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It is important to recognize the influence of a particular historical context of aesthetic theory and practice, drawn mainly from France and Russia, in the development of Anglo-American modernist fiction, ranging from Gustave Flaubert’s expressed desire to write a novel about nothing, to the coruscating naturalism of Emile Zola and the psychological intensities of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Through this context the idea of the modern novel comes to occupy a complex space bounded by the principles of abstraction on the one hand and realism on the other.

The longer the reader is able to sustain this attention, the more we realize that the text is working according to a logic of the glimpse or of peripheral vision, as of something held just out of reach; what we glimpse, perhaps, are the underlying rules that make and constrain sense. This of course is precisely how not to write in an orthodox way, but another sense of the proposition ‘how to write’ is released, in which writing is a transitive act – literally, an act of contiguity, of placing one letter after another and one word after another.

Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890–1930 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), pp. 19–55 (pp. 19–20). 4. Peter Nicholls, Modernisms: A Literary Guide (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995), p. 1. Further references cited parenthetically. 42 on Fri Aug Press, 07 22:28:15 BST 2015. 001 Cambridge Companions Online © Cambridge University Press, 2015 1 JEFF WALLACE Modernists on the art of fiction Between the 1880s and the 1930s, a new and fertile discourse on the art of fiction emerged alongside the extensive reshaping of fictional form itself.

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