Toni – Post on Todorov

Henry James through Tzvetan Todorov:

“A novel is a living thing, all one and continuous, like any other organism, and in proportion as it lives will it be found, I think, that in each of the parts there is something of each of the other parts.  The critic who over the close texture of a finished work shall pretend to trace a geography of items will mark some frontiers as artificial, I fear, as any that have been known to history.” (2025)

I don’t know that I have read any truer statement than “a novel is a living thing” because each individual who reads a text brings to it not only individual experiences, but those experiences in a specific moment in time.  For example, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird three separate times in my life, and the novel changed for me each time.  As a high school student, I was not aware of the complexities of racism in the same way that I am now.  In this case, I think that James would say that the intricacy of themes, plot, setting, and character development are each crucial in ever part of the novel, so much so in fact that they cannot be considered separately.  They are almost dependent on each other for life – to talk of one is to talk of the novel as a dependent part of the whole. However, those intricacies and complexities change according to changes in societal and political structures.

So I am curious, when the analysis or examination of a novel is never stable, and literature is subjective, how can there ever be a scientific examination of literature without looking at the specific parts as Todorov does in his examination of Boccaccio.  I think his technique of looking at the Decameron stories works, but can his method work on longer works of literature – I am skeptical.

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