Novelists on the Art of the Novel

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General Project

Our research examines the large body of works written by novelists about the novel, ranging from the eighteenth century – the period during which the novel itself became the subject of novelists' reflexive critique – to our own era. Underlying the project are two central hypotheses: first, that the novel is not only a narrative or fictional form, but that it is also a medium for knowledge and for the exploration of the world; and, second, that the integrated study of novelists' own critical, theoretical, practical, and ethical reflections on the novel constitutes a unique perspective from which to understand the development and the expansion of the novel as an art form.


Projects: 2018-2022

First Orientation:

A study of novelists' understanding of the novel as an inherited form.

Projects within this area of study examine the ways in which novels and novelists offer a history of the novel's transmission and genealogy, a history that is parallel to (and sometimes in conflict with) established institutions of criticism. A first project investigates the history of the novel as understood by novelists: that is, as a history of "resistance" rather than of "conquest" (I. Daunais.) A second project confronts a paradox in recent representations of history: though there has been, since the 1980s, a considerable erosion of institutional forms of History, novels have continued to provide abundant citation of, and commentary on, prior literary works of all origins and periods. This project posits that, in the wake of the retreat of "exterior" forms of history in teaching and criticism, novels of the twenty-first century have filled a gap by incorporating, within themselves, reflections on their own heritage (K. Gosselin).

Second Orientation:

A study of novelists' understanding, from the eighteenth century onwards, of the novel's existence within a dynamic network of influences, comparisons and intercultural exchanges.

Within this area of study, projects examine the novel as a "mobile" form, one that is open to influence and translation, that seeks to enlarge its communities of readers, and that is enriched by the comparison and connections made between works of varied origins. More specifically, the project examines the exchanges between the British novelist Frances Burney d'Arblay and her French peers (P. Sabor); the role played by correspondence, among a certain set of French and Québécois writers, in the formation, diffusion, and discussion of a conceptualization of the novel (M. Biron); and the study of the figure of the novelist as an "agent of transfer" in the first half of the twentieth century (C. Benaglia, collaborator).

Third Orientation:

A study of the novel's ability, through its themes and its objects of representation, to foster a transnational transmission of its own form, whether that be in terms of its characters or its themes.

This area of study encompasses three projects. The first examines debates related to ideas of citizenship in the English novel from the start of the 1940s until the 1970s, with particular attention to the representation of characters in transitory situations (migrants, refugees, exiles), and to the ways in which the novelistic form is capable of exploring ideas related to borders and movement. (A. Hepburn). The second project, focusing on Russian and English novels of the nineteenth century, examines representations of filiation and the ways in which filiation is associated with the idea of a novel's transmission. (A. Berman). The third project, on memory, seeks to understand the mechanisms by which novelistic works are inscribed into the memories of their readers (I. Daunais).


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