion of its protagonist’s freedom.20) Likewise, critics who propose that Isabel succumbs to the sway of some unconscious compulsion—­fear, frigidity, the wish to preserve the narcissistic superiority of the observer, or the desire to live out the tragic fate of a literary heroine—­face the difficulty of explaining why such a person, given her cousin’s generous bequest, would submit herself to a conventional ­union in the first place.21 Fi­nally, ­those who

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hold that Isabel deliberately sacrifices her freedom in ser­vice of higher ideal, such as care for her marriage or maternal obligation to Pansy, must prove that she lacks the imagination to devise any other alternative to pure suffering: a daunting task, if only b­ ecause imagination seems to be the hallmark of her character.22 This chapter seeks to offer a reading of the novel that casts the perennial debate over the meaning of Isabel’s choice in a new light. It does so not, or not only, by offering yet another interpretation of the choice, but rather by seeking to show that the proliferation of deeply opposed interpretations is itself symptomatic of a failure to recognize the deeper paradox of aesthetic repre­sen­ta­tion that The Portrait of a Lady displays. As the interminable debate over plot and character reveals, the novel is constructed so as to render it equally as difficult to explain away the genuine existence of Isabel’s choice as it is to justify it. I ­shall argue that this seeming flaw in the novel’s design is in fact a direct outcome of James’s exploration of the conditions for the repre­sen­ta­tion of the nature of choice and its relation to the authority of self-­k nowledge. One of the primary formal means developed within this novel of marriage to achieve a compelling aesthetic repre­sen­ta­tion of characterological freedom, self-­consciousness, and in­de­pen­dent choice is a narrative structure whose respective stages appear to be almost discontinuous from a third-­ person perspective. ­These stages, I ­shall argue, parallel the successive stages of existence that Kierkegaard portrays in works such as ­Either / Or (1843), Stages on Life’s Way (1845), and Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), in which the inwardness of the self develops from the aesthetic stage to the ethical stage, and from the ethical stage to its transcendence.23 ­A fter first summarizing several key implications of Kierkegaard’s “stages on life’s way” with re­spect to earlier novels of marriage by Austen, Eliot, and Brontë, I s­ hall turn to a deeper exploration of the workings of this narrative progression in The Portrait of a Lady. ­Here, I bring in Kierkegaard’s depiction of the stages of selfhood not in order to suggest that the novel furnishes illustrations of ­these vari­ous stages, but rather to show that the deeply dialectical structure under­ lying his poetic repre­sen­ta­tion of t­ hese stages illuminates both the paradox of representing Isabel’s in­de­pen­dence and the nature of plot in James’s novel. The juxtaposition of philosophy and lit­er­a­ture in this chapter thus aims not at matching a view or argument in Kierkegaard’s text with an implied



position in James’s novel, but rather at elucidating a series of dialectical shifts that generate narrative structure. In this way, philosophical significance may be seen to emerge in and through the concreteness of literary form. Stages on Life’s Way: Plot and the Novel of Marriage

Characters in the novel of marriage face a situation of choice with dramatic consequences. The plot is constructed around the making of a single commitment that ­shall define the protagonist’s social identity and private happiness for the rest of her life. The issue of how this binding choice can be compatible with her ongoing freedom to choose for herself thus comes to the forefront of e­ very novel of marriage, exemplifying Sartre’s claim in “François Mauriac and Freedom” that “the real conflict in a novel is . . . ​between freedom and itself.”24 “ ‘I wish,’ ” declares Edward Ferrars in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811), “ ‘as well as every­body ­else, to be perfectly happy; but, like every­body ­else, it must be in my own way.’ ”25 This is the principal prob­lem facing Austen’s heroines, and indeed many of the heroines in the novel of marriage (as well as in its major variation, the novel of adultery): Elizabeth Bennett, Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, Lucy Snowe, Dorothea Brooke, Anna Karenina, and Isabel Archer all strug­gle “to be perfectly happy” in their “own way,” while nevertheless undertaking a commitment to something much larger than themselves. If perfect happiness depends in the novel of marriage upon a character’s ability to choose it for herself, then the genre must manifest an understanding of what it means to choose for one’s self, and of how one knows when one has chosen for one’s self. The philosophical and poetic stakes of representing a f­ ree, in­de­pen­dent choice within the tradition of the novel of marriage are hence not unrelated to what Bakhtin identifies as the “peculiar ‘revolt’ of the hero against his literary finalization” in his account of Dostoevsky’s poetics: The serious and deeper meaning of this revolt might be expressed this way: a living ­human being cannot be turned into the voiceless object of some second­hand, finalizing cognitive pro­cess. In a ­human being ­there is always something that only he himself can reveal, in a ­f ree act of self-­ consciousness and discourse, something that does not submit to an external-

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izing second­hand definition. . . . ​In Dostoevsky’s subsequent works, the characters no longer carry on a literary polemic with finalizing second­ hand definitions of man . . . ​but they all do furious ­battle with such definitions of their personality in the mouths of other ­people. They all acutely sense their own inner unfinalizability, their capacity to outgrow, as it ­were, from within and to render untrue any externalizing and finalizing definition of them. As long as a person is alive he lives by the fact that he is not yet finalized, that he has not yet uttered his ultimate word. . . . ​The hero of “Notes from Underground” is the first hero-­ ideologist in Dostoevsky’s work. One of his basic ideas . . . ​is precisely the idea that man is not a final and defined quantity upon which firm calculations can be made; man is f­ ree, and can therefore violate any regulating norms which might be thrust upon him.26

Although Dostoevsky’s Underground Man is seldom, if ever, put forward as a point of comparison for Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett, the “basic idea” that Bakhtin attributes to the Underground Man is passionately deployed in the climactic scene of confrontation between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice (1813): Her ladyship was highly incensed. “You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you, must disgrace him in the eyes of every­body?” “Lady Catherine, I have nothing farther to say. You know my sentiments.” “You are then resolved to have him?” “I have said no such t­ hing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which w ­ ill, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” “It is well. You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world.”  . . . ​Elizabeth made no answer; and without attempting to persuade her ladyship to return into the ­house, walked quietly into it herself. . . . ​



Her ­mother impatiently met her at the door of the dressing-­room, to ask why Lady Catherine would not come in again and rest herself. “She did not choose it,” said her d ­ aughter, “she would go.”  . . . ​“I suppose she had nothing par­tic­u­lar to say to you, Lizzy?” Elizabeth was forced to give into a l­ittle falsehood ­here; for to acknowledge the substance of their conversation was impossible.27

At stake in this passage is the nature of the overriding ethical concern at the heart of the novel of marriage. The scene does not merely portray a confrontation between aristocratic privilege and authority, on the one hand, and individual passion, on the other. Nor does it stage a conflict between the claims of social duty and the urgings of private desire. Elizabeth Bennett pleads not for her right to love or marry Darcy; she does not seek to reconcile personal w ­ ill with social acceptability. Rather, her declaration of in­de­ pen­dence depends on more general (one might even say philosophical) grounds that concern the irrelevance of o­ thers’ values and proj­ects to the ­matter of her own choice. It unfolds in several distinct stages: first, the rejection of prevailing categories of social and moral evaluation; second, the repudiation of any demand that she define her own choice in terms suggested by the commitments or aims of ­others; third, the refusal not only to obey but also even to “acknowledge the substance” of their exchange, as if (secrecy aside) the very idea that the other’s construal might be relevant to any knowledge of what she ­will do is itself an “impossible” or incoherent notion. Indeed—­and this point must be emphasized—­the tension of the scene revolves around a question about the nature of self-­k nowledge, about how one might know what Elizabeth is g­ oing to do. Its resolution lies therefore not in the announcement of some fact of the m ­ atter—­that she ­will or ­will not marry Darcy—­but rather in the acknowl­edgment of what Richard Moran calls the authority of self-­consciousness itself: “the authority of the person to make up his mind, change his mind, endorse some attitude or disavow it.”28 Only with re­spect to one’s own mind does one not only assess or appraise its state, but also determine it by deciding which impulses and reasons ­shall carry weight in one’s thoughts or actions. This capacity to make the attribution of a par­tic­u­lar state of mind true or false with regard to oneself cannot be taken over by any other person, no m ­ atter how omniscient or

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power­ful. Throughout the scene, the emphasis on choice and resolution, on the conditions ­under which one cannot and ­will not answer or acknowledge the attempts of the other to represent one’s f­ree actions definitively, is marked. Thus we may read Elizabeth’s ­silent, ironic reflection on her ­mother’s statement that Lady Catherine “had nothing par­tic­u ­lar to say to you” in light of Bakhtin’s claim that “the hero interests Dostoevsky not as some manifestation of real­ity that possesses fixed and specific socially typical or individually characteristic traits, nor as a specific profile assembled out of unambiguous and objective features . . . ​[but] as a par­tic­u­lar point of view on the world and on oneself, as the position enabling a person to interpret and evaluate his own self and his surrounding real­ity.”29 No ­matter what position Lady Catherine may hold, she possesses no authority to divest Elizabeth of her point of view on herself. Central to the novel of marriage is thus a more general prob­lem belonging to the poetics of the novel. How can an aesthetic repre­sen­ta­tion convince the reader of the real­ity of a “par­tic­u­lar point of view on the world and on oneself”—­how can it convey, without falsification, the existential condition of “unfinalizability” in which the authority of self-­knowledge rests? Beauvoir takes up this Bakhtinian concern in her essay “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics.” Although Beauvoir could hardly have known of Bakhtin’s Prob­lems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (which, although composed in the 1920s, did not arrive in French translation u ­ ntil 1970), ­there is no doubt that both thinkers are engaged in mapping a constellation of philosophical-­aesthetic concerns surrounding the reification of h ­ uman existence and the repre­sen­ta­ tion of au­then­tic ­human agency. Beauvoir’s proj­ect must, of course, be distinguished from that of Bakhtin; as her allusions in this essay to novelists such as Stendhal and Hardy reveal, she situates her inquiry within a much broader conception of the poetics of the realist novel. Yet she, like Bakhtin, understands the crucial philosophical significance of novelistic form in terms of the central paradox that animates an existentialist poetics of the novel: “Doubtless, in the literal meaning of the word, it is absurd to claim that a novel’s protagonist is ­free, that his reactions are unpredictable and mysterious. But, in truth, this freedom one admires in Dostoevsky’s characters, for example, is the freedom that the novelist himself has with regard to his own proj­ects; and the opacity of the events he relates shows the re­sis­ tance that he encounters during the creative act itself.”30 This statement



virtually echoes several themes that emerge in the following key passage from Bakhtin’s essay: It might seem that the in­de­pen­dence of a character contradicts the fact that he exists, entirely and solely, as an aspect of a work of art, and consequently is wholly created from beginning to end by the author. In fact ­there is no such contradiction. The characters’ freedom we speak of ­here exists within the limits of the artistic design, and in that sense is just as much a created t­ hing as is the unfreedom of the objectivized hero. But to create does not mean to invent. ­Every creative act is bound by its own special laws, as well as by the laws of the material with which it works. ­Every creative act is determined by its object and by the structure of its object, and therefore permits no arbitrariness; in essence it invents nothing, but only reveals what is already pres­ent in the object itself. . . . ​The logic of self-­consciousness permits only certain artistic means for revealing and representing itself. Self-­consciousness can be interrogated and provoked into revealing and representing itself, but not by giving it a predetermined or finalizing image. Such an objectified image is precisely what is inadequate to the very t­ hing that the author has selected as his subject.31

We may leave open the question of w ­ hether to concur with Beauvoir’s appreciation of the Dostoevskian novel as a culmination of the tradition of high novelistic realism or with Bakhtin’s assessment of it as a radical break within that tradition. Both are in agreement that the question would depend on the extent to which the tradition participates in the development of a realism concerned with the repre­sen­ta­tion of self-­consciousness and agency—on the extent, that is, to which the nineteenth-­century realist novel seeks to discover aesthetic means of convincing its readers of the ultimate freedom of its characters, and thus necessarily of the absence of any totalizing authorial vision that might proj­ect a “predetermined or finalizing image” upon self-­consciousness.32 Within this tradition of philosophical-­literary thought, the aesthetic difficulty of achieving a totally convincing repre­sen­ta­tion of the real­ity of freedom is bound up with the danger of reifying the self. Bakhtin emphasizes Dostoevsky’s utter rejection of the perspective upon humanity put forth

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by the psy­chol­ogy of his day: “He saw in it a degrading reification of a person’s soul, a discounting of its freedom and its unfinalizability, and of that peculiar indeterminacy and indefiniteness which in Dostoevsky constitute the main object of repre­sen­ta­tion: for in fact Dostoevsky always represents a person on the threshold of a final decision, at a moment of crisis, at an unfinalizable—­a nd unpredeterminable—­turning point for his soul.”33 The danger of reification emphasized h ­ ere reveals the shared concern of Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard with the vulnerability of subjective inwardness to a kind of false ontologization or idealization. (The influence of Kierkegaard upon Bakhtin and his reading of Dostoevsky is well-­documented by scholars; in a late interview published in the literary journal Tjelovek, Bakhtin declares: “I was the first Rus­sian . . . ​to study Søren Kierkegaard. . . . ​ Dostoevsky was, of course, unaware of Kierkegaard’s existence, despite the fact that they ­were nearly contemporaries. The sympathy, however, between the concerns of ­these two authors and the depth of their insights is astounding.”34) The difficulty of creating a conceptual space for au­then­tic recognition of this subject becomes, for Dostoevsky and for Kierkegaard, bound up with the realization of an aesthetic mode of repre­sen­ta­tion that manifests the impossibility of assuming a reflective or totalizing standpoint with relation to the inner unfinalizability of a person. The problematic nature of aesthetic totality in the novel to which t­ hese demands give rise is acknowledged in classic theories of the genre. As György Lukács claims in The Theory of the Novel (1916), “From the artistic viewpoint, the novel is the most hazardous genre.” “The novel tells of the adventure of interiority,” argues Lukács, and that adventure may be known only from the standpoint of self-­conscious freedom: the first-­person point of view of the agent, of inward imaginative reflection upon the self’s existential possibilities. The danger of this constraint lies in the possibility that “only a subjective aspect of that totality ­will be given form, obscuring or even destroying the creative intention of ac­cep­tance and objectivity.” To mitigate this outcome, the plot of a novel must appear to develop from the f­ ree choices of its characters, while nevertheless yielding a point of view upon t­hose choices that does not itself emerge from a single dominant existential possibility. Novelistic form must give rise to a perspective upon ­free self-­consciousness that is capable of comprehending vari­ous existential possibilities in their relation to one another.35



The resolution a­ dopted by the novels of marriage examined h ­ ere involves a plot structured by distinct stages, to borrow Kierkegaard’s term, in the evolution of the self and its freedom. The internal relation that ­these stages assume to one another demonstrates that the authority of self-­k nowledge is a necessary condition for assuming responsibility over one’s existence through the exercise of choice. Furthermore, as Kierkegaard reveals in works such as ­Either / Or and Stages on Life’s Way, the conditions for achieving self-­ knowledge can be grasped genuinely only from the standpoint of an existing self. The special role of first-­person agency in our own inner lives does not admit to being represented or acknowledged from a perspective of objective reflection. Hence to portray self-­knowledge in a novelistic form is also necessarily to convey and to acknowledge the impossibility (or, as I call it elsewhere, the necessity of the novel qua fiction) embodied in the fantasy of accessing such knowledge from the perspective of an aesthetic imaginative reflection divorced from existential responsibility. Before delineating the manifestation of t­hese dif­fer­ent stages of selfhood in James’s The Portrait of a Lady, I s­ hall first briefly sketch this exemplary narrative structure as it appears in several key novels of marriage, such as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma (1815), Villette (1853), and Middlemarch (1871–1872). This structure subtly follows the movement from the aesthetic to the ethical stage, and from the ethical stage to its transcendence, which Kierkegaard lays out in texts such as ­Either / Or, Stages on Life’s Way, and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. (Although a detailed account of the complex relation between the literary form of ­these texts and their philosophical significance exceeds the scope of this chapter, as several scholars have noted, the interplay between the vari­ ous quasi-­ novelistic characters and their respective forms of repre­sen­ta­tion is not unrelated to the issues of authorship and life view outlined in Chapter 1.36) In ­Either / Or, the earnest and happily married Judge Wilhelm is determined to prove to the character of the aesthete, whom he addresses directly in his long epistles, that the authenticity the aesthete seeks is not given up in marriage but rather transfigured and realized more completely. Not only can marriage be taken as a paradigmatic form of ethical commitment, but it also embodies the manner in which an ethical decision can bring to fruition the inward subjectivity that the aesthete strives—­but actually fails, according to the judge—to cultivate.

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Judge Wilhelm contends that the first stage of selfhood concerns the intimate exercise of the imagination in accordance with one’s desires, which he calls the “aesthetic” stage. A person at this stage is immersed in melancholy, taken to flights of poetic yearning, and determined to distance herself from external commitments and obligations in order to preserve an idealized form of possibility and freedom. This is the stage at which we first encounter many of the heroines in canonical novels of marriage. Dorothea Brooke at the beginning of Middlemarch often imagines herself as someone to whom ­great possibilities are available: “For a long while she had been oppressed by the indefiniteness which hung in her mind, like a thick summer haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly effective. What could she do, what ­ought she do?”37 Yet Dorothea’s inconstant fantasizing about herself and her ­grand schemes lacks concrete commitment. She refuses her ­mother’s gems with the self-­righteousness of a martyr, only to be suddenly struck by a desire to “feed her eye at t­ hese ­little fountains of pure color” (10). “ ‘How very beautiful ­these gems are!’ said Dorothea, ­under a new current of feeling, as sudden as the gleam. ‘It is strange how deeply colors seem to penetrate one, like scents. I suppose that is the reason why gems are used as spiritual emblems in the Revelation of St John. They look like fragments of heaven. I think that emerald is more beautiful than any of them.’ . . . ​A ll the while her thought was trying to justify her delight in the colours by merging them in her mystic religious joy” (9). Like Kierkegaard’s aesthete, she acts according to sudden and extreme moods, seduced by the glinting and ever-­ changing beauty of the world. She derives ever more intense plea­sure from “merging” ­these sensual delights into ­grand and abstract schemes, in which the possibilities for gratifying emotions abound. Swept away by ­these feelings, she proj­ects onto the ­things and ­people she believes she loves an alternate identity that is more noble and passionate, more intricate and ­intriguing, than their mundane real­ity would suggest. Although many thinkers dismiss this stage of character as too superficial and self-­involved to contribute anything of moral significance to an individual’s development, in both Kierkegaardian thought and the classic novels of marriage, it emerges as an essential part of the dialectic of self-­ development. As an aspect of the self, it must be preserved as well as transformed by the self in its task of becoming itself. The negative connotations of escapist flight from the ordinary world of mundane realities and social



relations are well-­k nown. Less obvious are the positive or up-­building aspects that Kierkegaard associates with the aesthetic stage. The ability to withdraw into one’s own fantasy life reveals, albeit at a very rudimentary and unrefined stage, the self’s awareness of itself as separate from the rest of the world. Thus Freud argues in Civilization and its Discontents (1930) that artistic and intellectual pursuits “clearly show an intention of making oneself in­de­pen­dent of the external world by seeking satisfaction in internal, psychical pro­c esses.”38 The construction of an imaginative world for one’s self, the detachment from the demands of the world as one encounters it, reveals a nascent aspiration to realize some form of in­de­pen­dent, individual subjectivity. But what more is necessary to make a self? According to the pseudonymous author of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Johannes Climacus, the aesthete suffers from the inability to commit herself fully. By holding herself open to the infinite possibilities of the imagination, she chooses to limit herself by never realizing herself as a concretely existing individual.39 As ­ ither one Judge Wilhelm argues in ­Either / Or, such a choice is unavoidable. E chooses to be subject to the ethical or one chooses (by default) to avoid it: “The person who chooses himself ethically has himself as his task, not as a possibility, not as a plaything for the play of his arbitrariness.”40 In the majority of Austen’s novels of marriage, the aesthete’s desire to remain subject to the arbitrary play of ­every impulse and whim does not figure as a stage of development but is rather embodied in one or two characters, whose match always precedes the climactic decision of the heroine to marry her chosen husband. This early match is usually hurried and covert. It has the air of a seduction more than a deliberate courtship. George Wickham and Lydia Bennet, John Willoughby and Marianne Dashwood (and before her, Eliza Williams), Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram, and Frederick Tilney and Isabella Thorpe: they are drawn to one another b­ ecause of the desultory play of desire, which leaves them perpetually open to the possibility of leaving one partner for another. To “choose” in Kierkegaard’s sense, however, is to acknowledge that “choice” is not a m ­ atter of deciding with detachment between external options, but of assuming responsibility for one’s self in all of its par­tic­u­lar and concrete aspects. In so ­doing, one consolidates the self in its essential freedom, drawing together what is other­wise disparate and arbitrary into a concrete

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unity created in and through one’s choice. Yet for the aesthete characters in Austen’s novels, commitment is ­either forced upon them by ­others or procured as a means ­toward some pecuniary end; it is the outcome of external interests or manipulations, never chosen as an end in and of itself. It is only ­after the plot advances beyond this match that other kinds of marriages in which choice plays an active role can take place. Distinctions between the kinds of choice that occur remain—­some of the l­ater marriages are chosen for the sake of propriety and prudence, and o­ thers for the sake of personal happiness. They are nevertheless all consciously and deliberately chosen, in contrast with the sort of pairings that result from the whims of the aesthetic characters. Austen thus splinters Kierkegaard’s stages of the self across several characters or sets of characters, suggesting that the aesthetic stage must be succeeded in the narrative before the issue of choice can even be raised. What does it mean to choose one’s self before one chooses to whom or what one w ­ ill then commit? As Kierkegaard’s ethical pseudonym Judge Wilhelm maintains, the idea of choosing one’s self is linked to in­de­pen­dence through a notion of self-­possession: “The ethical individual knows himself, but this knowing is not simply contemplation, for then the individual comes to be defined according to his necessity. It is a collecting of oneself, which itself is an action, and this is why I have with aforethought used the expression ‘to choose oneself’ instead of ‘to know oneself.’ ”41 The sense in which one chooses oneself by “collecting” oneself suggests many impor­tant aspects of Kierkegaard’s ethical stage, outlined in the following passage: The individual, then, becomes conscious as this specific individual with ­these capacities, ­these inclinations, ­these drives, ­these passions, influenced by this specific social milieu, as this specific product of a specific environment. But as he becomes aware of all this, he takes upon himself responsibility for it all. . . . ​A nd this choice is freedom’s choice in such a way that in choosing himself as product he can just as well be said to produce himself. At the moment of choice, he is at the point of consummation, for his personality is consummating itself, and yet at the same moment he is at the very beginning, b­ ecause he is choosing himself according to his freedom. As a product he is squeezed into the forms of actuality; in the choice he makes himself elastic, transforms every­thing exterior into interiority. He has his place in the world; in freedom he



himself chooses his place—­that is, he chooses this place. He is a specific individual; in the choice he makes himself into a specific individual: namely, into the same one, b­ ecause he chooses himself.42

First, one assumes a position of reflective awareness vis-­à-­vis the disparate aspects of one’s existence, becoming as Judge Wilhelm puts it “conscious as this specific individual.” This consciousness of the vari­ous psychic impulses, character traits, and even social structures that condition one’s existence is not merely a state of passive knowing. Self-­consciousness of ­these aspects immediately places one in a relation of active responsiveness to the role they have played, currently play, and w ­ ill play in one’s deliberations, actions, and intentions. To “become aware of all this” is to “take upon [one]self responsibility for it all,” assuming a position of choice and not only speculative knowledge in relation to who one is. The personality is therefore said to at once “consummat[e] itself” in its choice and, si­mul­ta­neously, to be “at the very beginning,” insofar as it does not exist as a self prior to its choice of itself. When an individual collects himself in this way, Judge Wilhelm argues, “he then possesses himself as a task in such a way that is to chiefly order, shape, temper, inflame, control.”43 The passage through this transformation of “every­thing exterior into interiority” is a crucial turning point in the novel of marriage. In Austen’s Emma, for instance, the moment of total self-­ consciousness and choice directly precedes and makes pos­si­ble Emma’s choice to marry: The rest of the day, the following night, ­were hardly enough for her thoughts.—­She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last few hours. E ­ very moment had brought a fresh surprise; and ­every surprise must be a ­matter of humiliation to her.—­How to understand it all! How to understand the deceptions she had been thus practising on herself, and living ­under!—­The blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart!—­she sat still, she walked about, she tried her own room, she tried the shrubbery—in e­ very place, ­every posture, she perceived that she had acted most weakly; that she had been imposed on by o­ thers in a most mortifying degree; that she had been imposing on herself in a degree yet more mortifying; that she

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was wretched, and should prob­ably find this day but the beginning of wretchedness. To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first endeavor. . . . ​She saw that ­there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr. Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely u ­ nder a delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart—­and, in short, that she had never r­ eally cared for Frank Churchill at all! This was the conclusion of the first series of reflection. This was the knowledge of herself, on the first question of inquiry which she reached; and without being long in reaching it—­She was most sorrowfully indignant; ashamed of e­ very sensation but the one revealed to her—­her affection for Mr. Knightley.44

Both time and space seem insufficient for Emma’s reflection, as she wanders about her home and garden for hours. A character who, as Sir Walter Scott puts it, “like a good sovereign preferring the weal of her subjects of Highbury to her own private interest, sets generously about making matches for her friends without thinking of matrimony on her own account,” must somehow convert the externalized spatiotemporal territory of her self-­ deceived drama into an inner order of recognition and avowal.45 But “knowledge of herself” necessarily takes the form of acknowledgement. The attempt to “understand, thoroughly understand her own heart” is not simply an act of passive spectatorship, but rather one of conceding her own responsibility “in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary.” As much as “she has entirely been ­under a delusion,” she has also been the agent of it. The choice to re­orient her existence by denouncing her former self-­ deception yields, in turn, a singular sense of her own fallibility with re­spect to the task of the self she is coming to possess. To speak of possessing one’s self as a task is thus to suggest not only that it is something that must be actively done, but also that it is subject to standards of success and failure, and must be done again and again (thus the Kierkegaardian emphasis upon “repetition”).46 The freedom of the aesthete is constituted in part by the liberty of variety, the ability to move on from one stimulus to another in the enjoyment of an endless stream of new and



dif­fer­ent sensations. Early on we learn that Emma “had always wanted to do every­thing, and had made more pro­gress both in drawing and ­music than many might have done with so l­ ittle ­labour as she would ever submit to. She played and sang; and drew in almost e­ very style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and o­ ught not to have failed of” (27). In contrast, the freedom of the ethical self consists in maintaining its commitment and intention to return again and again to itself. Implicit in the obligation to possess one’s self is an extended temporal orientation, both ­toward the past and the ­future; one cannot simply abandon one’s former self as irrelevant to one’s current intentions, nor rest in the satisfaction that one’s task is all done, as if the self could somehow be completed and brought to its final stage of perfection. Similarly, one must also acknowledge that one may fail with re­spect to possessing one’s self, insofar as the self can never be owned as a forgone conclusion but must rather be perpetually ventured. Marriage emerges as the exemplary ethical choice, according to Kierke­ gaard’s Judge Wilhelm, insofar as it converts the immediate u ­ nion of freedom and necessity found in the subjective delight of first love into a deliberately chosen and eternal obligation, with concrete real­ity and ongoing consequences for oneself and ­others. “What power ­there is in the marital ‘mine,’ ” he declares, “for w ­ ill, decision, intention, have a far deeper tone.” As a commitment to another person to renew perpetually the passion of first love without end, marriage requires a true and complete self-­possession that encompasses the immediacy of erotic love along with “the possibility of an inner history” that arises from sustained intention over time.47 This evolution from the aesthetic to the ethical stage, and the inward deepening of the protagonist’s self-­reflective deliberation it entails, is especially marked in ­those novels of marriage belonging to a hybrid genre that draws on ele­ments of both the narrative of courtship and a more traditional bildungsroman narrative. Lucy Snowe in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette provides a clear example of a heroine who follows this scheme of development from the inwardness of isolated imagination and reflection to the ac­cep­tance of her self as a “task” to be undertaken. Although she seems less prone to poetic flights of fancy than the typical aesthete, her self-­conscious severity is in fact a mask that hides the deeper yearnings of her soul and deforms them into mere picturesque dreams with no relation to real­ity.

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


In my reverie, methought I saw the continent of Eu­rope, like a wide dreamland, far away. Sunshine lay on it, making the long coast one line of gold; tiniest tracery of clustered town and snow-­gleaming tower, of woods deep-­massed, of heights serrated, of smooth pasturage and veiny stream, embossed the metal-­bright prospect. For background, spread a sky, solemn and dark-­blue, and—­grand with imperial promise, soft with tints of enchantment—­strode from north to south a God-­bent bow, an arch of hope. Cancel the ­whole of that, if you please, reader— or rather let it stand, and draw thence a moral—an alliterative, text-­ hand copy—­“Day-dreams are delusions of the demon.”48

Lyrically wrought in gleaming substances, lush and tactile, ­these perceptions must nevertheless be relegated to the realm of mere “day-dreams”: not ­because they are insubstantial, but b­ ecause their appearance is but a form of deflection. Lucy has not yet committed to her thoughts and longings; she has not acknowledged that the bright scene she imagines is a figure of her own hope that she cannot simply dismiss with a tidy, abstract moral. Her ascetic adherence to the cold, hard facts of life is merely a means of erecting a false idol to “Reason,” an attempt to establish an external real­ity to which she can passively capitulate and thus to avoid engaging deliberately with all that she wants to make of herself and her life. She holds back from expressing her desires and longings in lived intentions. When she buries Graham’s letters beneath the pear tree, writing first one letter to him in “the language of a strongly-­adherent affection” and then allowing “Reason” “to leap in, vigorous and revengeful, snatch the full sheets, read, sneer, erase, tear up, re-­write, fold, seal, direct, and send a terse, curt missive of a page,” she effectively separates ­these parts of herself into discrete, contained entities and indulges in the false belief that if ­others do not know of them she need not contend with the real­ity of their interrelation (282). Lucy’s pro­gress ­toward “collecting” herself is aided by Monsieur Paul Emmanuel, her teacher and eventual partner, who overcomes her self-­imposed isolation and encourages her not to draw back from public recognition of her abilities. Soon ­after she begins a relationship with him, she decides to rent a small room and begin to work ­toward self-­sufficiency: “Courage, Lucy Snowe! . . . ​A n object in life need not fail you. . . . ​Be content to ­labour for in­de­pen­dence ­until you have proved, by winning that prize, your right to



look higher. But afterwards, is t­ here nothing more for me in life—no true home—­nothing to be dearer to me than myself, and by its paramount preciousness, to draw from me better t­ hings than I care to culture for myself only?” (400–401). Her commitment to “­labour” and to be bound by an obligation to her own in­de­pen­dence plainly introduces a complication, insofar as both personal autonomy and happiness in the form of a love other than one’s self are the goals of the hybrid bildungsroman and novel of marriage. The solution Brontë devises is almost too neat: Monsieur Paul ­will go away on a long voyage, but not before declaring his love to Lucy and establishing her in a cozy home that doubles as a school­house. Domestic and professional security assured, Lucy is now ­free to live out the remainder of the narrative enjoying both an autonomous livelihood and the bliss of her new love. It is the ending of Villette, however, that keeps it from entirely conforming to the mold from which it springs. Monsieur Paul is expected home at last ­after his long sojourn overseas, only to meet with a horrible storm that leaves “the Atlantic . . . ​strewn with wrecks” (546). Just as Lucy’s inward happiness is about to coincide with outward circumstances, we meet with this enigmatic break in the narrative: “­Here pause: pause at once. ­There is enough said. Trou­ble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope. Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of ­great terror, the rapture of rescue from peril, the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return. Let them picture ­union and a happy succeeding life” (546). For readers accustomed to the passionate, analytic tone of Lucy Snowe’s voice, the coy vagueness of this ending is difficult to reconcile. Would a temperament as philosophical and complex as hers shy away from narrating events that contradicted expectation, or that introduced unhappiness and difficulty into her life? Indeed, the incongruous ending of Villette reveals the voice of another authority. According to Brontë’s biographer Elizabeth Gaskell, it was not the author herself, but rather her ­father, Patrick Brontë, who could not bear the thought of a novel that did not end in marriage: Mr. Brontë was anxious that her new tale should end well, as he disliked novels which left a melancholy impression upon the mind; and he requested her to make her hero and heroine (like the heroes and heroines in fairy-­tales) “marry, and live very happily ever ­a fter.” But the idea of M. Paul Emanuel’s death at sea was stamped on her imagination

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till it assumed the distinct force of real­ity; and she could no more alter her fictitious ending than if they had been facts which she was relating. All she could do in compliance with her ­father’s wish was so to veil the fate in oracular words, as to leave it to the character and discernment of her readers to interpret her meaning.49

­ hether any reader, upon being asked to imagine a reunion couched in such W saccharine banalities, could seriously believe that Monsieur Paul was not lying full fathom five might lead us to question the sincerity of what one critic of “The Ending of Villette” in Harper’s Bazaar (1876) called Brontë’s “filial desire to gratify her f­ ather.” The parodic sentimentality of the ending strikes a quiet note of defiance against the attempt to idealize Lucy’s life. ­Under the guise of allowing readerly desire and imagination to come to the fore and eclipse the real­ity of the character’s existence, the text encloses the readerly perspective itself within the frame of the fiction. The desire to know and to “picture” the happy marriage f­aces off against a refusal to represent the truth of what befalls Monsieur Paul. Freed of the falsifying trap of readerly finalization, Lucy Snowe alone confronts the task of owning her life in the face of overwhelming sorrow, loss, and contingency. The inward truth of her strug­gles is shown by not being shown. A similar refusal to represent the climactic moment in vivid, concrete detail is figured again and again in novels of marriage. Critics such as J. Hillis Miller have noted the enigmas attending the lack of any direct repre­sen­ta­ tion of Isabel’s decision to marry Osmond, but the extent to which this narrative motif constitutes a convention for the repre­sen­ta­tion of choice in novels of marriage has never before (to my knowledge) been noted.50 Indirect and abbreviated versions of the final proposal scenes appear in Austen’s novels, in which the crucial moments of choice, persuasion, and explanation remain veiled. Th ­ ese novels invariably feature a gossipy, effusive figure, such as Mrs. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility, who invests g­ reat energy in “procuring all the particulars in her power of the approaching marriage, and communicating them” to ­others, and who is portrayed as not only socially vulgar but also spiritually deficient (152). Mrs. Palmer’s favorite adjective—­ “monstrous”—­suggests that her over-­demonstrative personality and her desire to show and share “all the particulars” creates a grotesque spectacle out of something that cannot to be shown.



In Eliot’s Middlemarch, Dorothea states outright that it would be impossible for her to tell “the story” of her decision to marry W ­ ill Ladislaw. “Dorothea smiled, and Celia looked rather meditative. Presently she said, ‘I cannot think how it all came about.’ Celia thought it would be pleasant to hear the story. ‘I daresay not,’ said Dorothea, pinching her s­ ister’s chin. ‘If you knew how it came about, it would not seem wonderful to you.’ ‘­Can’t you tell me?’ said Celia, settling her arms cozily. ‘No dear, you would have to feel with me, e­ lse you would never know’ ” (506). When Dorothea claims that “it would not seem as wonderful” to Celia if she knew, she does not simply mean that knowing the mundane details would demystify the situation, but rather that something essential of her strug­gle cannot be thought or known by Celia no m ­ atter how thoroughly it is explained. To “feel with” someone, in Dorothea’s sense, thus involves much more than the jovial fellow-­feeling that David Hume evokes when he establishes ­human sympathy and benevolence as the foundation of moral action. The kind of decision that Dorothea makes, in fact, cannot be explained by any socially sanctioned morality. Celia’s protests make this quite clear: “ ‘You always wanted ­t hings that ­wouldn’t do. . . . ​A nd how can you marry Mr Ladislaw, that we none of us ever thought you could marry? It shocks James so dreadfully. And then it is all so dif­fer­ent from what you have always been. . . . ​It would be much better if you would not be married. . . . ​Nobody thinks Mr. Ladislaw a proper husband for you’ ” (505). Dorothea does not give any arguments to ­counter Celia; her equanimity in the face of ­these accusations hints at her strug­gle to attain the quality that ­Kierkegaard names as “inwardness.” Dorothea’s act of renunciation may not be the glorious, religious act of martyrdom that she had once i­magined, but it is no less courageous in its daring to pass beyond all social, conventional, and ­legal conceptions of duty. She flaunts the imprisonment of Casuabon’s written ­will, and chooses the living ­Will despite all the uncertainty and scandal it ­will entail. Whereas her first choice to marry Casaubon rests on the poetic justifications of her own imaginary visions, and her second choice to remain faithful to him despite her g­ reat unhappiness is grounded in the desire to sacrifice her own spirit at the altar of social propriety, her third choice represents a kind of commitment and freedom that is not susceptible to outward repre­sen­ta­tion or demonstration. In making a commitment that lies beyond the ethically and socially conventional manifestations of duty,

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Dorothea passes into the third stage of the self: the ethico-­religious. This sphere is alternately described in Kierkegaard’s thought as comprising the overlap between the ethical and the religious and as necessarily immanent to any conception of the ethical itself, insofar as the total subjective passion of ­free commitment that is assumed by an individual in the ethical stage always leaves open the possibility of a scandalous suspension of objective, universal law. It is precisely the difficulty of representing this form of freedom that emerges, in the late nineteenth-­century novel of marriage, as the central problematic of James’s The Portrait of a Lady. A Personal In­de­pen­dence

To choose something autonomously, by one’s self and for one’s self; to determine the sort of personal in­de­pen­dence and happiness that is worth having; to make a choice that commits one’s self in relation to o­ thers, but that nevertheless affirms the freedom that is the very condition of choice—­ these fundamental issues come to the fore in both the classic novel of marriage and existentialist thought. The prob­lem that the marriage situation pres­ents is representative of the challenge that is posed to the self in its confrontation with the demands of morality. How is the individual to remain true to herself in the communal identity and commitment forged through marriage? How is the self to remain an au­then­tic individual in fulfilling the universal, other-­regarding obligations of morality? The parallel between the questions driving nineteenth-­and twentieth-­century novels of marriage and ­those motivating existentialist reflection on the relation between the individual and morality, seldom noted in critical studies of the ethical and philosophical significance of the novel of marriage, is striking. Indeed, the repre­sen­ta­tion of individual choice and in­de­pen­dence in novels of marriage not only dovetails with the central concerns of existentialist ethics, but also further elucidates the philosophical significance of aesthetic paradoxes explored by an existentialist poetics of the novel. The nineteenth c­ entury inherits at least two impor­tant traditions for thinking about the relationship between freedom and in­de­pen­dence. In the Kantian tradition, autonomy of the ­will is defined in terms of its in­de­pen­ dence from the vagaries of the phenomenal world, which it achieves by governing itself according to rational laws. In the tradition of Kierkegaard,



however, ­there is a sense of in­de­pen­dence that relates to a break from the ethical. The break from the ethical is not expressed through immorality, but through inwardness: a passionate and subjective appropriation of knowledge that does not necessarily issue in any objectively observable stance or action, but that nevertheless constitutes a decisive and total orientation of the self. What ­these two traditions have to do with one another; what is at stake in each; why the two have often been at odds with one another, despite their ­great concern with one another—­these are central questions surrounding the theme of in­de­pen­dence in James’s novel. The Portrait of a Lady begins with the question of how we ­ought to define in­de­pen­dence: “ ‘But who is “quite in­de­pen­dent,” and in what sense is the term used? . . . ​Does the expression apply more particularly to the young lady my ­mother has a­ dopted, or does it characterize her s­ isters equally?—­and is it used in a moral or in a financial sense? Does it mean that they have been left well off, or that they wish to be u ­ nder no obligations? Or does it simply mean that they are fond of their own way?’ ” (202). The financial freedom to which Ralph Touchett alludes so openly at the beginning of the novel evokes at least one condition of autonomy. Although this material condition of autonomy brings to mind nothing so complex as the metaphysical conditions of a ­free ­will, it nevertheless frames the philosophical questions that arise ­later in the novel in a certain light. Necessities, needs, desires—­R alph imagines that a lady with financial freedom must have all of t­ hese liberally provided for, and need not allow them to influence the primary decision of her life: w ­ hether or not to marry, and if to marry, whom. To understand why Isabel rejects Warburton and Goodwood and instead chooses Osmond and refuses to divorce him, it is crucial to note that the plot of the novel sets us up to ask this question—­a question that is, at its core, about the meaning and nature of the plot. If Isabel’s aim is to realize her own in­de­pen­dence, then what importance can this series of decisions have for her? Why is the progression from one choice to the next at all necessary in the first place? ­A fter all, Isabel appears to be most self-­sufficient and in­de­pen­dent as an unmarried ­woman. The death of her ­father leaves ­Isabel in the position of being recently liberated from patriarchal authority, and the bequest of Mr. Touchett renders her f­ree from necessity. Yet in­de­ pen­dence, even in a Kantian sense of the autonomy of the w ­ ill from the forces of appetite or passion, must mean more than mere indifference to the

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


conditions of life or the vicissitudes of desire. Something that is f­ree or not influenced in this sense might yet be arbitrary. To be “ ‘left ­under no obligations’ ” is not the same t­ hing as finding one’s “ ‘own way’ ” (202). The former is a negative condition and the latter implies active, intentional self-­ determination. Thus the inheritance, although seeming at first to suspend or even revoke the ground of Isabel’s dilemmas, in fact heightens the stakes of what it means for Isabel to choose of her own ­will. By liberating Isabel from the need to act solely with her own survival in mind or to care about what ­others think of her choices, it renders her solely responsible for making up her own mind about what to do with her life. “ ‘A large fortune means freedom,’ ” she confesses to Ralph, “ ‘and I am afraid of that. It’s such a fine ­thing and one should make such a good use of it. If one s­ houldn’t, one would be ashamed. And one must always be thinking—­it’s a constant effort’ ” (419). Isabel’s fear, in turn, registers the extent to which her valorization of personal in­de­pen­dence is accompanied by an indeterminate sense of how best to realize it: “It was one of her [own] theories that Isabel Archer was very fortunate in being in­de­pen­dent, and that she ­ought to make some very enlightened use of her in­de­pen­dence” (242). Mrs. Touchett, herself a somewhat caricatured model of self-­sufficiency and self-­rule, declares of Isabel: “ ‘I ­shall do absolutely nothing with her, and she herself ­will do every­thing that she chooses. She gave me notice of that’ ” (234). Her exchange with Isabel on the subject of freedom reveals that Isabel is not oriented ­toward mere rebellion, but wishes to choose her own intentions consciously: “You are too fond of your liberty.” “Yes, I think I am very fond of it. But I always want to know the ­things one ­shouldn’t do.” “So as to do them?” asked her aunt. “So as to choose,” said Isabel. (259)

Isabel avows that she is not to be treated as a passive object to be formed by the world or by the wishes of ­others. “ ‘Liberty,’ ” for her, involves the “ ‘constant effort’ ” of making up her own mind, of scrutinizing social norms and deliberatively setting her own course in relation to them. This vague sense of what her in­de­pen­dence might mean, however, does not yield deeper insight into the choices that define Isabel’s life.



It is Kierkegaard’s portrayal of the dialectic of the self as it proceeds from the aesthetic to the ethical that best illuminates the initial stages of her in­ de­pen­dence. Isabel’s childhood takes place within a double layer of self-­ enclosure. She “had been allowed to stay at home, where in the September days, when the win­dows of the Dutch House ­were open, she used to hear the hum of childish voices repeating the multiplication ­table—an incident in which the elation of liberty and the pain of exclusion w ­ ere indistinguishably mingled” (214). Her first sense of freedom, then, is associated with the “pain of exclusion”—­not, notably, the pain of exclusion by ­others, but the pain caused by her own seclusion from a world with which “she had expressed ­great disgust” (214). Rather than compromise her own verdict about school, she is willing to suffer self-­imposed exile from the companionship of her peers and forgo the communal educational experience of rote learning. The room in which she spends most of her days has a singular distinguishing characteristic: “the second door of the ­house, the door that had been condemned, and that was fastened by bolts which a particularly slender ­little girl found it impossible to slide” (214). The “­silent, motionless portal” becomes a symbol of that protective barrier which she erects between herself and the real­ity of the world outside (214). Furthermore, within this room, Isabel occupies her time with books of her own choosing, building a sense of the world largely from within her own i­ magined frame of reference. Even upon reaching adulthood, “she had never assured herself that the vulgar street lay beyond it” (215). The self ­here revels in keeping itself apart from the known and mundane world of o­ thers, a world in which it must conform to expectations and recognize nothing but dull necessity. To Isabel, school represents the death of the imagination. Her desultory education appears to be at once a consequence of her ­father’s benign neglect (and hence an early sign of bildung carried out ­under the ambiguous absence of authority) and an attempt to escape from compulsory formation at the hands of an impersonal power.51 She may well have been led by ­these early experiences to concur with Anti-­Climacus in Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death (1849) that the death of the imagination leads ineluctably to the death of the spirit: “The philistine-­bourgeois mentality is spiritlessness. . . . ​Bereft of imagination, as the philistine-­bourgeois always is . . . ​he lives within a certain trivial compendium of experiences as to how ­things go. . . . ​In order for a person to become aware of his self and of God, imagination must raise

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


him higher than the miasma of probability, it must tear him out of this and teach him to hope and to fear.”52 His use of “spirit” in this connection has a special meaning, which links it to the essence of selfhood. “A ­human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.”53 Spirit or self is an active relation, not a merely formal one. The self cannot simply be thought of as an objectively existing relation between two disparate ele­ments. Rather, the self is that which thinks or represents this relation, and the ele­ments that it represents the relation between are none other than itself. The act of relating itself to itself must be taken u ­ nder a repre­sen­ta­tion, but the repre­sen­ta­tion just is constituted by the action of the self in relating itself to itself. Thus the self may be considered as a form of awareness that becomes itself in the act of representing itself to itself. A self that is devoid of imagination has lost the capacity to be a self. The imagination, for Kierkegaard, is intimately bound up with the ability of the self to represent its possibilities, its hopes, and its fears: “When all is said and done, what­ever of feeling, knowing, and willing a person has depends upon what imagination he has, upon how that person reflects himself—­that is, upon imagination. Imagination is infinitizing reflection.”54 “Infinitizing reflection” is the very reflection of the self upon itself, the repre­sen­ta­tion of the self to itself according to which it is able to go beyond what it merely is (in Sartrean terms, facticity) and proj­ect itself into the realm of what it might be or not be. To feel or to know one’s self as a willing subject in this sense, one must be able to reflect the self to itself as the subject of possibilities, as the possibility of living ­these possibilities in dif­fer­ent ways, and so on (thus the aspect of “infinitizing”). “Existence,” argues Anti-Climacus, “provides frightful experiences that go beyond the parrot-­wisdom of routine experiences.”55 Isabel’s escape from the rote repetition of multiplication ­tables ­here signifies a desire to go deeper into existence, beyond mere “parrot-­wisdom,” by not succumbing to the dreaded loss of her imagination. However, she runs the corresponding risk of overly stimulating her imagination and letting it “run away with her.” The idiom is revealing, for the idea that an overactive imagination can actually undermine the self and its in­de­pen­dence is central to Kierkegaard’s critique of the aesthetic stage of life in ­Either / Or. If Isabel is to make up her own mind about anything, she



cannot be dragged about by her own imagination: “Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; if the door ­were not opened to it, it jumped out of the win­dow. She was not accustomed, indeed, to keep it ­behind bolts; and, at impor­tant moments, when she would have been thankful to make use of her judgment alone, she paid the penalty of having given undue encouragement to the faculty of seeing without judging” (222). As a consequence of her inability to s­ ettle and participate in conventional disciplines, “her mind was a good deal of a vagabond” (215). She is not, for all her intelligence, the most discerning reader: in books, “she was guided in the se­lection chiefly by the frontispiece” (214). Her reading is marked by a sense of fascination with the unknown and shadowy side of emotional experience, and by a sort of “mysterious melancholy,” according to which her fancy is moved (214). Preferring to entertain vari­ous impressions rather than intentionally engage with the source of their real­ity, Isabel scrupulously protects the cloistered retreat of her imagination: “She had no wish to look out, for this would have interfered with her theory that t­here was a strange, unseen place on the other side—­a place which became, to the child’s imagination, according to its dif­fer­ent moods, a region of delight or terror” (214). The status of real­ity as something that may be papered over, or altogether avoided if it is to contradict her own theories, foreshadows her l­ater trou­ble with confronting the truth of her own situation. A paradox thus emerges from the aesthetic stage of the self. It is pos­si­ble to exist freely only with imagination, but the imagination also threatens to detach the self from the possibility of taking a decisive stance in relation to real­ity. An episode from Isabel’s childhood clearly shows the ambiguous value of imagination to her sense of self: “She carried within herself a ­great fund of life and her deepest enjoyment was to feel the continuity between the movements of her own heart and the agitations of the world. . . . ​W hile the Civil War went on, she was still a very young girl; but she passed months of this long period in a state of almost passionate excitement, in which she felt herself at times (to her extreme confusion) stirred almost indiscriminately by the valour of ­either army” (225). Imaginative repre­sen­ta­tions of bravery enrich her inner life, lifting her from the mire of the literal and kindling profound emotions. Yet the spirited intensity of her passion is made absurd by the fact that she has only the most abstract sense of why t­hese soldiers would lay down their lives in ­battle. As the aesthete of ­Either / Or puts it, in

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


this stage of life “real enjoyment consists not in what one enjoys but in the idea.”56 Caught up in a mere fantasy of life, in the enjoyment of being moved for its own sake, Isabel is consequently divorced from engaging seriously with the implications of what she chooses to feel and see. According to Kierkegaard, “the fantasy-­inwardness” of the aesthetic stage is always involved in the “conjuring up of possibilities with intensified ­passion;”57 however, “when feeling becomes fantastic in this way, the self becomes only more and more volatilized and fi­nally comes to be a kind of abstract sentimentality that inhumanly belongs to no ­human being but inhumanly combines sentimentally, as it w ­ ere, with some abstract fate—­for 58 example, humanity in abstracto.” Such a “volatilized” self has no enduring identity or commitments of its own, and consequently assumes the constantly changing, unstable quality of its imaginary projections. Describing the aesthetic stage in ­Either / Or, Johannes Climacus declares in Concluding Unscientific Postscript: Part I is an existence-­possibility that cannot attain existence, a depression that must be worked upon ethically. . . . ​Consequently, it is not existence, but existence-­possibility oriented ­toward existence, and brought so close that one almost feels how ­every moment is wasted in which a decision has not yet been reached. But the existence-­possibility in the existing A does not want to be conscious of this and holds existence at bay by the most subtle of all deceptions, by thinking. He has thought every­thing pos­si­ble, and yet he has not existed at all.59

Imagination brings Isabel to the doorway of selfhood, but cannot of its own capacity usher her inside. Up u ­ ntil Isabel’s engagement to Osmond, she remains occupied by the “phantasmal, nebulous images . . . ​the distractions of a luxuriant thought-­content,” which characterize Kierkegaard’s aesthete.60 She “was constantly picturing to herself by the light of her hopes, her fears, her fancies, her ambitions, her predilections” the pres­ent moments of her rather inactive life, for her imagination “reflected t­ hese subjective accidents in a manner sufficiently dramatic” to occupy her mind: “She lost herself in a maze of visions; the fine ­things a rich, in­de­pen­dent, generous girl, who took a large, ­human view of her opportunities and obligations, might do, ­were ­really innumerable. Her fortune therefore became to her mind a part of her



better self; it gave her importance, gave her even, to her own imagination, a certain ideal beauty” (420). Ever-­expanding in the sweet, insubstantial realm of fantasy, possibility, and dream, she has not limited the “innumerable” “visions” of her life by committing to any a­ ctual, enduring obligations that would tie her to a concrete past or ­future. Moreover, the visual image-­making work of imagination suggests that Isabel has been dealing primarily with the world of appearances, with “visions,” “pictures,” “images,” fantasies, recollected memories, and f­uture hopes. But the realm of choice operates in a region that cannot be visualized. Put differently, the real­ity of choice can be understood only in terms of one’s own intentions and decisions. Acknowl­edgment of choice and decision is incommensurable with any visual repre­sen­ta­tion ­because an aestheticized view would place one in a third-­person (spectatorial) perspective in relation to what is only intelligible from a first-­person (agential) point of view. Choice, intention, and decision thereby constitute an unknown to the faculty of the imagination, which functions precisely through image-­making. Isabel’s incorrigible imagination is fi­nally “halted” only by the prospect of committing to a lifelong ­union with Osmond. The decision to marry, according to Kierkegaard’s Judge Wilhelm, epitomizes the ethical commitment that the self makes in choosing itself and abandoning the despair of the aesthetic. It is only at the moment when Isabel at last decides to marry that she stops imagining all of the fantasy lives that she could live. A striking passage emphasizes the suddenness with which her imagination is stilled altogether: That which had happened was something that for a week past her imagination had been g­ oing forward to meet; but ­here, when it came, she stopped—­her imagination halted. . . . ​Her imagination stopped. . . . ​ ­There was a last vague space it could not cross—­a dusky, uncertain tract which looked ambiguous, and even slightly treacherous, like a moorland seen in the winter twilight. But she was to cross it yet. (512)

The “last vague space” that Isabel is to cross appears so “dusky, uncertain,” and “ambiguous” at this juncture ­because she cannot rely on her faculty of internal visualization to navigate it. She must cross it by means of making a decision: by choosing, of her own w ­ ill, how to go on. The “inwardness” that

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


is required in the ethical choosing of a self means that no m ­ atter how visibly the decision manifests to o­ thers in its outward aspects, its essential importance is not captured by how it can be seen or described. In fact, it is not a ­matter of repre­sen­ta­tion at all, which is why the imagination must be overcome. It is a m ­ atter of ­will and inner passion. A Beautiful Sophism

The deeper difficulty that confronts Isabel as she prepares to enter the realm of the ethical is that she intends to choose herself through a relationship that essentially involves the inner choice to be bound in love to another. The nature of the duty of marriage implies that she must commit herself in such a way that poses a prob­lem, or at least a paradox, for her in­de­pen­dence. For if marriage means giving up one’s in­de­pen­dence (in some conventional sense, which must still be specified), then how is Isabel to gain possession of her self by choosing it? The narrative progression outlined earlier on suggests that in the novel of marriage, the protagonist comes to possess herself in committing to marriage b­ ecause this commitment enables her to move beyond the impasse of the aesthetic stage. By giving one’s self to a par­tic­u­lar, concrete, universally binding, and enduring obligation—in a word, to all that is implied by Kierkegaard’s category of the ethical—­one overcomes the dreamy, noncommittal passivity of the aesthete. The marital obligation is publicly acknowledged and enforced, and Judge Wilhelm contends that it has the status of a universally recognized commitment. Yet it is not abstract in its universality, ­because it consists precisely in a par­tic­u­lar and concrete bond with another person. The self thus foregoes its volatility in making a lasting commitment characterized by the continuous growth of one love, a love sustained by duty and intimately tied to a shared history. However, Isabel is highly aware (as any good nineteenth-­century heroine must be) of the ways in which she might compromise herself in making such a commitment. One conventional interpretation of the initial stage of her c­ areer might simply be that Isabel refuses to marry Warburton and Goodwood ­because she desires her liberty and wants to remain in control of her fate. The freedom to follow one’s e­ very whim, however, is not autonomy but rather its opposite. As Harry Frankfurt’s distinction between freedom of action and freedom



of the w ­ ill reveals, the former is “freedom to do what one wants to do,” whereas the latter is “to want what [one] wants to want,” or “more precisely . . . ​to ­will what [one] wants to w ­ ill.”61 To have freedom of the w ­ ill, on Frankfurt’s account, is to be ­free to constitute one’s ­will other­wise. If Isabel ­were to refuse marriage simply in order to remain f­ree to pursue what­ever moves her, then her w ­ ill would become a mere slave to her e­ very passing desire. Henrietta Stackpole’s criticism of Isabel’s “ ‘moral tendencies’ ” gives expression to this worry: “You think that you can live a romantic life, that you can live by pleasing yourself and pleasing ­others. You ­will find you are mistaken. What­ever life you lead, you must put your soul into it—to make any sort of success of it; and from the moment you do that it ceases to be romance, I assure you; it becomes real­ity! And you ­can’t always please yourself; you must sometimes please other p ­ eople. . . . ​You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking romantic views—­that is your ­great illusion, my dear. But we c­ an’t. You must be prepared on many occasions in life to please no one at all—­not even yourself.” (413)

The flaw that Henrietta identifies in Isabel’s character is that she bases her actions on impulsive and self-­gratifying motives—­the pursuit of plea­sure, the quest for “romance,” the “escape” from “disagreeable duties.” Chastising Isabel for her idealistic tendencies, Henrietta fears that her friend lacks the strength of ­will necessary to commit to a serious life proj­ect. Henrietta’s emphasis on a motive of duty as distinct from a motive of hedonism has a distinctly Kantian ring. Indeed, throughout the novel, she is the voice of reason, the sense to Isabel’s sensibility. Thoroughly principled and duty-­bound, she never admits sentiment or fantasy as grounds for judgment or action. The uncompromising severity and discipline of her rationality c­ auses Warburton to exclaim on one occasion that he “ ‘never saw a person judge t­hings on such theoretic grounds’ ” (327). The extreme in­de­ pen­dence attributed to her character no doubt gains part of its impressiveness from the strength and consistency of her ­will. Kant’s dictum—­“Have courage to make use of your own understanding!”—­could be Henrietta’s motto.62 As a forthright American “lady journalist,” Henrietta embodies the Enlightenment values of curiosity and confident use of one’s own reason.

