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The Novel: A Biography Hardcover – 13 May 2014


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1200 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (13 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674724739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674724730
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 16.5 x 26.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 57,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Schmidt OBE FRSL is the founder and editorial and managing director of Carcanet Press Limited, the general editor of PN Review. He was until recently Professor of Poetry and convener of the Creative Writing programme in the Department of English, University of Glasgow. He is now Writer in Residence at St John's College, Cambridge.

He recently completed The Novel: A Biography, to be published in May 2014, a companion volume to Lives of the Poets (1999). His most recent anthologies include, The Great Modern Poets, published by Quercus on National Poetry Day 2006; Five American Poets (including Robert Hass, James McMichael, John Matthias, John Peck, and Robert Pinsky), published by Carcanet in 2010, and New Poetries V, including 22 hitherto uncollected anglophone poets from around the world, in 2011. His collection of poems The Resurrection of the Body was published in 2007. His Collected Poems appeared in 2009 and The Stories of My Life in 2013.

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Review

I toast a certainty the long and fruitful life of poet, critic, and scholar Michael Schmidt s book, The Novel: A Biography. Readers for generations will listen through Schmidt s ear to thrilling conversations, novelist to novelist, and walk guided by Schmidt through these 1200 pages of his joyful and wise understanding. - Stanley Moss

Michael Schmidt is one of literature s most ambitious champions, riding out against the naysayers, the indifferent, and the purse holders, determined to enlarge readers vision and rouse us all to pay attention. Were it not for his rich and adventurous catalogue of publications at Carcanet Press, and the efforts of a few other brave spirits at other small presses (such as Bloodaxe Books) the landscape of poetry in the U.K. would be depopulated, if not desolate. He has now turned his prodigious energies to telling the story of the novel s transformation through time: a Bildungsroman of the genre from a persevering and unappeasable lover. --Marina Warner




Michael Schmidt...offers an eclectic variety in The Novel: A Biography... while the book is arranged chronologically, the chapters are theme-based (e.g., The Human Comedy, Teller and Tale, Sex and Sensibility ) and follow no specific outline, blending author biographies, interviews, reviews, and criticism into fluid narratives. Schmidt s discussion of Charlotte Brontë s Jane Eyre not only offers an understanding of the Gothic Romance genre but also reveals lesser-known facts about Brontë s life. In this way, Schmidt fulfills Brontë s wish to be judged as an author not as a woman. This is a compelling edition for writers and other readers alike; a portrayal that is aligned with Edwin Muir s belief that the only thing which can tell us about the novel is the novel. --Annalisa Pesek, Library Journal

Writers, reading, invigorate the novel. That is both the theme and plot of Schmidt s encyclopedic compendium tracing the novel over 700 years. [...] I set out to write this book without an overarching theory of the novel, Schmidt admits. I had no point to prove. He does, however, prove his wide-ranging reading tastes, his ability to weave a colorful literary tapestry and his conviction that the novel is irrepressible. --Kirkus, 1st March 2014

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. M. Schachter on 22 Feb. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very ambitious and certainly idiosyncratic. Odd emphases: whole chapter for Tristram Shandy, much less for Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Parochial omissions; Philip Roth but not Joseph, barely a mention of Svevo, and much else. Some downright errors, saying Turgenev's novel translated not as Fathers and Sons, but as Fathers and Children. That happens to be the title ins Russian. But lots of interesting information about UK and US authors.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Neil Peacock on 4 Feb. 2015
Format: Hardcover
Anybody looking for an account of the development of the novel will be well served by this book. Although I am only a fraction of the way through it, I feel I can recommended it to anybody interested in novels and authors writing about novels. As I progress through the book I will endeavour to update this review, until then I urge others to begin...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
is a magnificent accomplishment that I recommend wholeheartedly. 5 Aug. 2014
By kevin mace - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Comprehensive, yes. A pleasure to read. most defintely. A charming, witty, and insightful tome to the novel. Schmidt's book, although long and involved, is a magnificent accomplishment that I recommend wholeheartedly.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, Idiosyncratic, Powerfully Argued 14 Aug. 2014
By David S. Wellhauser - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mr. Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography is another one of those difficult books to review since it is, on the one hand, breath taking in its scale and on the other parochial in its subject matter. Breath taking, because it wishes to tell the history of the novel since its inception [evolutionary origins if you prefer], and parochial because the work wishes to focus on the English Novel. The latter goal is never, really, accomplished because so many novels, written in languages other than English have influenced the English Novel. There is, also, the problem of the antecedents of the novel that are not even mentioned – such as The Tale of Genji [a Japanese classic – published early in the 11th century…if you were to go by the still popular Gregorian Calendar—dating is its own political nightmare].

This being said, ‘The Novel’ is a fascinating attempt to tell the story of the novel in both a chronological and logical manner. Each chapter tends to follow a, generally, chronological motif, but within the chapter other authors are brought in as inheritors or antecedents of the work being discussed. What this does is to help the reader place the book in history and in its influence and, therefore, importance.

