Theories of the novel have made us comfortable with the idea of the novel's trademark heteroglossia and dynamism. We accept that the novel, according to Bakhtin, "best of all reflects the tendencies of a new world still in the making" and that, according to Franco Moretti, this results in an "intrinsically contradictory" form shaped by both "dynamism and limits." Yet theories of the novel have traditionally ignored the implications of its history of serial publication. We tend to see the form of the Victorian novel as a coherent whole that begins with the hero as a child and ends with "Reader, I married him." We regard "discontinuous continuity" as a "cornerstone of twentieth-century art" (Keith Cohen). In the larger project from which this essay is drawn, I argue that the Victorian periodical is a technology of public space in much the same way as we view the railroad, the steamship, the Crystal Palace or the telegraph—things that simultaneously cut up and connect the modern world. Discontinuous continuity is the formal logic of the serialized Victorian novel; if we miss this, we overlook a key aspect of how novels help produce nations. This particular essay begins with the larger conversation about the novel's relationship to mobility and temporality and then uses Dickens's work as an editor, writer, and national architect to argue that he uses the seemingly fixed idea of "home"—a core theme of all Victorian novels—to create both the novel and the nation as structures through which, paradoxically, to imagine motion.
Novel: A Forum on Fiction – Duke University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2010