Object LessonsThe Novel As a Theory of Reference

Object LessonsThe Novel As a Theory of Reference

Jami Bartlett

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226369655

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Literary critics have taken the realist novel’s claim to referentiality for granted, and have treated the act of referring as an unanalyzable simple, and the characters and things that are referred to as sites for an examination of the affective engagement they produce, or the sociocultural or historical conditions that produce them. Object Lessons draws on analyses of reference in the philosophy of language to show how novels refer to objects. The logic of the referential act itself—the conditions that must obtain in order for a reference to make sense—is a fascination for authors of the realist novel, whose challenge to build a world out of unreal objects entails an examination of how a relationship between words and objects happens in the first place. Through an examination of novels by George Meredith, William Makepeace Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Iris Murdoch that provide allegories of language use in their descriptions, characters, and plots, Object Lessons not only shows how novels make references, but how they are about referring.