Volume Eight of the new Oxford History of the Novel in English (OHNE) addresses the complexities of voice, tradition, genre, and form that emerge in the United States after 1940. We have designed a volume that examines the productive friction between the dominant tradition of the “literary novel” as it was understood in 1940 and the proliferation of voices and forms that emerged in response to that tradition.
Our volume charts the multiple histories that unfold in American fiction after 1940. One of these histories involves the plurality of both voices and forms that emerge from the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first. Another history emerges around the ongoing challenges to ideas of “the literary” and ideas about how to define “American literature.” The challenges to tradition and convention created by early twentieth-century writers, whose energies were fueled by their sense of being outsiders (whether because of race, gender, ethnicity, or class) are codified and in some cases institutionalized (in terms of academic fields of study) in the second half of the century. The literary novel, as a form, is reinvented (and perhaps reinvigorated) throughout this period by its encounters with both emergent forms (film, television, digital media) and emergent voices (African American writers, gay and lesbian writers, Hispanic writers, and so on).
In his General Editor’s preface, Patrick Parrinder describes the mandate of the series to include more than the standard discussions of “literary fiction.” The goal is for every volume in the series to contain relevant aspects of book history and the history of criticism, discussions of popular and genre fiction, as well as the work of major novelists, traditions, movements, and traditions. This mandate thus allows for sustained discussions of genres that, in other series of this type, might have been relegated to side-notes or sub-headings: in our volume, for example, we include chapters on middlebrow readers, children’s literature, and speculative fiction, in addition to more traditional topics such as postmodernism, regionalism, and war fiction.
Because of the myriad, often conflicting and competing, voices in this period, we have structured the volume to reflect the polyvocality that we see as a hallmark of this era. The volume combines literary critical essays about topics important to the period, including examinations of conventional literary genres, such as “romance” and “regionalism.” But we have also included brief “Exempla”—essays of about 2,000 words about significant novels, which are interspersed chronologically throughout the volume, as a way to give readers practical points of entry into the literary dynamics of the period. These essays will provide interpretative frames that will introduce the text to new readers and will invite readers familiar with the text to see it afresh.