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


She is serious, honest, and devoted to seeking truth—­utterly lacking in all frivolity, wickedness, or docility in the face of convention. Yet she is very rarely capable of playfulness, sympathy, or irony. Her pronouncements, although truthful, are often abstract and didactic. As the very name “Miss Stackpole” suggests, Henrietta’s conscientious objections often have a somewhat stiff and humorless quality. Calling her a character “whom even her author holds in contempt,” Blakey Vermeule asks, “What could be worse than to try to inhabit the inner life of Miss Henrietta Stackpole . . . ?”63 Vermeule’s sense of Henrietta as a figure with “no inner life” (or perhaps only one so painfully attenuated that any reader would have to engage in extraordinary acts of self-­contortion to inhabit it) brings out an essential difference between the Kierkegaardian notion of the ethical and the Kantian.64 Unlike Kant, Kierkegaard does not advocate the absolute priority of rational determination over the playful, imaginative, sensual, and sentimental forces that move the aesthete. According to the pseudonymous Judge Wilhelm, ­these ele­ments of aesthetic inwardness must be taken up and incorporated in the ethical stage of life: “So the personality does not have the ethical outside itself but within itself and it bursts forth from this depth. It is not, as said before, a ­matter of exterminating the concrete in an abstract and contentless assault but of assimilating it.”65 Judge Wilhelm goes so far as to maintain that the ethical cannot be realized if it is conceived solely in terms of a formal princi­ple of universality: “But the ethical is still abstract and cannot be fully actualized ­because it lies outside the individual. Not ­until the individual himself is the universal, not ­until then can the ethical be actualized.”66 Whereas in Kant’s view, the self must identify its ­will with the motive to conform to universal law, for Kierkegaard, the self that realizes itself in the ethical chooses with the fullness of its personality to integrate its concrete individuality by undertaking a duty with universal form. Thus the requirement that the self be a dialectical “synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity” means that the ethical cannot entail a rejection or an annihilation of the aesthetic.67 As the paradigmatic exemplar of ethical choice, marriage must not destroy or entail the abandonment of erotic love. Erotic love, for the aesthetic character in the first section of ­Either / Or, represents in its utter sensuous abandonment and spontaneous joy the peak of meaningful yet effortless existence for which the aesthete strives. Marriage is odious to him,



b­ ecause the repetition and duty it entails marks the end of erotic love. Judge Wilhelm, however, argues vehemently that “marriage is the transfiguration of the first love and not its annihilation.”68 “The real constituting ele­ment, the substance” of marriage “is love—or, if you want to give it more specific emphasis, erotic love. Once this is taken away, married life is ­either merely a satisfaction of sensuous appetite or it is an association, a partnership, with one or another object in mind; but love . . . ​has precisely the qualification of eternity in it.”69 A marriage without love, just as an ethical life lived without inner authenticity, is dead. Judge Wilhelm thus attempts to address two related issues in his argument: first, why does love, even erotic love, find its truer and deeper realization in marriage? And second, why must the individual choose marriage out of love, and not on account of “commonsensical calculating” or even on the basis of duty?70 His discussions of ­these issues yield insight into why the quest for in­de­pen­dence leads Isabel to marry, but not before she first rejects Warburton and Goodwood. Let us take each of t­ hese questions in turn. Love, Judge Wilhelm argues, “is the unity of freedom and necessity. The individual feels drawn by an irresistible power to another individual but precisely therein feels his freedom.”71 This explosive unity of instinct and ­will is the vital fuel that the aesthete craves. Nothing could be more power­ful or compelling to such a character than the idea that he could gain his freedom through the feeling of being irresistibly attracted. However, as Judge Wilhelm argues, love is lost in natu­ral necessity, in the absorption of the self in the sensuous beauty of the other. It is erotic and f­ ree, but it lacks all intention. Erotic love is characterized by eternity, insofar as “to lovers, even the very first moment they see each other, it seems as if they have already loved each other for a long time” and w ­ ill love each other forever.72 Yet this eternity cannot be actualized by the individuals themselves, precisely b­ ecause it gets its validity from its natu­ral necessity. If the lovers ­were to choose, to intend, to commit to their everlasting love, it would lose its semblance of eternity and thereby gain an “inner history”: First love remains an unreal ansich [in itself] that never acquires inner substance b­ ecause it moves only in an external medium. In the ethical and religious intention, marital love has the possibility of an inner history and is as dif­fer­ent from first love as the historical is from the

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


unhistorical. This love is strong, stronger than the w ­ hole world, but the moment it doubts it is annihilated; it is like a sleep­walker who is able to walk the most dangerous places with complete security but plunges down when someone calls his name. Marital love is armed, for in the intention not only is attentiveness directed to the surrounding world but the ­will is directed ­toward itself, ­toward the inner world.73

Intention makes love pos­si­ble in time. It renders the abstraction of the eternal ­actual and concrete. Moreover, intention implies reflective self-­understanding, insofar as the individual commits herself explic­itly to love—­she is not just in love, but is committed to being in love. Commitment makes inner history pos­si­ble b­ ecause inner history is the history of the self’s intention to love. The self in love without commitment, by contrast, lacks a means of conscious continuance. It is entirely taken up in an unmediated relation with its object, a relation that cannot be chosen ­because it is necessary.74 Marriage is hence for Judge Wilhelm a commitment of the ­will and an intention to love and be in love, and any pretension to make the commitment out of duty or a sense of pragmatism “makes it just as unesthetic as irreligious.”75 So far as the unity of freedom and necessity embodied in a marriage of true love remains a universal claim upon the individual, however, it has its limits; it cannot lead the self to a par­tic­u­lar person to love. In the words of Judge Wilhelm, “Ethics tells him only that he should marry, it does not say whom.”76 Nevertheless, even this abstract construal of the ethical basis for marriage sheds light on Isabel’s decisions to reject Warburton and Goodwood. ­These two pivotal choices speak directly to the second question raised by Judge Wilhelm, namely, why marriage must be chosen by the individual out of love, and not on the basis of “commonsensical calculating” or even on the grounds of duty.77 The norms that govern what is seen to be pragmatically advantageous or even properly dutiful are public in the dual sense of being publicly known and shared and of being upheld by the public, that is, by the inhabitants of the social world in which the individual finds him or herself. From the perspective of such public norms, it is especially difficult to see why Isabel does not wish to marry Lord Warburton. “A remarkably well-­made man of five-­ and-­t hirty, with . . . ​a noticeably handsome face, fresh-­coloured, fair, and frank, with firm, straight features, a lively grey eye, and the rich adornment



of a chestnut beard,” his physical being embodies both the nobility of his character and the aristocracy of his social position (195). Radiant with vitality, his charming physiognomy reveals ­those natu­ral instincts that translate best to the moral and social virtues: “fair, frank, [and] firm,” his character suffers from none of the cramped pettiness, artificial posturing, and cowardly weakness evident in a figure like Gilbert Osmond. Armed with the “rich adornment” of his material property and position, he seems poised to arrive in triumph at the gates of our heroine’s heart not a bit out of breath and just in time. The proverbial knight in shining armor is even “booted and spurred, as if he had dismounted from a long r­ ide,” and appears wearing “a white hat” (196). Lest one be too enamoured of his heroic appearance, however, the hat “looked too large for him”—as if the noblesse oblige personified by Lord Warburton is a­ fter all nothing but a gracefully inflated social costume. His idealized sympathies and greatness of heart prove in the end to be a size too big for our all-­too-­human knight. Lord Warburton is not above making love to Pansy if it w ­ ill get him closer to her stepmother, and in fact, his sincere appearance of interest in Pansy might not to the casual observer seem altogether dif­fer­ent from the attention he paid to Isabel. Lord Warburton figures initially as a crude repre­sen­ta­tion of the ideal choice from a public standpoint: his virtues are highly vis­i­ble and easily agreed upon, and he himself belongs to the social class that sets the norms of judgment regarding taste and morals. Even his radicalism, as it w ­ ere, is undertaken in such a way as to lend him po­liti­cal standing among con­ temporary society. All in all, he appears to be blatantly good, and his own common sense is pronounced. But to the extent that he is wholly conventional, he lacks the subjective sensibility that would allow him to value ­Isabel on her own terms. When she refuses him, he insists that she explain herself in terms of a reason that he can “ ‘understand’ ”: “ ‘If I could believe it, of course I should let you alone. But we ­can’t believe by willing it; and I confess I d ­ on’t understand. I could understand your disliking me; that I could understand well. But that you should admit . . . ​that you think me a good fellow; ­isn’t that it? . . . ​You ­don’t seem to have a reason, and that gives me a sense of injustice’ ” (324). Lord Warburton’s perplexity arises from his inability to recognize any fundamental asymmetry between the criteria for an individual’s choice and the objective standard of goodness. He wants individual decisions to fit into a comprehensible and publicly articulable view

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of the good; he knows he is good and would be seen as such by any w ­ oman. Consequently, the idea that Isabel might not want him is inexplicable. To situate his perplexity in the terms of a Kierkegaardian view of what is essential to ethical subjectivity, we might say that Lord Warburton and the situation presented by his proposal to Isabel exemplify a Hegelian view of the relation between the ethical and the individual. For Hegel, the highest form of ethics involves the identification of the individual with the universal norms and needs of the rational community. Ethical value does not lie in the individual’s subjective experience or choice of the good, but rather in the individual’s recognition of universal good—­a recognition that is ideally cultivated by the rational community itself. Since the development of the rational community to the stage at which it can impart this kind of consciousness upon the individual is not brought about by any one individual but by the force of world history, Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous Johannes Climacus argues that the Hegelian notion of ethical life (Sittlichkeit) is essentially unethical: “In the world-­historical, an essential role is played by ­factors of another kind, dif­fer­ent from the ethical-­dialectical: namely, the accidental, circumstances, that play of forces in which the reshaping totality of historical life absorbs the individual’s action in order to transform it into something dif­fer­ent that does not directly belong to him.”78 Placed in the accidental circumstances of world-­historical movement and not in the individual’s passionate choice, moral value attains expression in an objective situation that bears no direct relation to the subject’s inwardness.79 The sense in which Lord Warburton’s virtues are condemnably “external” is somewhat elusive, however, and must be explored further. By “external,” we might mean that they do not arise from the judgment or sensibility of the individual (that would give the criticism a Kantian tone); alternatively, we might mean that what­ever comes from public opinion is incompatible with the uniqueness of the judgment or sensibility of the individual (crudely, a somewhat Paterian view of subjectivity). For Kierkegaard, however, what is objectionable about the individual’s handing over her decision to the ruling conventions of the day cannot be captured by ­either of ­these alternatives. The insignificance of the “external” lies in the fact that it is presented to the individual in the form of something to be understood, whereas the province of the ethical is not understanding, but rather choice. As Johannes Climacus argues, a truly ethical choice thus involves a shift of perspective,



away from an outward focus on results or achievements as defined by certain standards and ­toward the inner self. This inner self has two impor­tant aspects: it is individual, and it concerns the ­will. In the words of Johannes Climacus: True ethical enthusiasm consists in willing to the utmost of one’s capability, but also . . . ​in never thinking ­whether or not one thereby achieves something. As soon as the w ­ ill begins to cast a covetous eye on the outcome, the individual begins to become immoral—­the energy of the ­will becomes torpid, or it develops abnormally into an unhealthy, unethical, mercenary hankering that, even if it achieves something ­great, does not achieve it ethically—­the individual demands something other than the ethical itself.80

In terms of Isabel’s decision, then, it is clear that to choose Lord Warburton only for the sake of his advantages would mean the abandonment of her self rather than its realization. His social status, his nicely cultivated personality and manners, even his po­liti­cal values—no ­matter how objectively worthy ­these attributes might be, and no ­matter how sincerely Lord Warburton himself embodies them, they are not grounds upon which she herself can choose. Isabel is fully cognizant of what Lord Warburton has to offer, as e­ videnced by her parting view of his s­ister, Miss Molyneux: “Isabel looked into her quiet eyes a moment, and for that moment seemed to see in their grey depths the reflection of every­thing she had rejected in rejecting Lord Warburton—­the peace, the kindness, the honour, the possessions, a deep security and a ­great exclusion. She kissed Miss Molyneux, and then she said: ‘I am afraid I can never come again’ ” (328). To feel the weight of t­ hese considerations is to realize that they must be weightless in her deliberation. This is made even more apparent when Ralph questions Isabel on her choice, saying, “ ‘What was the logic—­the view of your situation—­that dictated so remarkable an act?’ ” (343). Invoking a Hegelian term of objective judgment, “logic,” Ralph seems to demand an answer that would encompass the public point of “view” recommending the match. He continues by enumerating t­ hese considerations: “ ‘Warburton is such a fine fellow; as a man I think he has hardly a fault. And then, he is what they call h ­ ere a swell. He

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has im­mense possessions, and his wife would be thought a superior being. He unites the intrinsic and the extrinsic advantages’ ” (343). A marriage to Lord Warburton is, in t­ hese terms, but a version of the Hegelian fantasy that the individual might find her identity by uniting with a fully rational community that brings together the external and intersubjective manifestations of the good. But as Isabel tries to tell Lord Warburton, “ ‘I can never be happy in any extraordinary way; not by turning away, by separating myself’ ” (326). A decision based on the objective state of affairs would obtain as a result of it “ ‘separat[es]’ ” the self from itself, for in so aiming the self abandons the subjective passion that marks true ethical choice.81 So much for Lord Warburton and the “commonsensical calculating” of his historical age—­having passed the challenge posed by a Hegelian ethics, Isabel must face the seduction of a Kantian one. The Kantian claim that the individual can become autonomous only by giving herself over to a universal rational law is given stark expression in the proposal of Caspar Goodwood. The significance of the challenge raised by a Kantian view of the ethical is shown by the fact that Isabel’s refusal of Goodwood must be constantly renegotiated throughout the novel, up ­until its very conclusion. Indeed, Isabel thinks that “sometimes Caspar Goodwood had seemed to range himself on the side of her destiny”—­a lmost as if, that is, he figures in her life as the inevitable conclusion of it (309). (I ­will examine this relation between Goodwood’s proposal and the threat of finalization on terms alien to the authority of her self-­k nowledge in the final section.) Goodwood provokes much reflection and agitation in Isabel, b­ ecause he gives voice to the appeal of marrying him from the standpoint of Isabel’s concern with in­de­pen­dence: “ ‘Who would wish less to curtail your liberty than I? . . . ​W hat can give me greater plea­sure than to see you perfectly independent—­doing what­ever you like? It is to make you in­de­pen­dent that I want to marry you’ ” (356). His proposal to Isabel does not overflow spontaneously from the conviction of his own emotion, as does Lord Warburton’s ­eager petition: “ ‘I ­don’t make ­mistakes about such ­things; I am a very judicious fellow. I d ­ on’t go off easily, but when I am touched, it’s for life. It’s for life, Miss Archer, it’s for life’ ” (299). Lord Warburton is “ ‘perfectly sure’ ” of his devotion, but Caspar Goodwood does not need to engage his sentiments in order to propose to Isabel. Rather, he presumes to offer her the very t­hing that she is afraid she w ­ ill lose in accepting him: her freedom.



Why does Isabel resist him? From a superficial perspective, at least, ­there is something just a bit boring about this “straight young man from Boston” (225). He is the most plainspoken and literal of all Isabel’s suitors, and also the one who is most unyielding in his determination. This latter trait tends to evoke fear rather than warmth; it alienates, rather than pleasing. In love, as in business, “he show[s] his seriousness too simply, too artlessly” (311). In his single-­minded pursuit of worthy goals, Caspar Goodwood seems unsuited for the game of eros—­a game of subtlety, passiveness, feigned appearances, and lighthearted enjoyment of one another’s foibles and charms. He is, in short, no seducer. “­There was something too forcible, something oppressive and restrictive, in the manner in which he presented himself ” (308–309). Like the moral law, he requires Isabel to “make terms with him at last—­terms which would be certain to be favourable to himself” (309). The demand that she give herself entirely over to him weighs heavi­ly on her soul. The question of ­whether Isabel’s “impulse . . . ​to avail herself of the ­things that helped her to resist such an obligation” is merely a whimsical, unprincipled rebellion, or w ­ hether it can be defended on other grounds, has serious implications for any reading of her decision (309). ­These emerge in light of the many parallels between Caspar Goodwood and the moral law. In the first place, he is positioned as a standard by which she must judge herself: “She had been haunted at moments by the image of his disapproval, and she had wondered—­a consideration she had never paid in one equal degree to any one else—­whether he would like what she did” (309). His very name, “Goodwood,” suggests the upright, rigid, and uncompromising status of the right and the good, and he explic­itly aligns himself with t­ hese norms when he utters his misgivings about Isabel’s decision to refuse him: “ ‘One would think you ­were ­going to commit a crime!’ said Caspar Goodwood. ‘Perhaps I am. I wish to be ­free even to do that, if the fancy takes me’ ” (357). Like the ­ought of the moral law, he has a certain kind of power over ­people, and appears as “a commander of men” who has the force and strength “for making p ­ eople execute his purpose and carry out his views” (310). Fi­nally, he argues that she can only secure her in­de­pen­dence through marriage to him, just as the ­will can only ensure its autonomy by adopting the Kantian moral law as its princi­ple: “ ‘An unmarried ­woman—­a girl of your age—is not in­de­pen­dent. ­There are all sorts of t­ hings she ­can’t do. She is hampered at ­every step’ ” (356). A marriage is literally a ­union of ­wills, and Goodwood

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seems to imply ­here that not only the fact of a ­union with him but a ­union simpliciter ­will give Isabel the true in­de­pen­dence she seeks. His willingness to abstract the offer to the point that she would seem unreasonable to refuse it, however, is precisely part of what “left her imagination absolutely cold” (311). He distances himself from her sensibilities and urges her to accept him purely on the basis that she ­ought. Goodwood appears genuinely to desire that Isabel choose marriage b­ ecause it w ­ ill give her the highest form of in­de­pen­dence, not merely ­because she is blinded by love. His proposal thus parallels an aspect of the Kantian view, which holds that the ­will is heteronomous when it makes its maxim in accordance with sensuous inclination or desire, and autonomous only when it w ­ ills in accordance with the moral law. In Kant’s words, “The rightful claim to freedom of ­will made even by common ­human reason is based on the consciousness and the granted presupposition of the in­de­pen­dence of reason from merely subjectively determining ­causes, all of which together constitute what belongs only to feeling and hence come u ­ nder the general name of sensibility.”82 Autonomy of the ­will is not merely ­free choice unconstrained by other agents. It is the property of the w ­ ill by which the ­will is a “law to itself.”83 Freedom is the ­will u ­ nder law; in­de­pen­dence is Isabel married to Goodwood. “ ‘That’s a beautiful sophism,’ said the girl,” in response to his argument (356). Although she says it “with a smile more beautiful still,” her sense of reproach at his (no doubt unwitting) attempt to mislead her is palpable (356). Indeed, though no one ventures to condemn as sophistry Kant’s insistence that the categorical imperative provides the princi­ple of autonomy for the ­will, Kant himself is quick to acknowledge that his argument in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) might easily seem as much: “The suspicion that we raised above is now removed, the suspicion that a hidden circle was contained in our inference from freedom to autonomy and from the latter to the moral law—­namely that we perhaps took as a ground the idea of freedom only for the sake of the moral law, so that we could afterwards infer the latter in turn from freedom.”84 The circularity of deriving the moral law from the necessary conditions for autonomy and the autonomy of the ­will from its necessary submission to the moral law can be avoided, according to Kant, by appeal to the distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal. As rational beings capable of ­free moral decision, Kant argues that we belong si­mul­ta­neously to two dif­fer­ent “worlds”: the world



of sense and the world of understanding. Whereas the world of understanding “contains the ground of the world of sense and so too of its laws,” the world of sense is the world of phenomena, or appearances.85 For Kant, it would be impossible to think of one’s w ­ ill as one’s own—­that is, as the w ­ ill that one alone could determine—if one conceived of oneself as causally determined.86 Hence the ­will that acts in accordance with the moral law ­under the conception of freedom must conceive of itself as belonging to the noumenal world of understanding.87 The universal moral law thus arises from the idea of a supersensible nature made pos­si­ble through freedom, and abstracted from the embodied ­situation of any par­tic­u­lar person. The link between freedom and the universal law of nature is closely related to Kant’s concept of the dignity of the person. When we think of ourselves as f­ ree, he argues, we regard ourselves as belonging to a higher supersensible world that we legislate according to our ­wills. The inhabitants of this world have special characteristics: invulnerability to the inclinations of sense, immunity to means-­ends considerations, and existence beyond the limitations of space and time. Thus the “­human being, who . . . ​regards himself as an intelligence, thereby puts himself in a dif­fer­ent order of t­ hings and in a relation to determining grounds of an altogether dif­fer­ent kind when he thinks of himself as an intelligence endowed with a ­will, and consequently with causality, than when he perceives himself as a phenomenon in the world of sense.”88 ­These characteristics are to be considered not merely as metaphysical conjectures about the nature of persons, but as practically necessary for the existence of persons and any moral requirements on them. As Kant argues in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), the acting subject “views his existence insofar as it does not stand u­ nder conditions of time and himself as determinable only through laws that he gives himself by reason.”89 Moral decision is impossible if the ­will does not identify itself completely with the conditions of noumenal existence. But what would it mean to see oneself as at once part of the phenomenal realm and part of the noumenal realm, and to accept that one’s autonomy is achieved through one’s noumenal existence? If ­there is a “beautiful sophism” in Kant’s argument, it is perhaps in his insistence that morality is impossible without such a practical self-­conception.90 The self must first of all understand itself as two distinct subjects belonging to disparate worlds,

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and must conceive of one subject as commanding the other; moreover, the subject that commands is necessarily without personality, ­because it is in turn governed by a universal law. Caspar Goodwood’s proposal to Isabel seems to trade on a version of this logic, insofar as he tries to convince her that she can be most herself if she thinks of herself as his wife—­t hat, in fact, she cannot fully realize her own in­de­pen­dence u ­ nless she marries, and that this condition on her in­de­pen­dence is one that is universally shared by all single ­women. He encourages her to choose her marriage on the princi­ple that it ­will grant her in­de­pen­dence, assuring her that ­because he himself agrees to this princi­ple she ­will thereby retain what is most valuable to her. Appearing ­free and self-­determining in his consent to be governed by rational princi­ple, his failure to appeal to personal feeling or sensibility nevertheless makes him seem less ­human. Every­thing about him is austere, deliberate, and, to Isabel, strangely frightening. Regardless of his qualities as a lover, however, he remains a puzzling paradox to Isabel insofar as he trou­bles her sense that the value of her in­de­pen­ dence is to be derived from the unconditional value of her self. The in­de­ pen­dence of her self in this sense means that her claim on ­others should not be contingent upon their having certain desires or practical interests; for if it w ­ ere contingent in this way, then her worth would be made to depend on their dispositions ­toward her. Caspar Goodwood’s proposal is si­mul­ta­neously moving and disturbing to Isabel, precisely b­ ecause he approaches her u ­ nder the guise of professing that his claim on her is not contingent upon his own desires or practical interests—­a ll the while making it clear that its non-­ contingency has been deci­ded upon by him. His w ­ ill remains solidly in the forefront of the picture. Isabel rejects Goodwood, and continues to search for love—or if not love, then at least something meaningful to which she can dedicate herself. When she first contemplates the prospect of her marriage to Osmond, she realizes that “the desire for unlimited expansion had been succeeded in her mind by the sense that life was vacant without some private duty which gathered one’s energies to a point” (554). As Judge Wilhelm argues, “the person who chooses only esthetically never reaches this transfiguration, this higher dedication. Despite all its passion, the rhythm in his soul is only a spiritus lenis [weak aspiration].”91 The higher dedication of the person to the beloved, ­whether it is a person or some aspect of the world, demands some form of obligation.



To love someone or something is to recognize that it is pos­si­ble to fail with re­spect to the claim placed upon one by one’s love. W ­ ere love just a ­matter of expressing how one happened to feel at the moment, it would be merely ­ atter how much passion a game, as the seducer of ­Either / Or treats it; no m it involved, it would have nothing of true risk or the possibility of losing one’s self. Thus when Kierkegaard evokes the notion of choosing one’s self ethically with re­spect to love, he means that commitment is neither trivial nor instrumental. The commitment of the self is not only another sort of experience it can undergo, nor is it a mere means to something ­else. It is in commitment that the self realizes itself as spirit, “a relation that relates itself to itself.”92 Without commitment, a relation is impossible. The self is mired in its ­immediacy, in the mere experience and expression of its subjective passion. Commitment concretizes this passion, b­ ecause through commitment the self relates to itself as passion. In relating to itself, it realizes the claim of its passion and the way in which it might fail with re­spect to what it requires. Hence in the act of relating itself to itself, the self realizes that it must surrender itself, must allow the possibility of losing itself, in order to fully possess itself. Another way to express this paradox is to say that inward commitment divides the self in a way that renders it ­whole. A Repre­sen­ta­tion, Not an Expression

The final question we must take up is how this higher dedication of the self—to love, to become itself, to choose itself in love, to realize in­de­pen­dence in the deepest sense—­may be represented. Kierkegaard suggests that it cannot (or, perhaps more to the point, that its repre­sen­ta­tion must take the form of a fiction, of that which manifests in its form its status as necessarily impossible). As the very title of the novel suggests, The Portrait of a Lady is explic­itly engaged with the prob­lem of how a created image of a person might function as her repre­sen­ta­tion. The conditions of repre­sen­ta­tion and their relation to a view of the in­de­pen­dence of the self thus become crucial to both the novel’s portrayal of Isabel’s marriage to Gilbert Osmond and Kier­ kegaard’s attempt to convey the inwardness of the self. At this stage, it might seem that a definition of inwardness is required for further explication. But as Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous Johannes Cli-

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macus argues in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments,” it is impossible to give an understanding of inwardness by way of a directly stated definition or even a convoluted conceptual analy­sis. “Suppose, then, that someone wanted to communicate the following conviction: truth is inwardness; objectively ­there is no truth, but the appropriation is the truth. . . . ​ Then he would have contradicted himself even more, just as he had from the beginning, ­because the zeal and enthusiasm for getting it said and getting it heard ­were already a misunderstanding.”93 Even the contrast of inwardness with objectivity is only approximately a contrast of opposites. The attempt to render understanding as objective repre­sen­ta­tion is not so much an antonym of inwardness as it is its complete repression. “Objective thinking is completely indifferent to subjectivity and thereby to inwardness and appropriation; its communication is therefore direct. . . . ​It does not have the illusiveness and the art of double-­reflection.”94 The “art of double-­ reflection” alludes to the understanding of the self by itself, achieved only through a subjective and inward communication. Inwardness figures as a form of in­de­pen­dence from objectified ways of thinking and looking. But how might this, in turn, be recognized? According to the logic of Johannes Climacus, t­here is no truth that is not inward (“objectively t­ here is no truth”), and if this is the case, it is a ­mistake to speak of the difference between objectified repre­sen­ta­tion and its alternative as if to pres­ent the self with an absolute “­Either / Or.” If ­there is a contrast worth drawing, then, it must be between art and art. The self-­ anointed masters of appearance and repre­sen­ta­tion in the novel are Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond. Madame Merle “presented herself as a model” of the ideal lady (386). “To be so graceful, so gracious, so wise, so good, and to make so light of it all—­that was ­really to be a ­great lady; especially when one looked so much like one” (387). As seen from the conventional and mundane standpoint of the world, it may appear that “ ‘Serena Merle has no faults’ ” (390). But her serenity is in fact an unnatural production, in which the exaggeration of her moral perfection is in fact the most prominent mark of its inauthenticity. “If for Isabel she had a fault, it was that she was not natu­ral. . . . ​Her nature had been too much overlaid by custom and her ­angles too much smoothed. She had become too flexible, too supple; she was too finished, too civilized. She was, in a word, too perfectly the social animal that man and ­woman are supposed to have been intended to be” (388).



Madame Merle has no inwardness, no subjectivity: “Isabel found it difficult to think of Madame Merle as an isolated figure; she existed only in her relations with her fellow-­mortals. Isabel often wondered what her relations might be with her own soul” (388). She is successful in a social setting precisely ­because she has mastered the art of representing herself, and plays cleverly upon the perceptions of o­ thers in order to accomplish her aims. Yet to argue that she exists only in the world of appearance, like a hollow ornament, would be too quick; a­ fter all, as Isabel notes “having a charming surface does not necessarily prove that one is superficial” (388). Inwardness is not to be contrasted with superficiality, for the lack of inwardness manifested by Madame Merle is consistent with all manner of shadowy motives and hidden intentions. Rather, the opposite of true inwardness lies precisely in the claim that the self may be represented explic­itly and outwardly. Madame Merle denies the idea that the self can be qualitatively dif­fer­ent from its outward expression: “You w ­ ill see that e­ very h ­ uman being has his shell, and that you must take the shell into account. By the shell I mean the ­whole envelope of circumstances. ­There is no such ­thing as an isolated man or ­woman; we are each of us made up of a cluster of appurtenances. What do you call one’s self? Where does it begin? Where does it end? It overflows into every­thing that belongs to us—­and then it flows back again. I know that a large part of myself is in the dresses I choose to wear. I have a ­great re­spect for ­things! One’s self—­for other ­people—is one’s expression of one’s self; and one’s ­house, one’s clothes, the book one reads, the com­pany one keeps—­these ­things are all expressive.” (397–398)

Isabel disagrees strongly with her, saying “ ‘I think just the other way. I ­don’t know ­whether I succeed in expressing myself, but I know that nothing ­else expresses me. Nothing that belongs to me is any mea­sure of me; on the contrary, it’s a limit, a barrier, and a perfectly arbitrary one’ ” (398). Isabel’s rather polemical statement can be read only in contrast with Madame Merle’s suave, worldly philosophy, for taken in and of itself, it is apt to seem extreme. Whereas Madame Merle champions the self as it is conveyed to ­others through the mediation of observable items, Isabel perceives the vast terrain of difference separating the self from such ­things as its clothes or its

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residence. Madame Merle seems to think that ­these ­things speak directly to us of the self they enclose. In her overly sophisticated discrimination of the external, she reveals that she has l­ittle communion with the inwardness of the soul. Merle is French for “blackbird,” a creature whose black plumage and beautiful song made it a symbol for temptation in medieval Christian thought. According to legend, the devil once took the form of a blackbird and flew into St. Benedict’s face, making him long for a beautiful girl. Confessing to Osmond, Madame Merle fi­nally admits: “ ‘It was precisely my dev­ilry that stupefied her. I c­ ouldn’t help it; I was full of something bad. . . . ​ You have dried up my soul’ ” (728). Madame Merle’s “ ‘dev­ilry’ ” lies in her attempt to turn Isabel away from inwardness. ­Because of her incredible Machiavellian intelligence, however, she does not resort to a crude conversion, nor does she attempt to conjure a lure as vulgar as sensual lust. Neither would be effective on the finer sensibilities of Isabel. Madame Merle appeals, paradoxically, to Isabel’s own keen awareness of the essence of inwardness, turning her naïve idealism and faith against her. Miss Archer is always aiming ever higher and higher: “She was always planning out her own development, ­desiring her own perfection, observing her own pro­gress” (244). She is ­determined to achieve in­de­pen­dence in the highest sense, f­ ree of any compromise with the constraints of real­ity. Since Isabel herself has already marked out her target with precision, all Madame Merle must do is make it appear in the world. The temptation of realizing it in all of its beauty and nobility overwhelms Isabel’s imagination, and blinds her to the crucial distinction between inwardness and its repre­sen­ta­tion. The repre­sen­ta­tion of inwardness that Madame Merle evokes is in the person of Gilbert Osmond. He is at once the gilded husband and the gilded world (monde) to whom Isabel surrenders herself, believing him to be the apparition of her highest ideals. Cloistered away in his romantic Italian villa, surrounded by the accoutrements of fine taste and gentle delicacy, his possessions and residence exude an air of “splendid harmony and classic grace” (461). With his enigmatic reserve and sensitivity, he gives Isabel an impression of “superior enlightenment,” which in turn moves her to try and impress him with evidence of her own fine nature (461). In her very first conversation with him, Isabel tells him, “ ‘One ­ought to choose something very deliberately, and be faithful to that’ ” (462). Our heroine lacks no sincerity;



she appears earnestly to seek an ethical choice, in Kierkegaard’s sense, one that w ­ ill prevent the dissolution of the aesthetic stage of life. A ­ fter Isabel gives Osmond this prompt, he immediately appeals to her by painting himself as a man who has lived a life devoted to—as he puts it—­“ ‘my studied, my willful renunciation’ ” (462). “ ‘Not to worry—­not to strive nor strug­gle. To resign myself. To be content with a l­ittle.’ He uttered t­hese sentences slowly, with ­little pauses between, and his intelligent eyes ­were fixed upon Isabel’s with the conscious look of a man who has brought himself to confess something” (462). He succeeds in reducing his pitiful life to a representation—­a repre­sen­ta­tion so subtle and seemingly incommunicable, he is able to deceive her completely by covering his pettiness with the patina of a high-­minded reserve and resignation. She, in turn, is able to attach herself so fully to Osmond ­because “her imagination supplied the ­human ele­ment which she was sure had not been wanting” (463). To her, he is “ ‘a man who has borne his poverty with such dignity, with such indifference. Mr. Osmond has never scrambled nor ­strug­gled—he has cared for no worldly prize. . . . ​Mr. Osmond makes no ­mistakes! He knows every­thing, he understands every­thing, he has the kindest, gentlest, highest spirit’ ” (549). A baffled Ralph realizes that Isabel has made a ­mistake not of intent, but of imagination. Although her aim or intention is true, she misses the mark due to her misprision of the target. “She was wrong, but she believed; she was deluded, but she was consistent. It was wonderfully characteristic of her that she had in­ven­ted a fine theory about Gilbert Osmond, and loved him, not for what he ­really possessed, but for his very poverties dressed out as honours” (550). Isabel’s strength of imagination and her idealistic consistency are also her undoing. She cannot recognize the imperfect, h ­ uman real­ity of Gilbert Osmond’s failings, but instead proj­ects upon them the ele­ments needed to unify them into a pleasing and complete ­whole. Such a confusion of art and life prompts Ralph to issue a warning to ­Isabel: “ ‘One is in trou­ble when one is in error’ ” (550). Isabel’s error consists of having missed the mark. Her bid at in­de­pen­dence is genuinely thwarted and falsified by her incorrect judgment of Osmond. Pedantically, one might think that the language of error (a devious, wandering course, a ­mistake) and of hamartia (in Greek, the concept of missing the mark in archery) indicates that the trou­ble of Isabel Archer falls ­under the category of sin. We

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


might also be tempted to read this suggestion straightforwardly into the view espoused by Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous Vigilius Haufniensis, for whom one of the most profound categories of sin involves the absence of inwardness: “Whenever inwardness does not correspond to [self-]consciousness, ­there is a form of the demonic as soon as the absence of inwardness expresses itself as anxiety about its acquisition.”95 However, the equation between error and sin, between the absence of inwardness and the demonic, simplifies the essential ambiguity at play in both James’s novel and Kierkegaard’s thought. Although “Ralph was an apostle of freedom,” he is no Paul; he does not proselytize (667). To interpret his words literally, or to interpret them in terms of objectively abstract categories, is to misread the subtle irony that always accompanies his pronouncements. To be “in trou­ble” or “in error” signifies, first of all, an ambiguous designation. If error is sin, all h ­ uman beings are in error.96 Sin is the necessary precondition of salvation, not b­ ecause salvation is the opposite of sin, but ­because sin is the freedom of a finite being and salvation is impossible without this freedom. Moreover, inwardness is precisely error in that it is a wandering, subjective reflectiveness and not an understanding that aims at a precise, objective correlation. Kierkegaard argues that such outwardly directed accuracy is the province of speculative knowledge, and that for subjective truth, it is not speculative knowledge but inwardness that is required. Isabel’s ­mistake in choosing Osmond is that she aims at a target suspiciously amenable to objective clarity. “She who of old had been so ­free of step, so desultory, so devious, so much the reverse of pro­cessional,” has now succumbed to the orthodoxy of Osmond’s theater of marriage (635). Her old idealism transposes her longing to develop an in­de­pen­dent understanding into the singularity and concreteness of purpose that her ­union with Osmond represents. She achieves clarity of repre­sen­ta­tion at the cost of subjective truth. On the one hand, Isabel suffers from an overweening ambition to prove herself worthy of sacrifice to a lofty goal: “She could marry him with a kind of pride; she was not only taking, but giving” (554). On the other hand, it is Isabel’s own imagination that proves to be the fatal liability. Her old aesthetic passion reasserts itself in a shallow appreciation for Osmond’s charms: “For during t­ hose months she had i­magined a world of t­ hings that had no substance. She had a vision of him—­she had not read him right. A certain combination of features had touched her, and in them she had seen the most



striking of portraits” (631). As Ralph notes, Osmond is a “master” at “producing calculated impressions” (596). The impression he gives off is precisely one of in­de­pen­dence from the world; he paints himself as a superior spirit, one who has gone beyond the conventional virtues of a man such as Lord Warburton, one whose sensibility and interiority allow him to understand the subtle nuances that Caspar Goodwood could not possibly grasp. “To surround his interior with a sort of invidious sanctity, to tantalize society with a sense of exclusion . . . ​to impart to the face that he presented to the world a cold originality—­this was the ingenious effort of the personage to whom Isabel had attributed a superior morality. . . . ​­Under the guise of caring only for intrinsic values, Osmond lived exclusively for the world” (597). Isabel, herself so conscious of her originality and so desirous of achieving a true in­ de­pen­dence, is fully taken in by Osmond’s per­for­mance. “Osmond had talked to Isabel about his renunciation, his indifference, the ease with which he dispensed with the usual aids to success; and all this had seemed to her admirable. She had thought it a noble indifference, an exquisite in­de­pen­dence” (634). She “had not read him right” precisely ­because the “exquisite in­de­pen­ dence” she wants to see in him, perhaps even proj­ects upon him, has no outward repre­sen­ta­tion (631). She possesses the sensibility to conceive of deep subjective inwardness, and yet her imagination carries this understanding too far in a speculative, depersonalized direction. In the end, it is Isabel’s attempt to value her in­de­pen­dence and to do something to show that it is real which nearly destroys it. As the pseudonymous author of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript argues, “The direction of unreflectiveness is always oriented outward, thereunto, t­ oward, in striving to reach its goal, ­toward the objective. The Socratic secret . . . ​is that the movement is inward, that the truth is the subject’s transformation within himself.”97 The true in­ de­pen­dence of the self lies in its inwardness, and this inwardness is by its very nature impossible to show directly and objectively. That she would be tricked by Osmond’s outward and direct repre­sen­ta­tion of it, precisely ­because it seems so evident and clear to her, is the greatest irony of all. Osmond has, it must be admitted, well-­developed aesthetic talents. “He always had an eye to effect; and his effects ­were elaborately studied” (597). His art is marred not by a lack of skill, but by the ugliness of his intentions: ­t hese effects “­were produced by no vulgar means, but the motive was as

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


vulgar as the art was g­ reat” (597). The vulgarity of his motive is precisely in trying to replicate artificially and visibly what has meaning and actuality only when it is subjectively known. “Every­thing he did was pose—­pose so deeply calculated that if one ­were not on the look­out one mistook it for impulse” (598). He embodies the figure of the aesthete of ­Either / Or insofar as his character lacks any kind of inner depth. He acts merely for the motive of entertaining and pleasing himself, and his personality is such that he is most pleased when o­ thers acknowledge his superiority. He collects Isabel as just another accoutrement to prove his superiority to the world, and values her not even for her own intrinsic worth but for what he thinks she displays in her rejection of another whose status he envies: “He was fond of originals, of rarities, of the superior, the exquisite; and now that he had seen Lord Warburton . . . ​he perceived a new attraction in the idea of taking to himself a young lady who had qualified herself to figure in his collection of choice objects by rejecting the splendid offer of a British aristocrat” (501). For this self-­appointed connoisseur and arbiter of good taste, Isabel is in many ways just an object to be admired. “ ‘A w ­ oman’s natu­ral mission is to be where she is most appreciated,’ ” he tells her (462). The attention paid to Isabel by Osmond completely warps her true nature b­ ecause it is a deeply false and falsifying form of appreciation. Indeed, Isabel is more than impressed by his critical faculty—­she allows herself to be intimidated by it. “She had effaced herself, when he first knew her; she had made herself small, pretending t­here was less of her than t­here r­eally was” (630). By giving in to the fear of being judged, she makes herself unnatural; she becomes an object of judgment, as opposed to a ­human being. According to the existentialist tradition of ethical reflection, such a misunderstanding of the anxiety brought about by one’s finitude and facticity easily gives way to bad faith. The confusion of facticity and transcendence described by Sartre in Being and Nothingness is mirrored in Isabel’s transformation: “­There was something fixed and mechanical in the serenity painted upon it; this was not an expression, Ralph said—it was a repre­sen­ta­tion” (596).98 It is as if Osmond takes the beauty of Isabel’s spirit and shapes it into an outward form that destroys its true spontaneity and freedom. Beyond being merely shallow, then, Osmond’s misprision of Isabel might be understood as a form of untruth that wrongs her deeply. As Kierkegaard argues repeatedly through vari­ous pseudonyms, not to recognize inwardness



in one’s self or in o­ thers constitutes a form of the demonic. Isabel believes that Osmond has overcome any base dependence on his own interests or the acclaim of the world, when in fact she has mistaken his inwardness for its demonic equivalent—­what Kierkegaard names in Sickness unto Death as “inclosing reserve.”99 The highest dedication sought by the self or spirit is a form of communication; as the etymology of the word indicates, a dedication is a declaration, a proclamation or devotion in the form of words. The communication of the self with the self is what gives it inwardness. By contrast, the silence of the demonic does not seek to share itself, but rather keeps itself away from honest revelation. Osmond revels in the secret of his undisclosed intent and method: “It made him feel g­ reat to play the world a trick. The ­thing he had done in his life most directly to please himself was his marrying Isabel Archer; though in this case indeed the gullible world was in a manner embodied in poor Isabel, who had been mystified to the top of her bent” (598). The language of mystification also appears in Kierkegaard’s discussion in Concluding Unscientific Postscript of the difference between thought that represents and thought that expresses. “Speculative thought does not permit the issue to arise at all, and thus all of its response is only a mystification.”100 Just as the pseudonymous Johannes Climacus accuses the massive, objective system of Hegelian thought of having repressed the possibility of subjective inwardness, Osmond suppresses Isabel’s inwardness by replacing it with empty forms and traditions that are falsely intended to represent it, to stand for it. Despite the fact that Isabel “had pleaded the cause of freedom, of d ­ oing as they chose, of not caring for the aspect and denomination of their life—­the cause of other instincts and longings, of quite another ideal,” ­Osmond insists upon the importance of objective correctness (636). ­Under his “rigid system,” the in­de­pen­dence of the spirit that Isabel longs for is completely impossible. ­Every life ­matter is relegated to “a t­ hing of forms, a conscious, calculated ­attitude” (635). In the words of Johannes Climacus, Osmond “has become too objective to have an eternal happiness, b­ ecause this happiness inheres precisely in the infinite, personal, impassioned interestedness and it is precisely this that one relinquishes in order to become objective, precisely this that one lets oneself be tricked out of by objectivity.”101 Thus he remains inhumanly immune to Isabel’s re­sis­tance no m ­ atter how “eagerly, passionately, pleadingly” she urges her other “ideal” of freedom upon him (635–636).

The Character of Self-­Consciousness


If Isabel is the subject, “I. Archer,” who aims at an ethical ideal of in­de­ pen­dence and self-­realization in the context of the moral / marital relationship, then the unhappy ending of the novel is difficult on many levels for the reader who has come to believe in the purity of her intention. Her decision to stay in a loveless, even self-­destructive marriage with Osmond strikes many as perverse and willfully mistaken. Critics have seized upon her apparent sexual frigidity as a way of explaining her rejection of Goodwood, as if to psychologize what cannot be rendered logical. Johannes Climacus suggests, however, that to read the novel this way is to miss the portrait of the lady altogether: It must continually be insisted upon that the subjective issue is not something about the case in point but is the subjectivity itself. In other words, since the issue is the decision and all decision, as shown previously, is rooted in subjectivity, it is impor­tant that objectively ­there be no trace what­ever of any case in point, ­because at that very moment the subjective individual wants to evade some of the pain and crisis of decision, that is, wants to make the issue somewhat objective.102

The “pain and crisis” of subjective decision cannot be evaded by rendering the issue objective. It is for this reason that when Isabel understands the nature of her ­mistake, she also realizes that she cannot simply undo the ­mistake through divorce. An expression of the inwardness of subjective choice cannot be so crudely or directly represented. Neither reports about states of affairs or about actions are sufficient for knowledge of subjective truth. The subject cannot grasp herself as a fact in the world. “ ‘I ­can’t change, that way,’ ” Isabel tells the impatiently rational Henrietta (694). Does this mean that Isabel is too pure, too refined for the gross earthly world of facts? ­A fter all, it is a fact that her marriage is miserable and that she could escape it by divorcing and marrying Caspar Goodwood. Isabel does not so much avoid this fact as she ­faces it clearly, seeing it for what it is: simply a fact. It does not necessarily lead her to the truth at which she aims. True knowledge of who she is must be grasped in such a way that she does not remain outside it. If she w ­ ere simply to divorce Osmond and marry Goodwood, this decision would not be based on a passionate



commitment to Goodwood, but on a detached understanding of what is now the “right” ­thing to do. Such a reading of her choice ultimately allows us to question the claim advanced by critics who seek to provide an ethical account of Isabel’s final decision. Sigi Jöttkandt, for instance, contends that we can understand Isabel’s final decision only if we take her to be acting upon a Kantian understanding of freedom: “For Kant . . . ​the moral law is the custodian of the eternal gap separating the realms of freedom and determination. . . . ​It is out of re­spect for this negativity expressed as the moral law, rather than for any empirical reason, that Isabel makes her momentous decision at the end of the novel.”103 By remaining loyal to her initial choice to marry Osmond, Jöttkandt argues, Isabel chooses to regard it as if it had been made freely—­ independently, that is, of any empirical condition—­and thereby confirms its freedom retrospectively, through her decision to honor that choice despite the fact that she now understands how badly she has been duped, used, and betrayed. Let us set aside, for a moment, the fact that a maxim to abandon husbands like Osmond might well be universalized without threat to the existence of the Kingdom of Ends (even Kant, ­after all, admits the permissibility of divorce).104 What Jöttkandt’s account suggests is that Isabel acts as she does to demonstrate her autonomy from any desire for happiness. This, in turn, assumes that au­then­tic freedom can be made manifest, and that the novel aims to instruct the reader on the meaning of this freedom by making Isabel perform it. Yet Jöttkandt’s reading discounts the extent to which Goodwood’s return at the finale of the novel and his attempt to intervene in Isabel’s fate are staged in terms of an attempt to know better than herself what she o­ ught to do, and are hence repudiated precisely on t­ hose grounds. “Now I know—­to-­day I know.—­Do you remember what I asked you in Rome? Then I was quite in the dark. But to-­day I know on good authority; every­thing is clear to me to-­day. It was a good ­thing, when you made me come away with your cousin. He was a good fellow—he was a noble fellow—he told me how the case stands. He explained every­thing; he guessed what I thought of you. He was a member of your ­family, and he left you—so long as you should be in ­England—to my care,” said Goodwood, as if he w ­ ere making a ­great point. “Do you

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know what he said to me the last time I saw him—as he lay ­there where he died? He said—­‘Do every­thing you can for her; do every­thing she ­will let you.’ ” Isabel suddenly got up. “You had no business to talk about me!” “Why not—­why not, when we talked in that way?” he demanded, following her fast. “And he was d ­ ying—­when a man’s ­dying it’s dif­f er­ent.” (796)

In so “demand[ing],” Goodwood stakes his right to confront Isabel with the obligation to renounce her marriage upon his knowledge of Isabel’s innermost desires and commitments. “ ‘I know on good authority,’ ” he avows, making explicit the fact that any assertion to know Isabel’s self in such a way as to warrant this declaration is in essence a claim to “ ‘authority.’ ” The metafictional implications in play are made unmistakably clear by the identification of Goodwood’s authority with the communication of Ralph “ ‘as he lay t­ here where he died.’ ” As argued earlier, Ralph figures throughout the novel as a stand-in for a problematic form of authorial presence vis-­à-­vis ­Isabel’s characterological freedom, by virtue of his invalid status (and hence, as emphasized in Goodwood’s own account, near-­death-­yet-­still-­living condition) and his attempts to manipulate the arc of her life. His instructions to Goodwood ensure that even ­after his death, his influence upon her existence ­will not cease. “ ‘You ­don’t know what to do—­you ­don’t know where to turn,’ ” insists Goodwood; “ ‘I knew it too—­what it would cost you to come ­here. It ­will cost you your life! When I know that, how can I keep myself from wishing to save you?’ ” (797–798). Yet again, Goodwood invokes another form of the sophism deployed in his first proposal: Isabel does not know what to do, but he does. By acting upon the knowledge that he possesses, he can recover what he claims she has lost: the self-­knowledge and freedom that lie at the core of her very existence. His words trigger Isabel’s (to him, unexpected) reaction b­ ecause she recognizes that the temptation to be saved in this way, by his better authority, is one that would leave her vanquished.105 To understand the nature of Isabel’s inwardness as insusceptible to any speculative or objective repre­sen­ta­tion thus helps us to better understand the paradox of an ending that has exasperated, even angered, scores of readers since the first appearance of the novel.106 Isabel’s refusal of Goodwood’s heroic attempt at salvation accomplishes three aims: it disables the possibility



of any satisfactory conclusion for the protagonist, for the reader, and for any ethical understanding that is not internally contradictory or deeply punitive. One of the enduring fascinations of The Portrait of a Lady is precisely this prob­lem of how the novel seems to draw a fatalistic net around its protagonist and, at the same time, to unfold a vast drama of inward reflection and choice. What to do with the meaning of Isabel’s choice in light of its consequences is not—­cannot be—­satisfactorily resolved in terms of a straightforward ethical account. Indeed, the novel deliberately forecloses that sort of resolution in its display of Isabel’s unhappiness and the sterility of duty. By denying the reader any knowledge of the concrete path by which Isabel ­will triumphantly continue to exist just at the very moment that it most increases our own awareness of the desire to finalize her fate, the plot literally stages the disappearance of the lady from the portrait: the impossibility of resolving her existence by way of an objectively rendered repre­sen­ta­tion. All along, Isabel evades the “right” ­thing to do—­the right Hegelian decision (embodied in a fairy­-­tale marriage with Warburton), the right Kantian decision (represented by an early marriage to the loyal Goodwood), and fi­nally the decision that would resolve the plot in a way that “feels right” to the reader (epitomized by the hope of Goodwood’s rescue)—­remaining in­ de­pen­dent of ­those intentions that, by their very nature, are not something she can truly avow.107 The outward completeness of what is represented by the ethical—­a worthy commitment, an ideal marriage, a true love, even a certain conception of freedom—­threatens to draw the self away from the necessary strug­gle for its own decision. The reader who identifies with universally recognizable forms of ethical obligation is left standing, bewildered and somewhat forlorn, with Caspar Goodwood at the end of the book. To prefer a straight and stiff reading of the complexities of the h ­ uman situation is to reduce Isabel’s moment of choice to what anyone might have done, or to what anyone in her situation o­ ught to do. It is to be disappointed by her inability to choose rationally, to make sense of her life in the way that any observer might. If this is so, then it would be equally mistaken to champion a rejection ­ ere is of that ending as something like a final moral. The difficulty we face h not unrelated to the form of the prob­lem that Johannes Climacus elucidates in Concluding Unscientific Postscript: “The trou­ble, however, is that in its par-

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adoxical form the truth of Chris­tian­ity has something in common with the nettle: the solid, sensible subject only stings himself when he wants to grasp it summarily in this way, or rather (since it is a spiritual relationship, the stinging can be understood only in a figurative sense) he does not grasp it at all; he grasps its objective truth so objectively that he himself remains outside.”108 The Portrait of a Lady proffers the temptation to grasp at an objectively redeeming truth ­u ntil the very end. The name “Isabel” means “consecrated to God,” a designation that evokes not only Isabel’s incorrigible idealism, but also her faith. For Kierkegaard, faith is an inward communion with God in which the subject is able to go beyond the despair of the ethical to a deeper self-­realization. This, in turn, might seem to suggest that Isabel’s choice at the end of the novel ­ought to be interpreted as an amazing feat of in­de­pen­dence, a brilliant solution. Yet we must remember that it is Madame Merle who says of her that “ ‘she has a line sharply marked out,’ ” and Osmond who replies: “Her ideas, to­day, must be remarkable’ ” (727). Speaking of another would-be archer, James Conant argues that Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship guards against precisely this desire to mark straight lines and draw out remarkable ideas on the basis of his text: The aim of a pseudonymous work is not to impart a doctrine to the reader but to deliver him from an illusion. The method is to offer the reader something that has the form of knowledge in order to show him that what he is attracted to is only the appearance of knowledge. In a sense, the ordinary aim of authorship has been reversed: rather than striving to teach the reader something he does not know, the aim is to show him that where he takes t­ here to be something to know ­there is nothing.109

Ralph Touchett, the “phi­los­o­pher” who is “ ‘restricted to mere spectatorship at the game of life,’ ” and who importunes Isabel with the wish to “ ‘see the show when I have paid so much for my ticket,’ ” is dead and gone (227, 343).110 The portrait is but a ghostly illusion that fades with the disappearance of the phi­los­o­pher. Where its beholder believes herself to have seen a lady, she is mistaken. The Portrait of a Lady reverses the subject of its repre­sen­ta­tion to reveal the reader who seeks aesthetic escape from boredom, the reader who



earnestly wants to be shown the right choice, the reader who is attracted by the bildungsroman’s promise of vicarious moral edification through the experiences of Isabel.111 The disappointment of the ending registers a shock of unwelcome recognition. Isabel is not another heroine in another romance with a happy ending. Th ­ ere is nothing, in a sense, to learn; no redeeming choices, no ways to right the situation, no impartial observers. The disappearance of the reader from The Portrait of a Lady in this sense discloses the conditions of possibility for in­de­pen­dence from the sway of aesthetic desires, from the realm of publicly recognized norms, from the universality of moral judgment. But this in­de­pen­dence can hardly be realized without fear and trembling. If we overcome the danger that Lord Warburton’s appearance might “provok[e] you to wish yourself, almost blindly, in his place,” and stop imagining ourselves into his moated mansion (196); if we refuse, like Isabel, to let Goodwood embrace us with the security and self-­surrender of a fervent moral passion;112 if we forego this readily proffered bliss, we must return with Isabel to Rome, to make our way through the deceitful and loveless world. To revisit once more the opening inquiry of the novel, we might well ask with Ralph: “ ‘But who is “quite in­de­pen­dent,” and in what sense is the term used?—­that point is not yet settled’ ” (202). At the end of our investigation, it remains the case that “ ‘that point is’ ” still “ ‘not yet settled,’ ” ­because the in­de­pen­dence in question does not admit of an ultimate repre­sen­ta­tion, an objective definition.113 The reader who neither succumbs to a romantic wistfulness nor aspires to a rational resolution is left only with freedom and the ambiguity it confers. Caspar Goodwood captures her for but a moment: “His kiss was like a flash of lightning; when it was dark again she was ­free” (799). Isabel flees the comforting illumination of his “ ‘good authority,’ ” and in so ­doing discovers the path of her own existence again (796). What Isabel’s life, Isabel’s game, w ­ ill be now, no superior being can know in advance of her own decision. Unlike the liberation of Henrietta Stackpole or the alternatives proffered by Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood, t­ here is nothing happy about the novel’s end. Except that, for Isabel, it is a beginning: “Deep in her soul—­deeper than any appetite for renunciation—­was the sense that life would be her business for a long time to come. And at moments ­there was something inspiring, almost exhilarating, in the conviction” (769).


