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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2012

Timothy Parrish
Affiliation:
Florida State University
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Summary

The novel existed before the United States of America, but American history has been peculiarly conducive to the novel’s formal possibilities. When Miguel de Cervantes wrote arguably the first novel, the globe was still terra incognita. The story of Don Quixote (1605, 1615) was largely the story of antiquated assumptions about culture, history, and identity being subjected to and in a sense destroyed by new ways of perceiving, knowing, and imagining that ever since that period have persistently been called “modern.” Even as the form of the novel spread throughout Europe and on to America and elsewhere, its persistent preoccupation has been the question of individual identity. The novel has charted the relationship between an individual consciousness and the world around it. To Cervantes, Quixote’s quest to assert the will of his self, though, was unsettling and fundamentally comic. Previous heroes such as Achilles, Odysseus, or Aeneas fulfilled their destiny; they did not create it. The prospect that an individual could fashion himself as a protagonist, a hero, without the consent or even the interest of the gods and despite the prevailing wisdom of social institutions such as the church was the beginning of a new conception of identity. “In the absence of a Supreme Judge,” Milan Kundera suggests, the world of Don Quixote “suddenly appeared in its fearsome ambiguity” as the “single divine Truth decomposed into myriad relative truths parceled out by men. Thus was born the world of the Modern Era, and with it the novel, the image of and model of that world” (6).

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Chapter
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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References

Kundera, Milan, The Art of the Novel, trans. Linda Asher (New York: Grove Press, 1988) p. 6. Hereafter cited as Art in the textGoogle Scholar
Ellison, Ralph, The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, ed. John F. Callahan (New York: Modern Library, 1995), p. 701Google Scholar
Bolaño, Roberto, Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches, 1998–2003, ed. Ignacio Echevarría, trans. Natasha Wimmer (New York: New Directions, 2011), p. 51Google Scholar

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  • Introduction
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.001
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  • Introduction
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.001
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.001
Available formats
×