The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature

The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature

by Franco Moretti
     
 

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“The bourgeois ... Not so long ago, this notion seemed indispensable to social analysis; these days, one might go years without hearing it mentioned. Capitalism is more powerful than ever, but its human embodiment seems to have vanished. ‘I am a member of the bourgeois class, feel myself to be such, and have been brought up on its opinions and… See more details below

Overview

“The bourgeois ... Not so long ago, this notion seemed indispensable to social analysis; these days, one might go years without hearing it mentioned. Capitalism is more powerful than ever, but its human embodiment seems to have vanished. ‘I am a member of the bourgeois class, feel myself to be such, and have been brought up on its opinions and ideals,’ wrote Max Weber, in 1895. Who could repeat these words today? Bourgeois ‘opinions and ideals’—what are they?”

Thus begins Franco Moretti’s study of the bourgeois in modern European literature—a major new analysis of the once-dominant culture and its literary decline and fall. Moretti’s gallery of individual portraits is entwined with the analysis of specific keywords—“useful” and “earnest,” “efficiency,” “influence,” “comfort,” “roba”—and of the formal mutations of the medium of prose. From the “working master” of the opening chapter, through the seriousness of nineteenth-century novels, the conservative hegemony of Victorian Britain, the “national malformations” of the Southern and Eastern periphery, and the radical self-critique of Ibsen’s twelve-play cycle, the book charts the vicissitudes of bourgeois culture, exploring the causes for its historical weakness, and for its current irrelevance.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The great iconoclast of literary criticism.”—John Sutherland, Guardian

“It’s a rare literary critic who attracts so much public attention, and there’s a good reason: few are as hellbent on rethinking the way we talk about literature.”—Times Literary Supplement

“Moretti, a mythopoeic figure, generates around himself a dense network of folklore and apocrypha.”—n+1

“Moretti is already famous in bookish circles for his data-centric approach to novels, which he graphs, maps, and charts ... if his new methods catch on, they could change the way we look at literary history.”—Wired

“Distant reading might prove to be a powerful tool for studying literature.”—New York Times

Publishers Weekly
First named in the 11th century, the bourgeois class established a dominant presence in world literature starting in the 1700s, as this brief but incisive critical study indicates. Starting with Robinson Crusoe, Moretti shows how conservative middle-class values and their incarnation in character types began to appear in fiction and poetry, shaping the structure of narrative. Crusoe, a model of human industry and the nascent capitalist spirit, sees his island world only in terms of what is “useful” to his endeavors. Moretti dissects Defoe’s grammar and syntax, finding it consistent with the efficiency of Crusoe’s character: “Defoe’s sentences take the successful ending of an action... and turn it into the premise for another action.” Looking to Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Madame Bovary, and other 19th-century classics, Moretti sees novels dominated by “fillers”—details of daily life that convey a sense of “regularity”—and descriptions that are increasingly “analytical, impersonal, perhaps even ‘impartial.’” Moretti buttresses his argument with observations from Weber, Lukács, Gramsci, and other theorists, and extends his study to the novels of Machado, Gáldos, Prus, and others. Moretti persuasively demonstrates that his interpretations can be applied broadly to the vast body of 18th- and 19th-century literature. (June)
Guardian
The great iconoclast of literary criticism— John Sutherland
n+1
“Moretti, a mythopoeic figure, generates around himself a dense network of folklore and apocrypha.”
Times Literary Supplement
“It’s a rare literary critic who attracts so much public attention, and there’s a good reason: few are as hellbent on rethinking the way we talk about literature.”
Wired
“Moretti is already famous in bookish circles for his data-centric approach to novels, which he graphs, maps, and charts ... if his new methods catch on, they could change the way we look at literary history.”
New York Times
“Distant reading might prove to be a powerful tool for studying literature.”
John Sutherland - Guardian
“The great iconoclast of literary criticism”
Guardian - John Sutherland
“The great iconoclast of literary criticism”
Time Magazines Literary Supplement
“It’s a rare literary critic who attracts so much public attention, and there’s a good reason: few are as hellbent on rethinking the way we talk about literature.”
Library Journal
Moretti (literature, Stanford Univ.; Signs Taken for Wonders) examines the notion of the 19th-century "bourgeois," their middle-class values, and well-known works such as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe as well as lesser-known novels such as Dinah Craik's 1856 John Halifax, Gentleman. He also investigates how diction changed through the 19th century as seen in the novels' characters. Added is the expertise of theorists Georg Lukács and Max Weber, among others, and the analysis of literary databases and proper use of encoded text employed in the digital humanities. For instance, Moretti acknowledges the rise of free indirect style, the subjugation of the subjective, the emergence of description in 19th-century literature as a signifier for "reality," and makes the worthy observation that "bourgeois" style balances a line between comedy and tragedy. Moretti's style works for philosophically minded readers and yet remains a bit slippery owing to its deferment of meaning—a deferment amplified by Moretti's questionable connection of "bourgeois" to "middle class." VERDICT This work is history and literary criticism steeped in a social consciousness for readers who love language and the granularity of word play and for hard-working thinkers.—Jesse A. Lambertson, Arlington P.L., VA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781781683040
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
08/05/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
822,529
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

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