Detotalized Totality: Situation, World, and Being-­in-­the-­Novel

I seek to elucidate the mode of world-­disclosure that is characteristic of the realist novel in terms that are neither naturalized nor analytical (as in empiricist and so­cio­log­i­cal accounts of realism, respectively), but aesthetic: responsive to and unfolding from the central problematic identified by an existentialist poetics of the novel.1 By calling the prob­lem “aesthetic,” I do not mean that it is to be solved by a par­tic­u­lar formal technique or style, but rather that the very possibility of the novel achieving the status of a convincing work of art depends upon the resolution of the prob­lem. For if a novel’s repre­sen­ta­tion of a world ­were to make pos­si­ble the assumption of a point of view from which that world could be perceived as a given totality, then all possibilities of action and intention would be subsumed within the larger fact of the world. They would appear as possibilities to be known and mapped passively from the non-­agential perspective of the spectator, and not as possibilities to be grasped intentionally from an agential point of view. Käte Hamburger draws attention to t­ hese distinct perspectives in her discussion of the historical novel: IN THIS CHAPTER,

Even ­those historical novels which adhere to historical truth just as exactly as an a­ ctual historical document does, nevertheless transform



the historical person into a non-­historical, fictive figure, transferring him out of a pos­si­ble system of real­ity into a system of fiction. For the system of fiction is defined by the figure’s not being presented as object, but as subject, portrayed in his I-­originarity (or, as is also pos­si­ble, as an object in the experience-­field of other persons in the novel). ­These pro­cesses [of fictionalization] are the “embodying states of affairs” . . . ​ which render[] . . . ​non-­historical all ever so historical raw material in a novel.2

The concept of “I-­originarity” ­here is drawn from the theory of origo, or deictic center, outlined in Karl Bühler’s Sprachtheorie (1934), in which the originating point of discourse is determined by the use of the personal, spatial, and temporal deictic markers I-­here-­now.3 As Hamburger argues, the suspension of the real “I-­Origo” of the reader on behalf of the fictitious “I-­Origo” of the character means that the world of fiction is absolutely distinct from the ­actual world of the reader, even in the case of the historical novel that appears to depict real­ity: “With re­spect to an imaginary place, ‘­here’ and ‘­there’ are meaningless as spatial relations between my real existence and any fictive locality where the hero of the novel happens to be.”4 Hence the requirement that the novel compel the reader’s conviction in the real­ity of the character qua agent has profound consequences for conceptualizing how the novel represents its world. This chapter aims to show that the interrelation between ­these two aspects of realist novelistic poetics can be elucidated in terms of an existentialist conception of situation. In classical studies of the realist novel, critics seeking to find a language adequate to the readerly experience of total immersion frequently invoke the trope of entering into another world. Consider this passage from José Ortega y Gasset’s vivid and uncanny account of novel-­reading: Let us observe ourselves the moment we have finished reading a ­great novel. Is it not as though we ­were emerging from another world where we ­were held incommunicado? That ­there can have been no communication is clear; for we are aware of no transition. A second ago we ­were in Parma with Count Mosca and La Sanseverina, with Clélia and Fabrice; we lived their lives with them, immersed in their atmosphere, their time and place. Now, abruptly, we find ourselves in our room, our

Detotalized Totality


city, our time; and already our accustomed preoccupations begin to stir. ­There is an interval of indecision and suspense. Perchance a sudden wave of recollection washes us back into the universe of the novel, and with a certain effort, as though struggling through a liquid ele­ment, we must regain the shores of our existence proper. ­Were someone to find us in just that moment, our dilated pupils would betray our shipwrecked condition. Novel I call the literary prose work that produces this effect.5

To allude to the other-­world of a novel is to seek to capture the sense that one is, Ortega claims, plunged into another sphere of existence whose ele­ ments are as alien to our own as the sea to the land. The Odyssean image of the sailor shipwrecked upon the shore suggests that the reader who emerges from the enchanting Calypso-­spell of fiction must go from a shifting ele­ ment, in which one t­ hing (a word upon a page) can become another (Parma, Count Mosca, La Sanseverina), to a realm that is as firmly rooted and fixed as Penelope’s marriage bed. Yet the reader-­Odysseus, in this movement, must also become a kind of Nobody: “for we are aware of no transition” between the world of real­ity and the world of the novel. No voyage, and hence no basis for kleos, for heroic identity. The asymmetrical intimacy of novel-­ reading, evinced in the novel’s capacity to let the reader know other minds without also thereby being known, is not unrelated to the impossibility of identifying the one whose knowledge of fiction’s other-­world survives the journey between t­ here and ­here. For, as I have argued, the realist novel seeks to establish the fictional assumption of a mode of nonbeing upon the part of its reader, according to which it makes l­ ittle sense to ask what she intends or how she ­will act, and thus—­crucially—­who she is. Within the novelistic universe, the reader’s only access to the existential orientation that Heidegger calls being-­in-­the-­world is through the lives of the characters in that world. Hence the world of the novel is both a world as seen and experienced by an “other-­self” (the character, not the reader qua concrete center of agency) and a world viewed by Nobody (the reader-­made-­believer in the real­ity of the character, no longer herself existing). World-­disclosure in the realist novel can be understood as an achievement of the novelistic work of art by which a world is paradoxically rendered comprehensible to a nonexisting subject from the point of view of an existing subject within it.



The trope of entering into another world, so prevalent in exemplary accounts of novel-­reading, is no doubt intended to evoke the depth and complexity at stake in our sense of what it means to dwell imaginatively in the realms of novelistic fiction. This complexity is hardly captured by the word “setting,” with its theatrical connotation of background scenery or mere denotation of time and place. Balzac’s Paris, Eliot’s Middlemarch, Hardy’s Wessex, Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Achebe’s Umuofia: the immersive spell that the realist novel casts upon its reader relies not only upon its repre­sen­ta­tion of character life, but also on its capacity to engulf her entirely within the w ­ holeness and intricacy of an other-­world. Rather than merely evoking this trope to elucidate the aesthetic impact of world-­disclosure in the realist novel, however, I wish to suggest that the trope can be viewed as a marker of a set of interconnected issues that are central to an existentialist poetics of the novel, designating prob­lems that are themselves in need of further interrogation. What do we mean when we speak of the world of a novel? How is it fundamentally—­let us say, ontologically—­dif­fer­ent from our own?6 (Or, as Thomas Pavel puts it, how does a fictional work invite “the abandonment of one’s own ontological perspective” in order to “posit . . . ​a new ‘­actual’ world . . . ​a new ontological perspective”?7) Is it pos­si­ble to characterize the relation linking the two worlds, or are they so essentially distinct that any attempt to map the interspace between them would be impossible? When we refer to the realism of the novel’s world, do we intend to suggest a relation of transparency, reflection, or similitude between it and our own? How is such a relation achieved or posited, given the fundamental difference between ­these worlds? The analogy of the other-­world gives rise to even greater quandaries when confronted with the abstruse character of readerly subjectivity, for the essential distinction between reader qua inhabitant of this (­actual) world and qua temporary made-­believer in the real­ity of the novel threatens to render the notion of inter-­world transport wholly ambiguous, if not incoherent.8 Such tensions are already apparent in Ortega’s account, which identifies the “glorious and unique magic” of the novel in terms of the simultaneous “imperviousness” of the novel’s world to our real­ity and its illusory permeability to our habitation. If the world of the novel and our own world are ontologically distinct, ­there can be no literal traffic between them, no single subject (or only the most paradoxical one) capable of traversing them. “So

Detotalized Totality


incompatible are the two worlds that their slightest contact abolishes one of them,” declares Ortega. “As ­children we never could stick a fin­ger through the shimmering skin of the soap ­bubbles; always t­ hose frail, floating globes would vanish in a sudden explosion, leaving a tear of foam on the flags.”9 What is most noteworthy in Ortega’s account, then, is not the fact that the analogy of the other-­world appears to collapse upon itself, raising countless apparently unresolvable paradoxes, but rather that despite ­these paradoxes an overwhelming desire to speak in terms of the analogy remains. It must therefore be the paradox of the other-­world itself that demands attention, for it, in turn, reveals the ultimate paradox of novel-­reading. The world of the classic realist novel is so constructed as to allow the apparent immersion of the reader within it, while nevertheless maintaining its manifest autonomy and fundamental otherness. The nature of the relation between the two worlds, and the difficulty of precisely characterizing the essential differences between them, are thus not merely illustrative of the phenomenology of novel-­reading, but call for investigation as issues of central importance to an existentialist poetics of the novel. Beauvoir: On the Detotalized Totality of Novelistic Worlds

It must first of all be noted that the prob­lem of understanding the essential difference between the other-­world of the novel and our own world is not unrelated to the prob­lem of characterizing the difference between the other-­life of the novel’s character and our own life. As Mikhail Bakhtin argues, one is known in part from the remove of total aesthetic consummation, and the other from the complete immersion of an existential-­pragmatic perspective. Yet as Ortega claims, the “glorious and unique magic” of the novel arises precisely from its capacity to evoke the impossible (or, as I say elsewhere, necessarily fictional) fantasy that one can know a life from within without assuming the necessity of existential choice in relation to that life. A primary difficulty attending the theorization of world-­disclosure in the novel is hence that of accounting for the fictional effect of a simultaneous presence and absence of agential perspective in relation to that world. The very aesthetic strategies of repre­sen­ta­tion that produce the effect of readerly immersion must si­mul­ta­neously consummate the world of the novel in its



totality, while obviating any perspective from which that totality becomes manifest. By far the most relevant and philosophically suggestive discussion of this issue can be found in an essay by Beauvoir titled “What Can Lit­er­a­ ture Do?” (1965). The text of the essay is based upon her contribution to a 1964 debate, or­ga­nized by the Communist student journal Clarté, on the value of “committed lit­er­a­ture.” The debate is historically cast as a confrontation b­ etween members of the editorial board at Tel Quel, such as Jean Ricardou, who oppose the old realism and its ideological bases, and Sartre, who defends his idea of littérature engagée. Seldom discussed is the more significant theoretical intervention made by Beauvoir, who largely sidesteps the fixed terms of the debate in order to mount a deeper challenge to standing assumptions concerning the conceptualization of realism itself. “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?” thus provides a vital critical context for reconsidering the literary-­historical enigma of Beauvoir’s per­sis­tent philosophical interest in the classic realist novel—­the novel of Balzac, Stendhal, Tolstoy, and Eliot—in the period that the nouveau roman (famously termed the “anti-­novel” by Sartre) of Sarraute, Simon, and Butor emerges in France. Indeed, Beauvoir’s philosophical attention to the realist novel appears to be in need of explication only if one considers the characteristic orientation of realism to be referential, in an empiricist or so­cio­log­i­cal mode. The exposure of this assumption about the nature of realism only raises the stakes of her contribution.10 Beauvoir begins her inquiry by describing the experience of reading a so­cio­log­i­cal account entitled The C ­ hildren of Sanchez, which is narrated from the point of view of four c­ hildren and their f­ather who live in the slums of Mexico. How, she asks, does this rich and multifaceted narrative differ essentially from a novel? If the world ­were a given totality, if it ­were a being, something immutable that we could examine or survey as we do a world map, if this w ­ ere the case and we saw the totality of the world in its unity, then what indeed would be impor­tant? Only to increase more and more our objective knowledge of the world and to discover it more and more extensively.

Detotalized Totality


But in the philosophy called existentialism, to which I adhere, the world is, as Sartre said, a detotalized totality. . . . ​It means that, on the one hand, ­there is a world that is indeed the same for us all, but on the other hand we are all in situation in relation to it.  . . . ​A nd what is most essential in the ­human condition and in man’s relation to the world is precisely what is defined by this unity of the world that we express and yet at the same time this singularity, this detotalization of the points of view that we take on it, or rather—­since the term “point of view” is a ­little idealistic—­the situations in which we find ourselves in relation to it.11

The so­cio­log­i­cal account and the novel, for Beauvoir, conceptualize the world in fundamentally dif­fer­ent ways. For the novel, the world is not simply a given ­whole to be investigated in ever-­increasing detail and accuracy; it is not even the totality of ­every pos­si­ble perspective upon it. Rather, the revelation of the world in a novel enfolds a prob­lem or paradox that requires response in an aesthetic form. For if we are always “in situation in relation to it,” then the disclosure of the world must also disclose its being as “detotalized totality”—­that is, as a given unity that nevertheless does not admit of being ultimately consummated or viewed in its entirety from a single objective perspective. Beauvoir further argues that the novel accomplishes something that the so­cio­log­i­c al account cannot. It grips its reader to such an extent that the reader believes that she has come to inhabit and possess another world.12 This is the essential difference with information. When I read The ­Children of Sanchez, I remain at home, in my room, in the time when I live, with my age, with Paris all around me; and Mexico is far away with its slums and with the ­children who live ­there. And I am interested in them; I annex them to my universe, but I do not change universes. Whereas Kafka, Balzac, and Robbe-­Grillet invite me and convince me to s­ ettle down, at least for a moment, in the heart of another world. And that is the miracle of lit­er­a­ture and what distinguishes it from information. A truth that is other becomes mine without ceasing to be an other. I abdicate my “I” in ­favor of he who is speaking, and yet I remain myself.



This confusion is continually initiated and continually undone, and is the only form of communication capable of giving me the incommunicable—capable of giving me the taste of another life. I am thrown into a world that has its own values, its own colors; it remains separated from mine and yet it exists for me. (201)

The reader of the novel, unlike the reader of the so­cio­log­i­cal account, is invited to “abdicate” her own being qua reader of the novel, assuming another “I” and hence another situation. Thus the novel fundamentally aims not at mere description of a given real­ity, but rather at the possibility of allowing the reader to assume the situation of the one depicted therein. This part of the account remains fairly straightforward, even platitudinous. What follows, however, is less easy to gloss: “and yet I remain myself.” This assertion evidently cannot mean that the reader continues to remain pres­ent to the world of the novel as the “I” of the concrete and existing self, for as shown in our earlier discussion of Kierkegaard’s and Sartre’s novelistic poetics (Chapter 1), such presence would destroy the aesthetic effect of absorption immediately. Interpreting Beauvoir’s assertion in t­hese terms furthermore contradicts her claim earlier in the essay: “At the heart of this communication t­ here is a separation that remains irreducible. I who am speaking to you am not in the same situation as you who are listening. . . . ​I ­will die a death that is absolutely unique for myself, but that is the same ­thing for each of you. Each person’s life has a unique flavor that, in a sense, no one e­ lse can know” (199–201). Given this claim, the only sense in which one might interpret Beauvoir’s statement that “I” as reader “remain myself” is the sense in which the novel maintains its manifest autonomy, its fundamental separateness or aesthetic boundedness, in relation to its reader. As a work of art, it holds apart at an infinite distance the represented situation from the situation of the reader, even as its e­ very aesthetic strategy endeavors to convince the reader that she may be afforded the forbidden “taste of another life.” Beauvoir’s marvelous phrase, “this confusion is continually initiated and continually undone,” marks the ultimate paradox of the art of the novel—­a paradox that neither so­cio­log­i­cal nor empiricist accounts of novelistic realism are capable of conceptualizing. What makes a novel essentially dif­fer­ent from a so­cio­log­i­cal account is that the latter attempts to make pos­si­ble knowledge of “them” in “their world” by an “I” in “my world,” whereas the

Detotalized Totality


novel si­mul­ta­neously preserves the essential separation of each situation while striving to compel belief in the impossible possibility that the reader might somehow enter into the situation of another “I” in another world. “Lit­er­a­ture,” as Beauvoir claims, “is a way of surpassing the separation by affirming it.”13 In Beauvoir’s account, the paradox that lies at the heart of the novel is repeatedly rendered in terms of the analogy of coming to inhabit another world: “I,” as reader of Balzac or Stendhal, “change universes,” am “thrown into a world that has its own values, its own colors.” The word “thrown” ­here registers the dependence of Beauvoir’s and Sartre’s concept of situation on Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, of facticity.14 Dasein exists in par­tic­u­lar conditions within the world before becoming aware of the world as such. The inextricability of being and world—­being-­in-­the-­world, In-­ der-­Welt-­sein—­reveals the significance of conceptualizing novelistic world-­ representation in terms of aesthetic strategies that enable the paradoxical impossibility that Beauvoir brings to light (indeed, not only ­here but also in her essay “An American Re­nais­sance,” as well as in a lecture titled “The Novel and Metaphysics,” l­ ater published as “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics”).15 World-­disclosure as situation enables the novel to accomplish two paradoxical aims at once. On the one hand, the inherent separateness of each situation reinscribes or amplifies the manifest autonomy of the novel qua work of art, allowing us to speak of an other-­world. On the other hand, the inextricability of an “I” and its situation has the aesthetic effect of casting the reader-­made-­believer into another mode of being-­in-­the-­world, enabling us to speak of the readerly experience of coming to inhabit the fictional other-­world. The “detotalized totality” of situation or worldhood depicted in the novel foregrounds and parallels in its structure the central aesthetic dialectic identified by the existentialist phi­los­o­phers in their accounts of novelistic form. The novel qua work of art must exist as an autonomous totality, but in order to exert its spellbinding force upon the reader it must si­mul­ta­neously obviate any pos­si­ble perspective from which its consummation as a totality becomes apparent. Thus Beauvoir argues that what distinguishes the novel as an aesthetic form from mere information, and what evokes its reader’s absorption in the real­ity it narrates, is in part its effective repre­sen­ta­tion of worldhood as the detotalized totality of situation.



Novelistic Worldhood as Situation

Before proceeding to explicate this claim further, it is crucial to note that this aesthetic development of world-­disclosure as situation within the poetics of the novel is only one of many strategies that share the same aim. Other theorists of the novel have called attention, for instance, to the linguistic techniques of prose narration that bring about the effect of displacing the presence of a reader / author from the fictive world. As Hamburger shows in her subtle analy­sis of the function of the epic preterite in real­ity statements within the novel, novelistic narrative is oriented with reference to a deictic center that does not exist in real­ity and that thus has only a fictional existence: In a novel we can indeed have a sentence like “Tomorrow was Christmas,” but never one such as “Yesterday was Christmas.” We can only have “Yesterday had been Christmas.” This pluperfect, the only tense pos­si­ble in combination with the deictic past adverb, is equally as instructive for fictional narration as the combination of a ­future adverb with a ­simple past, which is pos­si­ble only in fiction. And constitutively under­lying both ­these phenomena of tense is the same law: that that which is narrated is referred not to a real I-­Origo, but rather to fictive I-­Origines, and is therefore itself fictive. Epic fiction is defined solely in that it contains no real I-­Origo, and secondly in that it therefore must contain fictive I-­Origines, i.e. reference or orientational systems which epistemologically, and hence temporally, have nothing to do with the real I who experiences fiction in any way—in other words with the author or the reader. And conversely, precisely this signifies that they are non-­real, fictive.16

In a striking extension of the linguistic analyses of Hamburger and Émile Benveniste, Ann Banfield argues similarly for the recognition of two distinct systems—­discourse and narration—in which the latter gives rise to the possibility of sentences without a speaker: We have in fact two radically dif­fer­ent conceptions of the pre­sen­ta­tion of point of view in language and lit­er­a­ture. In one, all language is seen

Detotalized Totality


as paradigmatically spoken, and all other uses are derivative from the spoken language. . . . ​In the other, point of view becomes a concept which can be in­de­pen­dent of the speaker’s role in communication. Subjectivity is not dependent on the communicative act, even if it is shown through language. And if it is not subordinated to the communicative function, then language can contain speakerless sentences.17

Novelistic narrative liberates h ­ uman expressivity from the situation of direct communication between persons that is foregrounded by stage drama. Banfield’s theory suggests a new way to conceptualize why existentialist thinkers such as Kierkegaard view novelistic form as an exemplar of the “indirect communication” required for inwardness. (This concern, it should be noted, is not entirely unique to existentialism; the emergence of a new form of subjectivity whose conscious experience may be inscribed without the act of inscription being necessarily informed by communicative intent is arguably also central to the poetics of other proto-­novelistic philosophical texts, such as Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker [1776–1778].18) According to Banfield, the development of novelistic narration culminates in the possibility of both style indirect libre, the repre­sen­ta­tion of consciousness as “unmediated by any judging point of view,” and the repre­sen­ta­tion of world by way of what she calls “the sentence of narration [that] bears witness to the possibility of an objective knowledge—­statements without the intervention of a knowing subject.”19 My purpose h ­ ere is not to investigate the validity of ­these deeper epistemological claims, or to ­settle the debates that have arisen from her analy­sis over the ontology of the narrator. Rather, I wish to draw attention to Banfield’s observation that novelistic narrative stages, or attempts to stage, the apparent possibility of a language act in which some aspect of real­ity can be made known without necessary reference to a par­tic­u ­lar knower.20 Indeed, both Hamburger’s and Banfield’s studies may be interpreted as disclosing a crucial aspect of the aesthetic strategies at work in the novelistic repre­sen­ta­tion of worldhood. The prob­lem of how to depict a relation between character and world without any necessary reference to the knower of this relation is inextricable from the prob­lem of how to create a sense of the fictional world as complete in and of itself. This is ­because the revelation of a point of view from which a total perspective upon one world is pos­si­ble



results in the awareness of two worlds: the world of the knower, who transcends the world of the one who is known. Such a sense of world incongruity or bifurcation immediately breaks the spell of absorption, which can result only from the illusion or fiction that the novelistic world has become—­for the reader-­made-­believer—­the world. Mary Galbraith alludes to ­these aesthetic concerns in her analy­sis of the deictic shift theory presented by Hamburger, Banfield, and Sige-­Yuki Kuroda: We do not have to picture an author divining into the character’s mind ­because the character’s mind is a creation of the author’s mind, and the author’s mind belongs to a w ­ hole dif­fer­ent realm from the fiction. Instead, we enter into the fiction and take its propositions as the real­ity that simply exists in this story world, without any need of a mediating SPEAKER. Questions about the author’s knowledge, motives or intentions are not out of bounds, but they are outside of the fiction qua fiction.21

The fiction of the novel’s world is precisely the fiction of being by being-­ narrated without the necessity of positing an additional agent of narration. The deictic shift model, as Galbraith notes, does not imply a theoretical denial of the author but rather returns the author to the role of the creator of the novel, a creator who speaks indirectly (in Kierkegaard’s sense) by way of the totality of the work rather than directly as a figure within the work. To draw out the aesthetic implications of Galbraith’s argument, it is necessary to offer a fuller account of the complementary strategies that further heighten the effect at which the novel strives, the effect of total immersion in or inhabitation of a world other than one’s own. The remainder of this chapter thus seeks to elucidate Beauvoir’s insight concerning the repre­sen­ta­tion of situation in the novel, in part by showing how it answers to the central problematic of the existentialist poetics of the novel. The depiction of the world as a detotalized totality, a situation, functions as an aesthetic strategy that foregrounds the interdependence of world-­disclosure and the agential first-­person perspective of the character inhabiting that world. This strategy enables the repre­sen­ta­tion of world to unfold as if in­de­pen­dently of the totalizing perspective of an author / ­beholder. Furthermore, it serves to vivify and establish with even greater conviction

Detotalized Totality


the fictional existence of the agential perspective that is both immanent to and consummated by this world. The revelation of world as situation is at once a revelation of the world as it is disclosed by an intentional proj­ect and as it, in turn, discloses the limitations defining that proj­ect. Such an understanding of worldhood is articulated at length in Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927), which argues that any ontological consideration of Dasein must begin by showing it “as it is proximally and for the most part—in its average everydayness,” within a world of tools, idle chatter, neighbors, newspapers, and mortality.22 For the first time in the history of Western philosophical inquiry, Heidegger gives ontological primacy to ­those facets of the world that are privileged in the realist novel more than any other philosophical text. Beyond the analy­sis of par­tic­u­lar ele­ments in par­tic­u­lar worlds, however, Heidegger claims that to encounter Dasein “in its average everydayness” is precisely to encounter Dasein in a world, as Being-­in-­the-­ world. Worldhood is an implicit structure of Dasein that manifests in its everyday lived experience as the constellation of material objects, p ­ eople, practices, activities, and cultural and sociohistorical webs of context that yield certain life possibilities for Dasein. The “in” of “Being-­in-­the-­world” is not the “in” of location, in the sense of spatial coordinates, but rather the “in” of involvement, implication, embeddedness. It registers a deep sense of vulnerability to and active engagement with the conditions of life. Life, in turn, is to be understood not only as that which endures biological extinction, but also as that which each one of us must lead ourselves. The world is si­mul­ta­neously that which Dasein enlists in its pursuit of par­tic­u­lar aims and purposes and that within which it discovers the possibility or impossibility of par­tic­u­lar life proj­ects. To claim that we only ever encounter Dasein embedded in a world is to claim that it makes no sense to abstract Dasein from the world, ­whether as a perceiving subject separate from its objects, a pure center of agency, or an utterly passive entity to be impressed upon by vari­ous forces. To exist is simply to inhabit ­those myriad relations that constitute any given worldhood: ­enabled, impeded, impinged, beckoned, accompanied, oppressed, supported, moved, refreshed, struck, transformed, and, in turn, transforming. The ­unmistakable impress of Heidegger’s conception of worldhood is apparent in Sartre’s claim in Being and Nothingness (1943) that “situation, the common product of the contingency of the in-­itself and of freedom, is an ambiguous



phenomenon in which it is impossible for the for-­itself to distinguish the contribution of freedom from that of the brute existent.”23 Sartre’s conception of “situation” is ambiguous in the sense of being double, shifting, equivocal in its meaning. It is not entirely a creation of “subjective” agency or imagination, nor is it constituted “objectively” without any reference to the subject. Sartre explains the ambiguity of the term “situation” with reference to a scenario replete with (one might almost wish to say, novelistic) detail:24 The situation cannot be subjective, for it is neither the sum nor the unity of the impressions which t­ hings make on us. . . . ​But neither can the situation be objective in the sense that it would be a pure given which the subject would establish without being in any way engaged in the system thus constituted. . . . ​It is the total facticity, the absolute contingency of the world, of my birth, of my place, of my past, of my environment, of the fact of my fellowman—­a nd it is my freedom without limits as that which ­causes t­ here to be for me a facticity. It is this dusty, ascending road, this burning thirst which I have, the refusal of t­ hese ­people to give me anything to drink ­because I do not have money or ­because I am not of their country or of their race; it is my abandonment in the midst of ­these hostile populations along with this fatigue in my body which w ­ ill perhaps prevent me from reaching the goal which I had set for myself. But also it is precisely this goal, not in so far as I clearly and explic­itly formulate it but in so far as it is ­there everywhere around me as that which unifies and explains all t­ hese facts, that which organizes them in a totality capable of description instead of making of them a disordered nightmare. (548–549)

­ ere is no “me” trying to “reach a goal” without “this dusty, ascending Th road,” “this burning thirst,” “­these hostile populations,” “this fatigue in my body.” Th ­ ese are not merely background facts that serve to make my experience more vivid. Rather, they simply are my experience, my situation—my intention, embedded inextricably in the world in which I aim to realize it. The notion of “surrounding” emerges in Sartre’s claim that the goal appears in and as the situation. Neither goal nor facts would be vis­i­ble if they did not cohere in a situation: if the goal ­were not projected through the facts, if the facts did not inflect the goal. Thus situation surrounds not in the sense

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of being spatially encircling, but in the sense of inundating and infusing. By describing situation as being “everywhere around me as that which unifies and explains all ­these facts, that which organizes them in a totality capable of description,” Sartre discloses the reason that the repre­sen­ta­tion of world as situation becomes a central aesthetic strategy in the poetics of the realist novel. Situation is precisely that which allows the detotalized totality of a world to appear to emerge in­de­pen­dently of the necessity of positing an objective perspective upon that world. Yet the quasi-­novelistic quality of the scene Sartre sketches ­ought to give us pause. For its fictive quality emerges precisely from the impossibility of achieving reflective distance from the given unity between self and situation, of knowing it from a standpoint other than that of the one whose existence underlies the real­ity of a given situation. Sartre speaks in the first person throughout the passage to underscore the necessity and irreducibility of the agential perspective, and yet the philosophical voice of the passage seems to be implicitly other than that of the “I” who walks now upon this dusty, ascending road. H ­ ere philosophy strug­gles to enter into the condition of the novel, in its desire to achieve the impossible—­call it necessarily fictional—­aim of reflecting upon existence itself. I return to this point concerning philosophy and the novel again, in a concluding discussion that brings together the vari­ous considerations of this chapter by way of Flaubert’s realism, Erich Auerbach’s theory of the novel, and Wittgenstein’s aesthetics. Before ­doing so, however, I wish to first briefly outline the stakes for novel theory of reconceptualizing world-­disclosure in the realist novel in terms of situation. I ­shall then turn to examine a series of examples from the novels of Austen, Eliot, and James that further elucidate how the embeddedness of being-­in-­the-­world is manifested through the novel’s repre­sen­ta­tion of the inextricability of character and situation. Situation in the Realist Novel: Austen, Eliot, and James

The revelation of world via situation as the projection of self into an existential possibility reveals a dialectic between the given and the chosen, which in turn allows us to see why aspects of a novel such as “place,” “environment,” or “past” can be treated (merely or primarily) as a backdrop for the exercise



of agency only if character and action are peeled away from situation by way of abstract summaries. World-­disclosure, in other words, is imbricated in both character development and the arc of plot. But this manner of conceptualizing the portrayal of worldhood in the novel seems counterintuitive when placed in light of the dominant accounts of the repre­sen­ta­tion of real­ity in the novel.25 Critics often draw attention to what Pam Morris calls “the clotted thingness that constitutes modern social space” in seeking to describe the defining characteristics of novelistic realism.26 Such “thingness” is generally understood in one of three ways: as a relatively inert backdrop, providing a historical and social setting for the plot and characters; as revelatory of the obsessive interest in cap­i­tal­ist production and consumption that realist novels purportedly betray; or, in its re­sis­tance to transcendent meaning, as a signifier for what Roland Barthes terms the “category of ‘the real.’ ”27 The difficulty with ­these conceptions of “thingness” and “stuff” lies not in the firmness of their theoretical grasp upon some aspect or another of realism, but rather in the potential distortion that such a grasp might exert upon the fabric of “thingness,” as it is draped over and through the novelistic repre­sen­ta­tion of lives. In the first place, ­there is an implicit assumption that the novel’s investment in the mindedness of its characters can be separated from its excessive worldliness. Hilary Schor summarizes this critical consensus when she argues that “realism in the novel has traditionally been allied not so much with knowledge as with stuff, with the world of material objects,” but that “if we strip the novel bare of material culture, layettes and epics and the flora of Lapland, we are left instead with the heroine’s imagination, testing itself against the world, trying to know something outside itself.”28 (In light of such claims, one of the primary aims of this chapter is to dispute the notion that the anti-­idealism of the realist novel is at the same time a commitment to the separability of mind from world.) Moreover, a further distortion arises when the significance of “thingness” in realism is conceptualized in terms of a relationship of correspondence between objects as they appear in the novel and objects as they appear in the world. This vase, this h ­ ouse, or this countryside is ­imagined to appear in a novel simply b­ ecause it also appears “in real­ity.” It is a short step from this premise to the conclusion that what makes a novel realist is its attempt to designate, gesture at, or other­wise reference “real­ity” (by which we are to understand “the world as it ­really is”). Ian Watt’s claim in The Rise of the Novel (1957)

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that “the function of language is much more largely referential in the novel than in other literary works” clearly relies upon a similar assumption.29 Once we concede that referentiality lies at the heart of the novel’s realism, it is an even shorter step to the claim that the novel, by gesturing at the world “as it is,” manifests an inherently conservative attitude t­ oward the status quo. ­Here is Franco Moretti on the question of why descriptions of uneventful everyday life win out over accounts of significant action in the narrative structure of realist novels: The answer, more than in Scott, can be found in Balzac. But ­there is no point in analyzing Balzac’s descriptions, ­because no one ­will ever do it better than Auerbach. So: “Balzac . . . ​not only . . . ​places the ­human beings whose destiny he is seriously relating in their precisely defined historical and social setting, but also conceives this connection as a necessary one: to him e­ very milieu becomes a moral and physical atmosphere which impregnates the landscape, the dwelling, furniture, implements, clothing, physique, character, surroundings, ideas, activities, and fates of men.” The connection between persons and ­things conceived as a necessity.30

Auerbach claims that Balzac conceives of “the connection” between two terms, which he distinguishes as “the ­human beings whose destiny he is seriously relating” and “their precisely defined historical and social setting,” “as a necessary one”; Franco Moretti, in turn, glosses ­these two terms as “persons and ­things.” Whereas “historical and social setting” suggests for Auerbach “a moral and physical atmosphere which impregnates” not only the bourgeois trinity of “furniture, implements, clothing” but also the “ideas, activities, and fates of men” that compose a Heideggerean notion of world, Moretti’s “­things” connote inert and objectified artifacts into which all consciousness, activity, and ideation has collapsed. It is not the historicization of subjectivity—­the in-­dwelling of h ­ uman spirit within a “historical and social setting,” evident in Auerbach’s Balzac—­but the empiricization of subjectivity, “the connection between persons and ­things conceived as a necessity,” that emerges in this account of how realism evokes a world. Thus, for example, Mary Fulbrook and Martin Swales argue that the prevailing critique of the “novel of bourgeois



realism” entails seeing its form as a “textual per­for­mance . . . ​that seeks to pres­ent ­itself as disinterestedly transparent upon an extra-­literary world of streets, h ­ ouses, furniture, of institutions and socialized be­hav­ior.”31 The notion of a vision that registers the external world with neutral transparency recalls the Lockean theory of perception. Influenced by the mechanical philosophy and atomic corpuscularianism of Boyle, Locke holds that all ideas in the mind arise primarily from the contact of the senses with external objects: Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it, with an almost endless variety? . . . ​To this I answer, in one word, from experience: in that, all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. . . . ​Our senses, conversant about par­tic­u­lar sensible objects, do convey into the mind, several distinct perceptions of t­ hings. . . . ​W hen I say the senses convey to the mind, I mean they from external objects convey into the mind what produces ­there ­those perceptions.32

In Locke’s theory of ideas, the senses are like workers who shut­tle back and forth between the ware­house of “external objects” and the mind, stocking its production line with the raw materials to produce that “vast store” where “an almost endless variety” of m ­ ental furniture abounds. The “furniture” cluttering the nineteenth-­century bourgeois novel is thus transposed directly into the m ­ ental sphere that Locke requires “to be furnished,” and likewise the a­ ctual material of which the novel is composed reappears in Locke’s “white paper, void of all characters.” The necessary “connection between persons and ­things” that Moretti proposes finds its correlate in a Lockean view of ­mental pro­cesses, in which consciousness becomes a large “store” of perceptions that are produced from the “­things” themselves. In the surreal universe of novel theory, a sort of proto-­neuroplasticity meets a printing press producing furniture cata­logs from which one can purchase only t­hose ­tables and chairs that one already lives among. As we imagine the dutiful blankness of a mind that allows itself to be “imprinted” by “impressions” arising from interaction with the “par­tic­u­lar sensible ob-

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jects” of its experience (the Lockean vocabulary of sense perception so strangely reminiscent of the technology b­ ehind the rise of the novel33), we are led to understand Moretti’s vision of how the realism of the novel is invaded by “the core of the most power­ful po­liti­cal ideology of the early nineteenth ­century— ­conservatism.”34 For the mind wrought by empiricism cannot depart from the past: all it knows and can know is its own experience, and experience is by nature uniquely and entirely constituted by the past. But is the aim of a novel simply to point at what exists in the (­actual) world? Do novels evoke the real­ity of a world, or of a par­tic­u­lar experience in it, by simply gesticulating at enough well-­placed shady green patches, red purses, or cast-­iron pillars? A deeper quandary arises: once word is abstracted from world, the relative flimsiness of language seems odd in contrast with what theorists of realism variously describe as the “solidity,” “concreteness,” and “thickness” of its objects.35 The attempted resolution of Barthes’s “real­ity effect,” when viewed in this context, only gestures back at the very prob­lem it assumes. Part of the difficulty of imagining “thingness” in the novel stems from a more fundamental prob­lem with the way in which we imagine our relation to “thingness” in the world. Suddenly, when we isolate “thingness” from the web of activity and use in which it is embedded, it becomes inscrutable and static—­inexplicable, and therefore in need of an in­ven­ted role. It is as if we suddenly imagine ourselves in the world as a raisin is in a loaf of bread—­ suspended, inert, surrounded by a more or less uniform materiality of stuff, like wadding from which we can separate ourselves easily and distinctly. But we are not “in” the world as a raisin is “in” a loaf of bread. We live in the world. What it means to live in the world, the simultaneous ease and intricacy of this ordinary, everyday relation to “thingness,” is one of the primary subjects of the novel in its classic realist phase. Accounts of realism are thus in need of a vocabulary to speak of the vari­ous ways in which characters in the novel are shown as living amidst, among, and within the “clotted thingness” other­wise relegated to background, symbolism, or ideological medium. To test the claim that it is impossible to separate the everydayness of “clotted thingness” from key turning points in the plot, let us see what happens if we attempt to isolate setting from character and action in three scenes from three dif­fer­ent novels of marriage. Call t­ hese scenes, for the sake of this experiment, examples of “The Property Shot.”



The Property Shot shows the heroine’s first encounter with the estate she stands to gain if she makes a certain marriage. First, Elizabeth at Pemberley in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813): Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits w ­ ere in a high flutter. The park was very large, and contained ­great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent. Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired ­every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—­and in front, a stream of some natu­ral importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks ­were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natu­ral beauty had been so ­little counteracted by an awkward taste. They w ­ ere all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!36

Cut out the descriptive detail. ­Here is the abbreviated scene: Elizabeth . . . ​watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation . . . ​her spirits ­were in a high flutter. [. . .] Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired ­every remarkable spot and point of view. . . . ​Elizabeth was delighted. . . . ​They ­were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

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The most obvious observation might be that the description of setting composes most of the scene, and yet, when cut, leaves a passage that seems not altogether incomprehensible. Elizabeth’s anticipation turns to delight, and then to a sense of vicarious pride. But when we try to understand this summary more specifically—­delight about what? pride, already?—­then we enter the realm of conjecture. Is she excited by the prospect of seeing Darcy, the one who would make her “mistress of Pemberley”? If we assume that this is her aim, we might read the fact that “she saw and admired ­every remarkable spot and point of view” as an indication of her giddy ebullience. In such an ­eager and animated state of mind, she must see every­thing as admirable. Or is she simply a connoisseur of estates, a lover of woods and h ­ ouses? Does seeing landscape make her pulse pound? Cut off from its surrounding, her aims, intentions, and reactions suddenly appear strangely anemic and vague, as if they reverberate in a space too underdetermined to bear them up, or make them out. Is this a scene of aesthetic reverie, or of romantic love? Returning to the unabbreviated version, we see immediately that the answer is both and neither. Phrases such as “as they drove along” and “when at length they turned in at the lodge” temporalize her pro­gress through the space and embed her building anticipation in the very unfolding of the route to her destination. The ascent that affords increased visual access to physical territory also spatializes the “high flutter” of Elizabeth’s rising elation. Rather than being bored by the never-­ending road, her growing excitement is heightened by the delays, just as the phrases serve to suspend the pace of the sentences. The focus of narrative attention switches from “Elizabeth, as she drove along” to “the park,” which exerts itself as an entity whose attributes appear to be in­de­pen­dent of what she might decide them to be. Yet the previous sentence indicates that Elizabeth is positively disposed to the appearance of this par­tic­u­lar estate. Described as “very large,” “contain[ing] ­great variety of ground,” and “stretching over a wide extent,” the size and diversity of the park is repeated with intensity over t­hese three phrases as well as within them (“wide” means “having considerable extent,” and “­great” means “unusually large”). It is rare for Austen—­who, unlike Tolstoy, prefers constellations of several dif­fer­ent adjectives—to repeat such similar qualifiers in close succession. The effect is one of concentrated and even fixed impression.



That the scenery turns such a markedly impressive countenance t­ oward Elizabeth is bound up with the fact that she comes to Pemberley to be impressed, to admire. ­These proj­ects necessarily refer away from the admirer to some admired, and just as necessarily draw their impetus from the admirer. The extended passage draws equal attention to both “remarkable spot[s]” and “point[s] of view.” Insightful parallels between the Georgian nobility of the scene, (Elizabeth’s eventual view of) Darcy’s character, and the social order he embodies have been developed by several critics; however, the focus of our analy­sis ­here is not so much subject or theme, but rather the fact that subject and theme appear through this encounter with what might be dismissed as mere description of landscape.37 Acts of perception (“watched,” “appearance,” “saw,” “point of view,” “the eye was instantly caught,” “appearance” again) are inflected with responses of judgment (“admired,” “delighted,” “awkward taste,” “admiration”) and descriptions of status (“remarkable,” “considerable eminence,” “large, handsome,” “natu­ral importance”). The series of terms culminate in Elizabeth’s thought that “to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” “Something,” in fact, is the ­matter and meaning of this passage. The aristocracy of judgment and perception remains, for the most part, unvocalized. It resides in the interstices at which the hills, the banks of the stream, Elizabeth’s delight, and admiration all make one another vis­i­ble. “To be mistress of Pemberley” is to possess it. But Elizabeth has, in this passage through the grounds, already possessed it. She has come to prove—in the sense of test—­her inhabitance of the estate, and this “being-­mistress-­of-­Pemberley” is achieved in its anticipation. Anticipate, in its earlier meaning of “to cause to happen sooner,” from the Latin anticipatus, past participle of anticipare, ante-­ (before)  + capere (to take), hence a taking into possession beforehand: the pro­gress through anticipation to a sense of “something” in the scene reveals that we can no less divorce the “filler” of Elizabeth’s visit from the “key turning point” of her marriage to Darcy than we can cut out “thingness” from the world of realism. How dif­fer­ent in tone and tenor is Dorothea’s visit to Lowick in Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–1872), and yet how clearly and similarly it amplifies the notions of situation and surrounding. Its descriptions of trees, drawing-­room win­dows, and manor-­house are profoundly embedded within the context of

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Dorothea’s life-­view. ­Here is the scene, which even when quoted at length gives us only a fragment from the extended situation of the character: On a grey but dry November morning Dorothea drove to Lowick in com­pany with her ­uncle and Celia. Mr. Casaubon’s home was the manor-­house. Close by, vis­i­ble from some parts of the garden, was the ­little church, with the old parsonage opposite. In the beginning of his ­career, Mr. Casaubon had only held the living, but the death of his ­brother had put him in possession of the manor also. It had a small park, with a fine old oak h ­ ere and ­there, and an ave­nue of limes ­towards the south-­west front, with a sunk fence between park and pleasure-­ ground, so that from the drawing-­room win­dows the glance swept uninterruptedly along a slope of greensward till the limes ended in a level of corn and pastures, which often seemed to melt into a lake ­under the setting sun. This was the happy side of the ­house, for the south and east looked rather melancholy even ­under the brightest morning. The grounds h ­ ere ­were more confined, the flower-­beds showed no careful tendance, and large clumps of trees, chiefly of somber yews, had risen high, not ten yards from the win­dows. The building, of greenish stone, was in the old En­glish style, not ugly, but small windowed and melancholy-­looking: the sort of ­house that must have ­children, many flowers, open win­dows, and ­little vistas of bright ­things, to make it seem a joyous home. In this latter end of autumn, with a sparse remnant of yellow leaves falling slowly athwart the dark evergreens in a stillness without sunshine, the ­house too had an air of autumnal decline, and Mr. Casaubon, when he presented himself, had no bloom that could be thrown into relief by that background. “Oh dear!” Celia said to herself, “I am sure Freshitt Hall would have been pleasanter than this.” She thought of the white freestone, the pillared portico, and the terrace full of flowers, Sir James smiling above them like a prince issuing from his enchantment in a rose-­bush, with a handkerchief swiftly metamorphosed from the most delicately-­odorous petals—­Sir James, who talked so agreeably, always about ­things which had common-­sense in them, and not about learning! Celia had ­those light young feminine tastes which grave and weather-­worn gentlemen



sometimes prefer in a wife; but happily Mr. Casaubon’s bias had been dif­fer­ent, for he would have had no chance with Celia. Dorothea, on the contrary, found the ­house and grounds all that she could wish: the dark book-­shelves in the long library, the carpets and curtains with colours subdued by time, the curious old maps and bird’s-­eye views on the walls of the corridor, with ­here and ­there an old vase below, had no oppression for her, and seemed more cheerful than the casts and pictures at the Grange, which her ­uncle had long ago brought home from his travels—­they being prob­ably among the ideas he had taken in at one time. To poor Dorothea t­ hese severe classical nudities and smirking Renaissance-­Correggiosities ­were painfully inexplicable, staring into the midst of her Puritanic conceptions: she had never been taught how she could bring them into any sort of relevance with her life. But the o­ wners of Lowick apparently had not been travellers, and Mr. Casaubon’s studies of the past ­were not carried on by means of such aids. Dorothea walked about the ­house with delightful emotion. Every­t hing seemed hallowed to her: this was to be the home of her wifehood, and she looked up with eyes full of confidence to Mr. Casaubon when he drew her attention specially to some a­ ctual arrangement and asked her if she would like an alteration. All appeals to her taste she met gratefully, but saw nothing to alter. His efforts at exact courtesy and formal tenderness had no defect for her. She filled up all blanks with unmanifested perfections, interpreting him as she interpreted the works of Providence, and accounting for seeming discords by her own deafness to the higher harmonies. And ­there are many blanks left in the weeks of courtship, which a loving faith fills with happy assurance.38

And ­here, the scene with its “clotted thingness” excised:  . . . ​Dorothea drove to Lowick in com­pany with her ­uncle and Celia. Mr. Casaubon’s home was the manor-­house. . . . ​In the beginning of his ­career, Mr. Casaubon had only held the living, but the death of his ­brother had put him in possession of the manor also . . . ​Mr. Casaubon, when he presented himself, had no bloom . . .

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“Oh dear!” Celia said to herself, “I am sure Freshitt Hall would have been pleasanter than this.” . . . ​Celia had ­those light young feminine tastes which grave and weather-­worn gentlemen sometimes prefer in a wife; but happily Mr. Casaubon’s bias had been dif­fer­ent, for he would have had no chance with Celia. Dorothea, on the contrary, found the ­house and grounds all that she could wish . . . Dorothea walked about the ­house with delightful emotion . . . ​she looked up with eyes full of confidence to Mr. Casaubon when he drew her attention specially to some ­actual arrangement and asked her if she would like an alteration. All appeals to her taste she met gratefully, but saw nothing to alter. His efforts at exact courtesy and formal tenderness had no defect for her. She filled up all blanks with unmanifested perfections, interpreting him as she interpreted the works of Providence, and accounting for seeming discords by her own deafness to the higher harmonies. And ­there are many blanks left in the weeks of courtship, which a loving faith fills with happy assurance.

