FIGURES IN THE CARPET: THE EKPHRASTIC TRADITION IN THE REALISTIC NOVEL
SMITH, MACK L., JR.
Doctor of Philosophy
A prevailing trend in contemporary novel theory criticism is the attempt to free the term "realism" from its static association with the fin de siecle movement which has led, in its extreme examples, to a kind of fictional literalism. Ian Watt's formula has provided a locus classicus for a generation of critics: the central notion of realism, he insists, is in "the correspondence between the literary work and the reality it imitates."('1) In giving disproportionate, singular emphasis neither to the external world nor to the literary imagination, and in emphasizing, rather, the correspondence between the two, Watt implies that realism is an epistemological function of the novel, a changing set of conventions to examine both life and art. The dissertation contends that novelists, for centuries, have been aware that the dual function of their art is to examine life as well as the tools (conventions) of their craft; it contends, further, that certain exemplary novelists have chosen a consistent method of examination, a revitalization of the classical convention of ekphrasis--the introduction of a work of art within a work of art. By placing the interpolated art form before his characters, the novelist can create the format of a debate on artistic representation. The paradigm is in Don Quixote, the debate between the Canon and the priest on the verisimilitude of chivalric romances as opposed to that of histories. In the ekphrastic episode of Master Peter's puppet show, Cervantes illustrates the modes of narration intrinsic to both forms of art. The same format is created by Jane Austen in Emma through Emma's and Knightley's debate on Frank Churchill's conciliatory epistles; it is repeated again by Tolstoy in Anna Karenina through Vronsky's and Mihailov's discussion of pictorial representation, particularly Anna's portrait. Joyce, in Ulysses, pairs the Aristotelian Stephen against the Platonist Russell to reveal his mimetic standards through a debate on Hamlet. This dialectic, informing the structure of the novel, is portrayed ekphrastically also in terms of the unification of Tonic and Dominant keys in a classical sonata. And Thomas Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow matches the behaviorist manifesto, The Book, against the preverbal communication of primitive ritual, and he resolves the implied argument with the metaphor of the cinema. An examination of the convention in separate chapters on these five major texts will show that the debate of characters on the verisimilar correspondence of the interpolated art form with a defined, external reality is an analogue of the author's transformation of life through the medium of language: as the art form corresponds to life, so the word corresponds with fact. The argument is, consistently, a dialectic between two theories of language: one of which is epistemological and referential and the other transcendental and emotive. The art form within the art form is a metaphor used by the author to reveal his particular loyalty; it is also a center of focus through which a critic can arrive at a broad understanding of a text's mimetic norms. ('1)Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), p. 11.