To read these four very fine works of scholarship together is to witness the flux of novel studies of our time—the steady decline of a particular idea of the novel, based on realism, and the development of new ways of thinking about what novels do and how they work. And, what is perhaps especially interesting, reading them together allows us to see how these shifts are happening in both eighteenth- and nineteenth-century studies, revealing that the assumptions and conventions of the two periods do not perfectly align.

Scott Black, in Without the Novel: Romance and the History of Prose Fiction, asks the straightforward but also somewhat surprising question, what if our histories of fiction were centered around the romance, instead of the realist novel? How might they be different? As he explains, we would not only shed the well-worn storyline, now much critiqued, of the connection between the rise...

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