Critical Limitations

I couldn’t have said this better myself. In fact, in the introduction I wrote for my forthcoming anthology of 19th-century novel criticism, I didn’t say it better myself, though this is pretty much what I was getting at:

In the early twentieth century, . . . [a] more “professional” and more self-consciously theorized discourse about novels arose, as part of the movement whereby authors of “modern” fiction (above all Henry James) attempted to break free from the line of fiction it is the purpose of the present book to illuminate. This more “professional” kind of criticism became, with the passage of time, the basis for criticism of the novel as it was presented to students in schools and universities. It was useful for many purposes, among them a focus on the craft of the novel, on how novels create their effects. But a criticism based on a set of aesthetic priorities that were developed as part of a rebellion against the nineteenth-century social novel would seem likely to have certain limitations for those who want to understand nineteenth-century novels, not leave them behind.

That, and the nineteenth-century critics who came before didn’t do such a bad job understanding “the nineteenth-century social novel” either.

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