Tags

, , ,

The essential difference between novel and romance lies in the
conception of characterization. The romancer does not attempt to
create “real people” so much as stylized figures which expand into
psychological archetypes. It is in the romance that we find Jung’s
libido, anima, and shadow reflected in the hero, heroine, and villain
respectively. That is why the romance so often radiates a glow
of subjective intensity that the novel lacks, and why a suggestion
of allegory is constantly creeping in around its fringes. Certain ele-
ments of character are released in the romance which make it
naturally a more revolutionary form than the novel The novelist
deals with personality, with characters wearing their personae or
social masks. He needs the framework of a stable society, and many
of our best novelists have been conventional to the verge of fussi-
ness. The romancer deals with individuality, with characters in
yacuo idealized by revery, and, however conservative he may be,
something nihilistic and untamable is likely to keep breaking out
of his pages.

The prose romance, then, is an independent form of fiction to
be distinguished from the novel and extracted from the miscellaneous
heap of prose works now covered by that term. Even in
the other heap known as short stories one can isolate the tale form
used by Poe, which bears the same relation to the full romance
that the stories of Chekhov or Catherine Mansfield do to the novel.
“Pure” examples of either form are never found; there is hardly
any modern romance that could not be made out to be a novel, and
vice versa. The forms of prose fiction are mixed, like racial strains
in human beings, not separable like the sexes. In fact the popular
demand in fiction is always for a mixed form, a romantic novel
just romantic enough for the reader to project his libido on the
hero and his anima on the heroine, and just novel enough to keep
these projections in a familiar world. It may be asked, therefore,
what is the use of making the above distinction, especially when,
though undeveloped in criticism, it is by no means unrealized. It is
no surprise to hear that Trollope wrote novels and William Morris
romances.

The reason is that a great romancer should be examined in terms
of the conventions he chose. William Morris should not be left
on the side lines of prose fiction merely because the critic has not
learned to take the romance form seriously. Nor, in view of what
has been said about the revolutionary nature of the romance, should
his choice of that form be regarded as an “escape” from his social
attitude. If Scott has any claims to be a romancer, it is not good
criticism to deal only with his defects as a novelist. The romantic
qualities of The Pilgrim’s Progress, too, its archetypal characteriz-
ation and its revolutionary approach to religious experience, make
it a well-rounded example of a literary form: it is not merely a
book swallowed by English literature to get some religious bulk in
its diet. Finally, when Hawthorne, in the preface to The House of
the Seven Gables, insists that his story should be read as romance
and not as novel, it is possible that he meant what he said, even
though he indicates that the prestige of the rival form has induced
the romancer to apologize for not using it.

Romance is older than the novel, a fact which has developed the
historical illusion that it is something to be outgrown, a juvenile
and undeveloped form. The social affinities of the romance, with
its grave idealizing of heroism and purity, are with the aristocracy
(for the apparent inconsistency of this with the revolutionary
nature of the form just mentioned, see the introductory comment on
the mythos of romance in the previous essay) . It revived in the
period we call Romantic as part of the Romantic tendency to archaic
feudalism and a cult of the hero, or idealized libido. In England
the romances of Scott and, in less degree, the Brontes, are part of a
mysterious Northumbrian renaissance, a Romantic reaction against
the new industrialism in the Midlands, which also produced the
poetry of Wordsworth and Burns and the philosophy of Carlyle.
It is not surprising, therefore, that an important theme in the more
bourgeois novel should be the parody of the romance and its ideals.
The tradition established by Don Quixote continues in a type of
novel which looks at a romantic situation from its own point of
view, so that the conventions of the two forms make up an ironic
compound instead of a sentimental mixture. Examples range from
Northanger Abbey to Madame Bovary and Lord Jim.

The tendency to allegory in the romance may be conscious, as
in The Pilgrim’s Progress, or unconscious, as in the very obvious
sexual mythopoeia in William Morris. The romance, which deals
with heroes, is intermediate between the novel, which deals with
men, and the myth, which deals with gods. Prose romance first
appears as a late development of Classical mythology, and the prose
Sagas of Iceland follow close on the mythical Eddas. The novel
tends rather to expand into a fictional approach to history. The
soundness of Fielding’s instinct in calling Tom Jones a history is
confirmed by the general rule that the larger the scheme of a novel
becomes, the more obviously its historical nature appears. As it is
creative history, however, the novelist usually prefers his material
in a plastic, or roughly contemporary state, and feels cramped by a
fixed historical pattern. Waverley is dated about sixty years back
from the time of writing and Little Dorrit about forty years, but
the historical pattern is fixed in the romance and plastic in the
novel, suggesting the general principle that most “historical novels”
are romances. Similarly a novel becomes more romantic in its appeal
when the life it reflects has passed away: thus the novels of
Trollope were read primarily as romances during the Second World
War. It is perhaps the link with history and a sense of temporal con-
text that has confined the novel, in striking contrast to the world
wide romance, to the alliance of time and Western man.

(Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: 303-306)

Advertisements