Arguing that genre must play a role in our study of narrative fiction, this tour of the novel examines interactive storytelling scenes in which characters argue about how to tell a tale that meets their respective social and aesthetic expectations. Through intense readings of interactive storytelling scenes in works spanning the 17th through 20th centuries, Halevi-Wise demonstrates how dramatized arguments about storytelling open a window on social and generic dilemmas affecting the narrative of each novel at the time of its composition. Examined in detail are Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Dickens’s Little Dorrit, Conrad’s Lord Jim, Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani, and Esquivel’sI Like Water for Chocolate.
Redressing an imbalance between sociological approaches that displace aesthetic considerations and aesthetic analyses that bracket cultural phenomena, the author shows why both genre and culture must be taken into account when we analyze the formation and reception of a narrative. Each interactive storytelling event illustrates how social and aesthetic interests compete and reinvent themselves within their framing texts and those texts’ respective national and historical contexts. Just as social interactions cannot be indefinitely displaced in the study of narrative fiction, genre cannot be ignored in the study of identity politics. What emerges from this unique examination is a postmodern poetics of the novel that takes genre and history into account.