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Chapter 7 - The Rise and Fall of the English-Language Literary Novel since World War II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 March 2022

Colleen Lye
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
Christopher Nealon
Affiliation:
Johns Hopkins University
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Summary

This chapter outlines the rise and (partial) fall of the mainstream English-language literary novel since WWII. The heights of success of the literary novel required that readers have leisure, focus, and access to public institutions that support literary study and activity. After WWII, literary work was supported by the surge in university enrollments built upon the postwar period’s remarkable economic dynamism, which afforded state-supported higher education and high rates of secure employment. In more recent years, however, austerity governments increasingly defund humanities education and literary arts programming. Students and aspiring writers, indebted and anxious about pathways to employment, are induced to avoid literary study and work, to be risk-averse and market-facing; and people simply do not feel compelled to spend what little they have for entertainment on expensive books. The avowedly literary branch of the mainstream industry has been contracting for these reasons, while other forms of reading and writing cultures (for instance, self-publishing and texts designed for smartphones) have emerged into a more dominant position.

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Chapter
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After Marx
Literature, Theory, and Value in the Twenty-First Century
, pp. 116 - 130
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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