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Dynamics of genre and the shape of historical fiction : a Lukácsian reading of Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian



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Georg Lukács’ The Historical Novel continues to have a wide influence in Walter Scott criticism. However, Lukács’ theoretical insights into the role of genre in Scott’s work remains underappreciated. This thesis takes for its departure Lukács’ summary that "the profound grasp of the historical factor in human life demands a dramatic concentration of the epic framework" (41). Lukács’ description of these two forms, dramatic and epic, is then applied in a reading of Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian. Lukács’ terms offer a way of describing how Scott’s fiction works, as the interplay of dramatic and epic motifs provide the aesthetic mediation for Midlothian’s social and political concerns. The chief problem raised through this reading is the role of genre in establishing a sense of historical necessity. In The Heart of Midlothian, the role of genre is made concrete in the novel’s gradual transition. Opening with dramatic social unrest, the novel shifts attention to the epic journey of Jeanie Deans and how her intervention re-establishes domestic and political harmony within the world of the novel. The interplay of dramatic and epic forms establishes a sense of internal necessity, as each major character organically finds his or her role in the overall course of progress. The thesis turns in its final chapter and conclusion to a resistance in Midlothian to the "dramatic concentration of the epic framework." Thus instead of solely applying Lukács’ categories to a Scott, the conclusion of the thesis turns Scott against Lukács. Midlothian’s conclusion evinces the resistance of Scott the storyteller to Scott the novelist of historical necessity, as the storyteller re-opens a sense of unforeseen possibility at the novel’s conclusion. The thesis concludes with a meditation on the ethical implications of Scott’s competing narrative practices, that is, the dissonance between the historical novelist and the storyteller.



storytelling, Georg Lukács, The Heart of Midlothian, narrative, historical fiction, genre, Walter Scott



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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