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Michael Schmidt - The Novel: A Biography

The Novel: A Biography

The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds like a richly varied landscape that invites exploration rather than a linear journey. In THE NOVEL: A BIOGRAPHY, Michael Schmidt does full justice to its complexity.

Like his hero Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature, Schmidt chooses as his traveling companions not critics or theorists but “artist practitioners,” men and women who feel “hot love” for the books they admire, and fulminate against those they dislike. It is their insights Schmidt cares about. Quoting from the letters, diaries, reviews, and essays of novelists and drawing on their biographies, Schmidt invites us into the creative dialogues between authors and between books, and suggests how these dialogues have shaped the development of the novel in English.

Schmidt believes there is something fundamentally subversive about art: he portrays the novel as a liberalizing force and a revolutionary stimulus. But whatever purpose the novel serves in a given era, a work endures not because of its subject, themes, political stance, or social aims but because of its language, its sheer invention, and its resistance to cliché—some irreducible quality that keeps readers coming back to its pages.

THE NOVEL: A BIOGRAPHY was published on 13th May 2014 by Harvard University Press.

“Take a breath, clear the week, turn off the WiFi, and throw yourself in.”
– William Deresiewicz, The Atlantic

“[Schmidt] prove[s] his wide-ranging reading tastes, his ability to weave a colorful literary tapestry and his conviction that the novel is irrepressible.”
– Kirkus Reviews

“If focusing on the events surrounding one novel isn’t enough, or is too much, Michael Schmidt offers an eclectic variety in THE NOVEL: A BIOGRAPHY. At 1,160 pages, this hefty volume features 350 novelists from Canada, Australia, Africa, Britain, Ireland, the United States, and the Caribbean and covers 700 years of storytelling. But Schmidt does something different: while the book is arranged chronologically, the chapters are theme-based (e.g., ‘The Human Comedy,’ ‘Teller and Tale,’ ‘Sex and Sensibility’) and follow no specific outline, blending author biographies, interviews, reviews, and criticism into fluid narratives… This is a compelling edition for writers and other readers alike; a portrayal that is aligned with Edwin Muir’s belief that the ‘only thing which can tell us about the novel is the novel.’”
– Annalisa Pesek, Library Journal

“I toast a certainty—the long and fruitful life of poet, critic, and scholar Michael Schmidt’s book, THE NOVEL: A BIOGRAPHY. Readers for generations will listen through Schmidt’s ear to thrilling conversations, novelist to novelist, and walk guided by Schmidt through these 1200 pages of his joyful and wise understanding.”
– Stanley Moss

“Michael Schmidt is one of literature’s most ambitious champions, riding out against the naysayers, the indifferent, and the purse holders, determined to enlarge readers’ vision and rouse us all to pay attention. Were it not for his rich and adventurous catalogue of publications at Carcanet Press, and the efforts of a few other brave spirits at other small presses (such as Bloodaxe Books) the landscape of poetry in the U.K. would be depopulated, if not desolate. He has now turned his prodigious energies to telling the story of the novel’s transformation through time: a Bildungsroman of the genre from a persevering and unappeasable lover.”
– Marina Warner


Other publications by Michael Schmidt