Discussions of closure, which played an important role in the analysis of novels in the heyday of narratology, associated the open text with a subversive resistance to containment and the failure or inability to fix meaning. Such a description fails to account for narratives in which “process” or movement in time is not goal oriented, where the goal is immanent to the process and where the notion of closure is irrelevant rather than subverted or unattainable. I propose to call such plots “narratives of survival” because they tend to foreground the continuous, in principle endless, process of creation anew (production and reproduction) necessary for the maintenance of life, self, social group, family bonds, affect. In doing so they diverge from the norms that characterize the English novel in its hegemonic form, where survival is merely the taken-for-granted precondition for “higher” pursuits—a transparent means to other ends. But the sway the concept of “progress” exerts over images of forward movement, specifically the movement of stories that shape cultural notions of what makes a life worthwhile, is such that these narratives are seldom read on their own terms. Conversely, as I show through an analysis of Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield, Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, and Charles Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop, reading them on their own terms allows us to perceive an alternative view of family and home to that produced by the novel in its hegemonic form.
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Michal Peled Ginsburg; Narratives of Survival. Novel 1 November 2009; 42 (3): 410–416. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-035
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