Realism and Space in the Novel, 1795-1869: Imagined Geographies, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Realism and Space in the Novel, 1795-1869

Imagined Geographies, 1st Edition

By Rosa Mucignat

Routledge

192 pages

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Description

Posing new questions about realism and the creative power of narratives, Rosa Mucignat takes a fresh look at the relationship between representation and reality. As Mucignat points out, worlds evoked in fiction all depend to a greater or lesser extent on the world we know from experience, but they are neither parasites on nor copies of those realms. Never fully aligned with the real world, stories grow out of the mismatch between reality and representation-those areas of the fictional space that are not located on actual maps, but still form a fully structured imagined geography. Mucignat offers new readings of six foundational texts of modern Western culture: Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed, Stendahl'ss The Red and the Black, Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, and Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education. Using these texts as source material and supporting evidence for a new and comprehensive theory of space in fiction, she examines the links between the nineteenth-century novel's interest in creating substantial, life-like worlds and contemporary developments in science, art, and society. Mucignat's book is an evocative analysis of the way novels marshal their technical and stylistic resources to produce imagined geographies so complex and engrossing that they intensify and even transform the reader's experience of real-life places.

Reviews

Mucignat, Realism and Space in the Novel, 1795-1869

Rosa Mucignat, Realism and Space in the Novel, 1795-1869: Imagined Geographies (Oxford:

Routledge 2013) 192 pp. £95.00 Hb. ISBN: 9781409450559

The title of Rosa Mucignat's Realism and Space in the Novel 1795-1869: Imagined Geographies only palely

suggests the nature of this careful, well documented, and very pertinent literary study. Mucignat's book

reflects the hybrid nature of the novel in which multiple factors and vectors come to influence its delicate

economy. In the play of forces establishing the solidity of characters in the realist novel, space emerges

as a newly significant element, rather than a mere backdrop. Striving for an effet de réel – as it will be

duly interpreted and called by Barthes – and finally attaining that objective, a spatial dimension is

constituted which is consistent and meaningful and alters the reader's perception of the construction of

the characters and, obviously, the narrative logic. Mucignat’s work seeks to analyze the strategies that the

writers use in order to create a textual cartography, symbolic, conscious of and representative of

European realism, from its beginnings at the end of the eighteenth century, up to its most pure and

critical form in the work of Gustave Flaubert.

Based on the conviction – introduced in the first page – that the insertion of a geographic space,

imagined or real, 'gives texture and feel to a story' (1), Mucignat develops a convincing analysis of her

chosen texts over the five chapters. The first chapter, 'Making Worlds', is concerned above all with the

understanding of the transformative power of the physical agent (also psychological and phantasmatic)

called space, utilizing the different perspectives previously analyzed by critics like Barthes, Auerbach, and,

in an idiosyncratic way, Bakhtin: visibility, depth, and movement. Following the concept of the chronotope

developed by Bakhtin, as well as the Barthesian observation that detailed description changes the

narrative code of understanding, Mucignat shows that space contains in itself a more profound and

relevant meaning than merely a symbolic, decorative, or representative function: made visible by vivid

and accurate descriptions, space comes to play 'a role in the general economy of the diegetic-mimetic

unity of the text' (5). Consequently, it constitutes an element that is able to materialize the story that it

sets out to tell. In the same way, the depth reached by realist description allows the reading of novelistic

space along a vertical axis, capable of traversing the lives of the characters, which previously were

impenetrable. With respect to the construction of this new verticalized dimension of the fictional

universe, Mucignat evokes the influence of other scientific knowledges that interfere with it,

reverberations of the natural world in the very discursive context of the novel: from geological and

archeological metaphors to the manifestations of the nascent biological sciences, distinct spheres of

thinking that converge in the production of a modern episteme that echo freely in the countryside, as

well as in the urban centers portrayed in realist literature. This spatial dichotomy (rural versus urban) is

used by Mucignat to develop a fruitful analysis of movement, that kind of movement which can be

employed in order to dictate the tempo of the narrative/narration (22), but which can also refer to

immobility and displacement, an opposition serving as material for the creation and destiny of diverse

characters, such as Frédéric Moreau, Pip, and Julien Sorel.

About the Author

Dr Rosa Mucignat is Lecturer in Comparative Literature at King's College London, UK.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LIT020000
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature