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Made with Hugo and the Cocoa theme
© Patrick O'Donovan 1986–2019

Private pain and the public temper: the personal novel and beyond

The chapter describes the emergence of the personal novel in the first decade of the nineteenth century and its subsequent evolution thirty years later in parallel with the rise of the historical novel in France. These developments were shaped by changes in book production and readership after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, leading in the 1830s to the increasing professionalization of writing. While maintaining a narrative focus on the experience of insoluble personal conflicts, the personal novel is as much concerned with the transformations and conflicts of post-Revolutionary life as with an altered private domain. Though eclipsed by the realist novel in the middle part of the century, it exerted a prolonged influence, formal as well as thematic, on fiction in Europe and beyond for 100 years or more. The kinds of motivations to which the protagonists of the personal novel appeal, because these imply a break with received belief systems, tend to be sources of scandal. The fictions themselves border on scandal in representing the reasons for these outcomes and also show how challenging it is for those who witness such actions to evaluate or respond to them. The forms through which fiction performs this role would prove to be adaptable to the representation of quite different subsequent social changes. Thus, from the 1830s the novel displays increasing ideological militancy, notably in the work of Sand.

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