As in the case of Elizabeth Bennett, Dorothea’s meeting with Lowick is a meeting of “life” and “style”—an attempt to find a style that has, for her, a “sort of relevance with her life.” When we remove the description of setting from this scene, the grounds for Dorothea’s taste and judgment are in danger of seeming arbitrary or generic. It is clear that she and Celia differ in their assessment of the livability of the place, but why does Dorothea see “nothing to alter”? The closing statement of the scene—­that “­there are many blanks left in the weeks of courtship, which a loving faith fills with happy assurance”—­appears now as a general explanation, unladen with much irony. Dorothea’s “loving faith” appears to account for the difference between her view of Lowick and Celia’s view. But faith in what? In marriage—in Mr. Casaubon—in dusty furnishings and old trees? Moving back to the unabridged version, we find that the “thingness” illuminates Dorothea’s preferences and, by extension, her sense of the par­tic­ u­lar “relevance” of the life she ­will be able to lead in Lowick itself. It does this through a suggestive and nuanced repre­sen­ta­tion of situation, and of what it means for Dorothea to find herself in this par­tic­u­lar situation. First of all, the passage enacts what it means to “be thrown into relief by that back-



ground” (and, consequently, what it means to fade into it). The “happy side” of the ­house contrasts with the “south” and the “east” sides; Dorothea’s opinion of Lowick stands out in comparison with Celia’s view; “the curious old maps and bird’s-­eye views on the walls of the corridor, with ­here and ­there an old vase below . . . ​seemed more cheerful than the casts and pictures at the Grange”—­a contrast both temporal, between Dorothea’s past and f­ uture homes, and spatial. But which ele­ment in each pair of contrasting entities is to be considered as background, and which foreground? And what does this have to do with the notion of situation? The composition of the passage suggests at first glance the appearance of foreground and background, or at the very least the layering of distinct levels of consciousness, furnishing, and scenery. ­There is a movement from the exterior grounds to the interior of the h ­ ouse, mirrored in the gradual progression of the narrative point of view. With each successive paragraph, we move along the spectrum from a third-­person perspective of the manor-­ house and grounds to a perspective approaching the intimacy of f­ree indirect discourse, focalized through Dorothea’s consciousness. But rather than remaining discretely separate, t­ hese layers echo one another: outside, t­ here is a “small park, with a fine old oak ­here and ­there”; inside, ­there are “curious old maps and bird’s-­eye views on the walls of the corridor, with h ­ ere and t­ here an old vase below.” According to the narrative description, the “house . . . ​must have ­children, many flowers, open win­dows, and ­little vistas of bright ­things, to make it seem a joyous home.” From Dorothea’s perspective, she, too, is able to “fill . . . ​up all blanks with unmanifested perfections.” Lowick “had no oppression for her,” just as Mr. Casaubon “had no defect for her.” Each layer carves out the details of the other, appears anew in light of the other. Imagine the passage as a relief sculpture. Its ambiguity is hinted at by the very word “relief,” which is derived from the Latin relevare, to raise (a root that appears twice in the passage itself, once in “relief” and once in “relevant”). Yet relief sculpture yields the impression of a raised figure in the foreground by way of a technique that involves cutting into, carving, and thereby lowering the background plane. What is “lifted out” appears as the detail of its surrounding space is increasingly refined. Why, then, is Lowick described so specifically? ­Because Lowick describes Dorothea, just as Dorothea must describe Lowick. To have a sense of “oppression” is to be

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weighed down, which seems at first to be the opposite of “relief,” to be lifted up. But Dorothea wishes to be lifted up by being weighed down: all that is dark, melancholy, introspective, subdued, ascetic holds indescribable delight and ecstasy to her imagination and to her soul. Her earliest dreams and visions suggest to her a life led by a method of extreme opposition, a conviction that the holiest meanings of life are not to be found by ­going along with the ways of the world but rather by holding oneself apart from them, standing against them, renouncing them. The heaviness of Lowick, its grounds and home (and master), seem to be both key and door to this mode of existence. Every­thing in it is “dark,” “clump[ed],” “subdued,” “old,” “still,” “somber,” “confined,” “autumnal”: “The grounds h ­ ere ­were more confined, the flower-­ beds showed no careful tendance, and large clumps of trees, chiefly of somber yews, had risen high, not ten yards from the win­dows”; “the dark book-­ shelves in the long library, the carpets and curtains with colours subdued by time, the curious old maps and bird’s-­eye views on the walls of the corridor, with ­here and ­there an old vase below.” ­These long phrases, piling “somber yews” atop “flower-­beds,” heaps of “carpets and curtains” upon “dark book-­ shelves,” seem to trail an accumulation of time—­the time of trees growing, books collecting, fabric fading—­like a fine dust across the paragraph. Yet Dorothea only glows more and more brilliantly, with “delightful emotion” and “eyes full of confidence.” She does so not by way of contrast, not by existing as herself in spite of Lowick, but rather through it and ­because of it. ­There is no Dorothea—no Dorothea, so elated and sure—­without this par­ tic­u­lar meeting with Lowick “on a grey but dry November morning.” The situation is composed partly by how each throws the other into relief. ­W hether or not this is the chief irony of her situation remains to be seen. For the point of this passage seems to be the disclosure of how and why it is pos­si­ble for Lowick to appear as a kind of revelation to Dorothea: “Every­ thing seemed hallowed to her.” Unlike Elizabeth, Dorothea does not anticipate. She believes. She has faith. Her aim is not the happiness of apt possession; it does not involve the testing and proving of the object. Rather, she aims at “happy assurance,” the bringing of her heart and soul into a confident, safe relation to what she sees as her own innermost possibility fulfilled. Elizabeth’s “something” becomes Dorothea’s “every­thing” precisely ­because ­t here is to be no finite limit or bound to the power of Dorothea’s faith. “Every­thing” in Lowick “seem[s] hallowed,” consecrated and made perfect by its purpose:



“This was to be the home of her wifehood.” Every­thing is small, dark, neglected, melancholy, and therefore nothing is too small, too dark, too neglected, too melancholy to fit into the scheme of her commitment. To wish to “alter” a single arrangement would be to admit the defeat of this scheme. As “exact” and “formal” in her zeal as Casaubon is in his tenderness, Dorothea delights in a scene that is sparse in beauty, dimmed of vivacity, a scene in which ­every single par­tic­u­lar would make the hopes of one such as Celia sink. It is “all that she could wish,” “all appeals to her taste,” “all blanks” are “filled,” for “wish,” “appeal,” and “blank” must meet their total “relief” from petty doubts and anx­i­eties. Throughout this passage, the scenery and estate are situated in view of Dorothea’s encounter with a property owned by a man whom she has promised to marry. Yet it is not only, as previous critics have shown, that the repre­ sen­ta­tion of Lowick evokes the being of its owner, but also—­a nd, more significantly—­that it achieves this par­tic­u ­lar articulation through the meaning of Dorothea’s promise.39 Promise, for her, has accomplished every­ thing: promise in the dual sense of possibility and of commitment. Possibility collapses to commitment early on in the passage with the very first view of Lowick. “From the drawing-­room win­dows the glance swept uninterruptedly along a slope of greensward till the limes ended in a level of corn and pastures, which often seemed to melt into the lake u ­ nder the setting sun”: we are already in the realm of this par­tic­u­lar slope, and t­ hese par­tic­ u­lar limes, that already “often seemed to melt” into this par­tic­u­lar lake—­a view, in short, that is intimately known from a special vantage point within the h ­ ouse at a specific moment of the day. In the compass of a sentence, we have progressed from first impression to a daily, habitual, familiar knowledge of Lowick, the kind of knowledge that is equally as acquainted with the “happy” side of the h ­ ouse as the “melancholy” side. We have traveled with Dorothea from a visit to a marriage: the visit that never ends. If t­ here is a mystery to Dorothea’s situation, then, it is not quite the comic mystery expressed in Celia’s wonderment at her s­ ister’s ability to love an ugly old man and his dull, moldering h ­ ouse. Celia’s mystery throws Dorothea’s into relief. (Our analy­sis of “thingness” has left aside, for the most part, Celia’s situation at Lowick, although her idealized vision of Freshitt Hall makes fairly evident the outlines of that situation; moreover, it has left largely unexamined the ways in which Celia’s situation and Dorothea’s situation are

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profoundly interdependent. To be situated in the world is to lead a life with ­others, and the interspersion of Celia’s thoughts at this juncture in the scene reminds us how deeply the situation of one s­ ister inflects that of the other.40) For Dorothea, the mystery is not that of how ­there could come to be a suitable match between two parties, between her own tastes and capacities and the attributes of the object, but rather how age, ugliness, and dullness come to manifest themselves at all in several specific aspects of the situation she inhabits. To see how this can be, we need only consider that the proj­ects of promise and faith comprise but one part of her situation. Dorothea urgently desires to improve her own understanding, to continue her self-­cultivation: “She had never been taught how she could bring them into any sort of relevance with her life;” she “account[s] for seeming discords by her own deafness to the higher harmonies.” To this lofty intellectual and spiritual aim of self-­improvement, aesthetic obstacles must seem irrelevant, if not perversely challenging. What m ­ atters above all is the “painfully inexplicable,” the prob­ lems of reason and justification. Thus a juncture, a kind of fissure-­line in Dorothea’s situation is brought about by the soldering together of promise and faith, on the one hand, and a desire for understanding and justification on the other. Every­thing is already hallowed. But Dorothea wishes to know why. It is at the site of this par­tic­u­lar configuration that Lowick can seem to “ha[ve] no oppression for her,” and Mr. Casaubon, “no defect.” With its array of “dark bookshelves” and “curious old maps,” the ­house is as one large school-­room—­Mr. Casaubon, with his grey hair and scholarship, a distinguished teacher. Whereas the scene of Pride and Prejudice culminates in a large, pleasing, harmonious vista of lines and contours, of structures of landscape and architecture, both natu­ral and manmade, “thingness” reaches its climax in Eliot’s scene with a series of tools for academic study. Dorothea’s aim of learning, not of marrying an eligible bachelor (as Celia supposes), discloses certain aspects of the world of Lowick; further, her aim of knowing, of being assured, that she is perfectly justified in her faith must show t­ hese par­tic­u­lar aspects of the world as ideally fitted to her purposes. Yet Dorothea’s purposes are hardly single or unified. The world does not collapse like a folding toy into her hand. As the other aspects of the passage reveal, the world of Lowick is one in which she must not only learn, but also live. Moreover, it is a world in which she has already promised to live,



and to live as a wife, a wife who is to be consulted (if only formally and exactly) in m ­ atters of furniture arrangement. All of t­ hese tangled, confused strands of aspiration and realization are bound up in “park and pleasure-­ ground,” “carpets and curtains, “casts and pictures,” so that as she walks about, all of t­ hese ­things seem to bloom and shrink away, to brighten and to have already faded, at once. To grasp the ambiguity of her situation is to grasp the dilation of temporal stages, moods (“happy,” “somber,” “melancholy,” “cheerful,” “subdued,” “curious”), and roles that inflect it. Temporality, mood, and role do not hover above and beyond “manor-­house” and “vases,” but rather reveal themselves in how Dorothea’s intentions and plans slowly unfold in and are imbued by t­ hese several aspects. The ambiguity of her situation lies in how ­these ­things make her known, even as they are made known to her. As the extensiveness and density of the narrative suggests, t­ here is nothing ­simple or easy in the repre­sen­ta­tion of Dorothea’s life or situation, even at this relatively early point in the novel. If Dorothea seems to have inhabited Lowick much longer and more intensely than such a brief occasion might allow, it is b­ ecause she has already intricately invested herself and her f­ uture proj­ects in it, perhaps as only a person capable of sustaining multiple and divergent orientations to the world si­mul­ta­neously and passionately might do. But this is not the only frame of mind, so to speak, from which life or situation can be represented. Isabel Archer, the protagonist of James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1880–1881), goes to Lockleigh in a spirit that is far more playful and provisional: “I mean to try and imitate them,” said Isabel. “I want very much to see them at home.” She had this plea­sure a few days ­later, when, with Ralph and his ­mother, she drove over to Lockleigh. She found the Misses Molyneux sitting in a vast drawing-­room (she perceived afterwards it was one of several), in a wilderness of faded chintz; they w ­ ere dressed on this occasion in black velveteen. Isabel liked them even better at home than she had done at Gardencourt, and was more than ever struck with the fact that they w ­ ere not morbid. It had seemed to her before that, if they had a fault, it was a want of vivacity; but she presently saw that they ­were capable of deep emotion. Before lunch, she was alone with them,

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for some time, on one side of the room, while Lord Warburton, at a distance, talked to Mrs. Touchett. [. . .] When Lord Warburton showed her the ­house, ­a fter lunch, it seemed to her a m ­ atter of course that it should be a noble picture. Within, it had been a good deal modernized—­some of its best points had lost their purity; but as they saw it from the gardens, a stout, grey pile, of the softest, deepest, most weather-­fretted hue, rising from a broad, still moat, it seemed to Isabel a ­castle in a fairy­-­tale. The day was cool and rather lusterless; the first note of autumn had been struck; and the watery sunshine rested on the walls in blurred and desultory gleams, washing them, as it ­were, in places tenderly chosen, where the ache of antiquity was keenest.41

­Here is the abbreviated version: “I mean to try and imitate them,” said Isabel. “I want very much to see them at home.” She had this plea­sure a few days ­later, when, with Ralph and his ­mother, she drove over to Lockleigh. . . . ​Isabel liked them even better at home than she had done at Gardencourt, and was more than ever struck with the fact that they w ­ ere not morbid. It had seemed to her before that, if they had a fault, it was a want of vivacity; but she presently saw that they w ­ ere capable of deep emotion. Before lunch, she was alone with them . . . ​while Lord Warburton . . . ​talked to Mrs. Touchett. [. . .] When Lord Warburton showed her the ­house . . . ​it seemed to her a ­matter of course that it should be a noble picture.

With the “thingness” gone, it becomes difficult to see how exactly Isabel is oriented within the world of Lockleigh. She seems well-­disposed enough ­toward its occupants and its beauties, but what is her interest in being t­ here? Could we gather from the scene w ­ hether or not she could see herself living ­there and marrying its owner? ­There is ­little to suggest that she could not, but apart from deepening her relationship with the Misses Molyneux, the



passage gives us scant sense of how this episode m ­ atters to her life, let alone how it answers her aim of “imitat[ing] them.” If we return to the unabbreviated scene, however, the picture shifts. The scene is almost all “filler” in Moretti’s sense of a “ ‘weak and parasitic’ episode” in which “nothing happens,” despite the fact that it reverses the order established by the other two scenes.42 It flows immediately from a direct remark by the principal character before moving to a narration of Isabel’s drive over to the property with her two chaperones. What is first represented upon their arrival is not the weather or the grounds, but the inhabitants of the h ­ ouse, followed then by the interior and the manner of their dress. Only ­after lunch, accompanied by Lord Warburton, does Isabel enjoy a view of the ­house from the exterior. From the outset, then, Isabel is situated “on this occasion” as a guest in a h ­ ouse where ­others live. That it is their proper environment is suggested by the phrase “Isabel liked them even better at home than she had done at Gardencourt”: the “home” in which they “presently” appear at greater advantage is not her home, but theirs. The narrative is structured according to the temporality of a casual yet formally arranged visit, and it is within this time that Isabel makes her impressions, first, alone with the Misses Molyneux “on one side of the room” “before lunch,” then in conversation with them over lunch, and only l­ater “­after lunch” on a walk with Lord Warburton. Throughout the passage, the visit remains a visit, and the potential mistress remains a tourist and guest in the world of Lockleigh. More remarkably, the peculiar character of Isabel’s temporal experience is per­sis­tently ­embedded in and represented through the so-­called “thingness” of the scene, from the sides of the room to the appearance of the walls of the ­house. For every­thing around her is imbued with the temporal paradox of the tourist: that within the finitude of this object, viewed at this par­tic­u­lar moment of a day and season, one strains to glimpse g­ reat depths of age and history. Nearly every­thing in the scene is pointedly muted with the patina of time and gentility, from the “faded chintz” and “velveteen” (which, in comparison with velvet, has far less sheen) to the “softest, deepest, most weather-­fretted hue” of the ­house walls, the “lusterless” day, and the “watery . . . ​blurred” light. Hints of timelessness—­“a ­castle in a fairy­tale” and “the walls . . . ​where the ache of antiquity was keenest”—­are seamlessly interspersed with the pres­ent experience of perception. For Isabel qua tourist, specific sites and scenes must

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always serve as the occasion for grander intuitions, and w ­ hole eras must be compressed in the brief compass of an after­noon sightseeing visit. In contrast with the scenes from Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice, we find ourselves in a world that is all art and no nature. No oaks, no streams, no hills, no lakes. The sole hint of landscape is in the tame “wilderness of faded chintz” upon which the Molyneux s­isters receive Isabel. Even the flowing of ­water is contained and molded within a “broad, still moat.” “Thingness” as artifact, Isabel as subject of aesthetic enjoyment: she “had this plea­sure,” “perceived,” “liked,” was “struck with,” “saw.” “Isabel liked them even better at home”—­the situation that is most commonplace and ordinary to them emerges as a fresh context in which the objects of her gaze merit greater admiration. The ­house inevitably seems to her as if it “should be a noble picture,” so that in her gaze its potential character and its necessary status as a repre­sen­ta­tion are united without effort or justification. Once again, it is not the isolated fact of how par­tic­u­lar ­things are revealed or the fact that Isabel herself is impacted in par­tic­u­lar ways, but rather the situation itself that m ­ atters: what emerges from seeing how ­these par­tic­u­lar ­things strike her in this par­tic­u­lar way. Even the movement of the light is qualified as meta­phor, as a manner of expression: “washing them, as it ­were.” Isabel declares, before arriving at Lockleigh, a wish to “imitate them,” to act like or resemble the Molyneux s­isters, but also to (playfully) engage in an act of mimetic creation. The former sense of “to imitate” evokes the first image of twinning in a passage that continues to represent a series of ­things that exist in relations of similarity verging on identity—­“the Misses Molyneux,” “a vast drawing-­room . . . ​[that] was one of several.” The series culminates, at last, in a vision of a h ­ ouse that merges in Isabel’s imagination with an imitation, “a noble picture,” of itself—­imitation by way of following a pattern, producing a copy that is indistinguishable from its original; the power of a cultural tradition in making Misses, drawing-­rooms, estates. In the “thingness” of the scene, we read Isabel’s situation in Lockleigh. Her potential place in this world would be one of submitting to this “deep,” “noble,” time-­tested pattern and tradition. And yet the ambiguity driving the scene arises precisely from the possibility that Isabel, by her reading of this pos­si­ble situation, proj­ects herself into it not as passive facsimile but as artist, as imitator. The situation represented is thus existential in the sense that although it is but a part of the



­ hole, the w w ­ hole becomes brought into question through it. Is Isabel to be critic or portrait? Is she the painter, or the model? Her words suggest that she seeks a paragon upon which to model herself, serving si­mul­ta­neously as sculptor and clay. On the other hand, she is situated in a mode of appraisal: ­whether observing the Misses Molyneux or the ­house itself, she seems to be in search of the best vantage points from which to consider and appreciate the finer aspects of her object. This stance, in turn, is intimately linked to the aged, perfected quality of all she encounters at Lockleigh. The scene into which she enters is as if already-­painted, not in need of another artist’s vision: the “fairy­-­tale” had always existed, already the “first note of autumn had been struck.” She perceives her surroundings in a light “blurred,” “desultory,” and “tender[],” through the “ache” of a time previously lived. Indeed, in this world of ­things already finished by time, what sense can be made of aspiration—of the desires of this young, in­de­pen­dent, American girl to “make something” of herself? (For a fuller discussion of Isabel’s in­de­ pen­dence, see Chapter 2.) Once again, the scene reveals how “thingness” in the realist novel emerges from and circulates throughout the embeddedness of a character within a life situation. The Givenness of Situation: Sartre and Heidegger

It may nevertheless be argued that the marked rigidity of “thingness” as it crystallizes into what is traditionally called “setting” in this last scene from The Portrait of a Lady raises special questions. The temporality of Isabel’s experience—as a visitor, as an American—­meets a cultural and historical field that seems to be inflected by a deliberate and per­sis­tent emphasis on the determining force of the past. The mold of traditional patterns, the impression of a world already formed and represented before Isabel enters it, the “­castle” and the “moat,” all seem so tightly and densely imbricated as to narrow and specify the narrative possibilities of Isabel’s par­tic­u­lar situation at Lockleigh. This is a world of fairy­tale country ­houses, of Jane Austen’s novel of marriage preserved intact, if slightly faded by the passage of time between 1813 to 1880. If worldhood seems so rigorously to narrow the field of pos­si­ble actions, attitudes, moods, and impulses open to character, then what becomes of agency? When, in other words, does surrounding become determining?

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The existentialist notion of situation does not try to sidestep this question, but rather embraces the ambiguity it introduces as a precondition for the very exercise of agency. Situation, argues Sartre, “is the ­free coordination and the f­ ree qualification of a brute given which does not allow itself to be qualified in any way at all.” He explains further by outlining the details of a specific situation: ­ ere I am at the foot of this crag which appears to me as “not scalable.” H This means that the rock appears to me in the light of a projected scaling—­a secondary proj­ect which finds its meaning in terms of an initial proj­ect which is my being-­in-­the-­world. Thus the rock is carved out on the ground of the world by the effect of the initial choice of my freedom. But on the other hand, what my freedom can not determine is ­whether the rock “to be scaled” ­will or ­will not lend itself to scaling. This is part of the brute being of the rock. Nevertheless the rock can show its resistance to the scaling only if the rock is integrated by freedom in a “situation” of which the general theme is scaling. For the ­simple traveler who passes over this road and whose ­free proj­ect is a pure aesthetic ordering of the landscape, the crag is not revealed ­either as scalable or as not-­scalable; it is manifested only as beautiful or ugly.43

Sartre alternates between two perspectives that seem at first contradictory. In the first sentence of the passage, he says that the crag “appears to me” in a certain way given the outlines of my specific proj­ect. But in the final sentence of the paragraph, he does not say that the crag “seems to me” “scalable or . . . ​not-­scalable,” “beautiful or ugly,” but rather that it “is revealed” or “is manifested” as one or the other. This evident shifting of pos­si­ble perspectives embodies the fundamental ambiguity of situation. On the one hand, ­there is no “crag” in the world apart from my (or some other subject’s) proj­ect of scaling. It would not appear as anything at all, if it did not appear “to me.” On the other hand, the “crag” is not explicable solely as a subjective projection of my w ­ ill and imagination. I do not choose to see it “as a crag”; it simply manifests itself to me as such. It is precisely this unqualified and unyielding manifestation that constitutes one of the hallmarks of my embeddedness in this par­tic­u­lar situation as opposed to another.



Furthermore, Sartre argues, the real­ity of situation lies in the fact that aspects of the situation might—­a lthough illuminated by my proj­ect—­ actually stymie or prevent the realization of that proj­ect altogether. The limitation and determination inherent in any par­tic­u ­lar situation are not therefore opposed to freedom, but actually provide the grounds of its intelligibility as such. Of course, even a­ fter all ­t hese observations, t­ here remains an unnamable and unthinkable residuum which belongs to the in-­itself considered and which is responsible for the fact that in a world illuminated by our freedom, this par­tic­u ­lar crag ­w ill be more favorable for scaling and that one not. But this residue is far from being originally a limit for freedom; in fact, it is thanks to this residue—­t hat is, to the brute in-­itself as such—­t hat freedom arises as freedom. Indeed common sense w ­ ill agree with us that the being who is said to be ­f ree is the one who can realize his proj­ects. But in order for the act to be able to allow a realization, the ­simple projection of a pos­si­ble end must be distinguished a priori from the realization of this end. If conceiving is enough for realizing, then I am plunged in a world like that of a dream in which the pos­si­ble is no longer in any way distinguished from the real.44

Freedom is pos­si­ble, Sartre argues, “only as engaged in a resisting world. Outside of this engagement the notions of freedom, of determinism, of necessity lose all meaning.” If ­there ­were no freedom or agency, ­there would ­appear to be no obstacles of it in the world; wishing or thinking would suffice to make a proj­ect ­actual. Clearly, this account of the significance of situation and embeddedness yields further reason to reject the mischaracterization of “existentialist” lit­er­a­ture as concerned with the radically f­ree and undetermined subject. Subjectivity is always and everywhere deeply embedded, so that its freedom in the world lies in the world’s enabling and constraining of it. Heidegger’s term “thrown projection” expresses a similar ambiguity. ­Dasein, as “thrown projection” (Da-­sein, being-­there), can find itself only already in the ­middle of a situation defined by certain existential possibilities. As the following passage suggests, the specific configuration of ­these

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possibilities is not of Dasein’s own choosing, and yet Dasein is the one who discloses the possibilities of that situation as such by its own projection: The understanding has in itself the existential structure which we call “projection.” . . . ​The character of understanding as projection is constitutive for Being-­in-­the-­world with regard to the disclosedness of its existentially constitutive state-­of-­Being by which the factical potentiality-­for-­Being gets its leeway [Spielraum]. And as thrown, Dasein is thrown into the kind of Being which we call “projecting.” . . . ​ Furthermore, the character of understanding as projection is such that the understanding does not grasp thematically that upon which it proj­ects—­that is to say, possibilities. Grasping it in such a manner would take away from what is projected its very character as a possibility, and would reduce it to the given contents which we have in mind; whereas projection, in throwing, throws before itself the possibility as possibility, and lets it be as such.45

“Thrown projection” is constitutive of Dasein’s existence as Being-­in-­the-­ world, b­ ecause Dasein discloses itself only as a Being who exists in specific situations—­never as pure, untethered subjective projection. Yet this embeddedness in situation does not translate to “grasp[ing] thematically that upon which it proj­ects”: it does not identify itself with the possibilities it proj­ ects, but rather accepts ­those possibilities “as such”—as aims, proj­ects, or modes of existence that must be worked out in the world. It is this working out of possibilities in and through the world that makes Dasein thrown “in-­ the-­world,” just as the very manifestation of the world as a field of given possibilities makes Dasein projecting. In an existentialist poetics of the novel, the repre­sen­ta­tion of worldhood as situation lays bare the claims of agency through and in the disclosure of a world, even as the world disclosed must inflect ­those claims with its own answering voice. It is this portrayal of worldhood through the projecting possibilities of an i­magined “I” that allows the reader to become convinced by the fiction of inhabiting the world of the novel. Any other form of depiction, no m ­ atter how rich or detailed, would confine the reader to its surface, gazing in from her own (­actual) world. That the inseparability of character and world is vivified even in the most “objective” passages of narrative



description may seem farfetched to a reader accustomed to encountering ­these passages through the lens of empiricist or so­cio­log­i­cal accounts of the significance of world repre­sen­ta­tion in realist fiction. As influential and persuasive as t­ hese paradigms continue to be, I hope to have shown that they lack a perspicuous understanding of the relation between our world and the other-­world of the novel, our life and the other-­life (of, let us say, reader-­ made-­believer in the existence of fictional character), in the absence of which the unique form of novelistic repre­sen­ta­tions of real­ity remain difficult, if not impossible, to articulate. On Being and Not-­Being in the Novelistic World: Auerbach, Flaubert, and Wittgenstein

In conclusion, let us briefly examine Auerbach’s definitive analy­sis of a scene from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, in which the strangeness of the nature of world-­disclosure in the novel is acutely conveyed. The scene depicts a moment of the everyday, in the register of intolerable oppression of which Flaubert is master: But it was above all at mealtimes that she could bear it no longer, in that l­ittle room on the ground floor, with the smoking stove, the creaking door, the oozing walls, the damp floor-­tiles; all the bitterness of life seemed to be served to her on her plate, and, with the steam from the boiled beef, ­there ­rose from the depths of her soul other exhalations as it ­were of disgust. Charles was a slow eater; she would nibble a few hazel-nuts, or ­else, leaning on her elbow, would amuse herself making marks on the oilcloth with the point of her table-­k nife.46

What is equally masterful about Auerbach’s interpretation is that he moves immediately to the prob­lem of the perspective from which this view of everyday life unfolds: The situation, then, is not presented simply as a picture, but we are first given Emma and then the situation through her. It is not, however, a ­matter . . . ​of a ­simple repre­sen­ta­tion of the content of Emma’s consciousness, of what she feels as she feels it. Though the light which

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illuminates the picture proceeds from her, she is yet herself part of the picture, she is situated within it. . . . ​Toute l’amertume de l’existence lui semblait servie sur son assiette—­she doubtless has such a feeling; but if she wanted to express it, it would not come out like that; she has neither the intelligence nor the cold candor of self-­accounting necessary for such a formulation. To be sure, t­ here is nothing of Flaubert’s life in ­these words, but only Emma’s; Flaubert does nothing but bestow the power of mature expression upon the material which she affords, in its complete subjectivity. If Emma could do this herself, she would no longer be what she is, she would have outgrown herself and thereby saved herself.47

Notably, Auerbach’s analy­sis foregrounds the very concept that is central to our analy­sis of world in this chapter—­that of “the situation.” (In the conclusion, we ­shall return to the question of why Auerbach suggests both “dialectic” and “existential” as pos­si­ble names for the category he eventually calls the “everyday.”48) However, for the moment, let us simply focus upon the ­matter of whose “life,” as Auerbach puts it, is “in ­these words.” It is an in­ter­est­ing formulation, one worth pausing upon, if only b­ ecause it belies the imbrication of world and life: to be in Emma’s world is to be in her life. The knowledge of this character’s world is such that it could be perceived or known only from the perspective of the character, from within her lived situation.49 Yet as Auerbach observes, this knowledge of the situation is not entirely given in a form that the character herself could avow of her own life; nor, oddly, is it knowledge that the author himself avows of his life. The scene affords an inexplicable sort of existential perspective that only the novel makes pos­si­ble: existential knowledge from within a life that no one could possibly avow. Put differently, this knowledge could be had only from the perspective of the one who lives a par­tic­u­lar life, and yet it is inaccessible to the one who is living it. It is knowledge that, if avowed from a first-­person perspective, would fundamentally change both the knower and the life that she leads so as to render her world entirely new. The to-­be-­k nownness of this situation is clearly foregrounded in its very repre­sen­ta­tion, or narrative; indeed, the etymological root of “narration” is the Latin gnarus, “knowing.” World-­disclosure in the novel involves a mode of narrative, of knowing, that is made pos­si­ble from the perspective of the



novel qua work of art. But how are we to characterize the shifting ambiguity of this perspective? The key sentence in Auerbach’s account is: “Though the light which illuminates the picture proceeds from her, she is yet herself part of the picture, she is situated within it.” The paint­erly analogy pres­ents a paradox. It is Emma’s perspective that discloses this world, but at the same time the narration is cast in a form that turns the reader’s attention back upon the limitations and distortions of this perspective, so that the world-­ disclosing perspective essentially illuminates itself as the limits of its world. Yet awareness of ­these limitations and distortions is not avowable from within this perspective. If it ­were, the perspective itself would become fundamentally dif­fer­ent. Auerbach underscores the extent of this difference by saying that if Emma could be privy to the knowledge expressed in her narrative, Emma’s world and Emma herself as she now is would be no more. Thus it is almost as if we are made to know Emma’s world-­disclosing perspective from the point of view of the possibility of its nonexistence—­that is to say, as if the possibility of this mode of knowledge is conditional on a kind of not-­being-­in-­the-­world. At this juncture, I wish to briefly raise a connection between the theory of novelistic practice under­lying Flaubert’s high realism and Wittgenstein’s reflections on the perspective that the work of art compels one to take upon the everyday. This connection, to my knowledge, has not been previously introduced in discussions of the poetics of the realist novel, but it is relevant to the m ­ atters of perspective and world-­revelation u ­ nder discussion. Consider the following passage from Wittgenstein’s notebook, written in 1930 and published posthumously in Culture and Value (1977): Engelmann told me that when he rummages round at home in a drawer full of his own manuscripts, they strike him as so glorious that he thinks they would be worth presenting to other p ­ eople. (He said it’s the same when he is reading through letters from his dead relations.) But when he imagines a se­lection of them published he said the ­whole business loses its charm & value & becomes impossible. I said this case was like the following one: Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing someone who thinks himself unobserved engaged in some quite ­simple everyday activity. Let’s imagine a theatre, the curtain goes up & we see someone alone in his room walking up and down, lighting a

Detotalized Totality


cigarette, seating himself ­etc. so that suddenly we are observing a ­human being from outside in a way that ordinarily we can never observe ourselves; as if we ­were watching a chapter from a biography with our own eyes,—­surely this would be at once uncanny and wonderful. More wonderful than anything a playwright could cause to be acted or spoken on the stage. We should be seeing life itself.—­But then we do see this e­ very day & it makes not the slightest impression on us! True enough, but we do not see it from that point of view.—­Similarly when E. looks at his writings and finds them splendid (even though he would not care to publish any of the pieces individually), he is seeing his life as God’s work of art, & as such it is certainly worth contemplating, as is ­every life & every­thing what­ever. But only the artist can represent the individual ­thing so that it appears to us as a work of art; ­those manuscripts rightly lose their value if we contemplate them singly & in any case without prejudice, i.e. without being enthusiastic about them in advance. The work of art compels us—as one might say—to see it in the right perspective, but without art the object is a piece of nature like any other & the fact that we may exalt it through our enthusiasm does not give anyone the right to display it to us. (I am always reminded of one of t­ hose insipid photo­graphs of a piece of scenery which is in­ter­est­ing to the person who took it ­because he was t­ here himself, experienced something, but which a third party looks at with justifiable coldness; insofar as it is ever justifiable to look at something with coldness.) But now it seems to me too that besides the work of the artist t­ here is another through which the world may be captured sub specie æterni. It is—as I believe—­t he way of thought which as it ­were flies above the world and leaves it the way it is, contemplating it from above in its flight.

Wittgenstein proposes that the world of the everyday appears “uncanny and wonderful” in four instances: when seen from God’s point of view; when seen from the point of view of the “way of thought” which “leaves [the world] the way it is” (a formulation that anticipates certain key remarks in the Philosophical Investigations [1953] on the nature of philosophical inquiry into ordinary language); when seen from the point of view of the theatrical spectator upon a scene of everyday life, in which the central figure is alone and



engaged in mundane activities; and when seen from the perspective compelled by a work of art. The remarkable resonance between each of ­these instances adduced by Wittgenstein—­individually and taken as a constellation—­with the theory of art expressed by Flaubert in his letters from 1852–1854, when he was writing Madame Bovary, is unmistakable.50 The sense of the uncanny that Wittgenstein emphasizes throughout reminds us that in this special mode of perception of the everyday scene, we are seeing something that we always see—­something with which we are perfectly familiar—­and yet we are seeing it as we ordinarily never could. The impossibility of our seeing the world in this way is further developed in Wittgenstein’s interpretation of the ­imagined theatrical scene: “Suddenly we are observing a ­human being from outside in a way that ordinarily we can never observe ourselves; as if we w ­ ere watching a chapter from a biography with our own eyes.” What is ­imagined in this scene is, in other words, not a mere technological or psychological impossibility, but rather the ontological impossibility of perceiving the “I” from the point of view of the “not-­I”—­the beholder of a totally absorbed subject, the biographer of one’s life, or, perhaps, the reader of a novel who is si­mul­ta­neously under the spell of the character’s life and yet reflecting upon it from an infinite distance.51 It would be impossible to give an adequate interpretation in this brief space of Wittgenstein’s remarks, which are of the greatest significance not only for his philosophical reflections on aesthetics but also on ethics and value more generally. However, at least two significant points emerge from the juxtaposition between Flaubert and Wittgenstein. First, the work of art compels us to see an other­wise mundane and ordinary part of the world in such a way that we are fascinated, absorbed, or compelled by it. Other­wise, it is like “a piece of scenery which is in­ter­est­ing to the person who took it ­because he was ­there himself, experienced something, but which a third party looks at with justifiable coldness”—­only the one who has personally experienced what is represented may take an interest in its repre­sen­ta­tion. In other words, one of the most impor­tant ways to understand the prob­lem of how to represent the everyday in such a way that it merits our interest is as an aesthetic prob­lem. Second, what characterizes the perspective or mode of repre­sen­ta­tion of the work of art is that it is completely other than the perspective that we ordinarily have upon what is represented. Novelistic realism is not a mere reflection or recapitulation of our ordinary perspective, nor an

Detotalized Totality


attempt to render this more accurately or sensitively. As Michael Fried puts it in his interpretation of this passage, The question, then, is how to capture the [other] perspective, which he associates with seeing the scene in question as a work of art (as he says Engelmann, without quite realizing it, is led at moments to see his own life as God’s work of art), and my suggestion is that Wittgenstein imagines it as fundamentally—­not just contingently—­separate from that of the person being observed (as God’s point of view is separate from Engelmann’s), as if—to put it strongly—­the person and the observer inhabit dif­fer­ent worlds. . . . ​The two worlds are other­wise identical; t­ here is no difference between them beyond that of perspective—­which is why the viewing of the first from the perspective of the second gives rise to an impression of life itself.

The language of “two worlds”—or, elsewhere in Fried’s essay, of separate “sphere[s] of existence”—­here elucidates the prob­lem of the realist novel, although it runs the risk of reifying a distinction that Wittgenstein himself does not quite make in t­ hose terms. However, Fried’s interpretation brings home the extent to which Wittgenstein is attempting to describe what we might imagine as two dif­fer­ent ways of being in the same world that are so fundamentally distinct as to never be si­mul­ta­neously habitable. ­These two ways of being, I suggest, are evoked by the realist novel in its attempt to give us the (impossible, hence necessarily fictional) view of the world of an “I”—­ characterological self, being-­in-­the-­novelistic-­world—­from the perspective of a “not-­I”—­t he reader’s non-­self, a form of not-­being-­in-­t he-­novelistic-­ world. It is in t­ hese terms that the relation between character life and readerly subjectivity may be understood.52


The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art

and never finished. Sculptures abandoned, destined never to attain the likenesses of their models. Partial sketches locked away in portfolios. Paintings left to languish half-­done in attics. Nineteenth-­and twentieth-­century novels teem with portrayals of unfinished works of art: to mention but a few, Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860), Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1873–1877), Émile Zola’s L’Œuvre (1885–1886), ­Virginia Woolf’s To the Light­house (1927), V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas (1961), and Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962) all contain significant scenes of creative disruption as well as extended depictions of incomplete works of art. Yet unfinished art is not described at length in any other literary genre apart from the novel. Of the several variants of ekphrasis in lit­er­a­ture—­works of art completed in triumph, works destroyed in anguish, works with sinister or beatific effects, works of art that seem to come alive or even do—­many figure prominently in lyric poems, dramas, and epics. But the motif of unfinished art is not thematically and structurally significant in literary genres prior to the novel. The shroud that Penelope weaves by day and then unweaves by night in Homer’s Odyssey is perhaps the most striking exemplar of the unfinished in earlier lit­er­a­ture. However, the making and unmaking P O RT R A I T S S C R A P E D U P

The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art


of Penelope’s shroud does not serve mainly as a formal meta­phor marking the kind of narrative delay and reversal that, in Aristotelian poetics, precedes the most dramatic anagnorisis, but rather plays a literal function within the plot as a subterfuge to delay the insistent suitors. The unfinished work of art thus has the odd distinction of being primarily, and almost exclusively, the domain of the nineteenth-­and twentieth-­ century novel. The importance of the fragment in Romantic poetry might appear to pose an exception to this claim. As Charles Rosen argues, however, the “perfect Romantic fragment” is to be imagined as “complete in itself, a fragmentary image of the infinite.”1 Thus Schlegel declares in Aphorism 206 of the Athenaeum Fragments (1798) that “a fragment, like a miniature work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and be complete in itself like a porcupine.”2 The Romantic idealization of the fragment as an organic ­whole, “complete in itself,” differs fundamentally from novelistic portrayals of unfinished works of art as stubbornly incomplete and frustratingly interrupted. Indeed, the presence of unfinished art in the novel stands as a testament to the problematic status of aesthetic totality in the poetics of the genre—­a status that gives rise to a new and profoundly existential conception of the aesthetics of incompleteness. To understand novelistic depictions of unfinished art, we must first place them in the context of a shift in the repre­sen­ta­tion and valuation of the incomplete work: away from the classical conception of the non finito and the Romantic conception of the fragment, and ­toward an existentialist view of the unfinished. According to this existentialist view, unfinished works of art are to be neither condemned nor idealized in comparison with their finished counter­parts. What it means to understand one’s own life as a work in pro­ gress is an issue that is central to both existentialist thought and the novel. Moreover, within the existentialist poetics of the novel delineated in previous chapters, it is pos­si­ble to view the finishedness of a novelistic work (qua repre­ sen­ta­tion of life) as always and already existing in a dialectical relation to any conception of that work as necessarily unfinished. First, the convincing depiction of characterological freedom requires the apparent nonexistence of the totalizing perspective of an author / ­beholder. The ambiguous nature of aesthetic totality arising from this repre­sen­ta­tional paradox is thematically and formally foregrounded in realist novels. Second, the centrality of an existentialist conception of “situation” to world-­disclosure in the novel is



not unrelated to the issues that arise from novelistic repre­sen­ta­tions of self-­k nowledge. Nineteenth-­and twentieth-­century realist novels depict their characters as intrinsically embedded within the richness of a world, so that the full real­ity of this world may be evoked without ever needing to posit it as an objectively given totality. The attempt of realist novels to elicit readerly belief in what Beauvoir calls the “detotalized totality” of another ­human existence finds its metafictional echo in novelistic depictions of unfinished art.3 Classic theories of the novel interpret the problematic relation of the novel to forms of aesthetic totality in terms of the genre’s aim to represent the fractured real­ity of modern life. Frank Kermode quotes the novelist and phi­los­ o­pher Iris Murdoch: “ ‘Since real­ity is incomplete, art must not be too afraid of incompleteness,’ says Miss Murdoch. We must not falsify it with patterns too neat, too inclusive; ­t here must be dissonance.”4 In his comprehensive study The Sense of an Ending (1967), Kermode delineates the tension between the relative completeness of narrative and the incompleteness of life in a world bereft of ancient and Christian conceptions of time, sounding themes familiar to any reader of György Lukács’s earlier theory of the novel. In Lukács’s words, “The novel is the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given, in which the immanence of meaning in life has become a prob­lem, yet which still thinks in terms of totality.”5 Such an account of the genre yields a compelling explanation for the prevalence of unfinished art within it. The difficulty with a Lukácsian narrative, however, is that it defines the significance of unfinishedness in primarily negative terms, and hence fails to engender an interpretative framework whose philosophical basis is distinct from cognate themes in modernism.6 The novels I ­shall examine ­here do not merely feature unfinished art as an emblem of the interminability of realist narrative. They revel in long and evocative depictions of unfinished works, describing the exact manner of their interruption. They detail the inward reactions of the artists, the restlessness of live subjects that prevents them from maintaining a still pose, and the responses of critical audiences. They reveal that the obscurity of unfinished works complicates their reception, rendering them unamenable to attempts to categorize them. Fi­nally, they examine a par­tic­u­lar vision of “real­ity” that poses insuperable difficulties to aesthetic repre­sen­ta­tion. The incompleteness of unfinished works of art in ­these novels thus cannot be considered simply

The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art


as a negation of the completeness of prior genres, or as an expression of the novel’s sense of its own ontological insufficiency in the face of a shifting real­ity. Such analyses of unfinishedness are too thin, too abstract, to provide an adequate interpretation of the nuanced depictions of creative interruption and abandonment in the novels I ­will consider ­here. In what follows, I seek to show that novelistic repre­sen­ta­tions of unfinished works of art manifest the fundamental aspects of the existentialist ­poetics of the novel surveyed in previous chapters. In Austen’s Emma, for instance, the aesthetic valence of unfinished and finished works is taken up in the context of a larger engagement with issues of novelistic authorship and characterological freedom. Emma establishes an extensive analogy between the acts of authoring a novel and matchmaking, revealing that the desire to form and “finish” another person’s life in the mold of a presumptive author’s desires is ultimately frustrated by the impossibility of displacing the authority of self-­knowledge away from the subject herself. Scenes depicting the making of finished and unfinished portraits expose the limits of creative and narratorial authority. They provide a metafictional reflection upon the kind of incompleteness inherent to a novelistic work of art that purports (as the very title of Austen’s novel suggests) to represent a person.7 In Zola’s L’Œuvre, too, ­there are significant depictions of the artist’s encounters with his subject, which lead inexorably to unfinished works of art. In this l­ater novel, however, the dialectic between the authority of the creator and the freedom of the subject is broadened to encompass a confrontation between the artist and the ­whole of real­ity. Thus the protagonist Claude Lantier wages a ­battle of metaphysical proportions with his unfinished canvases, entering into what Camus calls a “disputation” with—or rebellion against—­the fundamental lack of meaningful totality to be found in real­ity as such. The incompleteness of his works is increasingly depicted in the novel as a direct outcome of the conflict arising from any intention to impose a totalized form upon the detotalized totality of existence. This conflict, which cannot be overcome e­ ither by sacrificing the urge to impart aesthetic form or by defeating the detotalization of h ­ uman real­ity, lends to the work of art a near-­ontological condition of unfinishedness. Before proceeding to closer analyses of ­these novels, I ­shall begin with a brief account of the contrast between existentialist perspectives on the significance of aesthetic unfinishedness and classical and Romantic conceptions of unfinished art.



Aesthetic Theories of the Unfinished

Despite its association in critical theory with the Jena School of Romantic critical theory, the aesthetic category of the unfinished is not of modern origin. The term non finito is first used by Giorgio Vasari to refer to the works of Michelangelo, who, ­after the David of 1504, completes almost none of his sculptural proj­ects and leaves many of his individual statues in a state of fragmentary rudeness. Describing Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, Vasari writes in his The Lives of the Most Excellent Paint­ers, Sculptors, and Architects (1568): He had imagination of such a kind, and so perfect, and the t­ hings conceived by him in idea ­were such, that often, through not being able to express with the hands conceptions so terrible and ­grand, he abandoned his works. . . . ​A ­little before he died he burned a ­great number of designs, sketches, and cartoons made with his own hand, to the end that no one might see the l­abours endured by him . . . ​and that he might not appear less than perfect.8

The conception of unfinished art that Vasari attributes to Michelangelo in this passage is essentially classical. The work that is left incomplete is “less than perfect,” rudely interrupted, and unable to reach the full grandeur of the artist’s conception. Vasari claims that Michelangelo holds a Neoplatonic conception of sculpture, according to which the concetto of the artist is contained in the superchio or crude excess of the marble, and must be liberated by a hand guided by the intellect.9 In this model, the artist is akin to the maker described in Book X of Plato’s Republic, who “look[s] t­ owards the appropriate form in making the beds or ­tables we use.”10 An unfinished work of art falls short of the ideal conception that engenders it, in the same way as a chair that is missing a leg falls short of having attained a full resemblance to the ideal form of “chairness.” Aesthetic interest in the unfinished work of art in Eu­ro­pean culture revives in the eigh­teenth ­century, when the theory of the picturesque and its evocation of fragmentary ruins fascinate British Romantics. Both ruins and sketches embody beauty in emergence, vital with possibilities yet hauntingly ambiguous, allowing seemingly indefinite scope for the play of the imagi-

The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art


nation. As Thomas McFarland notes in his study of diasparactive form in Romantic poetry, “The sense of eternal power and of a divine spark was inseparable from diasparactive limitation—­from incompleteness, fragmentation, and ruin.”11 In the Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Edmund Burke reflects on the fascinating power of the unfinished form: “The spring is the pleasantest of the seasons; and the young of most animals, though far from being completely fashioned, afford a more agreeable sensation than the full grown; ­because the imagination is entertained with the promise of something more, and does not acquiesce in the pres­ent object of the sense. In unfinished sketches of drawing, I have often seen something which pleased me beyond the best finishing.”12 Burke’s enthusiasm for the unfinished, however, is not universally shared in this period. Lord Kames declares in Ele­ments of Criticism (1762) that the unfinished work provokes “uneasiness” in the spectator by virtually demanding re-­creation and completion in the ideal realm of the spectator’s imagination.13 Far from causing delight, he argues, unfinished works display an unsatisfactory and nagging inadequacy since “­human works are of no significance till they be completed.”14 The dominant neoclassicism of the late eigh­teenth and early nineteenth centuries f­ avors Lord Kames’s idea that t­ here is no value in the incompleteness of unfinished art. By the end of the nineteenth ­century, however, the unfinished again acquires a status equal to or even superior to that of the finished. As Camus declares in “Art in Communion” (1933): “Means are sometimes more beautiful than ends and the quest more beautiful than the truth—­who has not dreamed of a book or a work of art that would be only a hopeful beginning, profoundly unfinished?”15 An example of such an unfinished book appears in Camus’s novel The Plague (1947), in which the municipal clerk Joseph ­Grand b­ attles bravely but absurdly to write a literary masterpiece that never gets beyond its first, incredibly labored sentence. He nonetheless makes “a fresh start” on this sentence t­ oward the end of the novel, evincing both per­ sis­tence and hope in the face of his previous failures to achieve closure.16 Championing the priority of contingent means over absolute ends, the existentialist tradition from which Camus emerges shifts the conception of the unfinished work of art from deficient to dynamic, from potentially suggestive to actively and concretely vibrant. The unfinished becomes capable of making an artistic statement as power­ful as its finished counterpart.



