Adina Ciugureanu, The ‘Silly’ and the ‘Proper Stuff of Fiction’ – From the Popular to the Modern(ist) Novel

The ‘Silly’ and the ‘Proper Stuff of Fiction’ – From the Popular to the Modern(ist) Novel

Adina Ciugureanu

Abstract: Defined as a public space in culture, the novel has always faced the controversial competition between its high-brow and low-brow productions, that is between the immediate success of  rather  short-lived  works  of  fiction  and  the  formal  unpopularity  of  long-standing  novelistic endeavours that have managed to pass the test of time.

Starting from two well-known articles on the popular novel types, by George Eliot  (1856) and Henry Mansel (1863), who coin them „silly‟  and „sensation,‟  respectively, the essay analyses the popular fiction at the turn of the  century as a mainstream phenomenon embraced by the reading public at large and opposed by the  rise of the modernist novel apparently concerned with, what Woolf calls in 1919, „the proper stuff of fiction.‟

As a central institution of the public sphere, novel reading was more than a pastime activity, it divided the public into like-minded high-class, middle class, and working class readers. What was then “the proper stuff of fiction” when the  novel, as a public space, attained ideological force and political power? And how did  the modernist novel manage to turn the private into the public? Or did it? Contrary to the modernists‟ desire to do away with „realism‟ and „conventionality‟ in fiction (in other words to shun the public), I will argue that history and popular events can still be traced  in their work, in more or less open forms, from direct or ironical hints to obsessive references.

Keywords: popular fiction, (high-brow) novel, modernism

To cite the article: Adina Ciugureanu, (2012) “The ‘Silly’ and the ‘Proper Stuff of Fiction’ – From the Popular to the Modern(ist) Novel, International Journal of Cross-Cultural Studies and Environmental Communication NO. 2 2012, Vol. 1 Iss: 2, pp.  7-21



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