1st Edition

The Novelist in the Novel Gender and Genius in Fictional Representations of Authorship, 1850–1949

By Elizabeth King Copyright 2023
    272 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Why do writers so often write about writers? This book offers the first comprehensive account of the phenomenon of the fictional novelist as a character in literature, arguing that our notions of literary genius – and what it means to be an author – are implicitly shaped by and explicitly challenged in novels about novelists, a genre that has been critically underexamined. Employing both close and distant reading techniques to analyse a large corpus of author-stories, The Novelist in the Novel explores the forms and functions of author-stories and the characters within them, offering a new theory that frames these works as textual sites at which questions of literary value and the cultural conceptions around authorship are constantly being negotiated and revised in a form of covert criticism aimed directly at readers. While nineteenth-century novels about novelists reveal a pervasive frustration with the market – a starving artist vs. commercial sell-out dichotomy – modernist examples of the genre focus on the development of the individual author-as-artist, entirely aloof from the marketplace and from the literary sphere at large. Yet, each of these dynamics is gendered, with women denigrated to commercial producers and men elevated to artists, and while the canon has largely supported the male view of authorship, a closer look at the work of women writers from this period reveals concerted attempts to counteract it. "Silly Lady Novelists" are pitted against serious male modernists in a battle to define what it means to be a literary genius.

    Novels about Novelists: An Undetected Epidemic?

    The Author-Story in Criticism

    Reading Closely, from a Distance

    A Theory of the Author-Story

    The Rise of Novels about Novelists

    PART I: Writing to Survive (1850–1899)

    1. Narratives of Failure: The Artist and His Antagonists in Victorian-Author Stories

    Poverty as Purity in Carlyle’s "The Hero as Man of Letters"

    From Pot-Boiler to Polemic: Herman Melville’s Pierre

    Pardoning the "unpardonable sin" in George Gissing’s New Grub Street

    Failing to Succeed and Succeeding in Failure: Mixed Metaphors in Henry James’s Author-Stories


    2. Woman or Writer? Silly Lady Novelists and New Woman Writers

    Silly Lady Novelists and the New Woman Writer

    An Impasse: Olympia’s Journal

    The Story of a Modern Woman by "A Spinster of Independent Means"

    George Paston: A Writer of Books

    Red Pottage: Mary Cholmondeley’s "Child of the Brain"


    PART II: After the Great Divide (1900–1950)

    3. The Poet in the Prose: Childhood and Romanticism in the Modernist Künstlerroman

    The Autobiographical Künstlerroman

    A Romantic Connection: The Child and the Poet

    Tonio Kröger: Thomas Mann’s "Favorite Literary Child"

    James Joyce’s Portrait of the Poet as a Prose Writer

    Thomas Wolfe’s Long Look Homeward


    4. "Buried at the Cross-Roads": The Disappearing Acts of Women Writers

    Masculinity, Modernity, Celebrity

    Where are all the Women Writers?

    "Probably they all wrote, except the women": Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage

    Edith Wharton’s Modernist and His Muse

    "The buried woman...the great man": Dawn Powell’s Turn, Magic Wheel


    CODA: The Author-Story after 1950

    Appendix A

    Appendix B

    Appendix C



    Elizabeth King guest lectures and tutors at the University of New South Wales, where she has taught for the last five years. Her work has appeared in Geniuses, Addicts and Scribbling Women: Portraits of the Writer in Popular Culture (2023), and she is the co- editor of Reading the Contemporary Author: Narrative, Authority and Fictionality (2023) with Alison Gibbons. She currently works as an editor at Simon & Schuster Australia.