This shift in the valuation of the unfinished occurs b­ ecause the point of reference for thinking about incompleteness changes: whereas in classical aesthetics the unfinished work is compared to a perfect and changeless ideal and in Romanticism the fragment is seen as an expression of the majestic possibility of imagination, the existentialists situate unfinished aesthetic form within the context of ordinary lived experience. The idea that incompleteness pervades all attempts to create form and unity in a world lacking such preexisting coherence is central to the section of Camus’s essay The Rebel (1951) entitled “Rebellion and Art”: ­ ere is not one h Th ­ uman being who . . . ​does not exhaust himself in trying to find formulas or attitudes that ­w ill give his existence the unity it lacks. . . . ​A ll demand unity in order to exist, and in order to exist on this earth. As in t­ hose moving and unhappy relationships which sometimes survive for a very long time b­ ecause one of the partners is waiting to find the right word, action, gesture, or situation which w ­ ill bring his adventure to an end on exactly the right note, so every­one proposes and creates for himself the final word. It is not sufficient to live, t­ here must be a destiny that does not have to wait for death.17

According to Camus, we draw an implicit distinction between passively being alive in the world and actively seeking a purpose or end that might unify our disparate actions and experiences into a meaningful ­whole. The attempt to define or fix this purpose, however, is necessarily ongoing in a world that lacks the teleological unity inscribed upon it in previous eras by a religious or metaphysical worldview.18 For Camus, the incompleteness of existence appears in the context of two aspects of our situation: first, the lack of a governing metaphysical order and unity in the world and in ourselves, and second, our own intolerance of this lack, which leads us to the impossible attempt to rebel against it. Camus’s view of why incompleteness plays a significant role in h ­ uman creation thus places emphasis on our perpetual efforts to impose lasting coherence and form upon our lives and ­those of ­others: “The lives of ­others always escape us, and we escape them too; they have no firm outline. Life from this point of view is without style. It is only an impulse that endlessly pursues its form

The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art


without ever finding it.”19 Our actions contradict one another, they have unknown consequences, they are susceptible to being cut off arbitrarily by death or by accidents over which we have no control. Insofar as we define existence as the attempt to “pursue its form,” our lives must be understood in part in terms of what they are not and what they have not yet achieved. The only way that we can complete our lives is by d ­ ying—­a state of affairs that Camus describes ironically by saying, “In order to exist just once in the world, it is necessary never again to exist.”20 In the section of Being and Time (1927) linking being to death, Heidegger attempts to analyze the kind of unfinishedness—or, as he calls it, “not-­yet” being—­that can be attributed to the individual and subjective existence of Dasein. He concludes that the necessary incompleteness of ­human existence is intrinsic to the ontological structure of self-­understanding: “In Dasein ­there is undeniably a constant ‘lack of totality’ which finds an end with death. . . . ​Dasein must, as itself, become—­that is to say, be—­what it is not yet.”21 In existing, each Dasein is not yet complete ­because it has not yet come to its own end in death. But death is not added to Dasein to complete it in the way that a missing nail might be added to a ­table in order to finish it. Death is always and already part of the unfinished totality of Dasein as it exists, so that Dasein exists only in relation to the eventual ­future of its own death. Living with this orientation ­toward one’s own death means that one understands one’s own existence as contingent, not necessary. This understanding is in turn what allows one to grasp one’s own existence as such: that is, to understand what it means to exist as oneself, in contrast to existing as a “­mother,” or as a “civil servant,” or even as a “rational animal.” To exist in the face of one’s own death, to understand that one’s ultimate f­ uture is bounded by the horizon of death, is to “become—­that is to say, be—­what [one] is not yet.” The incompleteness of Dasein is thus linked to the temporality of its existence, and to all of the ways in which it necessarily exists by understanding its ­future possibilities and deciding to actualize itself through ­these possibilities. As Heidegger argues: Dasein is an entity for which, in its Being, that Being is an issue. The phrase “is an issue” has been made plain in the state-­of-­Being of understanding—of understanding as self-­protective Being ­towards its ownmost potentiality-­for-­Being. This potentiality is that for the sake of



which any Dasein is as it is. In each case Dasein has already compared itself, in its Being, with a possibility of itself. Being-­free for one’s ownmost potentiality-­for-­Being, and therewith for the possibility of authenticity and inauthenticity, is shown, with a primordial, elemental concreteness, in anxiety. But ontologically, Being ­towards one’s ownmost potentiality-­for-­Being means that in each case Dasein is already ahead of itself in its Being. Dasein is always “beyond itself” not as a way of behaving ­towards other entities which it is not, but as Being t­ owards the potentiality-­for-­Being which it is itself. This structure of Being, which belongs to the essential “is an issue,” we ­shall denote as Dasein’s “Being-­a head-­of-­itself.” (236)

In this key passage, Heidegger reveals that the ontological incompleteness of Dasein is related to the other ontological structures that characterize its way of Being-­in-­the-­world: Being-­toward-­death, Being-­free for one’s ownmost potentiality-­for-­Being, Being-­in-­time, care, understanding, and the possibility of both authenticity and inauthenticity. Dasein’s way of Being-­ in-­the-­world is characterized by “Care,” meaning that its “Being is an issue” for itself. Dasein is the kind of Being for whom its own Being ­matters, a Being that cares about its own existence as such. This fact is disclosed to it when it realizes that it must die. In Being-­toward-­death, Dasein cannot be indifferent to itself, and must confront the fact that its existence is not necessary and that the f­uture of its own possibilities is also therefore not necessary. This fact is also disclosed to Dasein through what Heidegger calls “understanding as self-­protective Being ­toward its ownmost potentiality-­for-­Being,” which means that Dasein must at each moment of its existence understand its own way of Being-­in-­the-­world by projecting itself into what it sees as its potential pos­si­ble ways of existing.22 Dasein’s “lack of totality” is in fact an orientation t­oward its own possibility of totality, its own end. In order to understand one’s own existence as a completed w ­ hole, one must constantly live with the understanding of one’s own incompleteness. The projection into the ­future and into one’s own death is therefore not a negation of Dasein’s being but rather integral to it, which is why Heidegger claims that “Dasein is always ‘beyond itself’ not as a way of behaving ­towards other entities which it is not, but as Being ­towards the potentiality-­for-­Being which it is itself.” To grasp this potentiality-­for-­

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Being in an au­then­tic way is to understand that one’s “lack of totality” is in fact what allows one’s self to actualize one’s own possibilities: it is the condition of understanding one’s self as a being with dif­fer­ent potentials that one needs to actualize in order to exist. An orientation ­toward one’s own existential incompleteness is thus what underlies the possibilities of inauthenticity and authenticity. To flee from one’s own incompleteness in the face of death is to take up an inauthentic relation to the task of actualizing one’s own possibilities.23 Central to Heidegger’s conception of Dasein in Being and Time is thus a view of the inherent unfinishedness of existence. We understand ourselves in light of our own incompleteness by projecting ourselves into f­ uture proj­ ects that may never be finished, but through which we nevertheless become who we are. The unfinishedness that is unique to existing beings is hence not analogous to the kind of incompletion that can be attributed to an object like a knife or a ­table. “Finishedness is itself pos­si­ble only as a determinate form of something present-­at-­hand or ready-­to-­hand,” insofar as the “present-­at-­hand” or “ready-­to-­hand” are ­things in which an essence precedes their existence (289). In Sartrean terms, the individual knife and the individual ­table exist only ­after a technical formula determines their production, and this same technical formula provides determinate criteria by which the artifacts may be judged complete or incomplete.24 Furthermore, what is lacking in them must be of the same kind of “present-­at-­hand” material as what is already pres­ent in them, so that the absence of that material needed to complete a t­ hing like a knife or a t­ able is absent only in the sense of not being “ready-­at-­hand,” not incorporated into the t­ hing in such a way as to render it completely functional.25 In contrast, in the case of individually existent subjective beings, that which is “missing” or “not-­yet-­being” in them is not something that simply needs to be located and integrated in a certain way. It is not merely another part, but a fundamental lack of completeness, a lack of ontological ­wholeness that is nevertheless integral to their existence. What emerges from ­these existentialist meditations on the unfinished form of our lives is a view of incompleteness as the very basis of the existential possibilities that we seek to actualize. The mode of being that is subjective and individual is itself a mode of becoming, of inhabiting the possibility and therefore the incompleteness inextricably entwined with its own existence. “It is essential to the basic constitution of Dasein,” argues Heidegger,



“that t­ here is constantly something still to be settled. Such a lack of totality signifies that ­there is something still outstanding in one’s potentiality-­for-­ Being” (279). “Lack of totality” is therefore, in an existentialist view, not simply a negative trait, as it might be in the case of a ready-­to-­hand object in which what is lacking deprives it of what would make it functional. For ­human subjects, this “lack” is converted to a form of anticipation that is inherent to existence. It is experienced as a condition of openness to the possibilities of life itself. Forms of artistic or literary repre­sen­ta­tion that attempt to contend with the totality of our lives, and with our relation to our own proj­ects and self-­understanding in light of this totality, must in some way confront the issues of incompleteness that an existentialist view of life raises. Before moving on to consider the formal and thematic engagement of realist novels with this existentialist stance, it is impor­tant to clarify that the apparent similarities between existentialist and Romantic views of incompleteness are superficial. As Schlegel’s discussion of the fragment in Athenaeum Fragments suggests, the Romantic theory of the fragment is intimately linked to the trope of inexpressibility, and evokes a never-­ending aspiration ­toward some form of completion. “Romantic poetry,” Schlegel argues, “can become, like the epic, a mirror of the ­whole circumambient world, an image of the age. . . . ​It alone is infinite, just as it alone is ­free.”26 As Jean-­Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-­Labarthe observe in their analy­sis of Schlegel’s theory of the fragment, “Totality is the fragment itself in its completed individuality.”27 The Romantics delight in the fragment b­ ecause it refuses the finite borders of the complete work, and in so d ­ oing suggests the sublimity of the soul and its yearning ­toward the infinite and absolute. In contrast, existentialist thought embraces the unfinished in art and life ­because it suggests the rebellion of the individual against e­ very idealized and impossible mode of totality; in its incompleteness, it refuses the false solace of absolute ends and thereby embodies what Camus terms a perpetual state of “disputation.” The early forerunners of existentialism—­K ierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche—­reject abstractions and universal categories such as Nature, Art, Soul, or Truth. They refuse the g­ rand visions of unification posed by Romanticism and Hegelianism as escapes from existence, and instead seek to elucidate the meaning that arises from temporally bound, concrete, and finite individual lives.28 Heidegger’s idea of existence as Being-­toward-­death, Sartre’s claim that contingent existence precedes essence, and Camus’s no-

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tion of perpetual rebellion: all of ­these philosophical approaches to life emerge from an existentialist challenge to the Romantic aim of total integration between subjective consciousness and the Absolute. This brief and schematic outline of the history of the incomplete in aesthetic thought prior to modernism can thus be divided into three phases: classical, Romantic, and existential.29 The classical conception represents the unfinished as underdeveloped, broken off, and lacking completion. The Romantic idea of the fragment focuses upon the power of the unfinished work to evoke the limitless play of the imagination. In contrast, for the existentialists, unfinished art embodies the paradox inherent in any attempt to capture existence in a totalized form. As Heidegger argues, “If existence is definitive for Dasein’s Being and if its essence is constituted in part by potentiality-­for-­Being, then, as long as Dasein exists, it must in each case, as such a potentiality, not yet be something. Any entity whose Essence is made up of existence, is essentially opposed to the possibility of our getting it in our grasp as an entity which is a ­whole” (276). Whereas the classical view implicitly compares the unfinished work to its finished counterpart, thinkers such as Heidegger and Camus situate h ­ uman endeavor in the context of an existential condition that cannot be grasped as a totality. Thus from the perspective of an existentialist aesthetics, the significance of detotalized aesthetic form is fundamentally grounded in the limitations of ordinary self-­knowledge and intimately related to the conditions for an au­then­tic view of life. To see how the general overview sketched above becomes relevant to an existentialist poetics of the novel, let us turn now to the par­tic­u­lar novels themselves. Emma: Matchmaking, Authorial Agency, and the Unfinished Art of the Portrait

The relation between the unfinished work of art and the issues of authorial presence, characterological freedom, and aesthetic totality delineated in previous chapters is already implicit in one of the earliest thematically significant appearances of unfinished art in the history of the novel. As the title of Austen’s Emma suggests, what it means for the work to claim to be a repre­sen­ta­tion of a person emerges as a central poetic issue in the novel. This issue is thematized explic­itly in a scene that depicts Emma’s incomplete



attempts at portraiture. Contra the critical view embodied in D. A. Miller’s claim that “of that godlike authority which we think of as the default mode of narration in the traditional novel, Jane Austen may well be the only En­ glish example,” the novel’s depiction of unfinished art surprisingly reveals that any pretensions to god-­ like knowledge of another are repeatedly 30 ironized. A meditation on the limits of authorial knowledge of another emerges via the extended narrative analogy of Emma herself as a presumptive artist, or author, of the story of Harriet’s existence. The “godlike authority” supposedly arrogated by the novel’s own author is thus figured within the text as an incarnate one, never transcendently “­free of all accents that might identify it with a socially accredited broker of power / knowledge in the world ­under narration,” never “without anthropomorphism” as Miller contends (32). This claim, if true, challenges Miller’s argument that “the Austen Neuter” allows Austen to “perform . . . ​t he disappearing act of Absolute Style” (38). In Emma, far from renouncing her participation in the world its author has created as “a supreme being who, though solitary, though single, has made ‘perfect happiness’ depend on entering the condition of the c­ ouple,” the novel posits—­only to ultimately subvert—­its own repre­sen­ta­tion of an authorial persona who blatantly meddles with the lives of ­others through the aegis of her role as matchmaker (55). In arguing that the positioning of the author is enacted by the novel itself and not, as Miller would have it, by the extraordinarily keen gaze of the critic, I wish to do more than claim lit­er­a­ture’s autonomy from criticism. I seek to show that the novel, which Anthony Cascardi has called “a genre whose form was determined by a crisis in the belief in any single, extraworldly source of authority,” represents its own crisis of authorial fiction in Austen’s text: a crisis that bears, in turn, on its manner of conceiving aesthetic totality.31 Emma asserts her identity as a matchmaker in the very first chapter of the novel, declaring of the wedding between her beloved governess, Miss Taylor, and Mr. Weston: “ ‘I made the match myself. I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many p ­ eople said Mr. Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for any t­ hing’ ” (5). The boldness of this presumptuous declaration is preceded by “tears” at the loss of Miss Taylor’s companionship, which Emma attempts to hide from her ­father and Mr. Knightley by turning her head (5). This early scene thus prefigures the complexity of a figure who, as

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Jocelyn Harris and other critics observe, “exercises over other ­people an unwarranted licence to change their lives,” while unable to fully conceal her all-­too-­human vulnerability in the face of how the uncontrollable decisions of ­others may change her own life.32 The extended analogy between matchmaking and narrative authority is established early on in the novel through a subtle comparison between Emma and her perverse doppelgänger, Mrs. Elton. Although it may appear that Mrs. Elton, with all her lace, frivolity, and self-­importance, must serve as a mere foil to the genuine charm of our heroine, the novel casts the relation between them in a more ironic light. What Emma sees as vulgar or common in Mrs. Elton is dangerously close to what they have in common as characters. For nearly every­thing that Mrs. Elton finds to appreciate or brag about in her life, t­ here is a parallel object in Emma’s own world t­ oward which she, too, feels overwhelming pride.33 Even the very vocabulary in which Emma expresses her own values and standards is parroted back to her in Mrs. Elton’s voice.34 Most notably, the two share a common life proj­ect of self-­appointed patronage in relation to another character, which in real­ity serves to swell a sense of their own benevolent efficacy. Emma’s inner musings about Harriet Smith—­“ ­Those soft blue eyes and all ­those natu­ral graces should not be wasted on the inferior society of Highbury and its connections. . . . ​She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners”—­are echoed precisely in Mrs. Elton’s condescending expression of interest in Jane Fairfax: “ ‘My resolution is taken as to noticing Jane Fairfax.—­I ­shall certainly have her very often at my ­house, ­shall introduce her wherever I can, s­hall have musical parties to draw out her talents, and s­hall be constantly on the watch for an eligible situation’ ” (13, 181–182). To “ ‘notice’ ” another ­woman, to “ ‘introduce her’ ” to a wider audience, to “ ‘draw out her talents,’ ” to “ ‘be constantly on the watch for an eligible situation’ ”—is this not precisely the proj­ect that the anticipated arc of the novel presumes to take up in relation to Emma? “ ‘Poor ­little’ ” Miss Wood­ house, whose precociousness and charms attract an author’s attention as much as her corresponding limitations naturally impose a relation of condescending superiority and patronage, must in the end be settled “in the perfect happiness of the ­union” that the narrative cleverly devises (313). By



contriving to put Emma in the way of a proper gentleman, the novel’s plot transparently positions itself as an endeavor to “form her opinions and her manners” according to a rational, amiable influence. Narrating Emma is thus represented by the novel itself as a form of benevolent matchmaking, and the corresponding social and moral elevation enjoyed by the one who is well-­matched can only reflect on the one who matches her so properly. In Emma’s words: “It would be an in­ter­est­ing, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming her own situation in life, her leisure, and powers” (13). To read Emma as a meta-­authorial reflection upon the limits of narrative authority is to note the per­sis­tent resonance of this theme throughout both the main plot and the many subplots. In par­tic­u­lar, the subplot of Emma’s attempt to author Harriet’s existence is figured in miniature through a scene that depicts Emma’s creation of a flattering portrait of Harriet for Mr. Elton. The making of the portrait stands in as a compressed version of the creative authorial proj­ect of molding her protégée, Harriet, into a perfect lady in order to pres­ent her to eligible suitors and orchestrate the ideal fairy­tale finale for her life. H ­ ere, I quote the remarkable description of Emma’s portfolio of unfinished sketches at length, for its significance has not to my knowledge been taken up by previous critics: Emma wished to go to work directly, and therefore produced the portfolio containing her vari­ous attempts at portraits, for not one of them had ever been finished, that they might decide together the best size for Harriet. Her many beginnings ­were displayed. Miniatures, half-­lengths, whole-­lengths, pencil, crayon, and water-­colours had been all tried in turn. . . . ​­There was merit in ­every drawing—in the least finished, perhaps the most; her style was spirited. . . . “No ­great variety of ­faces for you,” said Emma. “I had only my own ­f amily to study from. ­There is my ­f ather—­a nother of my ­father—­but the idea of sitting for his picture made him so ner­vous, that I could only take him by stealth; neither of them very like therefore. Mrs. Weston again, and again, and again you see. Dear Mrs. Weston! always my kindest friend on ­every occasion. She would sit whenever I asked her. Th ­ ere is my ­sister; and ­really quite her own ­little elegant figure!—­a nd the face not unlike. I should have made a

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good likeness of her, if she would have sat longer, but she was in such a hurry to have me draw her four ­children that she would not be quiet. Then, ­here come all my attempts at three of ­t hose four ­children;—­t here they are, Henry and John and Bella, from one end of the sheet to the other, and any one of them might do for any one of the rest. She was so ­eager to have them drawn that I could not refuse; but t­ here is no making ­children of three or four years old stand still you know; nor can it be very easy to take any likeness of them, beyond the air and complexion, ­unless they are coarser featured than any mama’s ­children ever w ­ ere. ­Here is my sketch of the fourth, who was a baby. I took him, as he was sleeping on the sofa, and it is as strong a likeness of his cockade as you would wish to see. He had nestled down his head most con­ve­niently. That’s very like. I am rather proud of ­little George. The corner of the sofa is very good. Then h ­ ere is my last”—­unclosing a pretty sketch of a gentleman in small size, whole-­length—­“my last and best—my ­brother, Mr. John Knightley.—­This did not want much of being finished, when I put it away in a pet, and vowed I would never take another likeness. I could not help being provoked; for a­ fter all my pains, and when I had r­ eally made a very good likeness of it (Mrs. Weston and I ­were quite agreed in thinking it very like)—­only too handsome—­too flattering—­but that was a fault on the right side—­a fter all this, came poor dear Isabella’s cold approbation of—­‘Yes, it was a ­little like—­but to be sure it did not do him justice.’ We had had a ­great deal of trou­ble in persuading him to sit at all. It was made a g­ reat favour of; and altogether it was more than I could bear; and so I never would finish it, to have it apologized over as an unfavourable likeness.” (27–28)

The scene raises three questions that are highly relevant to any aesthetic judgment of Emma itself, which as I have argued, draws attention to its own status as a repre­sen­ta­tion of a person (a repre­sen­ta­tion that may, in some sense, presumably stand in for that person) in its very title. First, what kind of subject and what sort of relation between the subject and the artist are viewed by the artist as most conducive to the creation of such a repre­sen­ta­ tion? Second, on whose authority may a repre­sen­ta­tion be declared “ ‘very like’ ” the subject himself? Fi­nally, is completeness in and of itself a virtue in



a repre­sen­ta­tion, or might ­there be (as the narrative suggests) “merit . . . ​in the least finished, perhaps the most”—­and why? As the rather lengthy description underscores over and over, Emma blames her failure to complete her portraits primarily upon the restless willfulness of her artistic subjects. Servants, sleeping infants, and furniture provide the most quiet, tractable, obedient subjects for capture. Mrs. Weston, her governess, is described almost like a well-­trained pet who “ ‘would sit whenever I asked her.’ ” Anyone in possession of inner intentions or proj­ects, in contrast, trou­bles Emma’s ambitions to “ ‘take him.’ ” Her f­ ather is too “ ‘ner­vous,’ ” her ­sister “ ‘would not be quiet,’ ” her nephews and nieces ­will not “ ‘stand still.’ ” The artistic ambition to finish a repre­sen­ta­tion of another is made to depend (from the artist’s point of view, let us emphasize) upon the subject’s capacity to cease exercising his or her own w ­ ill and be mastered by the superior intentions and designs of the artist. All of Emma’s subjects, with the exception of Harriet, are also marked in this passage as belonging to her “ ‘own ­family.’ ” Familial relations thus provide a primitive context of intimacy and personal knowledge that is not unrelated to the artist’s arrogation of authority over her subjects. Moreover, the possibility of a ­family resemblance between the artist and the subjects bears an obvious relevance to a l­ater exchange, to which we s­ hall return in a moment, between Frank and Emma, in which the success of matchmaking appears to turn upon the matchmaker’s ability to make the subject resemble herself. The question, then, of who can declare a repre­sen­ta­tion of another person to be “ ‘very like’ ”—­the phrase itself suggesting likeness in the sense of both close or exact repre­sen­ta­tion and the quality of pleasing its beholder—is linked in this passage to the authority of the artist. Emma’s exclamations of plea­sure over her unfinished portraits exert claim to her status as their judge or critic. Yet the accusation that her portrait of John Knightley does not “ ‘do him justice’ ” introduces a challenge to her authority in this sense, one that ultimately arrests her capacity to continue as the creator of his repre­sen­ta­tion. The charge furthermore introduces the prob­lem of how a repre­sen­ta­tion might “ ‘do . . . ​justice’ ” to its subject: suggesting, in fact, that the aesthetic and moral assessments of such a repre­sen­ta­tion are somehow intertwined. The imbrication of the aesthetic and the moral is foregrounded in the final question the scene raises. Why, and how, could ­there be merit “in the

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least finished, perhaps the most”? The reader might surmise that the statement is—in part, at least—­meant to be taken ironically, suggesting that the less Emma draws the better. Alternately, however, the statement could allude to the fact that Emma’s possibilities are greater than her self-­ actualization at this stage of her development. Like her own unfinished sketches, the best part of Emma’s worth is more evident in what lies as yet inchoate or merely hinted at within her potential capacities. No doubt each of ­these interpretations is plausible in its own manner, but neither of them captures what the scene itself foregrounds as the most significant aspect of Emma’s artistic creations. The more Emma tries to finish a portrait, the less good of a likeness it becomes: the more distorted it is by her own projections and by her desire to aggrandize both the subject and her artistic skills. ­There is merit “in the least finished, perhaps the most,” ­because the unfinished sketches somehow convey their subjects better than the finished ones. Thus Emma concedes that the sketch of John Knightley that “ ‘did not want much of being finished’ ” is “ ‘too handsome—­too flattering—­but that was a fault on the right side,’ ” suggesting that she herself has intentionally diverted the repre­sen­ta­tion ­toward inaccuracy as it nears completion in order to emphasize its artistic virtues. Similarly, Harriet’s portrait, the only one of Emma’s portrait to be finished, is exaggerated by the artist in the same manner for the same purposes: The sitting was altogether very satisfactory; she was quite enough pleased with the first day’s sketch to wish to go on. Th ­ ere was no want of likeness, she had been fortunate in the attitude, and as she meant to throw in a ­little improvement to the figure, to give a ­little more height, and considerably more elegance, she had ­great confidence of its being in ­every way a pretty drawing at last, and of its filling its destined place with credit to them both—­a standing memorial of the beauty of one, the skill of the other, and the friendship of both; with as many other agreeable associations as Mr. Elton’s very promising attachment was likely to add.  . . . ​“Mrs. Wood­house has given her friend the only beauty she wanted,”—­observed Mrs. Weston to him—­not in the least suspecting that she was addressing a lover.—­“The expression of the eye is most



correct, but Miss Smith has not ­those eye-­brows and eye-­lashes. It is the fault of her face that she has them not.”  . . . ​“You have made her too tall, Emma,” said Mr. Knightley. Emma knew that she had, but would not own it. (29)

The completion of the portrait ultimately displays the pro­cess of amplifying Harriet’s assets to make her a suitable object for Emma’s schemes and a more striking exhibit of Emma’s own artistry. Emma’s repre­sen­ta­tion of Harriet is not a portrait that makes the audience marvel at its life-­likeness, or feel convinced that they are in the presence of Harriet herself, but rather one that—­contra Emma’s designs—­makes them even more aware of the subject’s shortcomings and of the failure of the artist. The more “finished” the portrait becomes, the more it indicts Emma’s willful misrepre­sen­ta­tion of her subject. The scene’s contrast of unfinished and finished portraits thus yields a significant problematic by which we may reconsider many of the more influential interpretations of the poetics of Emma. Many critics agree that Emma is a novel that, as Susan Sniader Lanser argues, “strive[s] to create fictions of authority,” thereby “expos[ing] fictions of authority as the Western novel has constructed it.”35 As Daniel Gunn notes, the widespread “tendency to read ­free indirect discourse as subversive of narrative authority and stable interpretation in Emma” is seldom countered.36 John Dussinger summarizes the critical consensus in his assertion that “by this strategy the ‘voice of the author’ itself is bracketed in Austen, inevitably related to some character’s point of view and hence only another fictional ele­ment. Paradoxically, Austen gains authority in her narrative by seeming to renounce any claim to it, allowing her characters to speak for themselves and her readers to indulge in vicarious virtue or naughtiness, what­ever the textual encounter calls for.”37 Yet in the novel’s overt comparison between its own matchmaking plot and the machinations of Emma, what emerges is neither the mere erasure of authority nor its deflation, but rather its deliberate invocation for the purpose of parody. Miller’s claim, for instance, that “the melancholy of Style in Austen depends on the author’s firm refusal to give (her) Style a ­human face” is undercut by the obvious parallels that emerge between Emma’s attempt to match Harriet and the novel’s attempt to narrate the matching of Emma

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(68). The same features that makes Harriet vulnerable to Emma’s “adoption”—­t hat is, being orphaned and without connections (like Jane Fairfax, Mrs. Elton’s target)—­are mirrored in Emma’s situation at the beginning of the novel: motherless, bereft of her governess, and left with an invalid and indifferent f­ ather.38 The metanarratorial significance of this privation of identity is emphasized in the overtly aesthetic description of the formlessness of Harriet’s character and her consequent susceptibility to Emma’s schemes: She was not struck by any ­thing remarkably clever in Miss Smith’s conversation, but she found her altogether very engaging—­not incon­ve­ niently shy, not unwilling to talk—­and yet so far from pushing, shewing so proper and becoming a deference, seeming so pleasantly grateful for being admitted to Hartfield, and so artlessly impressed by the appearance of ­every t­ hing in so superior a style to what she had been used to, that she must have good sense and deserve encouragement. Encouragement should be given. . . . ​The acquaintance she had already formed ­were unworthy of her . . . ​a girl who wanted only a ­little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect. (13)

From the artist’s point of view, Harriet must appear the perfectly “artless” candidate for a certain kind of proj­ect of formation, a promising blankness that may be all the more “impressed” with the stamp of Emma’s own “superior . . . ​style.” “She could not speak. But she was not wanted to speak. It was enough for her to feel. Emma spoke for her” (47).39 The covert narcissism implicit in the proj­ect of matchmaking emerges even more explic­itly in an exchange between Frank Churchill and Emma midway through the novel, in which a clear connection is drawn between the patronizing intent of improving someone and the wish to marry her off: “Find somebody for me. I am in no hurry. Adopt her, educate her.” “And make her like myself.” “By all means, if you can.” “Very well. I undertake the commission. You ­shall have a charming wife.” (241)



Emma goes on to think to herself, “He might even have Harriet in his thoughts at the moment; who could say? Referring the education to her seemed to imply it” (241). This passage is a key text for grasping the main structural ele­ments of the novel: finding someone for someone ­else, adopting that person, educating her in one’s own likeness, and fi­nally suffering the consequences of the subsequently erroneous and damaging projections. Thus Emma tries to “make Harriet like herself”—­both like herself in manners and aspirations, and like herself in the sense of conforming to the story that Emma has composed for her. The author / artist qua matchmaker is ironically portrayed in this instance as a narcissistic, self-­involved, immature figure, as someone who creates a heroine for the direct purpose of her own fulfillment. The shallowness, predictability, and artificiality of the ensuing storyline is all but guaranteed by the projections of its author: “Yes, Harriet, just so long have I been wanting the very circumstance to happen which has happened. . . . ​Its probability and its eligibility have ­really so equaled each other! I am very happy. I congratulate you, my dear Harriet, with all my heart. This is an attachment which a ­woman may well feel pride in creating. This is a connection which offers nothing but good. It ­will give you ­every t­ hing that you want—­ consideration, in­de­pen­dence, a proper home—it ­will fix you in the centre of all your real friends, close to Hartfield and to me, and confirm our intimacy for ever.” (47)

Emma’s version of happiness for her heroine is what she herself understands as happiness—­namely, inclusion in her own special and perfect world. She has no sense of Harriet as having an existence separate from herself, a life outside the narrow reach of her schemes, or even her own intentions and designs that would resist being ­shaped according to the limits of Emma’s imagination. “On the contrary, her plans and proceedings w ­ ere more and more justified, and endeared to her by the general appearances of the next few days. The Picture, elegantly framed, came safely to hand” (43): the framing of the picture that Emma has drawn of Harriet is formed entirely according to a hermeneutic of self-­congratulation, what Emma herself indicts in Harriet’s storytelling as “the feebleness and tautology of the narration”

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(264). Emma’s embrace of a proj­ect that indulges her narcissistic vanity and plea­sure in meddling in the affairs of ­others ends up blinding only herself, causing her to lose sight completely of the irony shadowing her claim, “ ‘I made the match myself’ ” (5). A parallel line of metacritique upon the “finish” of novelistic narration emerges from within the main plotline, in which the repre­sen­ta­tion of Emma is revealed to coyly modulate her flaws and magnify her advantages for the same purpose that Emma distorts Harriet’s portrait. For instance, to return to an earlier example, the similarities between Emma and Mrs. Elton are cleverly masked by the dif­fer­ent narrative techniques used to represent them. Mrs. Elton’s thoughts are often given to the reader through direct quotation, bringing us rather rudely face to face with her in situations in which familiarity does not breed re­spect. She openly states the sort of intentions and subjective fancies that are represented for the most part through narrated monologue in the case of Emma. When Mrs. Elton makes herself the center of Emma’s dinner party, she simpers aloud: “­Here comes this dear old beau of mine, I protest!—­Only think of his gallantry in coming away before other men!—­what a dear creature he is;—­I assure you I like him excessively. I admire all that quaint, old-­fashioned politeness; it is much more to my taste than modern ease; modern ease often disgusts me. But this good old Mr. Wood­house, I wish you had heard his gallant speeches to me at dinner. . . . ​I fancy I am rather a favourite; he took notice of my gown.” (193–194)

However, when Emma congratulates herself in similar fashion for having patronized the Coles’ dinner party, her reflections a­ fter the event are rendered in ­free indirect discourse: Emma did not repent her condescension in ­going to the Coles. The visit afforded her many pleasant recollections the next day; and all that she might be supposed to have lost on the side of dignified seclusion, must be amply repaid in the splendour of popularity. She must have delighted the Coles—­worthy ­people, who deserved to be made happy!—­A nd left a name ­behind her that would not soon die away. (147)



Like Emma in the making of Harriet’s portrait, the authorial persona betrays herself in this narrative depiction through the use of certain techniques to “throw in a ­little improvement to the figure, to give a ­little more height, and considerably more elegance.” In tone, style, and narrative form, the expressions of ­these two characters are carefully distinguished. And yet, although the ambiguously intimate distance at which Emma is encountered rather elevates the style in which her thoughts are conveyed, lending them an air of naïveté and charm, the unmistakable parallel established between this scene and Mrs. Elton’s vulgar snobbery serves to subvert and unmask this presumptuously authorial attempt to grace her protagonist. Thus, although I concur with Frances Ferguson’s assertion that “­free indirect style [in Emma] like any external or logical repre­sen­ta­tion, does not provide the basis for any individual and individualized point of view for author or character,”40 the irony and self-­consciousness with which the narrative strategy is employed ­here necessarily leads us to modify the claims of critics such as Casey Finch and Peter Bowen that “the novel’s deployment of ­free indirect style . . . ​has the effect of naturalizing narrative authority by disseminating it among the characters” and “marks a crucial moment in the history of novelistic technique in which narrative authority is seemingly elided,” “function[ing] as [a] form . . . ​par excellence of surveillance, and . . . ​ serv[ing] ultimately to locate the subject—­characterological or political—­ within a seemingly benign but ultimately coercive narrative or social matrix.”41 Contra Miller’s claim that “nothing since has approached (her) Style in the stringency of its refusal to realize its author personally, of its commitment to absent her from a repre­sen­ta­tion,” the narrative device of ­free indirect discourse is intentionally, if subtly, figured by the novel itself as a way for an authorial persona to sculpt and modulate the expression of Emma’s innermost thoughts and sentiments, much in the same way Emma attempts to write (or rewrite) Harriet’s ideas and intentions (56). Furthermore, it provides a way for the narrative to pres­ent Emma in the most flattering light, to disclose her self-­centered notions from the most sympathetic a­ ngle pos­si­ble. ­Free indirect discourse appears to proffer the reader the plea­sure of narrative distance that a confrontation with a character like Mrs. Elton in direct dialogue cannot provide, while at the same time avoiding a more impersonal mode of psycho-­narration that would position Emma within a broader context in which her thoughts and preoccupations would seem instantly petty

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and ridicu­lous. The choice of a felicitous narrative mode elicits readerly attention and indulgence: two highly useful and desirable responses, when one has taken up the role of matchmaker in relation to one’s heroine. The mise-­en-­abyme effect generated by the two contrived narratives starring Harriet and Emma is confirmed by the way in which both come to an end si­mul­ta­neously at the proposal scene. The true affection between Mr. Knightley and Emma makes impossible any further imagining of Frank and Emma and any speculation about Mr. Knightley and Harriet. The redundancy of authorial intervention is fi­nally made clear, for hardly any of the ­actual narrative of the novel is devoted to the story of how Mr. Knightley and Emma fall in love. The real story in Emma is the unnarrated one. It is an ordinary story of p ­ eople falling in love without dramatic narrative devices or the sort of contrived plot twists—­rescues, intrigues, complex flirtations, “won­ders,” and so on—­that form the mainstay of Emma’s imagination: a story with nothing “novel,” so to speak, in it at all. “Was it new for any ­t hing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous—or for chance and circumstance (as second ­causes) to direct the ­human fate?” (267). The mere contingency of ordinary life and acquaintance are sufficient to bring about lasting happiness. Similarly, the secret engagement between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax emphasizes the importance of a real­ity that is inaccessible to authorial interference, so that no narrative authority has the power to rewrite or change the under­lying choices and situations of the characters themselves. Every­one returns, at the end of the novel, to the place they ­were before the entire fantasy-­fueled engine of the narrative began running: Emma waits at home with her f­ather for the entrance of ­ Mr. Knightley, Harriet is united with her summer beau, Jane Fairfax is freed from the taint of intrigue with Mr. Dixon to join with Frank Churchill, and the Westons are happy for every­one. The unfinishing of the portrait achieves the disappearance of the author’s proj­ect, or rather, its marking of itself as somehow illusory or fictional. But what does this reveal about the poetics of the novel? The question of who Emma is and what it means to know her, to narrate her, becomes intricately linked with the issue of what Emma is and what it means to know or narrate it. If the act of finishing a portrait is associated with matchmaking—­ that is, with the issue of who has the authority to determine another person’s life choices for her based upon superior knowledge of what she is



“like”—­then Emma itself (the only Austen novel named a­ fter its protagonist) may be read as an ironic reflection on the authorial agency that begets it. The condition of Emma becoming a pos­si­ble subject of such novelistic repre­sen­ta­tion and authorial treatment is a form of meta-­authorial acknowl­ edgment of the impossibility—or, as I put it elsewhere, the necessary fictionality—of Emma qua novel. Portraying Emma as an author herself is thus a condition of rendering her as a novelistic character. Time and time and again in the novel, the method by which Emma attempts to introduce a suitable person to Harriet suggests very plainly the techniques of a literary narration. From her reinterpretation of Mr. Martin on Harriet’s behalf to her attempt to literally put words in Harriet’s mouth by helping her write the letter, the meta­phor of narrative crafting is made plain in the rhetorical references to writing: “ ‘It is not fair to compare Mr. Martin with him. You might not see one in a hundred, with gentleman so plainly written as in Mr. Knightley;’ ” “though Emma continued to protest against any assistance being wanted, it was in fact given in the formation of e­ very sentence. . . . ​It was particularly necessary to brace her up with a few decisive expressions” (19–20, 34).42 When Harriet does speak, it is mainly with the purpose of not only mirroring Emma’s ideas, but responding with a fawning flattery: “ ‘Yes, very true. How nicely you talk; I love to hear you. You understand e­ very t­ hing’ ” (49). Harriet’s words seem to be almost a caricature of the kind of praise a narrator might secretly desire from her audience. In Emma’s ultimate expression of regret over what she has wrought, the tell-­tale authorial meta­ phor appears again: “Oh! had she never brought Harriet forward! . . . ​A ll would have been safe; none of this dreadful sequel would have been.” (267) The author-­within-­the-­work (what we might think of as the work’s own repre­sen­ta­tion of the agency creating this narrative) is hence, in turn, shown to be a fictional distortion that dissipates as the protagonist takes possession of the arc of her own life. The authorial persona fades into the background as her inflated sense of how much o­ thers need her is replaced by acknowl­ edgment of their individual choices and sentiments. No divine figure, she realizes that she is only a common mortal like the rest: one who, despite her talent for creating elaborate and self-­aggrandizing narratives, cannot in the end avoid the way in which happiness sometimes arrives only through the ­trials brought about by ignorance and error. Whereas the traditional under-

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standing of the novel of marriage is that it uses its narrative to direct the heroine in question ­toward a relationship with the proper love object, the real education in Emma is not achieved through the patronage of a wise and benevolent guide. Rather, the education of the novel is directed ­toward understanding the proper mode of relationship between the one to be educated and the one ­doing the educating, the one matchmaking and the one being matched. Miller’s argument that the author needs a character who is somewhat formless, self-­centered, and inferior in order to provide the ­mistakes and incompleteness that drive a narrative forward t­oward marriage thus o­ ught to be counterbalanced and extended by a recognition of the extent to which this critique is leveled upon the presumptive authorial persona projected by Emma in the very narration of the novel.43 Again and again, the impor­tant ­mistakes in Emma arise from this very attitude of condescension ­toward the one who is supposedly patronized. “With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every­ body’s feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every­ body’s destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken, and she had not quite done nothing—­for she had done mischief” (266). In fi­nally having to give up the narratives they have imposed upon their charges, Mrs. Elton and Emma (and by extension, their author) are left to recognize the harmful attitudes of omnipotence and condescension they cultivated by assuming their roles. The deflation of “arrogan[t]” attempts at interference is borne out by the end of the relationship between Emma and Harriet at the conclusion of the novel, leaving Harriet to go her own way: “She had no doubt of Harriet’s happiness. . . . ​The intimacy between her and Emma must sink; their friendship must change into a calmer sort of goodwill” (312). In Mrs. Elton’s case, Jane proves perfectly capable of finding her own “eligible situation,” and one that is even far more “eligible” than Mrs. Elton’s own; in Emma’s case, Harriet becomes an equal to Emma in that she, too, has shown that she can bring about a match of her own choosing by “creat[ing] so steady and persevering an affection in such a man” (182, 312). Narrative closure is achieved not by sacrificing the heroine’s inimitable style at the altar of marriage, but by acknowledging that each person, no ­matter how silly or ignorant, has the right to live out her own life without the direction or influence of a superior being.44



L’Œuvre: The Ontological Condition of the Work of Art

Zola categorically denied the charge of con­temporary critics that L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece), the f­ourteenth novel of his Rougon-­Macquart cycle, was based upon Balzac’s celebrated short story “Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu” (“The Unknown Masterpiece”) (1831).45 He maintained instead that the protagonist Claude Lantier was “inspirée par l’exemple d’un de mes pauvres amis [inspired by the example of one of my poor friends].”46 Seminal studies of the novel have examined the implications of the work’s status as a roman à clef widely held to have destroyed the passionate friendship between Zola and Paul Cézanne.47 Although this may appear to suggest that the novel is concerned primarily with the possibility of representing a singular life, as in Emma, it is clear that much more is at stake in its repre­sen­ta­tions of artistic interruption and incompleteness. In Zola’s novel, the poetic relation between authorial presence and characterological freedom that we examined in Emma is expanded to take on the emergence of the unfinished work of art from the conflict between the artist and the totality of the world he aspires to portray. Critics seeking to account for the multitude of unfinished works in L’Œuvre—­the sketch that is “half finished, and likely to stay that way,” the painting in whose “foreground the man had been attempted three times and then left unfinished,” the “nude figure, still formless a­ fter endless recastings,” the “unfinished, unfinishable masterpiece” before which Lantier hangs himself—­inevitably turn to the author’s own preparatory notes in search of an explanation.48 ­There, Zola speaks directly to the “question . . . ​de savoir ce qui le rend impuissant à se satisfaire [question . . . ​of knowing what renders him unable to achieve any satisfaction],” musing upon vari­ous ­causes of Lantier’s eventual breakdown: “sa physiologie, sa race, la lésion de son œil; mais je voudrais aussi que notre art moderne y fût pour quelque chose, notre fièvre à tout vouloir . . . ​notre déséquilibrement en un mot [his physiology, his heritage, the lesion of his eye; but I would also like our modern art to count for something ­here, our feverish desire for every­thing, our impatience to shake off tradition, our disequilibrium, in a word].”49 The dynamic interplay of ­these ­factors is no doubt central to the narrative of L’Œuvre. As in the other nineteen novels comprising the epic cycle of the Rougon-­Macquart

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f­ amily, Zola emphasizes the challenges wrought by the protagonist’s milieu, as well as the affliction of his hereditary flaw, la fêlure—­compounded, in this case, by the intense burden of genius upon physical and psychic life. Zola conceptualizes the toll of degenerative genius upon Lantier in ­naturalist terms, upon the basis of his acquaintance with theories of genius, neurosis, and pathological hypersensitivity elaborated in mid-­nineteenth-­ century works such as Bénédict Augustin Morel’s Traité des dégénérescences physiques, intellectuelles, et morales de l’espèce humaine (Treatise on the physical, intellectual, and moral degenerations of the h ­ uman species) (1857), Jacques-Joseph Moreau’s La psychologie morbide dans ses rapports avec la philosophie de l’ histoire, ou de l’ influence des néuropathies sur le dynamisme intellectuel (Morbid psy­chol­ogy in its relations with the philosophy of history, or the influence of neuropathies in intellectual dynamism) (1859), and Cesare Lombroso’s Genio e follia (Genius and madness) (1864). The historical resonance between the novel’s depiction of the art world in which Lantier is embedded and the situation that Zola disparagingly dubs, in an essay on con­temporary art published five years before L’Œuvre, “an artistic Babel,” is likewise unmistakable.50 Hence scholarly accounts of the plethora of unfinished works in the novel have for the most part stressed the interpretive paths outlined by Zola, seeking e­ ither to psychologize the phenomenon or to attribute it to the historically specific milieu of the art world in which Lantier attempts his ill-­fated creations. William Berg identifies the incomplete paintings as signs of “the disintegration of [Lantier’s] talent, and fi­nally the fragmentation of his personality as he slips into madness,”51 and Göran Blix maintains that “the idea of completion triggers a panic reaction in Lantier and an instant effort to infuse the painting once more with large veins of absence.”52 Robert Niess situates the instances of aesthetic breakdown in the post-­Romantic condition of realism, arguing that both Lantier and Manet “are depicted as facing the realist’s eternal dilemma, the reconciling of exact observation with originality of view.”53 Without denying the power of the naturalist logic that pervades the work as a ­whole, we may nevertheless call into question the extent to which it yields an exhaustive account of a novel as multidimensional and stylistically intricate as L’Œuvre. Throughout Zola’s work, a certain species of plot overdetermination that is characteristic of naturalism is balanced with numerous other aesthetic desiderata, including (as several critics contend) a concession



to the generic necessity of sustaining a minimal illusion of characterological freedom.54 In the words of Peter Brooks’s apt warning: “Beware . . . ​of Zola’s advertisements for himself, which usually convey only part of what he is ­doing, and knows he is ­doing.”55 The gap between authorial theory and practice is widened even more h ­ ere by the difficulty of mapping Zola’s extensive body of art criticism and his shifting appraisals of Impressionism to the fictional depictions of Lantier’s paintings, which break from Impressionist conventions in significant ways.56 Although an extended discussion of the relation between L’Œuvre and Zola’s critical essays on painting lies beyond the scope of this analy­sis, two brief observations in this regard are relevant. First, the larger controversy over the extent to which Zola’s views on naturalism unduly impact his critical opinion of Impressionism is complex and ongoing, and this interpretation of the poetic significance of the unfinished work of art in the novel does not attempt to resolve it.57 Second, the issue of pictorial unity and w ­ holeness in the age of Impressionism arises in the context of what Michael Fried compellingly describes as “the centrality and also the ultimate elusiveness or indeterminancy of the concept of the tableau . . . ​[as] a primary feature of French painting and criticism of the 1860s.”58 However, as Fried also notes, in “Zola’s criticism of 1866–68, when he dramatically emerged as Manet’s impassioned champion . . . ​his use of the term tableau . . . ​[is] without the least connotation of achieved unity,” and the extent to which Zola might have intended his ­later depiction of unfinishedness in L’Œuvre to be inflected by such pictorial issues remains unclear (248). In short, vari­ous ambiguities concerning Zola’s naturalism and its relation to his views on Impressionism beset the task of interpreting L’Œuvre as an unequivocal expression of ­either. The main difficulty, however, with interpretations that indict the artist’s supposed failure of agency or the failure of the aesthetic proj­ect itself does not lie only in t­ hese critical obstacles. Such responses to the unfinished art of the novel bear out James Ramsey Wallen’s observation that “in most cases, discourses on unfinishedness draw on 1) a tragic rhe­toric of failure, and / or 2) an ambivalent rhe­toric of lack.”59 In so ­doing, ­these accounts do not capture the extent to which unfinishedness informs L’Œuvre itself as a structural and constitutive feature of the novelistic work that goes beyond any merely negative significance.60 Indeed, the novel’s portrayal of the unfinished task of the artist engages in a relentless

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and full-­scale analy­sis of ­every aspect of the incomplete in art, ultimately exploring unfinishedness as a near-­ontological condition of “the work” (l’œuvre) itself. Despite the agony, frustration, and destructiveness that incomplete works of art in the novel engender, Zola’s treatment of the incomplete thus suggests that it has deeper significance as both an aesthetic and an existential response to “the Real.” A nested series of creative interruptions provides the framework for the narrative of L’Œuvre, much as it does in Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, Woolf’s To the Light­house, and Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas. As the titles of ­these four novels suggest, they are structured around the interruption and attempted completion of principal creative works—­a masterpiece, a marble faun, a painting of a light­house, a house—­which are doubled and shadowed in the form of other, more minor, unfinished proj­ects that function as subplots circling the main narrative. In an early scene of L’Œuvre, Lantier finds himself unable to finish his painting and goes to the office of his novelist friend, Sandoz, in search of camaraderie: To his amazement he was told that M. Sandoz had asked for a day off, to attend a funeral. He knew what that meant. Sandoz always made the same excuse when he wanted to do a good day’s work at home. He had already turned in that direction when a sudden fellow-­feeling for an artist absorbed in his work stopped him in his tracks. It would be a crime to go and disturb an honest workman, to break in on him with a tale of discouragement just when he was prob­ably making splendid pro­gress himself. (61)

Loath at first to interrupt this “splendid pro­gress,” Lantier is so overwhelmed by despair that he soon gives up his resolution and goes to Sandoz’s ­house. His “tale of discouragement” “break[s] in” on the fictional novel that Sandoz is writing, so that the unfinished novel within the fiction then gives way to L’Œuvre’s own narrative of the perpetually unfinished “l’œuvre” of Claude Lantier. Sandoz’s use of a fictional funeral as an excuse for working on a dif­ fer­ent fiction discloses yet another layer of irony, when, at the conclusion of the novel, he attends Lantier’s funeral ­because Lantier has hanged himself in front of his unfinished masterpiece—­never to interrupt Sandoz’s work again, or to dream of completing his own.



Three intertwined aspects of what we have been considering as the central poetic paradox of the novel are implicated in the progression of L’Œuvre ­toward this tragic end. First, the dialectical relation between characterological freedom and authorial presence is figured repeatedly through scenes that portray the pro­cess by which a living person comes to be represented in a work of art. Second, the imbrication of world-­disclosure with the first-­person point of view of an existing agent emerges through depictions of Lantier’s perpetual yet unachievable attempts to attain a totalizing perspective upon real­ity itself. Fi­nally, the impossibility of commanding a totalizing perspective upon one’s own existence is dramatically portrayed in the climactic scene of Claude’s suicide before his own canvas and its aftermath. I ­shall examine each of ­these in turn. Initially, as in novels such as Emma and The Marble Faun, creative interruptions of portraits in L’Œuvre appear to reveal the relation between unfinished art and the unwillingness of artistic subjects to remain ­either physically or psychically fixed.61 The subjects of repre­sen­ta­tion are invariably depicted as capable of resisting the pro­cesses of mimesis and troubling the controlling designs of their portraitists. Finished portraits exist in tension with the possibility of change and development in ­these novels, and unfinished portraits reveal the willfulness and disorderly transformation of their subjects. The artist’s subject comes into the foreground as a chaotic ele­ment in the work’s emergence—an entity whose rebelliousness, restlessness, and insusceptibility to stable repre­sen­ta­tion marks the openness of the unfinished work to continued challenge and contestation. Significant extended depictions of the tortuous sittings to which Lantier subjects his wife and model, Christine, bring this dynamic sharply into focus. The sitting lasted several hours. At first Christine found it very painful to stand still for such long periods. . . . ​Claude soon began to take her for granted and to treat her merely as a model. . . . ​He used her for every­thing and expected her to be ready to undress for him at any moment. . . . ​She was reduced to being nothing more nor less than a kind of living dummy which he set in position and copied, as he would have copied a jug or a cooking-­pot in a still life. . . . ​[Fi­nally,] she felt so tired and her legs w ­ ere so numb that she broke the pose and staggered a few steps forward. (276–277)

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Christine shatters the “numb[ness]” of immobility by stepping out of her pose, and the breakage of the pose foreshadows her interruption of Claude’s final attempt to complete his unfinished masterpiece. Disturbing the stilled and quieted atmosphere necessary for Claude’s paint­erly concentration, she dismantles the “pose” of art in the dual sense of physical posture and artfully constructed pretense, or façade. Immobility and stasis go against Christine’s natu­ral condition: “Do what she might, her limbs would not keep still and e­ very time she tried to make herself ­settle down she began to be ill” (102). Yet Lantier “nearly work[s] his model to death” in his growing obsession with his painting (282). She nears a state of rigor mortis, in which “she never stirred or even appeared to breathe,” robbed of all spontaneity and animation (125). At last Christine feels that “she had ceased to exist” altogether (278). Her suffering appears to illuminate the impossible paradox inherent in Lantier’s Romantic aspiration to capture Life itself in his art: “ ‘Life! Life! Life! What it is to feel it and paint it as it ­really is’ ” (86). However, as the case of Lantier and Christine’s young son, Jacques, reveals, the extinguishing of the subject’s existence by the artist’s work emerges in the text as part of a more profound exploration of the necessary unfinishedness of e­ very work that attempts to portray “ ‘Life . . . ​as it ­really is.’ ” Alive, Jacques is as ill-­suited to serving as his ­father’s model as Emma’s nieces and nephews: they “tried to make him keep still. But . . . ​ tickled and excited by the sunshine, he laughed and wriggled and waved his ­little pink feet in the air and rolled about and nearly turned head over heels” (171). Only the death of Jacques provides the morbid conditions for a completed painting. The sole painting of a person that Lantier is shown finishing in the novel is this “study of the dead child,” itself paradoxically a depiction of an incomplete life: “ ‘Oh, you can paint him now,’ ” cries Christine, “ ‘ ­he’ll keep still enough this time!’ ” (309). In the novel as a w ­ hole, the thematic importance of the animation of the artist’s subject and its meta­phorical death in the completed work of art gradually opens into a more expansive meditation on the conditions u ­ nder which art itself can achieve the realism of life. “A dozen times the central figure was started, abandoned, completely repainted. One year, two years went by and still the picture was not finished. One day it would be practically completed, the next scraped clean and a fresh start made” (282). The pro­cesses of artistic creation require, in Zola’s L’Œuvre, not the painstaking



task of a copyist whose formula is set in advance, but a continuous alternation of abandonment, destruction, and re-­creation. The artist is compelled by the requirement to go back, to return over and over again to its task. In the “scrap[ing]” and “repaint[ing]” of Lantier’s obsessive efforts, we see both the impulse to remove with a rough and jagged implement t­ hose parts of a vision that seem unsatisfactory and the loving, restorative desire to lay on “fresh” color and form with a soft brush. His painting is rendered by turns “practically completed” and “not finished” through a practice, or style of work, that is fundamentally fraught with antagonism ­toward itself. The art of the unfinished is reserved for ­t hose who can suffer the repetitive and ambiguous shocks of disintegration and renewal. Camus’s concept of art as an unending disputation with real­ity is thus vital to grasping the significance of the unfinished work of art in Zola’s novel. For the existentialists, and in par­tic­u­lar for Camus, “real­ity” in itself is neither complete nor incomplete. Man, in his finitude, is incapable of totally rejecting real­ity and equally incapable of totally embracing it. Yet man disputes his incomplete relation to the world in a continual act of rebellion. His attempt to create unity and beauty despite his awareness of the world as contingent, unjust, and arbitrary stands as a revolt against the temptation to succumb to other more totalizing attitudes of nihilism, condemnation, or escapism. The popu­lar view of existentialism as advocating rebellion against the world out of scorn for its barrenness and absurdity is therefore a distorted one. Although such a view is commonly attributed to Camus, in the section of The Rebel on “Rebellion and Art,” he asserts on the contrary that “no form of art can survive on total denial alone. . . . ​To create beauty, [man] must si­mul­ta­neously reject real­ity and exalt certain of its aspects. Art disputes real­ity, but does not hide from it.”62 The force of an existentialist notion of perpetual disputation lies in the claim that any reaction against the world cannot be totalized. The inability to engage completely with the world leaves man in an ambivalent state of unbearable rejection and longing, engaged in a situation of inescapable rebellion—­rebellion not against real­ity itself, but against man’s position in relation to it. Nowhere are ­these symptoms of existentialist disputation as vis­i­ble as in the artistic pro­cess of Zola’s L’Œuvre. Lantier’s strug­gle with his canvases tortures him beyond his endurance, and ultimately assumes mythically heroic proportions. Motifs from the tales of Promethean figures such as Sisy-

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phus, Icarus, and even Jacob wrestling with the angel are invoked to describe his anguish: “Such is the effort of creation that goes into the work of art! Such was the agonizing effort he had to make, the blood and tears it cost him to create living flesh, to produce the breath of life! Everlastingly struggling with the Real, and being repeatedly conquered, like Jacob fighting with the Angel! He threw himself body and soul into the impossible task of putting all nature on one canvas and exhausted himself in the end” (282).63 The “impossible task of putting all nature on one canvas” to which Lantier aspires is the embodiment of Camus’s h ­ uman rebellion in its doomed attempt to overcome the contingent and fragmented universe with a unified vision of “all nature.” “ ‘She’s dead now, and black, nothing but black! . . . ​But what the hell does that m ­ atter? . . . ​I’m ­going to start afresh!’ ” cries Lantier at the failure of yet another one of his paintings (307). His is the fruitless, yet defiant, rebellion of man determined to attempt creation in the face of the “dead, black” abyss of his very finitude and mortality. Thus “in e­ very rebellion,” argues Camus, “is to be found the metaphysical demand for unity, the impossibility of capturing it, and the construction of a substitute universe.”64 Drawing upon Nietz­sche, Camus asserts that man is an interpreter, a creator in the void left by the death of God and the disappearance of all absolutes: “Rebellion, from this point of view, is a fabricator of universes. This also defines art.”65 In his everlasting strug­gle, man embraces the Nietz­ schean virtue of accepting endless repetition and thereby continually affirming the impossible strug­gle expressed in the act of ­human creation. “ ‘From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture,’ ” cries Sandoz in rueful despair—­“ ‘Then, when it’s finished, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of the gentleman who goes into ecstasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a porter dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back. . . . ​Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me’ ” (305). The perpetual torment of the Sisyphean task of art is displayed prominently throughout the novel, most distinctly in its portrayal of Lantier: Even during his long fits of despondency ­there was no destroying his hopes, for he was never completely unconscious of his genius. He suffered all the torments of the man condemned to roll a rock uphill for ever or be crushed when it rolled back on him; but the ­future was still



before him, and in it the assurance that one day he would be able to pick up his rock with both hands and hurl it away to the stars. (270)

Lantier is conscious of his suffering and this b­ itter awareness is what constitutes his triumph over it; as Camus puts it in his description of Sisyphus, “The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory.”66 Despite the fact that the Salon refuses his works for its yearly exhibit, this failure only fires Lantier’s ambitions: “The third year he put all his pent-up fury into a work of revolt; he determined to paint blazing sunshine” (234). The “work of revolt” incorporates Promethean overtones, and is so reminiscent of Icarus’s ill-­fated voyage in its attempts to bring man and “blazing sunshine” closer to one another that his friends “all felt that martyrdom could be the only reward for painting such as this” (235). When the Salon refuses him, he scorns them back, saying, “ ‘Now ­t here’s no giving in! . . . ​I’ll die first!’ ” (235). Lantier, like Sisyphus, is “the absurd hero.”67 He remains fully aware of the futility of his effort and the cost at which he sustains his rebellion. Sisyphus, as Camus characterizes him in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), is “the absurd man” who “says yes and his effort w ­ ill henceforth be unceasing”;68 “he is, as much through his passions as through his torture.”69 The “passion for life” with which Camus imbues Sisyphus owes much to Nietz­sche’s cele­ bration of the Promethean in works such as The Gay Science (1887) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885). As in Nietz­sche’s account, the mere fact of an insurmountable task is not in and of itself remarkable. It is the confrontation of a conscious and willing individual with this trial that lends it an existential dimension. In L’Œuvre, the nature of this confrontation is portrayed neither as wholly the fault of the world nor as the result of a flaw in h ­ uman consciousness. The narrative refers variously to Lantier’s “strug­gle against nature” (235), “all the weary hours he spent wrestling with his rebellious masterpiece,” and his “ceaseless strug­gle with himself” (236). The intermingling of ­these dif­fer­ent strug­gles and the seemingly confused interpenetration of nature, artwork, and self indicate a disputation with real­ity that is not located simply in the object of repre­sen­ta­tion, “nature.” A spirit of revolt permeates the product of ­human effort, “his rebellious masterpiece,” as well as the artist “himself.” The novel’s subtle shift between ­these descriptions of

The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art


the rebellion exemplifies the central paradox of the existentialist vision, which encompasses both a rejection of anthropomorphic humanism—­a refusal to place man in the center of a hostile and indifferent universe—­and a concern with the first-­person experience of angst within the individual creator.70 Thus L’Œuvre does not focus only upon the fruits of Lantier’s disrupted ­labors, but also draws attention to the subjective experience of an inner block. Tormented by numerous ineffectual returns to his canvases, Lantier “felt he would never be able to correct himself, as if a g­ reat insurmountable wall ­rose up before him, beyond which he was forbidden to go” (235). In one of his many exchanges with his novelist friend, Sandoz, they discuss the meaning of their toil: “Suppose the artist’s paradise turned out to be as non-­existent as the Catholic’s, and ­future generations proved just as misguided as the pres­ent one and persisted in liking pretty-­pretty dabbling better than honest-­to-­goodness painting! . . . ​W hat a cheat for us all, to have lived like slaves, noses to the grindstone all to no purpose! . . .” Claude, a­ fter listening despondently, answered with a gesture of ­bitter indifference. “What the hell does it ­matter, anyway? . . . ​The ­future’s as empty as the pres­ent. . . . ​W hen the earth falls to dust in space like a withered walnut, our works w ­ on’t even be a speck among the rest!” “True enough,” replied Sandoz, now deathly pale. “So what is the good of trying to fill the void? We know ­there’s nothing beyond it, yet ­we’re all too proud to admit it!” (374)

Sisyphean tropes of futile enslavement and the tormenting consciousness of a l­abor that ­will never “fill the void” are accompanied in this passage by imagery of disintegration, nullity, and desiccation, which is almost delicate in its tone: the “withered walnut,” the “speck,” the “fall[ing] to dust” of the entire earth. The passage thus evokes a stark contrast between the solidity, heaviness, and b­ itter determination of Sisyphus’s toil up his rocky, bleak hill and the essential fragility, lightness, and minuteness of life and finite ­human endeavor. This discrepancy between the brutality of the toil and the delicacy of the toiler highlights the internal tension of Lantier’s rebellion:



si­mul­ta­neously tender and despairing, it sets itself against the intractability and hostility of the world and yet remains too in love with its beauty to let it fall away without lament. The presence of the unfinished in the novel reveals that the “incomplete” appears in contrast with an unreachable, idealized conception of the “complete.” “Je me méprise de les sentir incomplets et mensongers, malgré mon effort,” laments Sandoz (420). “Je me méprise”—­I scorn, despise myself, hold myself in contempt—­because the works I make always seem so incomplete and untrue to life, despite (malgré) my effort. The word malgré derives ­etymologically from two words meaning “bad” and “will,” thus retaining the suggestion of the more archaic En­g lish “despight”—­contemptuous malice, ill w ­ ill, a grudge arising from vexed pride. The spite of the artist is in the first place expressed ­toward himself, a fact that is in itself strange ­because contempt is usually thought to depend upon a perspective in which the subject looks down on or feels superior to that which he scorns. Self-­ directed contempt thus reveals inner division, a state of being in which the subject sees himself as if he ­were severed in two: the one who is incapable of rendering t­hings completely and truthfully, and the one who feels that he ­ought to be capable of such creation. As Camus argues, the aesthetic tension generated by the unfinished work embodies the metaphysical contradiction that man finds within himself. The contradiction is this: man rejects the world as it is, without accepting the necessity of escaping it. In fact, men cling to the world and by far the majority do not want to abandon it. Far from always wanting to forget it, they suffer, on the contrary, from not being able to possess it completely enough, estranged citizens of the world, exiled from their own country. Except for vivid moments of fulfillment, all real­ity for them is incomplete.71

Incomplete, that is to say, from the perspective of simultaneous spite and delight that imbues h ­ uman existence. Art becomes both an expression of and an attempt to overcome this state of paradoxical suspension, between the defiant rejection of any possibility of remaining in a stable, permanent, and perfected relation to the world and a yearning for the “vivid . . . ​fulfillment” that such a state of unity would bring.

