Novel Affinities

Novel Affinities

Composing the Family in the German Novel, 1795-1830

Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge


Camden House



Challenges traditional novel scholarship that emphasizes the individual and the Bildungsroman, broadening the focus to the family and both canonical and non-canonical novels, reading them together with biological, legal and pedagogical texts.

The novel, according to standard scholarly narratives, depicts an individual's path to maturity. Scholarship on the rise of the novel in Germany and in Europe more broadly, from Watt to Moretti, has essentially collapsed the genre into the individualist Bildungsroman, exemplified by a narrow canon. This study challenges and nuances these narratives, first by expanding the focus from the individual to the family, second by broadening the field of novels treated to include not only canonical works but also so-called trivial literature, and third, by reading novels alongside contemporary biological, legal, and pedagogical texts. This perspective reveals that the novel and the family around 1800 were mutually constitutive and that the two together were instrumental in the development of conceptions of individuality, kinship, and society that are still relevant today. Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge reads novels by Goethe, Wolzogen, Engel, Karoline Fischer, August Lafontaine, and Brentano, showing that they exhibit varying degrees of "imaginative didacticism": suggestions not of what to think and feel, but that thinking and feeling in reaction to literature are central to cultural practices of self-reflection and development. The family is a crucial locus for this practice, and reading novels together with nonliterary texts illuminates how they experiment productively with the infinite possibilities presented by the relationships they portray.

Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge is Assistant Professor of German at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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212 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
Hardback, 9781571139597, May 2016
Library eBook
Camden House
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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: Novel Subjects, Novel Genealogies
The Formation of the Self: Biology and Pedagogy around 1800
Cultivated Resemblance: Imitation and Education in the Novel
Direct Testation: Legal Inheritance, Plot Inheritance, Origin Stories
Indirect Testation: Documents, Written Culture, and the Writing of Life
Conclusion: Novel Instability


[A] deeply engaging book that offers new insights into the relationship between form and content (themselves always shifting), both in literary and sociological terms. GERMAN STUDIES REVIEW [Heidi Schlipphacke]

There is much to admire in [the author's] ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate cultural developments, and her book, like the novels she analyzes, seeks to engage the reader in dialogue about the form and purpose of fiction in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In its fostering of scholarly exchange and dialogue, Novel Affinities is a successful and intriguing contribution to the conversation. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES

Eldridge opens the door to new revelations concerning the emphasis on families based on affective feelings. . . . Eldridge adds significantly to recent scholarship and provides a unique re-reading of affective families as portrayed in various discourses and novels/Bildungsromane from 1795 to 1830. MONATSHEFTE [Susan Gustafson]

[Eldridge] thus refocuses the discussion of the Bildungsroman, and does so also by drawing on a particularly wide choice of texts that includes not only the Wilhelm Meister novels and Die Wahlverwandtschaften, but also many popular, "trivial" novels of the period, at the same time as bearing in mind the contemporary social history of the family and, for example, questions of inheritance law. YEARS WORK IN MODERN LANGUAGE STUDIES

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