Katherine Voyles Responds to Thomas Albrecht

I’m not sure that I want to answer “Yes” to the question that wraps up Tom’s piece by opening it out, but I’m also not sure that I want to say “No.” My hesitation comes because Tom so deftly pulls his reader through that one wants to nod.

In the end, I’ll decline. Although practicing formal analysis, by its nature, runs the risk of treating literature as formal without treating the means of understanding literature as also formal, it nevertheless values illustrating how our ways of understanding literary form are themselves formal.

Good Form understands narrative time as not merely a feature of novels, but as formal in its own right. Jesse writes of “the pull of narrative: its compulsion toward change” (23). He is alive not only to the temporal shape and arc of a novel, but to the dynamics that shape narrative time. He writes of before and after, beginning and end, is and ought, and internal and external.

That quickness matters. Richly realized formal analysis of literature gives us the tools to understand the forms that shape it, and the forms that shape it give us the tools to understand the shape of literature.

Jesse’s “Afterward” presents us with our own Victorianism. Today our selection of novels is based on our theories of the novel that are based on our selection of novels of the period. Yes, but that also change over time, the possibility of reshaping and realigning the means by which we apprehend literature and our understanding of literature itself.

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