The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art


The significance of the incomplete in this existentialist sense thus poses a challenge to traditional readings of L’Œuvre as a critique of Romanticism. Although Lantier and his contemporaries undoubtedly strug­gle to overcome the influence of the Romantic movement (hence Lantier’s early declaration, l­ater echoed by Sandoz—­“ ‘That’s what’s wrong with all of us, ­we’re still wallowing in Romanticism. . . . ​W hat we need is a thorough scrubbing!’ ”), the Romantic notion of the fragment is a strikingly inadequate lens through which to comprehend the novel’s depiction of t­hese artists’ incomplete works (45).72 The existentialist significance of unfinishedness moreover calls into question conventional interpretations of Zola’s novel as “realist,” insofar as it remains a standard assumption in novel theory (particularly in so­cio­log­i­cal theories of the novel, as exemplified in the ­later Lukács’s Studies in Eu­ro­pean Realism [1948] and The Meaning of Con­temporary Realism [1957]) that the “realist” work aims at producing an ever ­more complete and exhaustive repre­sen­ta­tion of real­ity.73 It is true that L’Œuvre lingers over the physical settings in which art is produced and in which artists live, reveling characteristically in scenes of studios covered in “muddy liquid” and “nasty, plastery mess” (67). Crowded with discarded works “assuming a thin, grey veil of accumulated dust,” the novel reveals Zola’s keen eye for the dilapidated, his taste for the leavings of life—­what Nietz­sche calls “[Zola’s] delight in stinking” (67).74 The “damp” studio of the sculptor Mahoudeau that “reek[s] of wet clay” mirrors the formlessness and mess of creation: the statues are themselves “still more or less shapeless mass[es]” of wet clay, whose moistness signifies a material that is still amenable to shaping, more akin to mundane mud than perfected marble (67). The scene of description is ­either entered too early, before ­things have been cleaned up and prettied, or too late, revealing a room “filthy with cigar-ends and globs of spittle,” as if the enthusiasms of an orgiastic party have left only used-up bits and useless remainders (227). The cry of the waiter interrupting Ga­ gnière’s reverie—­“ ‘Monsieur, we’re closing’ ”—is a prelude to the bartender of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” “HURRY UP IT’S TIME” (228). But the presence of the incomplete pervades the text not merely in the physical form of remnants, unsightly and ambiguous in their physical appearance; it permeates e­ very aspect of the novel, even manifesting in the overall structure of the narrative.75 The novel is not only a sad collection of incomplete



and failed masterpieces, a dusty and abandoned museum of unfinished works. It is itself strikingly and resolutely incomplete, refusing to transcend the form of the artistic enterprises it describes. At the climax of the novel, Christine discovers Claude in the studio, having “hanged himself from the big ladder in front of his unfinished, unfinishable masterpiece. . . . ​His face was turned ­towards the picture and quite close to the W ­ oman . . . ​as if his soul had passed into her with his last d ­ ying breath and he was still gazing on her with his fixed and lifeless eyes” (412–413). With this final act, he seems to have ended once and for all the perpetual toil of disputation. Yet the irony of his death is that through it the “unfinishable masterpiece” is not thereby rendered w ­ hole, but rather fixed in an everlastingly incomplete form. The image of the dead artist before his work of art—an image that might at first glance appear as a grotesquely concrete figure of aesthetic totality, in which the no-­longer living author turns his “fixed and lifeless eyes” upon the work of art into which he has transferred his “soul”—is instead made to stand as an indelible image of a work of art that can never be finalized, due to the abrupt end of its creator’s existence. L’Œuvre concludes with a graveyard scene, in which the novelist Sandoz and the painter Bongrand watch the coffin of their friend Lantier descend into its grave. Both friends express anguish over the despair that drove their companion to suicide. Like him, they worry about their “half-­finished picture[s]” and their “incomplete” books, which Bongrand compares to stillborn progeny who lack vital limbs and organs: “He’s lucky where he is,” said Bongrand, “with not even a half-­finished picture to worry about . . . ​lucky to be away from it all, instead of wearing himself out, as we do, producing offspring who are e­ ither headless or limbless and never ­really alive.” “Yes, y­ ou’ve got to swallow your pride and cheat and make do with half-­measures in this life. . . . ​My books, for example; I can polish and revise them as much as I like, but in the end I always despise myself for their being, in spite of my efforts, so incomplete, so untrue to life.” . . . ​“­There’s one, at least, who was both logical and brave,” Sandoz continued. “He admitted his impotence and did away with himself. . . . ​ Since we ­can’t ­really create anything, since ­we’re nothing more than a

The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art


lot of feeble reproducers, we might just as well blow our brains out at once.”  . . . ​Half blinded still with tears, he took one last, despairing look at the vast expanse of graves as they lay, all prim and proper, covered in the blossom of their beads, and added: “And now, back to work!” (425–426)

Art that is “ ‘incomplete’ ” is indicted by ­these creator figures as being “ ‘so untrue to life,’ ” incapable of representing the w ­ hole truth of existence, and lacking the organic self-­sufficiency of a living being. Bongrand and Sandoz accuse themselves of creating this unfinished and hence dead art, and declare that they might as well not live if they continue ­doing so. Yet the energy of disputation compels both artist and novelist to return again and again to a work that is both unfinished and, like Zola’s own Les Rougon-­Macquart, perhaps incapable of ever being completely “finished.” “ ‘I ­shall end my days furious with myself . . . ​for not leaving ­behind a more finished work . . . ​expressing with my last ­dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!’ ” cries Sandoz to Lantier in an earlier exchange (305). The incompleteness that plagues even the most polished of Sandoz’s books is an indelible feature of art and of life. The strange, yearning affirmation of his torment—­“ ‘the wish that I might do it all over again’ ”—is, for Sandoz as for Sisyphus, the expression of his rebellion. “Choking with emotion, he had to strug­gle for a moment for breath before he could give voice to the passionate outburst of all his impenitent lyricism: ‘Oh, for another life! Who’ll give me a second life, a life for work to steal! A chance to die a second death in harness!’ ” (305). The “impenitent lyricism” of Sandoz’s cry signals a return to the very ­human desire for life that affirms the longing for yet another chance to live—­“ ‘a second life, a life,’ ” almost as if all life is “ ‘second life’ ” in its desire for endless repetition and return. In his embrace of the demon of Nietz­schean eternal recurrence, Sandoz imbues the story of his toil with ironic ambivalence, an ambivalence that reveals the utterly ­human possibilities embodied in the unfinishedness of his work. He, like the Sisyphus of Camus, is ever “returning ­toward his rock”: “In that slight pivoting, he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him. . . . ​Thus, convinced of the wholly ­human origin of all that is ­human, a blind man e­ ager to see who



knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.”76 As in Camus’s version of the myth, it is love of and desire for h ­ uman life that bring Sispyhus out of the Underworld and keep him “facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of earth,” despite the wrath of the gods who fi­nally fetch him themselves and place him before his rock as punishment.77 “ ‘And now, back to work!’ ”: the ­bitter, determined cry of Sandoz brings Lantier’s funeral and the narrative of the novel si­mul­ta­neously to an end (426). The concluding words of the novel place Lantier’s suicide in a larger narrative frame that undercuts the seeming conclusiveness of his action. Lantier ends his life, but he cannot put an end to unfinished works of art—­his own or t­ hose of o­ thers. Sandoz’s call affirms the continuation of artistic l­abor, remaining perfectly poised between despair at the masterpiece—­l ’œuvre—­ that is destined never to be finished, and hope at the continuing nature of the endeavor despite its ceaseless demands. As the ending of L’Œuvre suggest, the work of art within a novel represents a point of view on the real­ity of the novelistic world, a point of view that heightens the reader’s metatextual awareness of the presence or absence of a framing perspective within the narrative itself. The unfinished work remains as a testament to the condition of art that would seek to capture that real­ity: it becomes a part of the compelling force of the work as a w ­ hole, affirming, as the novel affirms in its realism, an endless return to the toil, fragility, and disputed beauty of life itself.


The Novel and Philosophy

the relation between existentialism and lit­er­a­ture has been primarily understood in thematic terms: existentialist thinkers wrote works, both literary and philosophical, analyzing such existential ideas as ­human freedom and angst, and some of ­these ideas came to be reflected in novels—­above all, through what Norman Mailer describes as “situations like love, sex, disaster and death, all t­hose accidents and ultimates whose ends are by their nature indeterminable.”1 This approach reflects dominant paradigms for conceptualizing the philosophical significance of lit­er­a­ture, in which literary texts yield e­ ither allegories of philosophical ideas or vivid illustrations of general concepts. The roots of this tendency go as far back as the earliest attempts to bridge what Richard Eldridge has called the two “forms of attention to ­human life and to ­human commitments and passions.”2 Philosophy gives a skeleton plan of truth. Lit­er­a­ture fleshes it in. Philosophy is the architect; lit­er­a­ture, the interior designer who makes habitable the more abstract and general truths sketched by philosophy. However, this assumption of the division of ­labor between lit­er­a­ture and philosophy is one that the existentialists—­not only novelist-­philosophers such as Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus, but also earlier figures who anticipate and influence their philosophy, such as Kierkegaard, Nietz­sche, and Heidegger—­seek to ­U N T I L N OW,



challenge. The existentialists regard literary works not as mere vehicles of, but as equivalents to, philosophical views. To Kierkegaard, Nietz­sche, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus, literary forms yield new ways of philosophizing. In mapping out the encounter between existentialist thinkers and the form of the novel, this study may be understood as an attempt to engage what Vincent Descombes calls “philosophy of the novel”: “What do we mean, properly speaking, by philosophy of the novel ? The term should ­here be understood to mean: the express reasons the author would have given—­had he been asked, and had he taken the trou­ble to formulate them—­for his choice of the novel in preference to other forms.”3 To the extent that previous analyses of the fiction written by philosopher-­novelists such as Sartre and Beauvoir focus upon the illustration of philosophical ideas in literary works rather than on the philosophical significance of specific forms, modes, and genres themselves, the deeper concern of ­these thinkers with the poetics of the novel has, with a few notable exceptions, received relatively l­ittle attention.4 One aim of this study is hence to emphasize the fact that the literary-­ philosophical criticism of figures such as Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir requires the same intensity of analy­sis and interpretation as their fictional and philosophical work. This body of criticism on the novel invites us to rethink our understanding of how ­these thinkers envision the relation between philosophy and lit­er­a­ture, revealing an impor­tant counterpoint to the widely accepted view that, as Adorno puts it, the literary works of the existentialists are intended as mere “vehicles for the author’s ideas, which have been left b­ ehind in the race of aesthetic forms.”5 Moreover, as Chapters 2, 3, and 4 show, existentialist reflection on the novel unveils new insights into the philosophical meaning and aesthetic aims of novelistic conventions for portraying existence, re­orienting us to aspects of novelistic form that dominant paradigms of realism pass over. In contrast to previous studies of philosophy and lit­er­a­ture that assume the relative autonomy of philosophical theories from literary works and the dependence of literary works upon the philosophical views they purportedly illustrate, the pro­cess I have attempted to pursue ­here is one in which works of lit­er­a­ture and philosophy become mutually illuminating. Close readings of major realist novels bring to light a new context for interpreting existentialist texts of novel criticism whose significance has

The Novel and Philosophy


never been fully made known. An existentialist poetics of realism makes it pos­si­ble to discern and ascribe critical importance to vari­ous strategies for portraying characterological freedom, worldhood, and detotalized aesthetic form. In working out the par­tic­u­lar ways in which t­ hese thinkers explore the philosophical prob­lems raised by the form of the novel, I have also been working out by implication a new and dif­fer­ent view of what a novel can do, and hence a dif­fer­ent view of the relation between lit­er­a­ture and philosophy. If we trace the history of rapprochement between the two parties of Plato’s ancient quarrel, two dominant and divergent accounts of what happens when philosophy goes in search of lit­er­a­ture emerge. According to the first of ­these paradigms, philosophy approaches lit­er­a­ture in a pedantic frame of mind. It seeks ­either to extract from literary texts examples and illustrations of its own theories or to embed itself in the form of dialogues, monologues, figures, and scenarios within literary texts. Lit­er­a­ture thus serves ­either as a less convincing version of philosophy, which requires analytic elaboration in order to speak fully, or as a deft instructor capable of rendering difficult thoughts more accessible. Proponents of this view follow a long tradition that extends as far back as Sir Philip Sidney, whose argument for the pedagogical merits of literary repre­sen­ta­tions in his “Defense of Poesy” (1595) nevertheless reinforces the derivative function of lit­er­a­ture as an illuminator of ideas, a teacher of lessons: “Now doth the peerless poet perform both: for whatsoever the phi­los­o­pher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it. . . . ​He coupleth the general notion with the par­tic­u­lar example. A perfect picture I say, for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the phi­los­o­pher bestoweth but a wordish description, which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul so much as that other doth.”6 The second paradigm, in contrast, appears to revalue the relation between philosophy and lit­er­a­ture by endowing the literary work with unique, essential qualities that philosophy could never itself hope to possess. Philosophy appraises lit­er­a­ture with envy, projecting upon the literary its own shadow side of irrational passions, moods, and sentimental dilemmas. Tiring of its self-­diagnosed abstraction and over-­intellectualization, it demands vampiric sustenance from an embodied and vital sensorium. Literary texts are seen as capable of giving voice to the value of aspects of lived experience such as



love, imagination, sentiment, affect, or emotion that dry theoretical argument or analy­sis cannot defend without incongruity. The more-­or-­less skillful pedagogue and the tempestuous mistress—­ lit­er­a­ture answers to philosophy’s demands at the risk of losing its own mind. Nor can lit­er­a­ture hope to satisfy both of ­these opposed fantasies at once. Or can it?7 Analyzing the reasons why Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir choose to explore and even assume the existentially impossible perspective of the novelistic author gives rise to a new conception of why phi­los­o­phers might turn to lit­er­a­ture, one that allows us to reconceptualize the seemingly intractable conflict between philosophy’s desire to find in lit­ er­a­ture ­either a paraphraseable view of life or “life itself,” f­ ree from abstraction and reflection.8 For the paradox generated by the existentialists’ choice of novelistic authorship emerges precisely from two dialectically engaged forces: on the one hand, the pedagogical reflection and shaping of the author, and on the other hand, the spontaneous unfolding of concrete life that resists and bewilders the author’s attempt to anticipate it. The two paradigms for envisioning lit­er­a­ture from the point of view of philosophy are immanent within novelistic form itself, delineated by the narrative structures that emerge from the tension of their dialectical relation. As literary form comes to be seen as philosophically expressive, the stark functional opposition in the dual characterizations of lit­er­a­ture begins to dissolve, and the many ways in which lit­er­a­ture may re­orient or give rise to philosophy emerge. Thus although this study focuses for the most part upon exemplary texts by Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir that engage the issue of novelistic form, its implications also extend beyond t­hese texts and figures to what may be broadly considered as a history of philosophy from the point of view of the novel.9 From Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship to Heidegger’s ventriloquization of Tolstoy; from Sartre’s account of the novel as constituted, in some sense, by freedom, to Beauvoir’s theory of the novel as an existentialist form; from Camus’s discussion of suicide and the form of the novel, to his analy­sis of rebellion and art—­the intricate implications of the dialectical relation between the author and the lives she novelizes is intrinsic not only to the existential structures that t­hese thinkers analyze, but also to the theory of the novel that emerges in and through their critical literary-­philosophical writing. For all of ­these thinkers, the prob­lem of exis-

The Novel and Philosophy


tence involves a crisis of authority that can be explored and exploded only from within the form of the novel. The Art of Being thus belongs to a larger proj­ect that seeks to reveal the potential of literary form to shape the methods and aims of philosophy. For Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir, the philosophical significance of the novel lies in its very form. The central prob­lem at stake, elucidated ­here in terms of the paradox of characterological freedom, pervades the critical writing of ­these thinkers on the novel and precedes the major philosophical texts that have come to be viewed as definitive of their thought by several years. It is almost as if a question of literary form must be resolved before a mode of philosophical expression for the subjects that m ­ atter most to them becomes available. This view of the relation between the existentialists and the novel is distinct from the claim that such thinkers turn to novels in order to exemplify or illustrate, via theme or character, plot or situation, philosophically significant issues within a par­tic­u­lar individual’s lived experience. To take seriously the engagement of the existentialist phi­los­o­phers with the novel is to see the novel not as an empty container into which dif­fer­ent kinds of lives and the worldviews that supposedly accompany them—­“existentialist,” “rational,” “sentimental”—­can be poured, but rather as an engagement with the prob­lem of existence itself in its very form. The extent to which an existentialist reception of the novel can revivify our understanding of both existentialist philosophy and the poetics of the novel is best illustrated by an example from one of the most influential chapters in literary theory. In a precursor to his seminal work on realism, Mimesis (1946), Erich Auerbach enigmatically suggests “existentielle” (existential) as a pos­si­ble name for the category he ­later comes to identify with the serious and tragic repre­sen­ta­tion of the everyday. “Aber wie bezeichnet man Gestalten wie Emma Bovary? . . . ​Einige geläufige philosophische Termini, nämlich dialektisch oder existentiell, würden sich allenfalls eignen. . . . ​Existenzieller Realismus oder Nachahmung der Existenz würde recht gut dem entsprechen [But what are we to call figures like Emma Bovary? . . . ​Some common philosophical terms, namely dialectical or existential might work. . . . ​Existential realism or imitation of existence would correspond rather well to what I have in mind ­here].”10 The term surfaces again in the key passages defining the realism of the nineteenth-­century novel in Mimesis: “The serious treatment



of everyday real­ity, the rise of more extensive and socially inferior ­human groups to the position of subject ­matter for problematic-­existential repre­ sen­ta­tion [problematisch-­existentieller Darstellung], on the one hand; on the other, the embedding of random persons and events in the general course of con­temporary history, the fluid historical background—­these, we believe, are the foundations of modern realism.”11 Why does Auerbach use this term so deliberately, and what should we make of the coincidence between existentialism and realism in this classic text of novel theory? What Auerbach intends in his allusion to “existential realism” is not captured by a systematic or technical sense of the categories explored in the Existenzphilosophie of his near-­contemporary at Marburg, Martin Heidegger (560, 561).12 Although the appearance of this term in Auerbach may seem to pres­ent simply another instance of literary criticism inheriting its concepts from philosophy, t­ here is in fact ample evidence to suggest that Auerbach’s view of the everyday departs from the one advanced by Heidegger in impor­ tant re­spects; moreover, his use of such existential concepts as “creatureliness” in Mimesis is marked by intense caution regarding their po­liti­c al ­implications. Yet neither is it totally unrelated to the existentialism of his day, insofar as he claims that “existentiell die Behandlung eines Menschenlebens im Gesamtbestand und der Tiefe seines Daseins [existential (would express) the treatment of a ­human life in all of its aspects and in the depth of its existence].”13 In the Epilegomena to Mimesis, he writes of the realism that is “serious, problematic, or tragic”: “Perhaps I would have done better to call it ‘existential realism,’ but I hesitated to use this all too con­temporary term for phenomena of the distant past. . . . ​W hat I meant, it seemed to me, was to be inferred with unmistakable, even overpowering clarity from the passage about Peter and my analy­sis of it” (561). ­There, he describes the character of Peter in the Gospel of Mark as “no mere accessory figure serving as illustratio, like the soldiers Vibulenus and Percennius,” but as “the image of man in the highest and deepest and most tragic sense” (41). Of the narrative situation, he states: “Peter’s denial cannot be fitted into a system of judgments which operates with static categories, if for no other reason than the tremendous ‘pendulation’ in the heart of one specific individual” (45). As this form of mimesis breaks away from its theological origins, it nevertheless preserves its destruction of the hierarchy of styles, its rejection of ahistorical moralism, and, as Auerbach puts it, its “readiness to take seriously

The Novel and Philosophy


what­ever is encountered” in “the random everyday depths of popu­lar life” (44). Thus Guido Mazzoni sums up the core of the “existential realism” that dominates the novel in the latter half of the nineteenth-­century: “The s­ imple existence, now ­free from hierarchies (the separation of styles), from ethical control (moralism), and from universal meanings (allegory), staked its claim to absolute attention.”14 Insofar as the attempt to overthrow the assumption that individual experience must necessarily be subordinated to universal categories of understanding in order to become meaningful is what unites phi­los­o­phers with proj­ects and backgrounds as diverse as Kierkegaard, Nietz­sche, Heidegger, Sartre, and Beauvoir, the affinity between existentialism and Auerbach’s concept of realism is clear. All of t­ hese phi­los­o­phers argue that thinking about ­human existence requires a new approach that cannot be found in—­and in fact, is made invisible or obscured by—­the conceptual repertoire of ancient and modern thought. First-­person understanding of who I am, of the meaning of my existence, cannot be derived from knowledge of substances with essential properties or from laws delimiting the interaction of subjects with objects. What more natu­ral counterpart for this philosophy, then, than a genre that sets the illusion of characterological freedom as its primary aesthetic criterion? In the words of György Lukács: “The characters created by the ­great realists, once conceived in the vision of their creator, live an in­de­ pen­dent life of their own; their comings and g­ oings, their development, their destiny is dictated by the inner dialectic of their social and individual existence. No writer is a true realist—or even a truly good writer, if he can direct the evolution of his own characters at ­will.”15 Yet to the extent that “existential” and “realist” appear as virtual synonyms in the work of novel theorists from Auerbach to Lukács to Mazzoni, the conceptual fit between t­hese categories tells only half of the story. An elusive affinity between existential thought and novelistic realism perpetually tempts us to define one in terms of the other, without fully understanding the complex history of their interrelation. Mapping a speculative account of the relation between the use of the term “existential” in novel theory and its meaning within the existentialist tradition ­will carry us only so far. In par­ tic­u­lar, it fails to take us to the heart of a question that Auerbach himself does not ask: How, and why, do the thinkers whom we have come to call “existentialist” arrive at a conceptualization of ­human existence that appears



to be so closely attuned to what Auerbach recognizes as the focal point of modern realism? The answer to this question cannot be found in a genealogy circumscribed by philosophy or literary theory alone. It comes into view at the intersection between philosophy and lit­er­a­ture, in the story of the encounter between the existentialists and the novel. Only by unfolding the implications of this encounter do we discover the power of literary form to shape philosophical expression.




1. Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Rus­sian Lit­er­a­ture, ed. Fredson Bowers (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981), 232. 2. Quoted in an account of Nabokov’s lectures by his former student Peter Klem, “Prejudices and Particularities,” Bloomsbury Review, January 1981, 7. 3. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Penguin, 2000), 99–100. All l­ater quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 4. As for the identity of the En­glish novel that Anna takes from her handbag, A. N. Wilson contends that it must be a novel by Trollope. But since the par­tic­u­lar details described in the plot have never been located in any single existing work, it seems more apt to think of this novel as one that Tolstoy, too, only ­imagined. See A. N. Wilson, Tolstoy (New York: Norton, 1988), 274. For further discussions of the depiction of the novel in the scene, see also Edwina Cruise, “Tracking the En­glish Novel in Anna Karenina: Who Wrote the En­glish Novel that Anna Reads?” in Anniversary Essays on Tolstoy, ed. Donna Tussing Orwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 159–182, and Amy Mandelker, Framing Anna Karenina: Tolstoy, the ­Woman Question, and the Victorian Novel (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993), 125–140. 5. Kate Flint, The W ­ oman Reader, 1837–1914 (New York: Clarendon Press, 1993), 4.


Notes to Pages 3–6

6. David A. Sloane, “Anna Reading and ­Women Reading in Rus­sian Lit­er­a­ ture,” in Approaches to Teaching Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” ed. Liza Knapp and Amy Mandelker (New York: Modern Language Association, 2003), 125. 7. Thus, according to Gary Saul Morson, Anna’s reading on the train reflects “her belief in romance, her extremism, and above all, her cultivated habits of contrived misperception,” which stem from her “way of living as if she w ­ ere a novelistic heroine.” Amy Mandelker argues that the novel “seduces Anna with scenes of domestic life and high estate;” for Robert Louis Jackson, her “restless fingering of the paper knife speaks of her frustrated desire to make her way into a novel or romance of her own life,” as “she conflates the hero and heroine in the En­glish novel with herself and Vronsky.” See Gary Saul Morson, “Anna Karenina” in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 139; Mandelker, Framing, 131; and Robert Louis Jackson, “The Night Journey: Anna Karenina’s Return to Saint Petersburg,” in Approaches to Teaching Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” ed. Liza Knapp and Amy Mandelker (New York: Modern Language Association, 2003), 152. 8. See Gary L. Browning, “The Death of Anna Karenina: Anna’s Share of the Blame,” Slavic and East Eu­ro­pean Journal 30, no. 3 (1986): 327–339; Donna Tussing Orwin, Tolstoy’s Art and Thought, 1847–1880 (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1993), 178; Morson, In Our Time, 132–133; and Jackson, “Night Journey,” 156–157. 9. Friedrich Schlegel, On the Study of Greek Poetry, trans. and ed. Stuart Barnett (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), and Friedrich Schlegel, “Letter about the Novel,” in Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, trans. Ernst Behler and Roman Struc (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1968), 94–105. In “The Art of Fiction,” Henry James writes of the novel that “the only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be in­ter­est­ing.” See Henry James, “The Art of Fiction,” in The Critical Muse: Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Roger Gard (New York: Penguin, 1987), 191. For a history of the concept of the “in­ter­est­ing” in aesthetic judgment, with special focus on its use in novel theory, see also Sianne Ngai, “Merely In­ter­est­ing,” Critical Inquiry 34, no. 4 (2008): 777–817. 10. As György Lukács argues, “Tolstoy saved the traditions of the ­great realists and carried them on and developed them further in concrete and topical form in an age in which realism had degenerated. . . . ​He is a classic of realism.” See György Lukács, Studies in Eu­ro­pean Realism (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964), 203. For the view that Tolstoy’s realism must be distinguished from Eu­ro­pean and Victorian realism, see Mandelker, Framing, 67. 11. The obvious counterexample ­here would be film, which as the purported heir of the novel pres­ents another example of an immersive relation between the

Notes to Pages 6–9


artwork and its viewer. The use of the objective shot may be subject to the terms of analy­sis that concern us ­later on. However, as Stanley Cavell notes, the cinematic screen functions as an ever-­present barrier that screens the existence of the world of the film from the beholder and the existence of the beholder from the filmed world. See Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 23–25, and “Knowledge as Transgression,” in Pursuits of Happiness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 73–109. 12. Paul Valéry, The Art of Poetry, trans. Denise Folliot (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1989), 210–211. 13. M. M. Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 32. 14. See Georges Poulet, “Phenomenology of Reading,” New Literary History 1, no. 1 (1969): 54: “It is this openness of the book which I find so moving. A book is not shut in by its contours, is not walled-up as in a fortress. It asks nothing better than to exist outside itself, or to let you exist in it. In short, the extraordinary fact in the case of a book is the falling away of the barriers between you and it. You are inside it; it is inside you; t­ here is no longer ­either outside or inside.” 15. See Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1980; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988). Anxiety over the dangers of absorptive reading is not only a familiar trope in novel criticism, but also an explicit theme in novels themselves, especially t­ hose responding to the early rise of the genre. As William Warner has noted, “Fielding’s Shamela, the anonymous Pamela Censured and Haywood’s Anti-­Pamela . . . ​a ll . . . ​betray anxiety about the effects of absorption in novel reading.” See William B. Warner, “Novels on the Market,” in The Cambridge History of En­glish Lit­er­a­ture, 1660–1780, ed. John Richetti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 102. For influential accounts of readerly absorption and the novel, see also Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 101–120; Nina Baym, Novels, Readers, and Reviewers: Responses to Fiction in Antebellum Amer­i­ca (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984), 44–62; and Garrett Stewart, Dear Reader: The Conscripted Audience in Nineteenth-­Century British Fiction (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 55–88. 16. J. M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (London: Penguin, 2003), 117. 17. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, in Novels, 1881–1886, ed. William T. Stafford, vol. 2 (New York: Library of Amer­i­ca, 1985), 214. 18. Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1980), 31.


Notes to Pages 10–15

19. Richard Moran, Authority and Estrangement: An Essay on Self-­Knowledge (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2001), 147. 20. See Poulet, “Phenomenology,” 55–57: “I am thinking the thoughts of another. Of course, ­t here would be no cause for astonishment if I ­were thinking it as the thought of another. But I think it as my very own. Ordinarily t­ here is the I which thinks, which recognizes itself (when it takes its bearings) in thoughts which may have come from elsewhere but which it takes upon itself as its own in the moment it thinks them. . . . ​Now, in the pres­ent case ­t hings are quite dif­fer­ent. ­B ecause of the strange invasion of my person by the thoughts of another, I am a self who is granted the experience of thinking thoughts foreign to him. I am the subject of thoughts other than my own. My consciousness behaves as though it w ­ ere the consciousness of another. . . . ​Reading, then, is the act in which the subjective princi­ple which I call I, is modified in such a way that I no longer have the right, strictly speaking, to consider it as my I. I am on loan to another, and this other thinks, feels, suffers, and acts within me. . . . ​ Now it is impor­t ant to note that this possession of myself by another takes place not only on the level of objective thought, that is with regard to images, sensations, ideas which reading affords me, but also on the level of my very subjectivity. When I am absorbed in reading, a second self takes over, a self which thinks and feels for me.” 21. I am reminded ­here of Eli Friedlander’s argument in a dif­fer­ent context that “logically speaking, the Tractatus does not exist. An impossible work must necessarily have an illusory consistency. ­Here we find a first reason why it is necessary for the Tractatus to be written. It does not exist in the realm of thought; it has a fictional or literary existence.” See Eli Friedlander, Signs of Sense: Reading Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 13–14. 22. For a discussion of Kierkegaard’s repeated use of this phrase in texts such as Eigh­teen Upbuilding Discourses (1843–1844), For Self-­Examination (1851), The Point of View for My Work as an Author (1859), and Journals, see Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, “Historical Introduction,” in Søren Kierkegaard, Without Authority, ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1997), ix. 23. See Judith M. Armstrong, The Unsaid Anna Karenina (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), 86, and Morson, In Our Time, 83. 24. Jackson, “Night Journey,” 156–157. 25. Richard F. Gustafson, Leo Tolstoy, Resident and Stranger: A Study in Fiction and Theology (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1986), 222–223. 26. Søren Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, vol. 2, trans. Walter Lowrie (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1944), 216. 27. Moran, Authority, 100–151.

Notes to Pages 18–23



1. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “François Mauriac and Freedom,” in Literary Essays, trans. Annette Michelson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), 8. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and w ­ ill be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 2. See Niels Kofoed, “Hans Christian Andersen and the Eu­ro­pean Literary Tradition,” in Hans Christian Andersen: Danish Writer and Citizen of the World, ed. Sven Hakon Rossel (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 230: “In the three novels, The Improvisatore, O. T. (1836), and Kun en Spillemand (1837) Andersen succeeded in making the transition from the historical novel of the 1820s to the realistic novel of the 1830s dealing with con­temporary topics. By ­doing so, he underwent the same development that such writers as Balzac and Charles Dickens made in the same de­cade.” 3. Søren Kierkegaard, “From the Papers of One Still Living, Published against His W ­ ill,” in Early Polemical Writings, ed. and trans. Julia Watkin (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1990), 81. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 4. M. M. Bakhtin, “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity,” in Art and Answerability, ed. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov, trans. Vadim Liapunov (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 72. 5. Bakhtin, “Author and Hero,” 12–13. 6. Ken Hirschkop, Mikhail Bakhtin: An Aesthetic for Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 58–59. 7. See Bakhtin, “Author and Hero,” 14: “The general formula for the author’s fundamental, aesthetically productive relationship to the hero follows directly from what has been said. It is a relationship in which the author occupies an intently maintained position outside the hero with re­spect to ­every constituent feature of the hero—­a position outside the hero with re­spect to space, time, value, and meaning. And this being-­outside in relation to the hero enables the author (1) to collect and concentrate all of the hero, who, from within himself, is diffused and dispersed in the projected world of cognition and in the open event of ethical action; (2) to collect the hero and his life and to complete him to the point where he forms a ­whole by supplying all ­those moments which are inaccessible to the hero himself from within himself (such as a full outward image, an exterior, a background ­behind his back, his relation to the event of death and the absolute ­f uture, ­etc.); and (3) to justify and to consummate the hero in­de­pen­dently of the meaning, the achievements, the outcome and success of the hero’s own forward-­directed life.” 8. Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. Anthony Bower (New York: Knopf, 1956), 262–263. 9. Dorothy Hale, “Aesthetics and the New Ethics: Theorizing the Novel in the Twenty-­First ­Century,” PMLA 124, no. 3 (2009): 903.


Notes to Pages 24–29

10. Nancy Armstrong, How Novels Think: The Limits of British Individualism from 1719–1900 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 3. 11. Armstrong, Novels, 8. 12. Franco Moretti, The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in Eu­ro­pean Culture, trans. Albert Sbragia, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2000), 4. 13. György Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 66. 14. Lukács, Theory, 79. 15. Fredric Jameson, The Po­liti­cal Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 154. 16. Jameson, Po­liti­cal, 153. 17. D. A. Miller, The Novel and the Police (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), x. 18. Miller, Police, 162. 19. See Lionel Trilling, “James Joyce in His Letters,” in The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Selected Essays, ed. Leon Wieseltier (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2008), 453: “Poor Julien Sorel! Poor Pip! Poor Phineas Finn! It was a dull-­spirited reader indeed who did not feel what a pity it was that the young man could not make a go of Th ­ ings As They Are and at the same time possess his soul in honor and peace. But since the soul was one of the pos­si­ble possessions, it was of course to be preferred to all o­ thers, the more ­because the price paid for it was thought real and high. In the degree that the novel gave credence to the world while withholding its assent, it established the real­ity of the moral or spiritual success that is defined by the rejection of the world’s values. Credence given, assent withheld: for a time this position of the novel vis-­à-­vis the world was of extraordinary interest.” 20. Tony E. Jackson, The Subject of Modernism: Narrative Alterations in the Fiction of Eliot, Conrad, Woolf, and Joyce (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 16. 21. Siân Silyn Roberts, Gothic Subjects: The Transformation of Individualism in American Fiction, 1790–1861 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 8. 22. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), 12–13. 23. Watt, Rise, 31. 24. Watt, Rise, 18, 21. 25. Sydney Shoemaker, The First-­Person Perspective and Other Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 8–9. See also “Self-Knowledge and ‘Inner Sense,’ Lecture II: The Broad Perceptual Model” in this volume, 224–245. 26. This is Daniel C. Dennett’s term for the traditional model of consciousness in Consciousness Explained (Boston: ­Little, Brown, 1991).

Notes to Pages 29–33


27. John Locke, An Essay Concerning H ­ uman Understanding, ed. Roger Wool­ house (London: Penguin, 1997), 467. 28. Brie Gertler, Self-­Knowledge (New York: Routledge, 2011), 46. 29. Roberts, Gothic, 8. 30. Vanessa Ryan, Thinking without Thinking in the Victorian Novel (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 165. 31. Richard Moran, Authority and Estrangement: An Essay on Self-­Knowledge (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2001), 2–3. 32. See Shoemaker, First-­Person Perspective; Sydney Shoemaker, “Self-­Reference and Self-­Awareness,” Journal of Philosophy 65, no. 19 (1968): 555–567; Tyler Burge, “Our Entitlement to Self-­K nowledge,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 96, no. 1 (1996): 91–116; Akeel Bilgrami, Self-­Knowledge and Resentment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); and Lucy O’Brien, Self-­Knowing Agents (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 33. Wayne C. Booth, The Rhe­toric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 164. 34. Miller, Police, 24. 35. Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, trans. Jane Lewin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980), 209. 36. Watt, Rise, 175. 37. Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth, Realism and Consensus in the En­glish Novel: Time, Space and Narrative (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), 74. 38. Jonathan Culler, The Literary in Theory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 201. On the incoherence of the notion of the narrator as an individual voice, see also Ermarth, Consensus, 65–92, and Ann Banfield, Unspeakable Sentences: Narration and Repre­sen­ta­tion in the Language of Fiction (Boston: Routledge, 1982). 39. Bernard Williams, “Socrates’ Question,” in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 10. 40. Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 261. 41. See Moran, Authority, 26: “Any adequate analy­sis of the first-­person would have eventually to get beyond the picture of ‘privilege’ and ‘concessions’ and say something about how the presumption of first-­person authority expresses an ordinary rational demand quite as much as it reflects any deference to the person’s best opinion about his own state of mind.” 42. Thus in her analy­sis of Bakhtin’s Prob­lems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Dorothy Hale quotes Bakhtin—­“ ‘the hero interests Dostoevsky as a par­tic­u­lar point of view on the world and on oneself, as the position enabling a person to interpret and evaluate his own self and his surrounding real­ity’ ”—­a nd argues that “in imagining the objective as being swallowed by the personal and in describing truth as personal and thus private, Bakhtin seems to have effectively eliminated the individual’s


Notes to Pages 35–39

necessary relation to anything beyond himself.” Although an extended discussion of Bakhtin falls beyond the scope of the pres­ent discussion, this passage makes clear the pressure to conflate the authority of the first-­person point of view with the anti-­social solipsism of a Cartesian ego. See Dorothy Hale, Social Formalism: The Novel in Theory from Henry James to the Pres­ent (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 167. 43. In addition to the novels written by phi­los­o­phers such as Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus themselves, the works of authors such as Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Hesse, Luigi Pirandello, Jack Kerouac, and Milan Kundera are traditionally placed in this category. 44. Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel, trans. Linda Asher (New York: Perennial Classics, 2003), 5. See also J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth-­Century Writers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963). 45. See, for instance, Amy M. Kleppner, “Philosophy and the Literary Medium: The Existentialist Predicament,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 23, no. 2 (1964): 207–217. 46. See Vincent B. Leitch’s analy­sis of the reception of existentialist thought in post–­World War II Amer­i­ca by what he calls the “Phenomenological and Existential Critics” such as J. Hillis Miller, Susan Sontag, William Spanos, and Ihab ­ olumbia Hassan, in American Literary Criticism from the 30s to the 80s (New York: C University Press, 1988), 128–156. 47. As Robert Chodat succinctly puts it, “Phi­los­o­phers have been interested in novels but seldom in the novel.” See Chodat, “The Novel,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Lit­er­a­ture, ed. Noël Carroll and John Gibson (New York: Routledge, 2016), 83. 48. A fuller historical account of this philosophical-­literary development will be offered in a future study. 49. Simone de Beauvoir, “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” in Philosophical Writings, trans. Veronique Zaytzeff and Frederick M. Morrison, ed. Margaret A. Simons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 270. 50. The definition of realism is from Roman Jakobson’s “О художественном реализме” (1921), which was published in Tel Quel 24 (Winter 1966). “Du réalisme artistique” appeared for the first time in French the previous year in Théorie de la Littérature, trans. Tzvetan Todorov (Paris: Seuil, 1965), 98–108. 51. Describing a so­cio­log­i­cal study she has read called Les Enfants de Sanchez, which undertakes to give what Beauvoir calls “an ordinary point of view” on lived experience, and comparing the work of such a document to a novel, Beauvoir writes: This sociologist, over a period of eight years, at dif­fer­ent and rather long intervals, lived with a ­family and tape recorded the stories that the ­father and four ­children told about their existence. ­These stories confirmed and contra-

Notes to Pages 39–45


dicted each other. It was not at all a ­simple story, but a multi-­dimensional story, like certain novelists have tried and even succeeded in d ­ oing. Also, this information far surpassed the majority of so­cio­log­i­cal works which ordinarily give only one point of view. ­Here, ­there was an enormous amount of material for the psychoanalyst as well as for the sociologist and the ethnologist, and for any person who is interested in the world and in men. I therefore asked myself, “If ­there ­were more and more works of this genre—­ which is technically pos­si­ble—­a nd if ­there ­were a very large number of them, thus providing us with the secrets of cities, environments, and dif­fer­ent sections of the world, would lit­er­a­ture still have a role to play?” And I answered myself, “yes.” If the world w ­ ere a given totality, if it ­were a being, something immutable that we could examine or survey as we do a world map, then what indeed would be impor­tant? Only to increase more and more our objective knowledge of the world and to discover it more and more extensively. But in the philosophy called existentialism, to which I adhere, the world is, as Sartre said, a detotalized totality.

See “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” trans. Marybeth Timmermann, in “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 198. 52. Beauvoir, “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” 201. 53. Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments,” ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1992), 73. 54. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “Preface to Portrait of a Man Unknown,” in Situations IV, trans. Chris Turner (London: Seagull Books, 2009), 5–6. 55. Beauvoir, “Lit­er­a­ture,” 276. 56. See, for example, Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image—­ Music—­Text, ed. and trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 142–148; Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?,” in Language, Counter-­Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald Bouchard, trans. Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 113– 138; and Sean Burke, The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008). 57. E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (New York: Harcourt, 1927), 129. 58. Locke, Essay, 65. 59. Watt, Rise, 30. 60. Honoré de Balzac, Preface, The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Volume I, trans. Ellen Marriage, ed. George Saintsbury (Philadelphia: Avil, 1901), lviii. 61. See Nancy Armstrong, “Realism Before and ­A fter Photography,” in Adventures in Realism, ed. Matthew Beaumont (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 84–102, and Peter Brooks, Realist Vision (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), on the claim that the association of realist style with the sense of sight is


Notes to Pages 45–50

based upon the latter’s capacity to produce instantaneously a naïve reproduction of the object before it. 62. Linda Nochlin, Realism (New York: Penguin, 1971), 44. 63. See Watt, Rise; Michael McKeon, The Origins of the En­glish Novel, 1600– 1740 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987); Nancy Bentley, The Ethnography of Manners (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Jennifer Green-­L ewis, Framing the Victorians: Photography and the Culture of Realism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996); Nancy Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography: The Legacy of British Realism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999); Jan-­Melissa Schramm, Testimony and Advocacy in Victorian Law, Lit­er­a­ture, and Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Brooks, Vision; and Daniel Novak, Realism, Photography, and Nineteenth-­Century Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 64. Raymond Williams, The En­glish Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 15. 65. Williams, The En­glish Novel, 12. 66. György Lukács, “Franz Kafka or Thomas Mann,” in The Meaning of Con­temporary Realism, trans. John and Necke Mander (London: Merlin, 1963), 56. 67. See Book X, 607a–­b, in Plato, The Republic, trans. G. M. A. Grube, rev. C. D. C. Reeve (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), 278: “Then let this be our defense—­now that ­we’ve returned to the topic of poetry—­that, in view of its nature, we had reason to banish it from the city earlier, for our argument compelled us to do so. But in case we are charged with a certain harshness and lack of sophistication, let’s also tell poetry that ­there is an ancient quarrel between it and philosophy.” 1. ­Toward an Existentialist Poetics of the Novel

1. Joakim Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, trans. Bruce H. Kirmmse (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2005), 102. 2. H. C. Andersens Almanakker 1833–1873 [Hans Christian Andersen’s Almanacs, 1833–1873], ed. Helge Vang Lauridsen and Kirsten Weber (Copenhagen: Det danske Sprog-­og Litteraturselskab / G. E. C. Gads Forlag, 1990), 23. 3. H. C. Andersens Almanakker, 24. 4. Garff, Kierkegaard, 512. 5. See Garff, Kierkegaard, 74–75 and 358, for an account of how Kierkegaard, “so bewitched by the Heiberg cult that he appropriated its rituals and made their ­house­hold gods his own,” sends two copies of his complimentary review of Gyllembourg’s novel Two Ages (published in 1846 ­under the title A Literary Review) to Heiberg, along with his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, in an attempt to attract his attention to Postscript.

Notes to Pages 51–55


6. Søren Kierkegaard, “From the Papers of One Still Living, Published against His W ­ ill,” in Early Polemical Writings, ed. and trans. Julia Watkin (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1990), 81. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 7. Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments,” ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1992), 79. 8. M. M. Bakhtin, “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity,” in Art and Answerability, ed. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov, trans. Vadim Liapunov (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 72. 9. Søren Kierkegaard, The Book on Adler, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1998), 15–17. As Howard and Edna Hong note in their “Historical Introduction” to this edition, “The book was never published ­because, in order to diminish emphasis on Adler and to concentrate on the concept of authority, the manuscript was revised by Kierkegaard more than any other of his manuscripts” (vii). For an account of the interactions between Kierkegaard and the Hegelian pastor Adolph Peter Adler, see Garff, Kierkegaard, 440–460. 10. Bakhtin, “Author and Hero,” 9–10. 11. See Bakhtin, “Author and Hero,” 84: “This passivity of the hero in relation to form, however, is not something given from the outset, but is imposed as a task and must be achieved, actively achieved. . . . ​This conquest can be achieved only if the author / contemplator maintains his intent and loving position outside the hero. The hero’s inner directedness from within his own lived life possesses its own immanent necessity, its own autonomy; as such, it is capable of compelling us at times to become involved in its own sphere, in its own becoming (the becoming of a lived life, devoid of any issue aesthetically), and, as a result, we lose our stable position outside the hero and express the hero from within the hero himself, along with the hero. Where the author merges with the hero, the form we get is . . . ​the result of the self-­activity of the hero in relation to whom we failed to find an exterior position. The hero’s self-­activity . . . ​is incapable of engendering an aesthetically consummated form.” 12. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Joakim Garff, Jette Knudsen, Johnny Kondrup, and Alastair McKinnon, eds., Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter (Copenhagen: Gads Forlag, 2001), 19:99. See also Hjördis Becker, “From Weltanschauung to Livs-­Anskuelse: Kierkegaard’s Existential Philosophy,” Humana.Mente—­Journal of Philosophical Studies 18 (September 2011): 1–18. 13. See George Pattison, Kierkegaard, Religion and the Nineteenth-­Century Crisis of Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 77–81. 14. In placing lyric as the unreflective and subjectively immediate stage prior to the reflective and objective stage of epic, Kierkegaard follows Heiberg’s reversal of


Notes to Pages 57–60

the first two stages of Hegel’s dialectical triad of poetic forms. See Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Joakim Garff, Johnny Kondrup, Tonny Aagaard Oleson, and Steen Tullberg, eds., Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter (Copenhagen: Gads Forlag, 2011), 27:143. 15. Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Kierkegaard 1834–1854, trans. and ed. Alexander Dru (London: Collins, 1958), 44. 16. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, ed. G. H. Von Wright, trans. Peter Winch (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980), 64e. 17. Kierkegaard, “From the Papers,” 65–66. An essential feature of this “confidence” or “certainty” is its twofold nature: it is of and in experience, yet nevertheless discontinuous with its unfolding. For in order to lend conclusive form and meaning to that experience, it cannot have a detached or arbitrary relation to it, nor can it be immanent to experience and thereby subject to the contingency and indeterminacy that besets it. See also Lee C. Barrett, “Life-­View,” in Kierkegaard’s Concepts, Tome IV: Individual to Novel, ed. Steven M. Emmanuel, William McDonald, and Jon Stewart, vol. 15 of Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception and Resources (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014), 89–95. 18. In “From the Papers,” although Kierkegaard refers to Andersen’s novel as a novella (novelle) he appears not to intend to mark h ­ ere any systematic difference between the novella (novelle) and the novel (Roman). On the contrary, he includes both within the general scope of analy­sis, consistently using the term Romandigter to refer to Andersen and other novelists, and speaking of “the necessity of a life-­view for a poetic writer of novels and novellas (en Livs-­Anskuelses Nødvendighed for Roman-og Novelle-­Digteren)” (81). 19. Simone de Beauvoir, “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” in Philosophical Writings, trans. Veronique Zaytzeff and Frederick M. Morrison, ed. Margaret A. Simons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 273. 20. Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1989), 286–301. Noting the fact that “Kierkegaard reflects the close historical connection that has existed between t­ hese two genres, with the novel growing out of the epic tradition,” Sylvia Walsh argues that the opposition between Schlegel and Kierkegaard on this point is furthermore evidenced in their view of realism: “Friedrich Schlegel was against realistic novels, especially t­ hose of the eighteenth-­century En­glish variety, whereas Kierkegaard stands squarely in the Danish poetic realism school with its emphasis upon orienting the novel t­ oward an appreciation of the given historical actuality.” See Sylvia Walsh, Living Poetically: Kierkegaard’s Existential Aesthetics (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 34, n. 24. 21. M. M. Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 17, 27–28.

Notes to Pages 61–66


22. Bakhtin, “Author and Hero,” 13. 23. Bakhtin, “Author and Hero,” 19. 24. See Joseph Westfall, “ ‘A Very Poetic Person in a Poem’: Søren Kierkegaard on Hans Christian Andersen and Becoming an Author,” in Kierkegaard Studies Yearbook 2006, ed. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Hermann Deuser, and K. Brian Söderquist (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006), 38–53. According to Westfall: The author’s death is the essential distinction between the authorship and the real person standing ­behind that authorship in history; the transfiguration is the return of an author to the text, albeit one who meets the criterion of death. Thus, as dead and transfigured, the author of Kierkegaard’s conception is neither a real person nor totally absent from the text. Such an author—­the true poet—­exists as a part of the production itself, the ground and unifying princi­ple of the work. The tension in Kierkegaard’s simultaneous claims that a novel must be kept absolutely distant from the personality of its author, and yet succeeds or fails on the basis of that author’s personality alone (by way of the presence or absence of a life-­view), can be resolved in light of this discussion of death and transfiguration in authorship: the life-­view pre-­exists the work in which it is instilled only by virtue of being a characteristic component of the authorial persona to whom responsibility for the work ­will be ascribed. (46)

25. For a notable exception, see Frederic Jameson, “Three Methods in Sartre’s Literary Criticism,” in Modern French Criticism: From Proust and Valéry to Structuralism, ed. John K. Simon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 193–227. 26. For an overview of Kierkegaard translations in France in the 1930s, see Manuela Hackel, “Jean-­Paul Sartre: Kierkegaard’s Influence on His Theory of Nothingness,” in Kierkegaard and Existentialism, ed. Jon Stewart, vol. 9 of Kierke­ gaard Research: Sources, Reception and Resources (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011), 323–354. 27. Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life, trans. Peter Green (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), 89–90. 28. Annie Cohen-­Solal, Sartre: A Life, ed. Norman MacAfee, trans. Anna Cancogni (New York: Pantheon, 1987), 93. 29. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “John Dos Passos and 1919,” in Literary Essays, trans. Annette Michelson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), 89. See also Ramon Fernandez, “La Méthode de Balzac,” in Messages: Première série (Paris: Gallimard, 1926), 60. 30. Frederic Jameson, The Antinomies of Realism (London: Verso, 2013), 16–17. 31. Ramon Fernandez, “The Method of Balzac,” in Messages: Literary Essays, trans. Montgomery Belgion (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927), 65. 32. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “François Mauriac and Freedom,” in Literary Essays, trans. Annette Michelson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), 7–8. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses.