What is frustrating about Mr. Schmidt’s herculean effort [The Novel is just shy of 1200 pages– one more reason to read the eBook format…as if anyone needed another reason to prefer eBooks to print…but that is another argument] is that there are no endnotes…none at all. In many cases readers might be inclined to disagree or question the author’s assertions and these would help the astute reader to look up primary and secondary references. Anyone reading a history of the novel is likely to do just this – after all, ‘The Novel’ is a book written for aesthetes and nerds. Still, this history is fascinating and very idiosyncratic.

The author’s judgements of some writers can be highly dubious at times and at others he appears to be speaking truth to power. Statements such as: “What keeps Burroughs in print and talked about is the company he kept, the force of his rhetoric, and accidental nightmarish life he led.” Schmidt is also dismissive, generally, of the Beats and Kerouac in particular. Nonetheless, he gets it right when he refers to Salinger, via a quote of Lawrence Durrell’s, as a ‘cry baby’…though he refers Kerouac as this within the same quote. These judgements will make the blood of some boil, while others will find themselves nodding in agreement—still others mayn’t give a damn.

The major drawback to a book such as The Novel is that it is just too bloody long for most readers, and impossible to carry about in its physical form. Remember, readers read on the go—on the bus, subway, train, in line, the doctor’s office, while waiting for friends, etc. The sheer physical reality of the book does not permit this—this is, however, somewhat offset by the increasing popularity of eBooks. Most readers still prefer print, nonetheless, and this will limit the author’s readership. It might have been better to have broken it up into three or more books for the sake of mobility and the fact that many prospective readers would not be willing to tackle a 1,200 page book—perhaps they’re of the opinion they’ve a life to lead and obligations to meet.

Having said all of this, it is an important book, and one that should be read by anyone interested in the history of the English novel. The Novel should also, and most specifically, be read by Indie authors not having a firm grounding in the Canon, in all its mutant glory. After all, if you are going to write fiction you should be aware of the traditions you are writing in. Why Schmidt is important in this respect is that he does not consider the Canon to be made up of strictly Literary Fiction, but also includes important Genre authors as well. He is a little cautious with idea of Literary Fiction and Genre but that is another discussion—shouting match?

In the end, this history earns a respectable 4 out of 5 stars. The subtraction of one star is because of its length; its lack of references, and its sometimes-questionable aesthetics—see Burroughs and Kerouac, amongst others.

Highly Recommended for those interested in the history of the novel; cultural history, and Indie Authors.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A satisfying challenge 1 Mar. 2015
By Roger Conner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's an intriguing book for anyone who has read fairly widely in the classics. It's satisfying to bundle often unexpected works together and starts curiosity for those you haven't read. The Kindle edition is to be preferred, since the print version is so large as to be unwieldy
a terrific, landmark history of the novel in English 3 Jan. 2015
By K. Bunker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In a sense, the cover illustration of this book is more germane and informative than its subtitle: "a biography." Yes, this huge volume is indeed a "biography" of the novel, but even more so it's an examination of what the cover illustration depicts: books reading other books; books clearly in conversation with other books.

This "books in conversation with other books" -- how authors and their works have been influenced by other authors and their works -- is the central thread that Michael Schmidt follows. His book also roughly follows a chronological line, but it definitely isn't a rigid history where the sequence of authors discussed is dictated by the year of their birth. I remember in particular feeling a little jarred when the narrative jumped from Aphra Behn (1640 - 1689) to Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960).

But this is by no means a criticism. In the first place, chronological leaps of that magnitude are a rare exception, and in any case, this following of influences, of related styles and other underlying non-chronological connections between novels and their authors, is what this book is all about.

Also in this theme of books in conversation with other books, when Schmidt discusses the merits of any particular author, he does so largely by quoting other authors. What did V. S. Pritchett think of Sir Walter Scott, or Anthony Trollope? What did Nabokov have to say about Jane Austen, and what were E.M. Forster's thoughts on James Joyce? This authors-talking-about authors, along with some discussion of a novel's commercial success, a biographical sketch of the author, and occasional quotes from the book under discussion, all help to give the reader a sense of each novel's and each author's place in the history of literature.

Which is not to say that Michael Schmidt's own opinions are absent from this volume. To give just one example, he seems to find quite a few quotable people with negative things to say about Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, while those who have praised it are rather conspicuously absent. But again this isn't really a criticism. It would be impossible, and perhaps dishonest, for a historian of literature to try to (or pretend to) keep his own value judgements completely out of his text. And I never felt that Schmidt's opinions were really intrusive, or that he was going far afield to shoehorn an idiosyncratic minority view into his book.

All in all, this is a hugely impressive work, and one that will probably stand as a landmark in its field for decades to come. At 1200 pages and well over half a million words, reading it cover to cover is a major undertaking. But the reward of education that you'll receive from that reading is almost beyond measure.
I anticipate that I will enjoy it as much as Michael Schmidt's "Lives of the ... 24 Feb. 2015
By Michael Seckington - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a real pleasure to dip into for bedside reading--whether by author or era or for the panoramic view. I anticipate that I will enjoy it as much as Michael Schmidt's "Lives of the Poets" (but its massive and will require a lot of dipping).
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