The city in the Brazilian novel

Posthumous memoirs and other writings

Authored by: Csaba Deák

The Routledge Companion on Architecture, Literature and The City

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472482730
eBook ISBN: 9781315613154
Adobe ISBN:


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In his longest essay on literary criticism, Lukács discusses a comparison between the two great genres of literature: the historical novel and the historical drama. 1 At the outset he establishes that the purpose of both, is to represent the concrete reality of a given historically specific social formation. The way they differ from each other, is in the method through which both of them attempt to ensure that the representation encompasses the totality of life. The historical drama builds a finely cut diamond-like structure of the society in which the story develops and the way individuals ‘move’ in accordance with their position or role in that society rather than as a result of their own volition. The account is stripped of all detail that is not directly necessary in order to show the social transformation or to advance the unfolding of the action. On the centre stage stand the great figures of history in positions ascribed to them by the clashes between antagonistic forces that are always present in periods of great historical social change, such as the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy in ancient Greece or from feudalism to capitalism in sixteenth century England. By contrast – and this is what concerns us directly here –, the novel attempts to show the manifold aspects of the totality of social life through the multiplication of detail concerning the movements of individuals through concrete urban space whether going about their work, at home, shopping, simply idling, or on occasion indulging in leisure or revelry. 2 Therefore the everyday life going on in the many folds of the city, of common people or fictitious ones of greater standing, occupy the centre of the narrative, whereas historical figures must remain in the background since no detail of their actions and everyday life is known. Lukács illustrates his argument through a rich selection of examples taken from Greek and Shakespearean drama to the great novels of the nineteenth century, and shows that whereas the subject matter of the historical drama is the demise and transformation of an old social formation into a new one, the historical novel deals with the concrete realities of a new social formation, as with the features of early capitalist society encompassed by the great novels of Dickens or Victor Hugo set in London and Paris.

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