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The realist novel can be understood to bear witness to a changed understanding of history, ushered in with the modern era. This chapter argues that the French realist novel grew out of the historical novel, insofar as it attempted to offer a history of the present. However, a history of the present is challenging if not impossible to write because of the difficulty, and even the impossibility, of achieving a sufficiently distanced vantage point. French realist novels, consequently, aim to represent present reality but indirectly suggest the impossibility of any such representation. The chapter goes on to show that the French realist novels of the 1830s draw attention to the changeable nature of the present, partly because of the unstable social and political contexts of nineteenth-century France, and partly because of a shift in the way that people conceived of present reality. In at least two broad and closely interconnected senses, therefore, the early French realist novel is profoundly historical in its ambitions: it aims to offer a history of the present, however flawed that attempted history necessarily is, and it reveals the historical, or mutable, qualities of the present that it attempts to capture.
Chapter Seven marks a turn away from consideration of ways in which the material presence of the map bears upon authorial and readerly meaning-making, to ways in which the absence, or internalisation, of the map affects the reader’s engagement with the text. Literary mapping is unusual by comparison with maps in other disciplines, in that the question of why a map is not present, or is withheld, can be of as much interest as its presence. This chapter addresses a question that implicitly emerges from the earlier chapters: why do maps occur so frequently in popular genres but extremely infrequently in canonical texts (especially the realist novel)? After exploring this issue through debates around realism and representation in France and Britain, the chapter considers two rare canonical authors who do use maps in relation to the realist novel: Trollope and Hardy. (141)
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