Is there a way out? Two experiments in myth and history

Brian Hamnett

in The Historical Novel in Nineteenth-Century Europe

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199695041
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732164 | DOI:
Is there a way out? Two experiments in myth and history

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One direction lay in the search for a departure from realism. Eliot in ‘Romola’ and Flaubert in ‘Salammbô’ both moved—in different ways, although at much the same time—in the direction of symbolism. Underlying meaning and symbols laid out the way towards a deeper meaning of the action and the portrayal of the characters. Yet both authors, setting themselves difficult tasks, had completely contradictory objectives. Each had opposing visions of humanity and the universe. Eliot used the medium of the historical novel to uphold the moral value of the past, while abandoning the Christian religion. Her aim was to show the way to the redemption of humanity through the exemplary life of her heroine, a female saviour. The novel exhibits many of the contradictions of the historical novel, important for this present study. Like ‘Salammbô’, it has generally been regarded as a failure and is the least read of all Eliot’s novels. Flaubert’s vision is pessimistic, decidedly rejecting any possibility of moral guidance from the Ancient World, and thereby expressing marked departure from the ideals of the Enlightenment. At the same time, there is no Romanticism in the novel, in which the love element is thrown into the background by the cruel struggle for power and the inexorable will of the (fictionalised) warring gods. These were attempts to take the historical novel to a higher plain at a time when it appeared to peter out in Britain and France.

Keywords: Florence; Renaissance; Risorgimento; religion; Carthage; gods; power struggle. mercenaries; sexuality

Chapter.  16263 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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