Notes to Pages 68–79

33. Notably, the novels of Mauriac and Dostoevsky that Sartre focuses upon belong to the realist tradition, broadly defined. See Maurice Z. Shroder, “The Novel as a Genre,” in The Theory of the Novel, ed. Philip Stevick (New York: ­Free Press, 1967), 27: “The methods and the concerns of realistic fiction continue to appear in novels of the early—­and, one should add, of the ­middle—­t wentieth ­century, just as the romance survived the coming of the novel: François Mauriac and C. P. Snow are only two of the living novelists writing in the nineteenth-­century manner.” 34. Richard Moran, Authority and Estrangement: An Essay on Self-­Knowledge (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2001), 145–146. See also Thomas Nagel, “Universality and the Reflective Self,” in Christine M. Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity, ed. Onora O’Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 201. 35. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “Preface to Portrait of a Man Unknown,” in Situations IV, trans. Chris Turner (London: Seagull Books, 2009), 5–6. 36. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury: Time in the Work of Faulkner,” in Literary Essays, trans. Annette Michelson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), 79, 86–87. 37. See, for example, Jean Bruneau, “Existentialism and the American Novel,” Yale French Studies 1, no. 1 (1948): 66–72. 38. “Sneglen og Rosenhækken” [“The Snail and the Rosebush”], in H. C. Andersens Samlede Skrifter [The Collected Writings of Hans Christian Andersen], 2nd ed., vol. 15 (Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels Forlag, 1880), 16–18. 39. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “Camus’s The Outsider,” in Literary Essays, trans. Annette Michelson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), 29. 40. Jean-­Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, trans. Carol Macomber, ed. John Kulka (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 20–21. 41. For an extended exposition of the relation between realism, the everyday, the ordinary, and the uneventful, with reference to Kierkegaard and Cavell, see Michael Fried’s discussion in “Time and the Everyday; Menzel and Kierkegaard’s ­Either / Or; with a Postscript on Fonane’s Effi Briest,” in Menzel’s Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-­Century Berlin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 141–165. 42. The extent to which this aspect of the poetics of the novel can be interpreted as developing in a dialectical relation to the fate of drama is a fascinating question, one that far exceeds the scope of this study to address. For an insightful study of the philosophical issues attending eighteenth-­and nineteenth-­century considerations of the relation of the theater to novel, see David Marshall, The Figure of Theater: Shaftesbury, Defoe, Adam Smith, and George Eliot (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), and David Kurnick, Empty Houses: Theatrical Failure and the Novel (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2012).

Notes to Pages 81–89


43. See Toril Moi, “The Adventure of Reading: Lit­er­a­ture and Philosophy, Cavell and Beauvoir,” in Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies: Consequences of Skepticism, ed. Richard Eldridge and Bernard Rhie (New York: Continuum, 2011), 24–29. 44. See Sartre, Humanism, 20–21. 45. Sartre, Humanism, 20–21. 46. Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Citadel Press, 1948), 7. 47. Sartre, “John Dos Passos,” 95–96. Although an extended discussion of the formal qualities of Beauvoir’s own novels exceeds the scope of this study, it is evident that she relied greatly on this technique. 48. I am grateful to R. Lanier Anderson for bringing this to my attention. 49. Beauvoir, Prime of Life, 431. 50. Henry James, “Preface to The Tragic Muse,” in The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces, ed. Richard P. Blackmur (New York: Scribner, 1934), 84. 51. Simone de Beauvoir, “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” in “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann, trans. Marybeth Timmermann (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 198. For an extended discussion of “detotalized totality,” see Chapter 3. 52. Oxford En­glish Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), s.v. “impartial.” 53. Simone de Beauvoir, Diary of a Philosophy Student: Volume 1, 1926–1927, ed. Barbara Klaw, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, and Margaret A. Simons, trans. Barbara Klaw (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 66. 54. Iris Murdoch, “Lit­er­a­ture and Philosophy, A Conversation with Bryan Magee,” in Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Lit­er­a­ture, ed. Peter Conradi (London: Penguin, 1999), 4–5, 11, 21. 55. Toril Moi, paraphrasing Michèle Le Dœuff’s argument that Beauvoir is a radically original phi­los­o­pher, draws attention to the dearth of scholarly attention to Beauvoir’s writing about lit­er­a­ture in “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do? Simone de Beauvoir as a Literary Theorist,” PMLA 124, no. 1 (2009): 189–198. 56. Ursula Tidd, “État présent: Simone de Beauvoir Studies,” French Studies 62, no. 2 (2008): 206. 57. Tidd, “État présent,” 205. 58. For a notable exception, see Eleanore Holveck, Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophy of Lived Experience: Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). 59. Simone de Beauvoir, “My Experience as a Writer,” in “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann, trans. Marybeth Timmermann (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 289. 60. Beauvoir, “My Experience,” 287.


Notes to Pages 91–93

2. The Character of Self-­Consciousness

1. E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (New York: Harcourt, 1927), 143. 2. Mary Poovey, “Recovering Ellen Pickering,” Yale Journal of Criticism 13, no. 2 (2000): 452, n. 5. 3. Janice Radway, Reading the Romance: ­Women, Patriarchy, and Popu­lar Lit­er­a­ture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 208. 4. Pamela Regis, A Natu­ral History of the Romance Novel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 9. 5. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), 138. 6. Franco Moretti, The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in Eu­ro­pean Culture, trans. Albert Sbragia, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2000), 7. 7. Forster, Aspects, 128–129, 140. 8. For a notable exception, see R. S. Crane’s seminal essay “The Concept of Plot and the Plot of Tom Jones,” in Critics and Criticism, ed. R. S. Crane (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 614–647. On the relative lack of critical attention to Crane’s work in con­temporary discussions of plot, Robert Merrill writes: “Crane objects to a ‘a strictly limited definition of plot as something that can be abstracted, for critical purposes, from the moral qualities of the characters and the operations of their thought,’ that is, a definition which treats plot as one fictional ele­ment among ­others, no more impor­tant (and prob­ably less impor­tant) than other ele­ments such as character, thought, and language (618). . . . ​­Today we still use the term plot in a highly limited, almost pejorative sense, referring exclusively to a work’s external events or narrative sequence.” Robert Merrill, “Raymond Chandler’s Plots and the Concept of Plots,” Narrative 7, no. 1 (1999): 3. 9. Forster, Aspects, 102. 10. Adeline Tintner shows that James systematically highlights and extends the significance of the aesthetic object in his subsequent revisions of Portrait: “What has happened to James since 1881 is not only that his penchant for making meta­phoric analogues has become a permanent characteristic of his style but that ­those analogues take the form, for the most part, of precious objects. . . . ​Of more than forty additions [to the 1908 edition], at least thirty are taken from art or from an aestheticized realm, and certain suggestions made in the 1881 Portrait are extended.” See Adeline R. Tintner, The Twentieth-­Century World of Henry James: Changes in his Work ­after 1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 104. On the significance of aesthetic objects and the theme of aestheticization in the novel, see also Jay Bochner, “Life in a Picture Gallery: Th ­ ings in The Portrait of a Lady and The Marble Faun,” Texas Studies in Lit­er­a­ture and Language 11, no. 1 (1969): 761–777; Sandra Djwa, “Ut Pictura Poesis: The Making of a Lady,” Henry James Review 7, nos. 3-4 (1986): 72–85; Peter Donahue, “Collecting

Notes to Pages 93–94


as Ethos and Technique in The Portrait of a Lady,” Studies in American Fiction 25, no. 1 (1997): 41–56; J. T. Laird, “Cracks in Precious Objects: Aestheticism and Humanity in The Portrait of a Lady,” American Lit­er­a­ture: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 52, no. 4 (1981): 643–648; Laurence Bedwell Holland, “The Portrait of a Lady,” The Expense of Vision: Essays on the Craft of Henry James (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1964): 43–54; Juliet McMaster, “The Portrait of Isabel Archer,” American Lit­er­a­ture 45, no. 1 (1973): 50–66; Sara Stambaugh, “The Aesthetic Movement and The Portrait of a Lady,” Nineteenth-­ Century Fiction 30, no.4 (1976): 495–510; and Philip Weinstein, Henry James and the Requirements of the Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 57–59. 11. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, in Novels, 1881–1886, ed. William T. Stafford, vol. 2 (New York: Library of Amer­i­ca, 1985), 233. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and w ­ ill be followed by page numbers in parentheses. This is the text of the 1881 edition. The argument that follows could be made of the revised New York edition of The Portrait of a Lady as well; however, b­ ecause the composition of the 1881 version follows more immediately in relation to the tradition of nineteenth-­century novels of marriage that analyze the ethical significance of choice, it is the focus of this study. For an account of James’s revisions of The Portrait of a Lady for the New York edition, see Nina Baym, “Revision and Thematic Change in The Portrait of a Lady,” Modern Fiction Studies 22, no. 2 (1976): 183–200. Baym argues that James substitutes “awareness” for “in­de­pen­dence” as the central theme in the revised edition, and rewrites the character of Isabel Archer to make her a pre­de­ces­sor of ­later Jamesian heroines such as Milly Theale. 12. David Kurnick, Empty Houses: Theatrical Failure and the Novel (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2012), 147. 13. ­These figures share other marked commonalities; as Melissa Solomon notes, “The pressures of ‘queer’ ­others (especially Ralph, Lord Warburton, and even Mr. Touchett)—­whose queerness lies in the inexactness and peculiarity with which each one is not at all settled within the motions of a straight marriage, estate, or even body . . . ​and whose incumbent queer anx­i­eties, energies, proj­ects, repressed hopes, repressed desires (the list continues in­def­initely) become rerouted through and projected onto the perceived empty space of ‘the charming young ­thing.’ ” See Melissa Solomon, “The Female World of Exorcism and Displacement (or, Relations between W ­ omen in Henry James’s Nineteenth-­Century The Portrait of a Lady,” Studies in the Novel 28, no. 3 (1996): 397. 14. For further analy­sis of the relation between invalid experience and the aestheticization of life, see Dana Luciano, “Invalid Relations: Queer Kinship in Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady,” Henry James Review 23, no. 2 (2002): 196–217.


Notes to Pages 96–97

15. For an account of the parallels between the novel’s depiction of Madame Merle and James’s view of the French novelist George Sand, see Diana Bellonby, “The Surrogate-­Author Function in The Portrait of a Lady: A Theory of Influence,” Criticism 55, no. 2 (2013): 203–231. 16. I am indebted to Sharon Cameron for this formulation of the issue. 17. Dorothy Berkson, “Why Does She Marry Osmond? The Education of Isabel Archer,” American Transcendental Quarterly 60 (June 1986): 68–69. 18. This readerly reaction dates back to the initial publication of the novel; see Marion Richmond, “The Early Critical Reception of The Portrait of a Lady (1881–1916),” Henry James Review 7, nos. 2–3 (1986): 158–163. 19. Baym, “Revision,” 199. For the view that “Isabel is controlled by the male world in ways far more insidious than she herself is aware . . . ​[and] has unconsciously internalized t­ hose values of the male world which function to keep her an imprisoned and unquestioning victim,” see V ­ irginia Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 82; M. Giulia Fabi, “The Reluctant Patriarch: A Study of The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, and The Awkward Age,” Henry James Review 13, no. 1 (1992): 1–18; Alfred Habegger, “The Fatherless Heroine and the Filial Son: Deep Background for The Portrait of a Lady,” Henry James and the “­Woman Business” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 150–181. 20. Gary Saul Morson, “Sideshadowing,” Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 117–172. 21. For accounts of how Isabel’s psychological inhibitions and fear (­whether of her own ­human complexity or of intimacy with ­others) drive her mistaken choices, see Tony Tanner, “The Fearful Self: Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady,” Critical Quarterly 7, no. 3 (1965): 205–219; Dennis L. O’Connor, “Intimacy and Spectatorship in The Portrait of a Lady,” Henry James Review 2, no. 1 (1980) 25–35; and Sandra K. Fischer, “Isabel Archer and the Enclosed Chamber: A Phenomenological Reading.” Henry James Review 7, nos. 2–3 (1986): 48–58. For the argument that Isabel’s m ­ istakes stem from her aim of becoming like a literary character, see Martha Nussbaum, “Comment on Paul Seabright,” Ethics 98, no. 2 (1988): 332–340. 22. Isabel’s maternal duty to Pansy could be settled as soon as her stepdaughter marries, and in this sense hardly counts as a reason to reject Goodwood and remain in­def­initely committed to Osmond. Likewise, the view that Isabel remains out of care for her marriage becomes dangerously theoretical; if the husband whom she married turns out to have used her for her money, ­couldn’t she plausibly think that the marriage she believed she cared about no longer existed? (See Patrick Fessenbecker, “Freedom, Self-­Obligation, and Selfhood in Henry James,” Nineteenth-­ Century Lit­er­a­ture 66, no.1 (2011): 69–95, for the argument that Isabel has come to care so much for her marriage that “when [she] chooses to stay with Osmond at the

Notes to Pages 97–103


novel’s end, it is simply ­because to do anything ­else would be to violate her self.”) For a defense of the view that Isabel cleaves to the logic of Emersonian idealism and is willing to sacrifice her happiness to preserve her own abstract sense of what freedom means, see Richard Poirier, “The Portrait of a Lady,” in The Comic Sense of Henry James: A Study of the Early Novels (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), 183–246. 23. See Søren Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, Part I, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1987); Søren Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1987); Søren Kierkegaard, Stages on Life’s Way, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1988); and Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments,” ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1992). 24. Jean-­Paul Sartre, “François Mauriac and Freedom,” in Literary Essays, trans. Annette Michelson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), 9. 25. Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (New York: Modern Library, 1995), 65. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 26. Mikhail Bakhtin, Prob­lems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 58–59. 27. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism, ed. Donald Gray (New York: Norton, 2001), 233–234. 28. Richard Moran, Authority and Estrangement: An Essay on Self-­Knowledge (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2001), 92. 29. Bakhtin, Prob­lems, 47. 30. Simone de Beauvoir, “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” trans. Veronique Zaytzeff and Frederick M. Morrison, in Philosophical Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 271–272. 31. Bakhtin, Prob­lems, 64–65. 32. Quoting from Dostoevsky’s notebook, Bakhtin suggests that for the novelist the formal demands occasioned by the repre­sen­ta­tion of ­free self-­consciousness are not seen as a departure from realism, but rather as a profound deepening of its aims: “With utter realism to find the man in man . . . ​They call me a psychologist; this is not true. I am merely a realist in the higher sense, that is, I portray all the depths of the h­ uman soul.” Bakhtin, Prob­lems, 60. 33. Bakhtin, Prob­lems, 61. 34. Interview with Mikhail Bakhtin, Tjelovek 4 (1993): 151. For an extended analy­sis of the context, see Alex Fryzman, “Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky Seen through Bakhtin’s Prism,” Kierkegaardiana 18 (1996): 103.


Notes to Pages 103–113

35. György Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 73, 89, 74. 36. See Roger Poole, Kierkegaard: The Indirect Communication (Charlottesville: University Press of V ­ irginia, 1993); Joseph Westfall, The Kierkegaardian Author: Authorship and Per­for­mance in Kierkegaard’s Literary and Dramatic Criticism, Kierkegaard Studies Monograph Series, ed. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2007); and Kierkegaard’s Pseudonyms, Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception and Resources, vol. 17, ed. Katalin Nun and Jon Stewart (Surrey: Ashgate, 2015). 37. George Eliot, Middlemarch, ed. Bert G. Hornback, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 18. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 38. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 1961), 30. 39. Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments,” ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1992), 254. 40. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 258. 41. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 258. 42. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 251. 43. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 262. 44. Jane Austen, Emma: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews, and Criticism, ed. Stephen Parrish (New York: W. W. Norton,1993), 266. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­w ill be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 45. Walter Scott, “Review of Emma,” Quarterly Review 14 (October 1815): 195. 46. The category of “repetition” that emerges in ­Either / Or receives fuller illumination in Repetition (1843), published ­under the pseudonym Constantin Constantius. See Søren Kierkegaard, “Repetition” in Fear and Trembling / Repetition: Kierkegaard’s Writings, vol. 6, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1983). 47. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 58–59, 94. 48. Charlotte Brontë, Villette, ed. Helen M. Cooper (London: Penguin, 2004), 63. All l­ater quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 49. Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 414. 50. In his reading of James’s novel, J. Hillis Miller notes that “Isabel’s decision to marry Osmond, her saying ‘Yes’ to his proposal, is not ever given in so many words in the novel. . . . ​The event itself [of Isabel’s engagement] . . . ​is not narrated. Nor is her marriage narrated directly. The reader sees her before she is married. The reader

Notes to Pages 118–127


then sees her ­a fter her marriage. Two decisive events in Isabel’s life are blanks in the narration. They are never made pres­ent to the reader. . . . ​W hy does James not show directly just what he might have thought the reader would be most interested in seeing? . . . ​The answers to ­these questions (­there are answers!) must abide a more exact identification of James’s notion of decision.” See J. Hillis Miller, Lit­er­a­ture as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 59–60. 51. For a masterful psychoanalytical account of the origins of Isabel’s attachment to her view of herself as in­de­pen­dent in the context of her ­father’s neglect, see Carole Vopat, “Becoming a Lady: The Origins and Development of Isabel Archer’s Ideal Self,” Lit­er­a­ture and Psy­chol­ogy 38, nos. 1–2 (1992): 38–56. 52. Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1980), 41. 53. Kierkegaard, Sickness, 13. 54. Kierkegaard, Sickness, 31. 55. Kierkegaard, Sickness, 41. 56. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, I, 31. 57. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 254. 58. Kierkegaard, Sickness, 31. 59. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 253. 60. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 254. 61. Harry Frankfurt, “Freedom of the W ­ ill and the Concept of a Person,” Journal of Philosophy 68, no. 1 (1971): 15. 62. Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?,” in Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 17. 63. Blakey Vermeule, Why Do We Care about Literary Characters? (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 82. 64. Vermeule, Literary Characters, 82. 65. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 257. 66. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 255. 67. Kierkegaard, Sickness, 13. 68. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 31. 69. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 32. 70. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 65. 71. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 45. 72. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 43. 73. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 94. 74. See Jean-­Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984), 367, for a discussion of the apparent paradox of love: “The lover demands a pledge, yet is irritated by a pledge. He wants to be loved


Notes to Pages 127–134

by a freedom but demands that this freedom as freedom should no longer be ­free. He wishes that the Other’s freedom should determine itself to become love—­a nd this not only at the beginning of the affair but at each instant—­a nd at the same time he wants this freedom to be captured by itself. . . . ​This captivity must be a resignation that is both f­ ree and yet chained in our hands.” Kierkegaard argues that the choice to be in love over time through f­ ree intention allows one’s “freedom to remain as freedom” and raises erotic love to the level of an ethical commitment. 75. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 65. 76. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 305. 77. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 65. 78. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 134. 79. As Beauvoir notes in The Ethics of Ambiguity, “The essential moment of Hegelian ethics is the moment when consciousnesses recognize one another; in this operation the other is recognized as identical with me, which means that in myself it is the universal truth of my self which alone is recognized; so individuality is denied, and it can no longer reappear except on the natu­ral and contingent plane.” See Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Citadel, 1948), 104. 80. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 135. 81. Thus Stephen Mulhall describes the view of ethical reasoning that is implicit in Kierkegaard’s thought: “When one party to a moral debate pres­ents her reasons for advocating a certain transition, she should do so in a manner which acknowledges the personal experiential and intuitional roots of her argument. If she w ­ ere to pres­ent them as impersonally decisive, the form of her discourse would imply a belief that pure logic dictates a certain perspective on the issue at hand, when the real­ity is that adopting or rejecting of any ethical stance is a personal decision, an existential act, the responsibility for which one cannot avoid by sloughing it off onto logic.” See Stephen Mulhall, “Sources of the Self ’s Senses of Itself: A Theistic Reading of Modernity,” in Can Religion be Explained Away?, ed. D. Z. Phillips (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 155. 82. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 103. 83. Kant, Groundwork, 89. 84. Kant, Groundwork, 99. 85. Kant, Groundwork, 100. 86. See Kant’s Groundwork: “As a rational being, and thus as a being belonging to the intelligible world, the ­human being can never think of the causality of his own ­will other­wise than ­under the idea of freedom; for, in­de­pen­dence from the determining ­causes of the world of sense (which reason must always ascribe to itself) is freedom” (99).

Notes to Pages 134–146


87. As Kant argues in the Metaphysics of Morals (1797), “A person is a subject whose actions can be imputed to him. Moral personality is therefore nothing other than the freedom of a rational being u ­ nder moral laws. . . . ​A ­thing is that to which nothing can be imputed. Any object of f­ ree choice which itself lacks freedom is therefore called a t­ hing.” See Metaphysics of Morals, in Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 378. 88. Kant, Groundwork, 103. 89. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, in Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 218. 90. The prob­lems posed by this aspect of his view have prompted most con­ temporary commentators to argue that Kant’s moral argument can be separated from his talk of phenomenal and noumenal selves; w ­ hether this was Kant’s own view, however, is debatable. For the argument that Kant’s “idea of intelligible causality is a practical conception, and our belief in it is an article of practical faith” that “is not supposed to be theoretically employed,” see Christine Korsgaard, “Morality as Freedom,” in Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 183. 91. Kierkegaard, ­Either / Or, II, 167. 92. Kierkegaard, Sickness, 13. 93. Kiekegaard, Concluding, 77. 94. Kiekegaard, Concluding, 75. 95. Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, trans. Reidar Thomte and Albert B. Anderson (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1980), 143. 96. As Beauvoir argues in The Ethics of Ambiguity, “To want to prohibit a man from error is to forbid him to fulfill his own existence, it is to deprive him of life” (138). 97. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 37–38. 98. See Sartre’s discussion of the man who attempts to play at being a waiter as a ­table is a ­table in Being and Nothingness, 101–103. 99. Kierkegaard, Sickness, 63. 100. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 57. 101. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 27. 102. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 129. 103. Sigi Jöttkandt, Acting Beautifully: Henry James and the Ethical Aesthetic (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), 29. Although I take issue with Jöttkandt’s Kantian reading of the novel, my argument may be read in support of her claim that “for James, as for many of his contemporaries, the prob­lem of ethics begins with the question of repre­sen­ta­tion. . . . ​The question of how an ethical act can be represented must thus form the nucleus of this discussion of Jamesian ethics, as indeed it correspondingly also makes up one of the central thematic concerns . . . ​ of The Portrait of a Lady” (5).


Notes to Pages 146–150

104. See Jane Kneller, “Kant on Sex and Marriage Right,” in The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Moral Philosophy, ed. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 447–504. Kneller notes that Kant’s account of marriage includes the same provisions for divorce as Prus­sian civil law, and that moreover “his theoretical account of the personal u ­ nion forged by the marriage contract leaves open the possibility of filing for divorce (the analog of rebellion) not only ­u nder breach of the conditions of fidelity, non-­abandonment, and shared property, but also ­u nder conditions of abuse, both physical and psychological” (468). 105. For the view that Isabel’s rejection of Goodwood’s proposal is “the rejection of the fantasy of in­de­pen­dence and ­will that sealed her fate in the first place,” see Robert Pippin, Henry James and Modern Moral Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 143. 106. Dominic J. Bazzanella, “The Conclusion to The Portrait of a Lady Re-­ Examined,” American Lit­er­a­ture 41, no. 1 (1969): 55–63. 107. For the argument that “a good part of the ethical interpretation of novels in the nineteenth c­ entury did not derive strictly from explicit repre­sen­ta­tion or exhortation but also from the experience of their narrative form,” see Jesse Rosenthal, “What Feels Right: Ethics, Intuition, and the Experience of Narrative,” in Good Form: The Ethical Experience of the Victorian Novel (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2017), 10–41. 108. Kierkegaard, Concluding, 46–47. 109. James Conant, “Putting Two and Two Together: Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, and the Point of View for Their Work as Authors,” in Philosophy and the Grammar of Religious Belief, ed. Timothy Tessin and Mario von der Ruhr (New York: St. Martin’s, 1995), 284. 110. “Ralph Touchett was a phi­los­o­pher,” and the name “Ralph” means “wise counsel” (227). 111. See Jöttkandt, Acting, 22, for the argument that “readings of the novel that give a thematic reason for the mystery of Isabel’s final return to Rome must fail from a (Kantian) ethical perspective. Reading her narrative through the teleological trajectory of the Bildungsroman, critics inevitably ‘pathologize’ her decision, that is, give it some form of empirical content or ‘body’ that provides the ground not only for her final choice, but also the yardstick against which our critical judgment of her ethical transformation is mea­sured.” 112. “She believed that to let him take her in his arms would be the next best ­thing to d ­ ying. This belief, for a moment, was a kind of rapture, in which she felt herself sinking and sinking” (798). 113. Furthermore, this reading enables us to expand in impor­tant ways upon the account offered by J. Hillis Miller regarding the undecidability of the text and the impossibility of saying anything about Isabel’s decision whatsoever. Miller argues:

Notes to Pages 151–154


The kiss in The Portrait of a Lady confirms, at least for this case, what Derrida says in Force de loi (“Force of Law”) about decision. You can know what happens before and ­a fter a decision but the moment of decision is unknowable. . . . ​It is a blank place in the language. Whereof one cannot speak one perhaps should remain ­silent. This failure of knowledge is parallel to . . . ​the lack of explanation for why Isabel refused Caspar and Warburton. It is parallel, fi­nally, to Isabel’s inability to explain to Caspar, Mrs. Touchett, or Ralph why she accepted Osmond. In all t­ hese cases, for the writer, the narrator, the character, and the reader, the basis of decision is hidden. (Lit­er­a­ture as Conduct, 79–80)

However, Isabel does explain to Ralph at length why she chooses Osmond. The explanation betrays her ­mistake, insofar as it reiterates her repre­sen­ta­tion of the choice of the marriage to herself as a choice that realizes her noblest aspirations to a certain freedom. The plot of the novel is thus better understood not as one undecipherable string of decisions, but rather as a series of turning points in Isabel’s own existential understanding of what it means to choose in a way that is truly f­ ree and in­de­pen­dent. Consequently, the novel distinguishes between the unknowability of decision from the agent’s point of view and from the perspective of one who can only participate, however fleetingly, in its illusory repre­sen­ta­tion. The former, I have suggested, is an unknowability that stems from the responsibility and authority of choice, whereas the latter emerges from the lack of such authority. 3. Detotalized Totality

1. See the Introduction for an extended discussion of empiricist and so­cio­log­ i­cal approaches to realism. 2. Käte Hamburger, The Logic of Lit­er­a­ture, trans. Marilynn J. Rose (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973), 112–113. 3. Although Hamburger adopts ele­ments of Bühler’s model, she also critiques it extensively insofar as it does not provide an adequate account of how the spatial deictics of language function in fictional discourse. See Hamburger, Logic, 125–134. 4. Hamburger, Logic, 129. 5. José Ortega y Gasset, “Notes on the Novel,” in The Dehumanization of Art and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Lit­er­a­ture, trans. Helene Weyl (1925; repr., Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1968), 91. 6. This question is of course related to the broader philosophical issue of the ontological status of fictional worlds. For analyses of this topic based on the pos­si­ble worlds of logical semantics developed by phi­los­o­phers such as Saul Kripke, David Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga, see Umberto Eco, “Pos­si­ble Worlds and Text Pragmatics: ‘Un drame bien parisien,’ ” VS 19 / 20 (January–­August 1978): 6–72; Umberto Eco, “Lector in Fa­bula: Pragmatic Strategy in a Metanarrative Text,” in The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington: Indiana


Notes to Pages 154–157

University Press, 1979), 200–266; Lubomír Doležel, “Mimesis and Pos­si­ble Worlds,” Poetics ­Today 9, no. 3 (1988): 475–496; Lubomír Doležel, Heterocosmica: Fiction and Pos­si­ble Worlds (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Barbara Partee, “Pos­si­ble Worlds in Model-­Theoretic Semantics: A Linguistic Perspective,” in Pos­si­ble Worlds in Humanities, Arts and Science: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 65, ed. Sture Allén (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), 93–123; Thomas Pavel, “ ‘Pos­si­ble Worlds’ in Literary Semantics,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 34, no. 2 (1975): 165–176; Thomas Pavel, Fictional Worlds (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986); Marie-­Laure Ryan, “The Modal Structure of Narrative Universes,” Poetics ­Today 6, no. 4 (1985): 717–756; Marie-­Laure Ryan, Pos­si­ble Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1991); and Ruth Ronen, Pos­si­ble Worlds in Literary Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). 7. As Pavel argues, the autonomy of the fictional world “does not mean that a comparison between art and real­ity is illegitimate, nor that literary works are totally isolated from one another. . . . ​But any such comparison is logically secondary to the exploration of the unique ontological perspective posited by the work.” See Pavel, “ ‘Pos­si­ble Worlds,’ ” 175. 8. For instance, the novelist Thomas Hardy declares that a “sudden shifting of the m ­ ental perspective into a fictitious world, combined with rest, is well known to be often as efficacious for renovation as a corporeal journey afar. . . . ​The shifting of scene should manifestly be as complete as if the reader had taken the hind seat on a witch’s broomstick.” Upon closer examination, the analogy pulls awkwardly in vari­ous directions at once. The journey to the novel’s other-­world is not corporeal but m ­ ental; it is a shift only in perspective, and yet the shift in scene is complete; its otherworldliness is suggested by the figure of the witch, while its corporeality remains pres­ent in the uncomfortable seat of the broomstick. See Thomas Hardy, “The Profitable Reading of Fiction,” Forum 5 (1888): 57. 9. Ortega, “Notes,” 94. 10. For an extended version of this argument, see Yi-­Ping Ong, “Simone de Beauvoir’s Theory of the Novel: The Opacity, Ambiguity, and Impartiality of Life,” Philosophy and Lit­er­a­ture 39, no. 2 (2015): 379–405. 11. Simone de Beauvoir, “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” trans. Marybeth Timmermann, in “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 198–199. All l­ater quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 12. Beauvoir’s claim that lit­er­a­ture enables the intersubjectivity of the author and the reader requires careful interpretation. For instance, when she says, “When I read Le Père Goriot, I know very well that I am not walking through Paris such as it was in Balzac’s time; I am walking through a novel by Balzac, in the universe of

Notes to Page 159


Balzac,” she evidently means that Balzac communicates an existential situation in his novelistic work (201). Yet she cannot mean that this happens directly, without the mediation of art. The biographical author must be distinguished from the form-­giving agent. To see the world of fiction through the author’s eyes is not to see the world through the author’s own eyes. Indeed, the meta­phor of seeing through the author’s eyes immediately reveals that the illusion that we described in Chapter 1 must remain in full effect—­what is at stake in the novel as a work of art is the possibility of imagining that the author is not t­ here, and that indeed I qua reader am not t­ here to behold or consummate the world through my own vision, but rather that the world of the novel is disclosed in such a manner that the limits of our par­tic­u­lar everyday situations do not condition its revelation. 13. Although Beauvoir appears to subsume novel, memoir, and essay ­under the broad umbrella of “lit­er­a­ture” ­here, ­these disparate forms do not share the same aesthetic aims or method of world revelation. Toril Moi argues that “for Beauvoir, the ‘miracle of lit­er­a­ture’ can only happen when the reader feels in the presence of a ­human voice. . . . ​Novels, autobiographies, and essays can all be lit­er­a­ture, as long as they have the necessary voice. Voice also supersedes the ‘outmoded’ (périmée) distinction between form and content. . . . ​The very way I tell a story is my story.” See Toril Moi, “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do? Simone de Beauvoir as a Literary Theorist,” PMLA 124, no. 1 (2009): 194. Moi’s reading of Beauvoir on voice is deeply illuminating. Although her conclusion that “Beauvoir wishes to avoid formalism” may at first seem to be in tension with the interpretation of Beauvoir advanced in this chapter, it is impor­tant to clarify that by “formalism,” Moi means discussions of literary form that are preoccupied by “pure” form. Clearly, Beauvoir is interested in the form of the novel, as evidenced by the finer points of her analy­sis of novelistic poetics and authorial presence in essays such as “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” in which she explic­itly declares that “one cannot posit the existence of the novelist without denying that of his protagonists.” Moreover, it seems crucial to distinguish the novel from other forms in which authorial voice and presence are not problematized in the same manner, if only to preserve the sense in which novelistic narration attempts to overcome (through vari­ous forms of equivocity, dialogism, ­silent or unspoken expression) the necessary connection between voice and embodied presence in stage drama. See Simone de Beauvoir, “Lit­er­a­ture and Metaphysics,” in Philosophical Writings, trans. Veronique Zaytzeff and Frederick M. Morrison, ed. Margaret A. Simons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 271. 14. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 174, 223, 264, 321, 330–331. 15. The earliest formulations of ­these prob­lems can be found in a journal entry dated August 16, 1926, in which she compares the modes of revelation found in philosophy and lit­er­a­ture. See Simone de Beauvoir, Diary of a Philosophy Student:


Notes to Pages 160–166

Volume 1, 1926–1927, ed. Barbara Klaw, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, and Margaret A. Simons, trans. Barbara Klaw (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 66–67. For an extended discussion of this entry, see also Ong, “Beauvoir’s Theory.” 16. Hamburger, Logic, 73–74. 17. Ann Banfield, Unspeakable Sentences: Narration and Repre­sen­ta­tion in the Language of Fiction (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 69–70. 18. Jean-­Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, trans. Peter France (London: Penguin, 1979). 19. Banfield, Unspeakable, 97, 270. 20. In a similar vein, Elaine Scarry suggests that one way novels might achieve the mimetic effect of “ ‘givenness’ ” is through the marked absence of an (implicitly voiced) imperative to imagine the scene in question: “In order to achieve the ‘vivacity’ of the material world, the verbal arts must somehow also imitate its ‘per­sis­tence’ and, most crucially, its quality of ‘givenness’ . . . . ​It might be said that each descriptive sentence in a novel or poem is implicitly preceded by t­ hese erased imperatives (and that erasure no doubt magnifies our sense of the object’s ‘givenness’).” Elaine Scarry, Dreaming by the Book (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1999), 30, 36. 21. Mary Galbraith, “Deictic Shift Theory and the Poetics of Involvement in Narrative,” in Deixis in Narrative: A Cognitive Science Perspective, ed. Judith F. Duchan, Gail A. Bruder, and Lynne E. Hewitt (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1995), 44. 22. Heidegger, Being, 37–38. 23. Jean-­Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), 488. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. For an account of Heidegger’s influence on Sartrean ontology and epistemology, specifically with re­spect to the issue of w ­ hether Sartre interpreted Heidegger’s conception of Being-­in-­the-­world correctly, see Leo Fretz, “Individuality in Sartre’s Philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Sartre, ed. Christina Howells (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 78–79. 24. That Sartre considered the philosophical conception of situation to be communicable in novelistic form is evident in his comments about novels such as Malraux’s La Condition humaine (1933). In a letter to Simone de Beauvoir dated April 13, 1940, he writes: “I’m reading Man’s Fate. . . . ​­There’s a sort of philosophical grasp of the ‘situation,’ which is very laudable.” See Quiet Moments in a War: The Letters of Jean-­Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, 1940–1963, ed. Simone de Beauvoir, trans. Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993), 130. 25. As D. S. Bland contends, “One aspect of the novelist’s art, the role and technique of background description, has been somewhat neglected. . . . ​The critic

Notes to Pages 166–170


who does more than make a conventional nod in the direction of Egdon Heath or the environs of Wuthering Heights is hardly ever to be encountered” (121). Yet although he acknowledges the relation between world description and ­matters of plot and character, Bland confines himself to the manner in which it functions as a means of conveying localization, mood, and symbol. See D. S. Bland, “Endangering the Reader’s Neck: Background Description in the Novel,” Criticism 3, no. 2 (1961): 121–139. 26. Pam Morris, Realism (London: Routledge, 2003), 61. 27. Roland Barthes, “The Real­ity Effect,” in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 148. 28. Hilary Schor, Curious Subjects: ­Women and the ­Trials of Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 2–3. 29. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), 30. 30. Franco Moretti, “Serious ­Century,” in The Novel, Volume I: History, Geography, and Culture, ed. Franco Moretti (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2006), 390. 31. Mary Fulbrook and Martin Swales, “Introduction: Repre­sen­ta­tion in Lit­er­a­ture and History,” in Representing the German Nation: History and Identity in Twentieth-­Century Germany, ed. Mary Fulbrook and Martin Swales (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 5. 32. John Locke, An Essay Concerning H ­ uman Understanding, ed. Roger Wool­ house (London: Penguin, 1997), 109–110. 33. See Locke, Essay, book II, chapter 1, section 6: “The ideas of obvious and familiar qualities, imprint themselves, before the memory begins to keep a register of time or order. . . . ​A ll that are born into the world being surrounded with bodies, that perpetually and diversely affect them, variety of ideas, ­whether care be taken about it or no, are imprinted on the minds of c­ hildren” (111); book II, chapter 1, section 25: “­These ­simple ideas, when offered to the mind, the understanding can no more refuse to have, nor alter, when they are imprinted, nor blot them out, and make new ones itself, than a mirror can refuse, alter, or obliterate the images or ideas, which, the objects set before it, do therein produce” (121); and book II, chapter 1, sections 23 and 24: “Tis about t­ hese impressions made on our senses by outward objects that the mind seems first to employ itself, in such operations as we call perception, remembering, consideration, reasoning, ­etc. . . . ​­These are the impressions that are made on our senses by outward objects, that are extrinsical to the mind. . . . ​The mind is fitted to receive the impressions made on it” (120). 34. Moretti, “Serious ­Century,” 390. 35. See Moretti, “Serious ­Century,” 391. 36. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism, ed. Donald Gray (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), 158–159.


Notes to Pages 172–189

37. See Dorothy Van Ghent, “On Pride and Prejudice,” in The En­glish Novel: Form and Function (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1953), 99–111; Roger Sale, “Jane Austen,” in Closer to Home: Writers and Places in ­England, 1780–1830 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 35–64; William H. Galperin, The Historical Austen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 124–134; Amy King, “Austen’s Physicalized Mimesis: Garden, Landscape, Marriageable Girl,” Bloom: The Botanical Vernacular in The En­glish Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 73–131; Judith W. Page, “Estates,” The Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice, ed. Janet Todd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 97–149. 38. George Eliot, Middlemarch, Bert G. Hornback, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 46–48. 39. See Lilian R. Furst, “Landscapes of Consciousness,” All Is True: The Claims and Strategies of Realist Fiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 116–145; David Trotter, “Space, Movement, and Sexual Feeling in Middlemarch,” in Middlemarch in the Twenty-­First ­Century, ed. Karen Chase (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 37–64; Elizabeth J. Sabiston, “Dorothea Brooke: the Reluctant Aesthete,” Prison of Womanhood: Four Provincial Heroines in Nineteenth-­ Century Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), 81–114. 40. For a theory of characterization that addresses the question of how a central character’s situation inflects and is inflected by the situations of other (minor) characters, see Alex Woloch, The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2003). 41. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, in Novels, 1881–1886, ed. William T. Stafford, vol. 2 (New York: Library of Amer­i­ca, 1985), 268–270. 42. Moretti, “Serious ­Century,” 370. 43. Sartre, Being, 488. 44. Sartre, Being, 482–483. 45. Heidegger, Being, 184–185. 46. Quoted in Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2003), 483. 47. Auerbach, Mimesis, 484–485. 48. Erich Auerbach, “Über die ernste Nachahmung des Alltäglichen,” in Romanoloji Semineri Dergesi (İstanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Yayinlari, 1937), 272–273. 49. Note that this interpretation departs from the view of Flaubert that Lukács advances in his compelling essay, “Narrate or Describe?” (the premise of which is highly relevant to the central arguments of this chapter). Lukács argues that in contrast to Scott, Balzac, and Tolstoy, “Flaubert pres­ents only a ‘setting’ ” that functions as mere “background,” and that consequently Flaubert’s “characters are

Notes to Pages 192–198


nothing but observers of this setting,” rather than being involved participants into whose point of view the reader is drawn. See György Lukács, “Narrate or Describe?,” in Writer and Critic and Other Essays, ed. and trans. Arthur Kahn (London: Merlin Press, 1970), 115. 50. Gustave Flaubert, The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830–1857, ed. and trans. Francis Steegmuller (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 141–216. 51. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, ed. G. H. Von Wright and Heikki Nyman, trans. Peter Winch (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980), 6e-7e. 52. Michael Fried, “Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein, and the Everyday,” Critical Inquiry 33, no. 3 (2007): 520. See also Fried’s l­ater elaboration of this point in Why Photography M ­ atters as Art as Never Before (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 77–78, 364n31; ­there, he distances himself from the earlier formulation of “two worlds” and suggests that “the two perspectives . . . ​are dif­fer­ent ways in which the world ‘discloses’ itself, to use Heideggerian language in a Wittgensteinian context.” 4. The Novel and the Unfinished Work of Art

1. Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 48. 2. Friedrich Schlegel, Athenaeum Fragments, Friedrich Schlegel’s “Lucinde” and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971), 189. 3. Simone de Beauvoir, “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” trans. Marybeth Timmermann, in “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 198. 4. Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 130. 5. György Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 56. 6. For paradigmatically modernist accounts of unfinishable art and the novel, see Michael Wood, “The Last Night of All,” PMLA 122, no. 5 (2007): 1394–1402; and Judith Butler, “Who Owns Kafka?” London Review of Books 33, no. 5 (2011): 3–8. 7. Jane Austen, Emma, ed. Stephen Parrish (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993), 25–35. All l­ater quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 8. Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists, trans. George Bull (London: Penguin, 1987), 104. 9. Michelangelo’s own Sonnet 151 seems to support this interpretation: “Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto / ch’un marmo solo in sé non circonscriva / col suo superchio, e solo a quello arriva / la man che ubbidisce all’ intelletto [Not even the best of artists has any conception / that a single marble block does not contain / within its


Notes to Pages 198–202

excess, and that is only attained / by the hand that obeys the intellect].” See Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation, trans. James M. Saslow (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 302. 10. Plato, The Republic, trans. G. M. A. Grube, in Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), 1200. 11. Thomas McFarland, Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin: Words­worth, Coleridge, and Modalities of Fragmentation (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 1981), 15. 12. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, ed. J. T. Boulton (London: Routledge, 1958), 77. 13. Henry Home (Lord Kames), Ele­ments of Criticism, ed. Peter Jones, 6th ed. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005), 1:207. 14. Kames, Ele­ments, 1:208. 15. Albert Camus, “Art in Communion,” in Youthful Writings: (Cahiers II), trans. Ellen Conroy Kennedy (New York: Knopf, 1976), 172. 16. Albert Camus, The Plague, trans. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Vintage, 1991), 306. 17. Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. Anthony Bower (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), 262. 18. Camus, like the other existentialists, begins from the assumption that ­t here is no meaning given to us, no preformulated order that unifies our lives, prior to our own attempt to make or choose this meaning. In the words of Sartre’s famous 1946 dictum, “Existence precedes essence.” Unlike a chair, whose making is governed by a technical formula that determines what it ­w ill be, we first come into existence and then are faced with the task of imposing some meaning or form upon our lives. Although Camus’s response to this crisis may be located at the crossroads of absurdism and existentialism, both Camus and Sartre unmistakably inherit a tradition of Kierkegaardian thought in which the existential question of how to live in this situation of radical freedom takes pre­ce­dent over any merely theoretical reflection upon it. See Jean-­Paul Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, trans. Carol Macomber (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 22. 19. Camus, Rebel, 262. 20. Camus, Rebel, 261. 21. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 286–287. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 22. For example, if I am to understand myself as a teacher in the pres­ent—­a proj­ect that necessitates reading and learning from this book next to me and talking with t­ hese ­people who I think of as my students—­then I must do so by continually renewing my projection of myself as a teacher. To do this is to under-

Notes to Pages 203–206


stand that being a teacher is one of the potentialities of my being. Thus how Dasein exists in the world in the pres­ent, how it relates to the other beings around in it and the objects in its environment that are ready at hand, is determined by an understanding of itself that it proj­ects into the ­f uture. 23. Heidegger’s account of how this happens is given in the sections of Being and Time that deal with Being-­toward-­death, an analy­sis drawn in part from Tolstoy’s novella “The Death of Ivan Ilych” (1886). 24. Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, 22. 25. Heidegger asks in Being and Time: With relation to what entities do we talk about that which is still outstanding? When we use this expression we have in view that which indeed “belongs” to an entity, but is still missing. . . . ​For instance, the remainder yet to be received when a debt is to be balanced off, is still outstanding. . . . ​To be still outstanding means that what belongs together is not yet all together. Ontologically, this implies the un-­readiness-­to-­hand of ­those portions which have yet to be contributed. ­These portions have the same kind of Being as ­those which are ready-­to-­hand already. . . . ​Entities for which anything is still outstanding have the kind of Being of something ready-­to-­hand. (286–287)

26. Schlegel, Fragments, 175. 27. Philippe Lacoue-­Labarthe and Jean-­Luc Nancy, The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Lit­er­a­ture in German Romanticism, trans. Philip Barnard and Cheryl Lester (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), 44. 28. Lukács acknowledges his debt to Kierkegaard in the 1962 preface to The Theory of the Novel. Referring to his 1909 work “Das Zerschellen der Form am Leben: Sören Kierkegaard und Regine Olsen” (The shattering of form against life), published in 1911 as “Die Seele und die Formen” (Soul and form), he writes: “Kierkegaard always plays an impor­tant role for the author of The Theory of the Novel, who, long before Kierkegaard had become fash­ion­able, wrote an essay on the relationship between his life and his thought. And during his Heidelberg years immediately before the war he had been engaged in a study, never to be completed, of Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel” (18–19). 29. Although limitations of space prevent me from engaging at length with this issue, it is impor­tant to note that the existentialist aesthetic of the unfinished work in realist novels is distinct from the modernist conviction that art is necessarily unfinished b­ ecause, as Pericles Lewis argues in his account of the crisis of repre­sen­ ta­tion in modern art and lit­er­a­ture, “No reintegration of ­human life through art is pos­si­ble.” See Pericles Lewis, The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 8. 30. D. A. Miller, Jane Austen, or The Secret of Style (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2003), 31. All l­ater quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses.


Notes to Pages 206–207

31. Anthony Cascardi, “The Novel,” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Lit­er­a­ture, ed. Richard Eldridge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 173. 32. Jocelyn Harris, Jane Austen’s Art of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 170. 33. Mrs. Elton thinks much of her charisma and of the perfection of her situation; similarly, Emma’s complacency with regard to her own gifts and social standing make her prone to self-­importance and snobbery. Just as Mrs. Elton shows excessive pride in Maple Grove and all she is familiar with, so too does Emma hold her own Hartfield in the highest esteem: Hartfield is always at the center of her understanding of her superior identity, and remains the standard by which she judges all ­else. Mrs. Elton babbles on pretentiously about the elegance of her ­brother’s carriage: “ ‘They ­will have their barouche-­landau, of course, which holds four perfectly. . . . ​I ­shall decidedly recommend their bringing the barouche-­landau; it w ­ ill be so very much preferable’ ” (175); Emma displays an equally snobbish delight over Knightley’s carriage: “ ‘This is coming as you should do,’ said she, ‘like a gentleman—­I am quite glad to see you. . . . ​Now you have nothing to try for. . . . ​ Now I ­shall ­really be very happy to walk into the same room with you’ ” (136). When Emma thinks herself the star of a neighborhood dinner party (noticing that she is “received with a cordial re­spect which could not but please, and given all the consequence she could wish for” and that “the kindest looks of love, the strongest of admiration w ­ ere for her, from both husband and wife; the son approached her with a cheerful eagerness which marked her as his peculiar object”), Mrs. Elton soon displays the same belief that she is, or o­ ught to be, the center of attention at Emma’s dinner party, airily remarking: “ ‘Nobody can think less of dress in general than I do—­but upon such an occasion as this, when every­body’s eyes are so much upon me, and in compliment to the Westons—­who I have no doubt are giving this ball chiefly to do me honour—­I would not wish to be inferior to ­others’ ” (136, 207). 34. Emma characterizes Mrs. Elton viciously in her private thoughts as a ­woman who “brought no name, no blood, no alliance,” “self-­important, presuming, familiar, ignorant, and ill-­bred,” and “ ‘a ­little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. E., and her cara sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and underbred finery’ ” (116, 179–180, 178). But Mrs. Elton is equally quick to express her own high-­minded disapproval of the very same qualities: “Only think! well, that must be infinitely provoking! I have quite a horror of upstarts. Maple Grove has given me a thorough disgust to p ­ eople of that sort; for ­there is a f­ amily in that neighborhood who are such an annoyance to my ­brother and ­sister from the airs they give themselves! . . . ​­People of the name of Tupman, very lately settled ­there, and encumbered with many low connections, but giving themselves im­mense airs, and expecting to be on a footing with the old established families. A year and a half is the utmost that they can have lived at West Hall; and how they got their fortune nobody knows.” (199)

Notes to Pages 212–218


Emma is particularly horrified by Mrs. Elton’s loud and public declaration of her self-­sufficiency—­“ ‘Blessed with so many resources within myself, the world was not necessary to me. I could do very well without it. To t­ hose who had no resources it was a dif­fer­ent ­thing; but my resources made me quite independent’ ”—­“ ‘I always say a w ­ oman cannot have too many resources—and I feel very thankful that I have so many myself as to be quite in­de­pen­dent of society’ ” (177, 197). In her eagerness to criticize Mrs. Elton, though, Emma seems to have forgotten her earlier boast to Harriet: “ ‘Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married w ­ omen are half as much mistress of their husband’s ­house, as I am of Hartfield. . . . ​If I know myself, Harriet, mine is an active, busy mind, with a ­great many in­de­pen­dent resources’ ” (54–55). All in all, despite the fact that Emma protests of Mrs. Elton, “ ‘I never met with her equal,’ ” it seems that Emma has in fact met with a sort of mirror to her own most undesirable and superficial qualities (178). 35. Susan Sniader Lanser, Fictions of Authority: W ­ omen Writers and Narrative Voice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 8. 36. Daniel P. Gunn, “­Free Indirect Discourse and Narrative Authority in Emma,” Narrative 12, no. 1 (2004): 36. 37. John A. Dussinger, In the Pride of the Moment: Encounters in Jane Austen’s World (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990), 98–99. 38. “Jane Fairfax was an orphan, the only child of Mrs. Bates’s youn­gest ­daughter . . . ​growing up with no advantages of connection or improvement to be engrafted on what nature had given her in a pleasing person, good understanding, and warm-­hearted, well meaning relations” (103). 39. The fact that the authority of making and unmaking matches in Austen’s novels is exercised primarily by w ­ omen over other ­women—­for example, in Pride and Prejudice by Mrs. Bennett and Lady Catherine—­yields an in­ter­est­ing lens through which to reconsider the claims of critics such as Claudia Johnson, who argues of Austen and Emma that “the absolution of one and the arraignment—­ sometimes indulgent and sometimes not—of the other alike derive from a profound discomfort with female authority, and female authority itself is the subject of Emma.” See Claudia L. Johnson, Jane Austen: ­Women, Politics, and the Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 122. See also Lanser, Fictions, 8. 40. Frances Ferguson, “Jane Austen, Emma, and the Impact of Form,” Modern Language Quarterly 61, no. 1 (2000): 180. 41. Casey Finch and Peter Bowen, “ ‘The Tittle-­Tattle of Highbury’: Gossip and the F ­ ree Indirect Style in Emma,” Repre­sen­ta­tions 31 (Summer 1990): 3–4. 42. See Tony Tanner, Jane Austen (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 183, for another analy­sis of how Emma “tries to ‘write’, or rather ‘rewrite’, Harriet’s life. . . . ​Harriet is not allowed to write or speak for herself.”


Notes to Pages 219–221

43. D. A. Miller, Narrative and Its Discontents: Prob­lems of Closure in the Traditional Novel (Prince­ton: Prince­ton University Press, 1981), 7–8, observes: Silly and unimportant as it is, Harriet’s indecision has the power to motivate a narrative episode. “Yes—­no—­yes” is a structure of insufficiency, allowing for the articulation of a potentially endless series of oscillations. It is a basically open structure, infinitely expandable, and one could imagine even greater play given to it than the text is in fact willing to tolerate. . . . ​Like a stammer, her language refuses to form a complete sentence. Her endless retraction . . . ​keeps meaning in an inchoate, unfinished state. . . . ​In its full portrayal of Harriet, the novel elaborates the indecision that she betrays at Ford’s into a more comprehensive and consequential structure of narratability.

44. Miller writes: “Though the heroine’s adoption of style may induce the courtship plot, what brings this plot to fruition . . . ​is a moment of mortification when, the better to acquire the selfhood she had never before wanted, the heroine forsakes style; or rather, what is much more demeaning, she flattens it into a merely decorative reminiscence of itself, like a flower pressed into a wedding a­ lbum” (Secret, 45). 45. For evidence that Zola may have based the plot of L’Œuvre upon Henry James’s 1873 short story, “The Madonna of the F ­ uture,” and that James, in turn, was very likely familiar with Balzac’s short story before writing his own, see Robert J. Niess, “Henry James and Zola: A Parallel,” Revue de littérature comparée 30 (January 1956): 93–98. 46. Émile Zola, Interview with Maurice Français, Voltaire, May 3, 1886. 47. See Patrick Brady, L’Œuvre de Émile Zola: Roman sur les arts, manifeste, autobiographie, roman à clef (Genève: Droz, 1967); and Robert J. Niess, Zola, Cézanne, and Manet: A Study of “L’Œuvre” (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968). 48. Émile Zola, The Masterpiece, trans. Thomas Walton, rev. trans. and ed. Roger Pearson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 15, 97, 97, 412. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 49. Émile Zola, Ébauche (preparatory notes for L’Œuvre), Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS N.A.F, ff. 263–265, quoted in Brady, “L’Œuvre,” 387. 50. Émile Zola, “Après une promenade au salon,” Figaro, May 23, 1881; repr. in Zola, Mon salon, Manet, écrits sur l’art (Paris: Caisse Nationale des Lettres, 1970). 51. William J. Berg, The Visual Novel: Émile Zola and the Art of His Times (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992), 227. 52. Göran Blix, “Le Trou dans L’Œuvre: Zola’s Punctured Text,” Excavatio: Émile Zola and Naturalism 16, nos. 1–2 (2002): 300. 53. Niess, Zola, 129.

