The Agenbite of Inwit and Ulysses


(by way of an elliptical apologia)

Most compellingly interesting to me in a work of fiction isn't so much event, although that can keep one reading right through, but the interior struggle of character--the growth of character. Who really cares whether or not Emma is married at the end of her eponymous novel, so much as whether she has been transformed in the ordeal? Yes, marriage is a very satisfying symbol for what has happened and it rounds out the novel most beautifully elliptically--a story which begins with the loss of a dear companion to the depths of marriage.

Folks who approach Joyce's Ulysses or even the much more approachable The Dead looking for story are only going to be sadly disappointed. The same is true of Flannery O'Connor. Sure, things happen to propel characters along an arc of self-destruction or self revelation; but, that is the "story" of "The River"? Is it even worth recounting? What about "Good Country People?" Heck, for that matter, where does Wise Blood ever really go? Or for that matter The Violent Bear it Away? And yet, these are solid works of fiction that reward reading and rereading. Many are daunted by the difficulties of Joyce and fail to see why anyone would think if one of the great novels. And if approached with the idea that one will leave with a nicely packaged story, it will only be disappointed. But if approached with the idea that you will learn of the "agenbite of inwit" of three different and highly interesting characters, the story takes on a different and wholly other significance.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 19, 2006 10:12 PM.

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