THE VIOLENCE WITHIN AND WITHOUT: IMAGINATION AND REALITY IN THE NOVEL
LOGAN, JILL (THAD) JENKINS
Doctor of Philosophy
In response to the paradox implicit in the phrase "realistic fiction," critics have frequently posited that an oppositional structure is an identifying characteristic of the genre. My approach, developed in two theoretical chapters, assumes that the mind/world relationship is fundamental to human experience and to the novel, and that the best way to describe the dialectics of the genre is in terms of a conflict between imagination and reality. I define "imagination" as the structuring power of the mind, and cite studies in psychology, literary and linguistic theory, aesthetics, and philosophy that demonstrate how essential the activity of organization is to our apprehension of the world. Following Wallace Stevens, I define "reality" as an external pressure that constitutes a resistance to this basic activity of organization. A constant interplay of imagination and reality operates in perception and cognition, just as organic life is characterized by a constant interchange between the internal structures of an organism and its environment. There are two modes of imaginative response to the pressure of reality: transformation and adaptation. The conscious mind structures phenomenal experience, and hence "transforms" it: it is a characteristic of the human nervous system to establish simple patterns of organization, which are adjusted and elaborated in a process of adaptation. We can define "romance" as the impulse to generate form, and "realism" as the impulse to adjust or "correct" formal structures: these definitions make it possible to describe the novel as characterized by a tension between romance and realism, or in E. H. Gombrich's terminology, between "making" and "matching." The advantage of such a description is its ability to recognize the fictionality of all human systems, including the literary text, while acknowledging that there is a mimetic element that is essential to the genre. If we posit imagination and reality as the terms of a dialectic that informs the genre, it is possible to discuss characters, authors, and readers as engaged in this dialectic, and to trace the tension between romance and realism in each sphere of activity. In two chapters of practical criticism, I analyze Middlemarch and Our Mutual Friend with regard to the imagination/reality conflict as it applies to the authors, characters, and readers of these texts. I demonstrate that there is a close correlation between those imaginative activities of the characters that we perceive as affirmed by the text, the strategies of interpretation and expression that have generated the text, and the imaginative activity we perform as readers. In a brief conclusion, I suggest how the theory and methodology I have developed can be applied to a wide variety of texts.