Notes to Pages 222–224


54. As Morris Dickstein puts it, “The ­great naturalists like Zola and Dreiser fortunately did not adhere too closely to their own pseudo-­scientific ideas. They recognized that novelistic characters cannot begin to exist without a modicum of freedom.” See Morris Dickstein, A Mirror in the Roadway: Lit­er­a­ture and the Real World (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2005, 46. 55. Peter Brooks, Realist Vision (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 126. 56. See especially Robert Lethbridge’s discussions of the novel in “Against Recuperation: The Fictions of Art in L’Œuvre,” Romantic Review 102, nos. 3–4 (2011): 449–463, and “Zola and Con­temporary Painting,” in The Cambridge Companion to Emile Zola, ed. Brian Nelson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 78–84. 57. Many critics have since challenged the view of earlier scholars such as John Rewald that Zola’s “ideas ­were obviously in complete opposition to the very basis of the Impressionist movement.” See John Rewald, The Ordeal of Paul Cézanne (London: Phoenix House, 1950), 119. On the relation between Zola’s conception of naturalism and his evolving views of impressionism, see William J. Berg, “L’Œuvre: Naturalism and Impressionism,” L’Esprit créateur 25, no. 4 (1985): 42–50; F. W. J. Hemmings, “Zola, Manet, and the Impressionists (1875–80),” PMLA 73, no. 4 (1958): 407–417; Sara Pappas, “Reading for Detail: On Zola’s Abandonment of Impressionism,” Word & Image 23, no. 4 (2007): 474–484. A detailed account of the relation between Zola’s art criticism and his naturalist views may be found in Lethbridge, “Con­temporary Painting,” 67–85. 58. Michael Fried, Manet’s Modernism, or The Face of Painting in the 1860s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 278. 59. James Ramsey Wallen, “What Is an Unfinished Work?” New Literary History 46, no. 1 (2015): 128. 60. For a description of how “the breakdown of Claude’s painting is echoed by a concurrent break up of speech” in the novel, see Kate Griffiths, Emile Zola and the Artistry of Adaptation (London: Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge, 2009), 40–41. 61. Both the marble faun of Kenyon’s attempted portrait-­bust and The Marble Faun of the novel fail to come to a satisfactory, “finished” resolution. The cause of this creative interruption lies in a gap between the idealized permanence of marble and the shifting and fragmented material of Donatello’s a­ ctual consciousness. When Donatello first sits for Kenyon in his studio, Kenyon is “chiefly perplexed how to make this genial and kindly type of countenance the index of the mind within. . . . ​If, at one sitting, he caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a genuine and permanent trait, it would prob­ably be less perceptible, on a second occasion, and perhaps have vanished entirely, at a third. So evanescent a show of character threw the sculptor into despair.” The narrative description of Donatello’s state echoes the shifting evanescence of his inner being. From the straightforward and


Notes to Pages 226–231

calculable “index of the mind within,” the passage shifts to the more transient and immediate “moral phase through which the Count was now passing,” and then fi­nally to an “evanescent . . . ​show of character.” The characteristic that makes Donatello most difficult to sculpt, in Kenyon’s mind, is a mismatch between form and content that is described in the novel as a sign of “individuality.” Donatello’s “individuality” is incurred through a rebellion against both the peaceful, amiable archetype of the Faun and the social order of his world; “individuality” transfigures his physiognomy and personality only a­ fter his murder of the mysterious Capuchin. See Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, ed. Susan Manning (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 211, 204. 62. Camus, Rebel, 258. 63. The passage echoes Zola’s own preparatory notes to the novel, which emphasize this “agonizing effort” of the artist “struggling with the Real” as the basis of his central character: “In Claude Lantier, I want to depict the artist’s strug­gle with real­ity, the sheer effort of creation which goes into ­every work of art, the blood and tears involved in giving of one’s flesh, in trying to make something that lives: the endless b­ attle to achieve truth, and the endless defeats, the strug­gle with the angel” (Masterpiece, ix). 64. Camus, Rebel, 255. 65. Camus, Rebel, 255. 66. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. Justin O’Brien (1955; London: Penguin, 2005), 117. 67. Camus, Sisyphus, 116. 68. Camus, Sisyphus, 119. 69. Camus, Sisyphus, 116. 70. The quest for au­then­tic identity is scrupulously distinguished in the novel from the desire for public recognition embodied by the popu­lar painter Fagerolles, and associated instead with the integrity of the artist Bongrande, whose very name indicates an aspiration for goodness and greatness larger than life even as his many failures and eventual artistic decline stand as a warning to his pupils. Notwithstanding the inevitable narcissism of art bound up with quest for identity, the focus of the novel on the creation of a tormented identity through the attempt to create produces as much a portrait of the artist as a portrait of his art. 71. Camus, Rebel, 260. 72. For an insightful account of how “the au­then­tic artists . . . ​are the rebellious offspring of Romanticism . . . ​[which] is conceived of as a kind of poison of which they must rid themselves,” see Thomas Zamparelli, “Zola and the Quest for the Absolute in Art,” Yale French Studies 42 (January 1969): 145. 73. György Lukács, Studies in Eu­ro­pean Realism, trans. Edith Bone (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964), and György Lukács, The Meaning of Con­temporary Realism, trans. John and Necke Mander (London: Merlin Press, 1963).

Notes to Pages 231–238


74. Friedrich Nietz­sche, Twilight of the Idols, in Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-­Christ: or How to Philosophize with a Hammer, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 1990), 78. 75. For an analy­sis of the “impulse of affect” in Zola’s novels, see Fredric Jameson, “Zola, or, the Codification of Affect,” in The Antinomies of Realism (New York: Verso, 2013), 45–77. 76. Camus, Sisyphus, 119. 77. Camus, Sisyphus, 116. Conclusion

1. Norman Mailer, Existential Errands (Boston: ­Little, Brown, 1972), 104. 2. Richard Eldridge, “Introduction,” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Lit­er­a­ture, ed. Richard Eldridge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 5. 3. Vincent Descombes, Proust: Philosophy of the Novel, trans. Catherine Chance Macksey (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 14. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and w ­ ill be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 4. Notable exceptions include: Frederic Jameson, Sartre: The Origins of a Style (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961); Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual W ­ oman, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Toril Moi, “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do? Simone de Beauvoir as a Literary Theorist,” PMLA 124, no. 1 (2009): 189–198; and Sylvia Walsh, Living Poetically: Kierke­ gaard’s Existential Aesthetics (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994). For the purposes of this analy­sis, I have bracketed ­here the broader question of the relation between ­these thinkers and other literary genres. 5. See Theodor Adorno, “On Commitment I,” Performing Arts Journal 3, no. 2 (1978): 8, for the argument that “in order to develop his drama and novel beyond sheer declaration . . . ​Sartre has to seek recourse in a flat objectivity, subtracted from any dialectic of form and expression, that is simply a communication of his own philosophy. The content of his art becomes philosophy as with no other writer except Schiller.” 6. Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry or the Defence of Poesy, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd, rev. ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1973), 90. 7. See Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Lit­er­a­ture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), for an alternate attempt to marry the two views by showing how lit­er­a­ture educates the emotional responses that are central to a full moral life. 8. For recent arguments in ­favor of distilling philosophically significant ideas from novels, see Alan Goldman, Philosophy and the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), and Patrick Fessenbecker, “In Defense of Paraphrase,” New Literary History 44, no. 1 (2013): 117–139.


Notes to Pages 238–241

9. ­Here I adapt Martin Puchner’s idea of “a theatrical history of modern philosophy—­a history of philosophy from the point of view of drama and theater.” See Martin Puchner, The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 8. 10. Erich Auerbach, “Über die ernste Nachahmung des Alltäglichen,” in Romanoloji Semineri Dergesi (İstanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Yayinlari, 1937), 273. Thanks to Emine Fisek for helping me to procure this text, and to Nils F. Schott and Daniel Viehoff for their assistance with the translation of ­these passages. 11. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton University Press, 2003), 491. All ­later quotations refer to this edition and ­will be followed by page numbers in parentheses. 12. ­There is no doubt that from the time Auerbach entered Marburg as professor and chair of Romance philology in 1929 u ­ ntil he was dismissed as a “full Jew” from his post in 1935 ­under the Nuremberg Laws, he absorbed the prevailing philosophical theories of the day through his acquaintance with Rudolf Bultmann, Hans-­ Georg Gadamer, Karl Löwith, and o­ thers. Löwith’s “Existenz-­Philosophie” appeared in 1932, and his essay on “Kierkegaard und Nietz­sche” in 1933; in 1935, Leo Spitzer attempted to bring both Auerbach and Löwith to Istanbul University, but succeeded only in passing his own professorship to Auerbach before leaving for Johns Hopkins University in 1936. See Kader Konuk, East West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 23–49, for an account the circumstances surrounding Auerbach’s emigration. 13. Auerbach, “Alltäglichen,” 273. 14. Guido Mazzoni, Theory of the Novel, trans. Zakiya Hanafi (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 229. 15. György Lukács, Studies in Eu­ro­pean Realism, trans. Edith Bone (London: Merlin, 1950), 11.


In its earlier life, this book was part of a larger proj­ect. Th ­ ere, it benefited from the generous readings and luminous minds of Philip Fisher, Louis Menand, and Elaine Scarry. I am grateful to Philip Fisher for the clarity and energy with which he engaged innumerable drafts. This would be a much lesser book w ­ ere it not for the keenness of his encouragement and disputation, which he freely contributed in equal mea­sure. Louis Menand showed me how to see the larger arc of arguments, and helped me to find a language for my ideas. His intellectual vision and his tolerance ­toward the inarticulate thought w ­ ere equally invaluable. Elaine Scarry, to whom this book owes a special debt, breathed life into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters as she read them. Her radiant wisdom and broadminded creativity inspired me at e­ very turn. The Stanford Humanities Center granted a year-­long fellowship that made pos­ si­ble the reconceptualization of the larger proj­ect as two distinct and yet closely linked books. I am grateful to the warmth and liveliness of the other fellows, and to the members of the Philosophy and Lit­er­a­ture group at Stanford, who together made up the Platonic ideal of an intellectual community. I would also like to thank Harvard University and The Johns Hopkins University for research support that aided im­mensely in the earliest and latest stages of this book. Work that is called “interdisciplinary” is often in danger of becoming homeless. For saving it from this fate, I thank my colleagues at the Department of Comparative Thought and Lit­er­a­ture (formerly the Humanities Center) at Johns Hopkins, who provided an atmosphere of deep intellectual engagement and hospitality. Many other colleagues, students, and teachers over the years have offered the kind of ­intellectual



companionship that helped me to understand what this book was ­doing or wanted to do. I thank especially R. Lanier Anderson, Sharon Cameron, Michael Fried, Toril Moi, Stephen Mulhall, and Martin Puchner for the liveliness and lucidity of their ideas; Sabina Lovibond, Wolfgang Mann, Christia Mercer, Robert Thurman, and the late Gordon Baker for showing that philosophy needs imagination; Sarah Beckwith, Robert Chodat, Richard Eldridge, Rita Felski, Eli Friedlander, John Gibson, Garry Hagberg, Florian Klinger, Joshua Landy, Robert Pippin, Peggy Phelan, Bernie Rhie, Corina Stan, Sreten Ugričić, Blakey Vermeule, and Karen Zumhagen-­Yekplé for the gift of a community in philosophy and lit­er­a­ture; and, for exchanges on novels, philosophy, and aesthetics at Hopkins, Amanda Anderson, Kristin Boyce, Douglas Mao, Jacques Neefs, Jesse Rosenthal, Rochelle Tobias, and Molly Warnock. For meaningful, incisive comments on ­these chapters or on earlier versions of the manuscript, I am indebted to R. Lanier Anderson, Isobel Armstrong, Sharon Cameron, Stanley Cavell, Michael Fried, Stephen Greenblatt, Hannah J. Kim, Leonardo Lisi, Amy Mandelker, Andrew Miller, Richard Moran, Toril Moi, and Leah Price. Thanks also to two anonymous readers at Harvard University Press, whose careful readings of the manuscript resulted in several additions and clarifications to the argument of the book. To Stanley Cavell I owe special thanks; had he not taken an interest in some thoughts on Kierkegaard and Henry James, I might never have started. Edward Tayler told me to read Henry James. I am lucky to be his student. The invaluable assistance of Lindsay ­Waters and Joy Deng is acknowledged with deep gratitude. Unlike the fictional editor of Kierkegaard’s From the Papers of One Still Living, Lindsay never tried to grab the manuscript and publish it against its author’s ­will. His per­sis­tent encouragement and astute sense of the proj­ect as a ­whole ­were nevertheless decisive. Thanks also to Tatiana Holway and Brian Ostrander for their meticulous attention to the final details. The Prologue was first published as “Anna Karenina Reads on the Train: Readerly Subjectivity and the Poetics of the Novel,” PMLA (forthcoming), October 2018, by the Modern Language Association, with some slight modifications. The section in Chapter 1 on “Beauvoir” incorporates some discussion from “Simone de Beauvoir’s Theory of the Novel: The Opacity, Ambiguity, and Impartiality of Life,” Philosophy and Lit­er­a­ture 39, no. 2 (October 2015): 379–405, © 2016 The Johns Hopkins University Press. I thank the publishers for the opportunity to include this material ­here. Laura Evensen, Daniel Viehoff, Molly Faulkner-­Bond, Jane Caflisch, and many ­others have accompanied this work with their wisdom, high spirits, and infinite kindness. Fi­nally, I am grateful to my ­family, ­here and abroad, for their tireless dedication and love. To Amaia, who can now read t­ hese words, and to Kai, who can now (almost) say them—­I love you. To Itay, my heartfelt thanks for seeing this before it existed and for giving the time it took to make it real. This book is dedicated to the memory of my beloved grand­mother.


absorption: in novel theory, 7, 247n15; readerly, 11, 58, 74, 158–159, 162; of self, 56, 126 Adorno, Theodor, 236, 283n5 aesthetic stage of life, 67, 105–107, 125–26; in Middlemarch, 105; in The Portrait of a Lady, 119–122, 143. See also ethical stage of life agency: in Anna Karenina, 12; of the artist, 222; of the author, 23, 37, 41, 218; as embedded in the world, 163, 164, 166; fiction of characterological, 22, 74, 91–93, 101–102; of the reader, 153; role of in self-­k nowledge, 31, 104; and situation, 184–187 Andersen, Hans Christian, 49–50, 72–73; critical reception of, 50, 72, 249n2; Kierkegaard on, 18–20, 54–56, 58–64, 73, 256n18, 257n24 Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), 98, 194; Anna Karenina as character in, 5, 16–17; Anna Karenina as reader in, 3–5, 7–13, 16–17, 246n7; consciousness as f­ ree ­will in,

14–15; deliberative reflection in, 3, 4, 9–10, 12, 15; distraction from novel-­ reading in, 7–8; ethics in, 3, 14–15; imaginative reflection in, 4–5, 9–13, 17; Nabokov’s diagram of, 1–3; novel-­reading in, 3–12, 116–117, 246n7; novel that Anna Karenina reads in, 1–3, 5, 8, 11, 245n4; readerly subjectivity in, 4, 9–10, 16–17; self-­estrangement in, 15–17; trains in, 1–2, 7–8, 16–17; ­woman reader in, 3 Armstrong, Nancy, 24, 27, 253–254n61 Auerbach, Erich: and existentialist philosophy, 240–242, 284n12; Mimesis, 165, 167, 188–190, 240–242; “Über die ernste Nachahmung des Alltäglichen” (“On the Serious Repre­sen­ta­tion of the Everyday”), 239–242 Austen, Jane: critical reception of, 172, 206, 212, 279n39; novel of marriage and, 106–107, 113, 184; Mansfield Park, 106; Northanger Abbey, 106; Sense and Sensibility, 98, 104, 113. See also Emma; Pride and Prejudice

288 author: aesthetically consummates lives of characters, 21–23, 40, 60–61, 69–70, 94–95, 249n7, 255n11; / beholder, 19–22, 23, 51, 67, 94–95, 162, 195; qua character, 64, 72–74, 218; creates character for own fulfillment and elevation, 207–208, 214, 216, 217–219; empirical, 32, 54–56, 62, 189, 257n24, 270–271n12; exists as unifying princi­ple of the work, 51–53, 60, 63, 87, 257n24; intrudes in lives of characters, 61–62, 95–96, 147, 206–208; fiction of characterological freedom and, 20–23, 66–70, 74–76, 90–96 passim, 101–103, 197; as form-­giving agent, 21–23, 37, 59, 87, 162; qua matchmaker, 197, 206–219 passim; omnipotent or omniscient intervention of, as cause of aesthetic failure, 19–20, 22, 58, 61–62, 73–77, 81; paradoxical (non)existence of, 18–23 passim, 41, 63–64, 66, 70, 102, 159–162, 257n24; readerly awareness of, 18–20, 22–23, 41, 58–62, 66–70, 72–74, 91; re­sis­tance by character to, 33–34, 238; speaks indirectly by way of totality of work, 72, 89, 162; structuralist and poststructuralist critiques of the, 41; transgredient to existence of character, 22, 52 authority: crisis of in the novel, 239; in Emma, 197, 205–219, 279n39; of God, 39; fictions of, 212, 218; narrative, 206–208, 212, 216–217; of novelist, 20, 58, 76, 90, 206, 216; of plot over individual characters, 42; in The Portrait of a Lady, 96, 116, 118, 131, 146–147, 150, 268–269n113; in Pride and Prejudice, 100–101; reader as without, 5, 10; of self-­k nowledge, 9–10, 14–15, 29, 32–34, 68, 100–101, 104, 251n41, 251–252n42; in Villette, 112–113. See also Kierkegaard, Søren autonomy: of fictional world, 270n7; fiction of characterological, 23, 34, 255n11; of


lit­er­a­ture from criticism, 206; of philosophy from lit­er­a­ture, 236; in The Portrait of a Lady, 94, 123, 132–135, 146; in ­ ill, 115–116; of the Villette, 112; of the w work of art, 7, 158–159. See also Kant, Immanuel bad faith, 32, 143; of character, 73; of novelist, 40, 69–70 Bakhtin, Mikhail: on the author, 19–22, 51, 52–53, 60–61, 98–99, 101–103, 249n7, 255n11; on the hero, 20–22, 52, 98–99, 102–103, 249n7; influence of Kierkegaard on, 103; on the novel, 6, 60; Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity, 19–21, 51–53, 62–63, 94, 155, 249n7, 255n11; “Epic and Novel,” 6–7, 60; Prob­lems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 98–99, 101–103, 251–252n42 Balzac, Honoré de, 45, 65, 249n2; Auerbach on, 167; Beauvoir on, 154, 156–157, 159, 270–271n12; Lukács on, 274–275n49; “Le Chef d’œuvre inconnu,” 220, 280n45 Banfield, Ann, 32, 160–162 Barthes, Roland, 166, 169 Baym, Nina, 96, 261n11 Beauvoir, Simone de: on ambiguity, 80–85, 87; on the author, 41, 80, 81, 85–87, 89, 101–102; and Bakhtin, 101–102; on characterological freedom, 81–82, 101–102; critical reception of, 88, 271n13, 283n4; on detotalized totality of situation, 156–159, 196; influence on Sartre, 65; on the novel and sociology, 156–159; on novelistic character, 41, 81–82, 90, 101–102; novels by, 36, 88, 252n43, 259n47; on the relation between philosophy and lit­er­a­ture, 38–41, 48, 79–80, 83, 87–88, 235–236, 239; on the poetics of the novel, 40–41, 79–89, 90, 156–159, 270–271n12, 271n13; and realism, 39, 79, 83, 88, 101–102, 156; “An American Re­nais­sance in France,” 79, 159; The Ethics of Ambiguity, 82–83,


266n79, 267n96; “Lit­er­a­t ure and Metaphysics,” 38, 40–41, 60, 79–87, 101, 159, 271n13; Les Mandarins, 88; “My Experience as a Writer,” 88–89; “The Novel and Metaphysics,” 38, 79, 82, 159; The Prime of Life, 83; “What Can Lit­er­a­ture Do?,” 38, 39, 43, 79, 156–159, 252–253n51 being: authorial, 19–21, 34, 41, 53, 60–63, 206, 249n7; characterological, 21, 33–34, 62, 76, 92, 193; -­in-­t he-­novelistic-­world, 151–162, 169–184, 188–190, 193; -­in-­t he-­world, 153, 159, 163, 185, 187, 202; -­narrated, 162; novel as art of, 48; not-­being-­in-­t he-­world, 153, 190, 192–193; not-­yet-­, 201, 203; potentiality-­ for-­, 202–206, 276–277n22; readerly, 16, 25–26, 80, 158–159, 193; -­toward-­death, 201–202, 277n23; -­t here (see Dasein). See also nonbeing Benveniste, Émile, 160 Berg, William, 221, 281n57 Bergson, Henri, 81, 86 Berkson, Dorothy, 96 Bildung, 118. See also bildungsroman bildungsroman, 92, 110, 112, 150, 268n111 Bilgrami, Akeel, 30 Bland, D. S., 272–273n25 Booth, Wayne, 31 Bowen, Peter, 216 Boyle, Robert, 168 Brontë, Charlotte, 112–113; Villette, 42–43, 97, 110 Brooks, Peter, 222, 253–254n61 Bühler, Karl, 152 Burge, Tyler, 30 Burke, Edmund, 199 Butor, Michel, 156 Camus, Albert, 37, 235, 236, 238; on disputation, 197, 204–205, 226–227; Sartre on, 75; “Art in Communion,” 199; The Myth of Sisyphus, 228, 233–234; The

289 Plague, 199; The Rebel, 22, 200–201, 226–227, 230 Cascardi, Anthony, 206 Cavell, Stanley, 246–247n11, 258n41 characterological freedom: in Anna Karenina, 14–15; dialectical relation to (non)existence of author, 22, 66–70, 74, 102–103, 195, 224; fiction of depends on poetic paradox, 22–23, 39–42, 69, 90–97 passim, 101–103, 104, 195; danger of reifying, 101–103, 136–150 passim; in Emma, 197, 205; in existentialist poetics of novel, 20–23, 65–69, 74–79, 81–82, 98, 237–239; in L’Œuvre, 220, 224; manifested through novelistic plot, 43, 93, 97, 103; in naturalist tradition, 222, 281; in The Portrait of a Lady, 43, 94–96, 116–118, 124–135 passim, 141, 143–147; readerly conviction in, 22, 41, 66–70, 74, 90–91, 95, 101–102; in realist tradition, 23, 34, 241; relation to novelistic world, 47; threatened by authorial presence, 20, 72, 74, 76, 95–96, 147; and unfinalizability, 98–99, 103. See also agency: fiction of characterological; autonomy: fiction of characterological characters: aesthetic consummation of, 20–23, 52, 61, 69–70, 73, 94–95, 249n7; as authorial figures, 94–95, 147, 218; authoritative self-­k nowledge of, 21, 33–34, 90–91, 101, 197, 251–252n42, 268–269n113; disclose world of novel, 153, 170–184 passim, 187, 190; exist in world of novel, 43–44, 161–162, 166, 169–184, 189, 196; I-­origo of, 152; in­de­pen­dent agency of, 20–23, 41, 74, 90–91, 93, 102, 241; individuality of, 28, 42, 91, 92–93, 281–282n61; inner lives of, 20, 31, 69, 125; made unconvincing by authorial intrusion, 19–20, 41, 61–62, 73–76, 81–82, 90–91, 95; narratorial knowledge of, 31–32, 268–269n113; in naturalism, 222, 281n54; as readers, 3–5,

290 characters (continued ) 7–13, 16–17, 118, 120; readerly identification with, 3, 4, 6, 44, 246n7; readerly knowledge of, 4, 9, 11–12, 26, 31, 65–69, 268–269n113; realism of, 23, 45, 58, 241; relation to plot, 42, 91–93, 97; revolt of against literary finalization, 98–99, 102–103; subjected to author’s patronage, 61–62, 147, 207–208, 213–214, 216, 217–219. See also characterological freedom Chodat, Robert, 252n47 choice. See self-­k nowledge: situation of choice in Coetzee, J. M., 8 Cohen-­Solal, Annie, 65 communication: direct, 137, 161; indirect, 51, 52–53, 72, 83, 137, 161, 162; novel as form of, 38, 80, 89, 158, 161, 283n5; of the self with the self, 144 consciousness: in Anna Karenina, 7, 15; Bakhtin on, 61, 102; Beauvoir on, 266n79; Descartes on, 28–29; Kierkegaard on, 141; Locke on, 29, 44–45, 168; in Middlemarch, 176; readerly knowledge of characterological, 8, 69, 70, 248n20; in realist tradition, 25, 44, 70, 77, 90, 97, 102–103, 161, 263n32; relation to choice, 69, 108; in Romanticism, 205; Sartre on, 70, 75; self-­, 14, 32, 100, 216; Tolstoy on, 14–15 Crane, R. S., 260 Culler, Jonathan, 32 Dasein, 159, 163, 186–187, 201–203, 205, 240, 276–277n22 de Beauvoir, Simone. See Beauvoir, Simone de Defoe, Daniel, 44 Dennett, Daniel C., 250n26 Descartes, René, 14–15, 27–30 Descombes, Vincent, 236 Dickens, Charles, 46, 249n2 Dickstein, Morris, 281n54


disputation, 197, 204, 226, 228, 232, 233 Dos Passos, John, 65 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 204; Bakhtin on, 98–99, 101, 102–103, 251–252n42; Beauvoir on, 81, 101–103; Sartre on, 66, 77, 78, 258n33 drama, 35, 194; and novel, 78, 161, 258n42, 271n13; and novel theory, 31 Dussinger, John, 212 Eldridge, Richard, 235 Eliot, George, 30, 46, 156, 165; novel of marriage and, 42–43, 92, 97. See also Middlemarch Eliot, T. S., 231 Emma (Austen): analogy between matchmaking and authoring in, 197, 206–208, 212–216, 217–219; Emma as author, 208, 218, 219; Emma as character, 207, 215–216; Emma as self-­appointed matchmaker, 206–208, 211–214, 219; Emma subjected to authorial matchmaking, 207–208, 215–216; female authority in, 279n39; Harriet Smith as an equal, 219; Harriet Smith subjected to Emma’s matchmaking, 207–208, 211–214, 218; limits of authorial knowledge in, 197, 206; Mrs. Elton as doppelgänger in, 207, 215–216, 219, 278n33, 278–279n34; narrative authority in, 207, 212, 216–217; status as repre­sen­ ta­tion of person, 205, 209, 218; self-­ knowledge and choice in, 108–110; unfinished portrait in, 208–212, 217; unnarrated story in, 217 empiricism: and perceptual model of self-­k nowledge, 14, 28–29; in theory of the realist novel, 27, 44–45, 47, 151, 156, 158, 167–169 Ermarth, Elizabeth Deeds, 31–32 ethical stage of life, 55, 104, 106–110, 115; in The Portrait of a Lady, 121–136 passim. See also aesthetic stage of life


ethics: in Anna Karenina, 3, 14–15; Bakhtin on, 21, 61, 249n7; in existentialist tradition, 82, 115, 267n96; and first-­person authority of self-­k nowledge, 33; Hegelian, 129, 266n79; Kantian, 124–125, 131–135, 268n111; Kierkegaard on, 266n81 (see also ethical stage of life); and the novel, 26–27, 34, 44, 81, 241, 268n107; in The Portrait of a Lady, 121–136 passim, 143, 145–146, 148, 267n103, 268n111; and significance of choice in novel of marriage, 91, 100, 106–110, 115, 261n11 existence: of author, 19, 41, 62, 195, 271n13; authoritative point of view on, 17, 21, 40, 42, 76, 91; capacity to navigate, 56; of character as consummated by author, 21, 52, 60, 61, 63, 69; in Emma, 109, 206, 208, 214; error and, 267n96; essence and, 76, 82, 205, 276n18; in existentialist tradition, 37, 121, 187, 200–205, 230, 239, 241; fictional repre­sen­ta­tion of, 22, 53, 78, 113, 160; in L’Œuvre, 224, 225, 232; in Madame Bovary, 188–189; meaning of, 35, 38, 39, 48, 89; narration of, 252–253n51; noumenal, 134; objective or reified repre­sen­ta­tion of, 43, 101, 148; in The Portrait of a Lady, 119, 147, 148, 150; in realist tradition, 31, 47, 90, 196, 236, 239, 241–242; responsibility over one’s own, 4, 39–40, 104, 108; stages of, 97 (see also aesthetic stage of life; ethical stage of life); suspension of in novel-­reading, 5–6, 17, 18, 69, 85; totalizing perspective on, 197, 205, 224; and world, 153, 163–165, 193 existentialism: Auerbach and, 240; Beauvoir on, 157; and ethics, 82, 115, 143; and lit­er­a­ture, 35–39, 48, 235–236, 238–239; popu­lar reception of, 36, 186, 226, 235; reception of in literary theory, 252n46; and realist tradition, 241–242; Sartre on, 76, 82; significance of unfinishedness in, 195, 200–205. See also novel: existentialist poetics of

291 facticity, 82–83, 119, 143, 159, 164 Faulkner, William, 65, 70–71, 78, 154 Ferguson, Frances, 216 Fernandez, Ramon, 65 fiction: of existence as a destiny, 22; meta-­, 3, 95, 147, 196, 197, 218, 233–234; necessity of novel qua, 10, 104, 155, 165, 193; of readerly subjectivity, 4, 12, 17, 80; repre­sen­ta­tions of inwardness as, 136; of Tractatus Logico-­Philosophicus, 248n21; and truth, 88. See also agency: fiction of characterological; autonomy: fiction of characterological; characterological freedom Finch, Case, 216 Flaubert, Gustave, 25, 165, 192, 274– 275n49; Madame Bovary, 3, 188–190 Flint, Kate, 3 Forster, E. M., 42, 91–93 fragment, 60, 85; in Romanticism, 47, 195, 198–200, 204–205, 231 Frankfurt, Harry, 123–124 freedom: of action versus w ­ ill, 123–124; in Anna Karenina, 14; of the aesthetic stage of life, 56, 59, 105, 109–110; of the ethical stage of life, 106–107, 110, 126–127; in existentialist tradition, 22, 72, 76, 98–99, 103, 115–116, 276n18; Kant on, 133–134, 146, 267n87; and inwardness, 114–116; lover and, 126, 265–266n74; of novel reader, 38, 41, 80, 83, 150; of novelist, 101; in The Portrait of a Lady, 97, 98, 116–118, 131, 141, 143, 144; situation and, 163–164, 185–186; self-­k nowledge and, 4, 14, 21, 34, 68, 104, 147; temporality of, 69, 110; in ­ omen in modernity, 92. tragedy, 77; of w See also characterological freedom ­free indirect discourse. See ­under novel, theory of Freud, Sigmund, 81, 106 Fried, Michael, 7, 193, 222, 258n41, 275n52

292 Friedlander, Eli, 248n21 Fulbrook, Mary, 167 Galbraith, Mary, 162 Garff, Joakim, 50, 254n5 Gaskell, Elizabeth, 112 Genette, Gérard, 31 Gertler, Brie, 29 Gunn, Daniel, 212 Gustafson, Richard, 14 Gyllembourg, Thomasine, 50, 254n5 Hale, Dorothy, 23, 33–34, 251–252n42 Hamburger, Käte, 151–152, 160–161, 269n3 Hardy, Thomas, 46, 101, 154, 270n8 Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 194, 223–224, 281–282n61 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 24, 130, 204; aesthetics of, 53, 255–256n14; Beauvoir on, 266n79; ethics of, 129, 131, 266n79; Kierkegaard on, 144, 277n28 Heiberg, Johan Ludvig, 49–50, 53, 254n5, 255–256n14 Heidegger, Martin, 35, 37, 43, 236, 238, 241, 275n52; and Auerbach, 240; influence on Beauvoir, 82, 84, 159; influence on Sartre, 70–71, 159, 272n23; and Tolstoy, 238, 277n23; Being and Time, 153, 163, 186, 187, 201–205, 277n25 Hirschkop, Ken, 21 Hobbes, Thomas, 24 Home, Henry. See Kames, Lord Homer, 194 Hume, David, 114 Huxley, Aldous, 65 identification: with fictional character, 3–4, 6, 26, 44; with universal norms, 129 incompleteness: of existence, 200–204; of fictional character, 219; of work of art, 195–197, 199–200, 220, 233. See also fragment; unfinishedness


in­de­pen­dence: of fictional character, 93, 102; in The Portrait of a Lady, 96–97, 115–150 passim, 261n11, 268n105; of reader, 150; of self, 107, 136, 137, 266n86; in Villette, 111–112. See also autonomy individual: in existentialist tradition, 37–38, 203, 241, 266n79, 272n23; fictional character as, 42, 91–93, 216; Kierkegaard on, 15, 51, 55, 106–108, 115, 125–131 passim, 145; in The Marble Faun, 281–282n61; in novel theory, 24–28, 79, 92, 240; in The Portrait of a Lady, 96, 128–129; rebellion of the, 204, 228 intention: of author, 64, 74–75, 103, 162; of character, 151; in Emma, 210–211, 214, 215, 216; in Middlemarch, 180; in The Portrait of a Lady, 117, 122, 126–127, 140, 145, 148; in Pride and Prejudice, 171; of the self, 4, 30, 33, 110, 163–164, 265–266n74 interiority: Cartesian, 27, 29–30; in novel theory, 25–34, 103; and self-­k nowledge, 107–108 inwardness: and the form of the novel, 161; in Middlemarch, 114; in The Portrait of a Lady, 121, 139, 138–147 passim; of self, 52–53, 97, 116, 122, 129, 136–137; in Villette, 110. See also Kierkegaard, Søren Jackson, Robert Louis, 14, 246n7 Jackson, Tony, 27 Jakobson, Roman, 39, 252n50 James, Henry, 83, 97, 165; critical reception of, 94, 96–97, 260n10, 261n11, 262n15, 264–265n50, 267n103; “The Art of Fiction,” 5, 246n9; “The Madonna of the ­Future,” 280n45. See also The Portrait of a Lady Jameson, Fredric, 25, 30, 65 Jena School, 198 Jones, Wendy, 27 Jöttkandt, Sigi, 146, 267n103, 268n111



Kames, Lord (Henry Homes), 199 Kant, Immanuel, 28, 124–125, 146; on autonomy, 115–116, 131–134; on divorce, 146, 268n104; on the noumenal realm, 133–134, 267n90; Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 133–135, 266n86, 267n87; Metaphysics of Morals, 267n90; “What is Enlightenment?,” 124 Kermode, Frank, 196 Kierkegaard, Søren: on aesthetic stage of life, 55–56, 60, 104–106, 109–110, 121, 125–126; on author, 18–20, 51–64, 257n24; on authority, 10, 51, 248n22, 255n9; on character in the novel, 19, 52, 58, 61–62, 64; on the concept of a life-­view, 18–19, 50–64 passim, 256nn17–18, 257n24; on ethical stage of life, 55–56, 104, 106–110, 122–123, 125–127, 129, 266n81; on ethico-­ religious stage of life, 114–115, 116, 149; influence on Bakhtin, 103; influence on Lukács, 277n28; on inwardness, 43, 116, 121, 136–137, 141–145, 161; on poetics of the novel, 22–23, 36–37, 40–41, 49–51, 58–64, 90–91, 256n18, 256n20; and realism, 18, 249n2, 256n20, 258n41; relation between lit­er­a­ture and philosophy in, 104, 235–236, 238–239; on self-­k nowledge, 4, 9, 68, 104; The Book on Adler, 51–52, 255n9; The Concept of Anxiety, 141; Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 39, 51, 106, 121, 129–130, 136–137, 142, 144–145, 148–149; ­Either / Or, Part I, 42, 97, 104, 120–121, 136; ­Either / Or, Part II, 15, 42, 97, 104–108, 110, 122–123, 125–127, 135; “From the Papers of One Still Living,” 18–20, 40, 49–51, 53–64, 72–73, 95; The Sickness unto Death, 9, 118–119, 121, 125, 136, 144; Stages on Life’s Way, 42, 97, 104. See also communication: indirect Kripke, Saul, 269n6

Kundera, Milan, 35, 252n43 Kurnick, David, 94 Kuroda, Sige-­Yuki, 162 Lacoue-­L abarthe, Philippe, 204 Lanser, Susan Sniader, 212 Leitch, Vincent B., 252n46 Lessing, Doris, 194 Lewis, Pericles, 277n29 life-­view. See Kierkegaard, Søren: on the concept of a life-­view Locke, John, 24, 27–30, 44–45, 168, 273n33 L’Œuvre (Zola), 48, 194, 197; artist in, 221–223, 226–230, 232, 282n63, 282n70; artist’s subject in, 224–225; characterological freedom in, 222, 281n54; creative interruption in, 224; critical reception of, 220–222, 280n45; death of artist in, 224, 232–233; disputation in, 226–230; Impressionism in, 222, 281n57; incompleteness as formal feature of, 223, 232, 234; la fêlure in, 221; naturalism in, 220–222; prob­lem of aesthetic totality in, 197, 224; realism and, 221, 231, 234; qua roman à clef, 220; Romanticism and, 225, 231, 282n72; Sisyphean in, 226–229, 233–234; unfinished works of art in, 222–230, 232–233; unfinished novels in, 223, 230, 232–234 Lombroso, Cesare, 221 Lukács, György: and Kierkegaard, 277n28; “Franz Kafka or Thomas Mann?,” 46; The Meaning of Con­temporary Realism, 231; “Narrate or Describe?,” 274n49; Studies in Eu­ro­pean Realism, 231, 241, 246n10; The Theory of the Novel, 24–25, 103, 196 Lynch, Deirdre, 27 Mailer, Norman, 235 Manet, Édouard, 221–222 Mauriac, François, 258n33; Sartre on, 18–20, 66–67, 72–78

294 Mazzoni, Guido, 241 McFarland, Thomas, 199 Michelangelo, 47, 275–276n9 Middlemarch (Eliot), 42, 43; as novel of marriage, 104, 105, 114; situation of Dorothea in, 172–180 Miller, D. A.: Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style, 206, 212, 216, 219, 280n44; Narrative and Its Discontents, 280n43; The Novel and the Police, 25–26, 31 Miller, J. Hillis, 113, 264–265n50, 268–269n113 Moi, Toril, 88, 259n55, 271n13 Møller, Poul Martin, 53 Moran, Richard, 9–10, 30, 32–33, 68, 100, 251n41 Moreau, Jacques-­Joseph, 221 Morel, Bénédict Augustin, 221 Moretti, Franco, 24, 92, 167–169, 182 Morris, Pam, 27, 166 Morson, Gary Saul, 96, 246n7 Mulhall, Stephen, 266n81 Murdoch, Iris, 87, 196 Nabokov, Vladimir, 1–3, 5, 8 Naipaul, V. S., 194, 223 Nancy, Jean-­Luc, 204 narrative: authorial intrusion in, 58, 61–62, 74, 76, 112–113; closure, 42, 91, 196; in Emma, 207, 212, 216–219; forms and strategies, 23, 27, 40, 160, 216, 268n107, 272–273n25; as mode of knowing, 189–190; novelistic, 27–28, 31–33, 78, 160–161, 187; pace, 16; in the realist tradition, 167; so­cio­log­i­cal, 156; structure in L’Œuvre, 223, 231; structure in The Portrait of a Lady, 43, 97–98, 104, 182. See also narrator narrator: authority of, 33; conception of, 31; epistemological status of, 34; omniscient, 31, 75, 218; ontology of, 32, 161, 251n38. See also narrative


Niess, Robert, 221 Nietz­sche, Friedrich, 87, 204, 235–236, 241; influence on Camus, 227–228; on Zola, 231 Nochlin, Linda, 45 nonbeing: of author, 41, 63, 195 (see also author: paradoxical (non)existence of); reader, 4–5, 6, 10, 17, 153, 193 (see also reader: paradoxical (non)existence of) novel: ethics of, 23, 26, 34, 91, 115, 268n107; existentialist interest in form of, 35–37, 50, 65, 79, 87–89, 236–239; existentialist poetics of, 18–23, 33–43, 68, 90, 162, 187, 195–197, 237; history of, 5, 24–25, 27, 45, 216; ontology of, 37; as other-­world, 44, 152–155, 157–159, 193, 270n8, 270–271n12; philosophy of, 236; philosophical significance of, 36–40, 71–72, 87–88, 165, 235–242 passim; versus nonfictional narratives of lived experience, 22, 39, 47, 156–158, 252–253n51. See also novel, theory of; novel-­reading; realism; totality: poetics of the novel and novel, theory of: characterological autonomy in, 23, 34 (see also characterological freedom); conceptions of self-­k nowledge in, 28–34, 35, 251–252n42; death of God and, 25, 206; epic in, 24, 60, 196, 255–256n14; empiricism and, 27, 29, 44–45, 156, 167–169; formlessness of novel in, 7, 34; ­free indirect discourse in, 83, 161, 212, 216; implications of existentialist poetics for, 31–34, 35–37, 43; influence of dramatic theory on, 31; liberalism in, 25–26; linguistic analy­sis and, 151–152, 160–162; privacy in, 25–26, 31, 33, 251–252n42; on realist tradition, 27–28, 35, 39, 44–47, 152–156, 166–169, 188–190, 231, 239–242, 253–254n61, 256n20, 263n32; so­cio­log­ i­cal approaches to, 45–47, 156; subjective interiority in, 24–27, 29–30, 34, 103;


surveillance in, 26, 31, 216; on world description, 165–169, 188–190, 272– 273n25. See also novel; novel-­reading; realism; totality: poetics of the novel and novel-­reading: absorption and, 7, 247n15; adventure of, 81; asymmetrical intimacy of, 153; phenomenology of, 3–13 passim, 16–17, 18, 20, 25–26, 33, 34, 80–81, 152–155; pleasures and dangers of, 3, 15, 26, 216, 246n7, 247n15; task of, 81; value of, 39, 44, 80–81, 88, 156–158, 250n19. See also Poulet, Georges O’Brien, Lucy, 30 Ortega y Gasset, José, 152–155 Pavel, Thomas, 154, 270n7 philosophy: existentialist tradition of, 33–34, 37, 157, 241, 276n18; history of, 238, 284n9; and literary criticism, 240; and literary form, 35–39, 65, 79–80, 97–98, 165, 236–239; in lit­er­a­ture, 36, 60, 71, 235, 283n5, 283n8; of the novel, 236; relationship of lit­er­a­ture to, 35–36, 48, 65, 83, 87–88, 236–238; of self-­ knowledge, 9–10, 14–15, 27–34, 36–38, 68 Pinch, Adela, 27 Plantinga, Alvin, 269–270n6 Plato, 53, 198, 237, 254n67 plot: authorial intrusion in, 58, 61; characterological agency or freedom and, 43, 93, 96–97, 103–104; characterological individuality and, 42, 93; concept of, 260n8; of courtship and marriage, 42–43, 91–92, 98, 104, 107, 280n44; in Emma, 207–208, 212, 215, 217; in L’Œuvre, 221, 223; in The Odyssey, 195; in The Portrait of a Lady, 96–97, 116, 148, 268–269n13; and world-­disclosure in the novel, 166, 169, 272–273n25 poetry: lyric, 55, 59, 194, 255–256n14; Romantic, 195, 199, 204

295 point of view: authoritative, 76, 90–91, 101; characteristic of the novel, 28, 103, 160–161; in Emma, 210, 212, 213, 216; on the everyday, 191–192; first-­person agential, 4, 21, 29–33, 122, 151, 224, 268–269n113; of God, 75, 191–193; in Madame Bovary, 190; in Middlemarch, 176; of novelistic author, 40, 51–52, 63, 90, 94; of novelistic character, 31, 78; of novelistic reader, 4, 6, 9–12; paradox of novelistic, 4, 40, 42, 69, 101, 103, 153; in Pride and Prejudice, 171–172; and situation, 157; of spectator, 151, 191–192 Poovey, Mary, 91 The Portrait of a Lady (James): aesthetic reification in, 93–94, 142–143, 148, 260–261n10; aesthetic stage of life in, 118–123, 125, 140, 143; aesthetic totality in, 94–96; authorial figures in, 95–96, 146–147, 150; authoritative self-­ knowledge in, 42, 97, 131, 147, 150; bildung in, 118, 139, 150, 268n111; characterological freedom in, 93–94, 96–97, 115–118, 123–127, 131, 141–150 passim; critical reception of, 96–97, 125, 145, 146, 262–263n22, 267n103, 268n111; disappearance of reader from, 148–150; ethical stage of life in, 122–136, 140; imagination in, 119–123, 139–142; in­de­pen­dence in, 96, 115–117, 123, 126, 131–150 passim, 261n11; Isabel Archer as artist in, 183–184; Isabel Archer as reader in, 8, 118, 120; Isabel Archer as tourist in, 180–184; love and marriage in, 123, 125–127, 132–133, 135–136, 145, 148; meaning of Isabel Archer’s choice in, 96–97, 116–117, 122–123, 127, 145–150, 262–263n22, 264–265n50, 268–269n113; readerly desire for instruction and, 145–150; repre­sen­ta­tion of inwardness in, 43, 116, 122, 129, 126–150; subjective truth in, 141, 145 Poulet, Georges, 247n14, 248n20

296 Pride and Prejudice (Austen): authority of self-­consciousness in, 99–101; female authority in, 279n39; narrative structure of, 104, 106–107; situation of Elizabeth Bennett in, 170–172, 179, 183 Property Shot, 169–170; in Middlemarch, 172–180; in Pride and Prejudice, 170–172; in The Portrait of a Lady, 180–184 Puchner, Martin, 284n9 Pushkin, Alexander, 3 Radway, Janice, 91 reader: in Anna Karenina, 3–13, 16–17; complicity of, 31; desire of for aesthetic consummation, 3, 43, 113, 148–150, 78; desire of for instruction, 148–150; dialectical relation to fiction of characterological freedom, 18, 41, 66, 67–69; enters the world of the novel, 90, 152–155, 157–159, 162, 187, 270n8; fictionally assumes agential point of view in characterological life, 9, 10, 16, 66–67, 69, 152; freedom of, 38, 41, 80–81, 83, 89, 91; qua made-­believer, 153, 154, 159, 162, 188; made to acknowledge existence of author, 19–20, 22, 41, 62, 67–68, 72, 74; paradoxical (non)existence of, 5, 17, 160–161, 192–193, 270–271n12; plea­sure of, 15, 45, 62, 216; in The Portrait of a Lady, 8, 118, 120, 150; relation of to boundary of novel, 34, 51–53, 58, 70, 234, 247n14; subjectivity of, 4, 6, 44, 193, 248n20; as without authority, 5, 10, 69; as without responsibility, 4, 10, 69; ­woman, 3. See also absorption; novel-­reading reading. See novel-­reading realism: Beauvoir’s interest in, 39, 79, 83, 88, 101–102, 156; of Dostoevsky, 263n32; empirical accounts of, 27, 44–45, 47, 151, 156, 167–169, 253–254n61; and the everyday, 163, 167, 169, 188–193, 239–241, 258n41; and existentialism, 239–242; existentialist interest in, 36, 68, 236, 239,


241–242; ideological critiques of, 25, 35, 39, 46–47, 156, 169; Kierkegaard’s interest in, 18, 22–23, 40, 249n2, 256n20, 258n41; and novel of marriage, 42, 91, 101; novelistic tradition of, 5–6, 22–23, 28–34 passim, 44–46, 90–91, 152–155, 195–196; philosophical, 27; Sartre’s interest in, 18, 22–23, 40, 83, 258n33; so­cio­log­i­cal accounts of, 44–47, 151, 156, 231; thingness in, 166–169, 172, 184; of Tolstoy, 5, 246n10; verisimilitude and, 39, 192–193, 221, 231; world disclosure in, 43–47, 83, 151–155, 158, 165, 167–169. See also novel, theory of rebellion: divorce as analog of in Kant, 268n104; in L’Œuvre, 197, 224, 226–229, 233; and novel, 75; in The Portrait of a Lady, 22, 117, 132. See also disputation reflection: of Anna Karenina’s face, 12; art of double-­, 137; deliberative, 4, 9–10, 12, 30, 32, 68; embeddedness of, 84; ethical, 143; imaginative, 4, 9–12, 103–104; infinitizing, 119; inward, 17, 148; limits of, 75; objective, 104; realism and, 154, 192; upon oneself as an action, 15; self-­, 17, 52; theoretical, 276n18 Regis, Pamela, 91 Responsibility. See ­under self-­k nowledge Ricardou, Jean, 156 Richardson, Samuel, 44 Roberts, Siân Silyn, 27, 29 Romanticism: in L’Œuvre, 221, 225, 231, 282n72; view of fragment in, 195, 198–200, 204–205. See also Schlegel, Friedrich Rosen, Charles, 195 Rousseau, Jean-­Jacques, 161 Royle, Nicholas, 33 Ryan, Vanessa, 29–30 Sarraute, Nathalie, 70, 156 Sartre, Jean-­Paul: on the author, 19–20, 22–23, 40, 66–76, 238–239; on


characterological freedom, 20, 65–79, 90; and committed lit­er­a­ture, 156; critical reception of, 64–65, 71, 87, 236, 272n23, 283n5; on existence and essence, 76, 82, 276n18; on facticity and transcendence, 17, 119, 143, 267n98; on the lover, 265n74; on novel-­reading, 18, 66–67; on the poetics of the novel, 22–23, 36–37, 40–41, 66, 75–79, 238–239; on situation, 157, 159, 163–165, 185–186, 272n24; Being and Nothingness, 65, 82, 143, 163–165, 185–186; “Camus’s The Outsider,” 75; “Existentialism is a Humanism,” 76, 82, 203, 276n18; “François Mauriac and Freedom,” 18–20, 41, 64–69, 72–78, 98, 258n33; “John Dos Passos and 1919,” 65; La Nausée, 65; “Preface to Portrait of a Man Unknown,” 40, 69–70; “On The Sound and the Fury: Time in the Work of Faulkner,” 70–71 Scarry, Elaine, 272n20 Schlegel, Friedrich, 5, 246n9; on the fragment, 195, 204; influence on Kierkegaard, 53; Kierkegaard’s departure from, 60, 256n20 Scott, Sir Walter, 109, 167, 274n49 self-­k nowledge: and answerability to o­ thers, 10, 33, 251n41; asymmetry between first-­a nd third-­person knowledge and, 30, 32, 34, 122; authority of, 9–10, 14–15, 21, 29, 32–34, 68, 97, 100–101, 104 (see also authority); central to existentialist poetics of novel, 22–23, 34, 37, 43, 68, 101; and f­ ree ­will, 14–15, 68–69, 147; gives rise to paradox of authorial non­ existence, 41, 90, 195; gives rise to paradox of characterological freedom, 21–23, 74, 90–91, 93, 101, 104; gives rise to paradox of readerly subjectivity, 9–10, 16–17, 69, 153, 158–159; involves deliberation, 4, 15, 30, 32, 68–69; perceptual model of, 28–31; responsibility and, 4, 10, 15, 21, 31, 68–69, 104, 108;

297 situation of choice in, 10, 15, 16, 107–109; task of, 108–109; theory of the novel and, 26–34, 35, 251–252n42 Shoemaker, Sydney, 28, 30 Sidney, Sir Philip, 237 situation: agency and, 163–164, 166, 184–187; ambiguity of, 83, 164, 180, 183, 185–186; embeddedness and, 163–165, 172, 182, 184, 186; existentialist conception of, 43, 83, 157, 163–165, 185–188; in Madame Bovary, 188–190; in Middlemarch, 172–180; in The Portrait of a Lady, 180–184; in Pride and Prejudice, 170–172; novelistic repre­sen­ta­tion of, 158–160, 162–163, 165–166, 187–188, 272n24; as novelistic worldhood, 159, 163, 166, 187 Sloane, David, 3 Solomon, Melissa, 261n13 Stendhal, 101, 156, 159 Swales, Martin, 167 Tel Quel, 39, 156, 252n50 Tidd, Ursula, 88 Tintner, Adeline, 260n10 Tolstoy, Leo, 171; on ­will and self-­ knowledge, 14–15; influence on Heidegger, 238; “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” 277n23. See also Anna Karenina totality: detotalized, of existence, 157, 159, 162, 165, 197; existential lack of, 201–205; poetics of the novel and, 42, 47, 59–60, 94–95, 103, 159, 195–196, 206; of real­ity, 39, 129; of work of art, 21–23, 51, 75, 87, 89, 162, 232; of world, 60, 84, 151, 156–157, 196, 220 Trilling, Lionel, 26, 250n19 Trollope, Anthony, 245n4 truth: Beauvoir on novel and, 84, 86, 88–89, 157; Camus on, 199; historical, 46, 151; Kierkegaard on inwardness and, 56–57, 137, 141–142, 145, 149; in lit­er­a­ture versus philosophy, 235; objective, 149;

298 truth (continued ) and philosophical realism, 27–28; Sartre on novel and, 71; subjective, 137, 141–142, 145, 251–252n42, 266n79; Zola on art and, 282n63 Turgenev, Ivan, 3


Valéry, Paul, 6 Vasari, Giorgio, 198

Williams, Raymond, 46 Wilson, A. N., 245n4 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 57, 190–193 Woolf, ­Virginia, 65, 194, 223 world: existentialist concept of situation and, 43, 83, 162–165, 185–187; of film, 246–247n11; paradox of novelistic disclosure of, 43, 153–155, 157–161, 190, 193; readerly inhabitation of novelistic, 11, 62, 90, 152–154, 157–159; relation between mind and, 25, 29, 84–85, 166; relation between our own and novelistic, 22, 74, 152–155, 166, 193, 275n52; relation between self and, 106, 224, 226; repre­sen­ta­tion of in realist tradition, 44–47, 166–184, 188–193, 272n20; totality and, 60, 151, 156–157, 200, 220. See also u­ nder being

Watt, Ian, 27–28, 31, 44, 91, 166–167 Westfall, Joseph, 257n24 Williams, Bernard, 32

Zola, Émile: critical reception of, 220–222, 231, 280n45, 281n54, 281n57; Rougon-­ Macquart cycle, 220, 233. See also L’Œuvre

unfinishedness: of art, 47–48, 194–195, 198–200, 205, 220–234 passim, 277n29; of existence, 21, 200–205, 228, 232–234; of life proj­ects, 95; of novels, 196–197, 223, 229–230, 232–234; of portraits, 197, 205–206, 208–212, 217, 224–225, 281–282n61. See also fragment; incompleteness