Introduction to Popular Fictions: Essays in Literature and History

(New York: Methuen, 1986)

by Peter Humm, Paul Stigant, and Peter Widdowson

    The double-barrelled aspect of this book's title is quite deliberate. All the essays collected here deal in their different ways with 'popular fictions', but they were all, also, first published in the journal Literature and History. In that sense, then, they are quite literally 'essays in literature and history'. More important, however, than the literal sense is their relationship to the academic disciplines of 'Literature' and 'History'. For they are presented here not simply as interesting pieces in their own
right, but also as significant contributions to an area of knowledge that can legitimately be called Literature-and-History. Moreover, they bear on this concept in another way: they are also part of the history of the journal itself, and we would like to
suggest that this is also how they should be read. The appearance of these essays was not fortuitous: the editorial group of
Literature and History was eager to publish them because they helped the journal explore the concept of 'popular fictions', and also indicated ways in which the disciplines of Literature and History could come together to break down the methodologies, epistemologies and pedagogies that keep them apart.

    The concept of 'popular fictions', however, should not be seen as some kind of marriage broker, disappearing tactfully
once Literature and History have met. Reading the essays in this book requires, as writing them must have done, a juggler's
skill in keeping all three notions in play. Of the three, however, 'Literature' causes the most anxiety: squeezing it between
'popular fictions' and History calls into proper question the stability of that central and too-long dominant term. Just as
deciding to call some fictions 'popular' raises the question of how and why other literature is more valued, so putting History
last reinforces that evaluative process. But a recognition that canon of Literature is a historical construct should not simply lead to a partisan regrouping of past champions and new contenders; rather it should produce a sceptical analysis of what is invested in such hierarchies. The history of literature discernible in this book is, in fact, part of a continuous rewriting of the relations between the artificial categories of Genre, Canon and Tradition. These categories are, however, still held within what the authors of one recent New Accents book, Rewriting English, call the 'strong magnetic field' of literature. (1)  And it is worth staying within that field a little longer if only to resist that traditional treatment of 'popular fictions' which values them solely for their social content. Just as canonic texts receive intensive formalistic reading, so popular fictiolur should be treated in a way which does not merely allow 'non-canonised texts [to be] collapsed back into the conditions of production from which they derive'. (2) Popular fictions, then, need to be read and analysed not as some kind of sugar-coated sociology, but as narratives which negotiate, no less than the classic texts, the connection between 'writing, history and ideology'.

    That last phrase can be found printed on the inside cover of more recent issues of  Literature and History, and it represents a definite shift in the concerns of the journal since its inception.  But equally, retaining Literature as part of our title also has a strategic importance, both for the journal and for this book. Literature is not a designer label intended to dignify the everyday
denim of popular fiction, but a reminder that such works receive very 'close reading' from those who buy or borrow them. So, for example, the readers of novels published by Mills & Boon or Silhouette not only value the individual style and themes of
their 'favourite authors', but report their findings back to the companies' monitoring service. Thus, if the essays collected
here concentrate on the formal structures of the written text rather than the social structures in which those texts are produced and read, then at least they resist patronizing generalizations about the reading habits of those (unlike ourselves) who live and read outside the academy.
 

When we came to make the selection of essays for inclusion in this book we lighted fairly quickly upon about twenty real
possibilities out of the 120 or so articles that had appeared in Literature and History since 1975.  Those twenty essays included discussion of texts as diverse as Frankenstein, The Beggar's Opera, Pickwick Papers and Ginx's Baby. What made these (and not others) appropriate for a book on popular fictions was that the texts they dealt with were, by and large, all widely read, seen or sold; and this fact itself opens up questions of literary and historical placing which cut off the retreat into the immobility of standard literary criticism. The point of this book, however, is not rigidly to re(de)fine once more the term 'popular fiction', but to see what happens when proven best-selling fictions are placed within the dialectic of Literature-and-His- tory.

    However, to go back for a moment to the inception of the journal in 1975: we had then no clear-cut, neatly worked-out or
theorized notion of what that dialectic was or might be. But we did have certain starting points, and they remain important
starting points for this book. We recognized that works of literature were historically located, and that within what was
called History (i.e. what was studied as History in schools and higher education) literature as a form of consciousness probably
deserved much greater prominence. We subscribed, then, to the hardly earth-shattering view that literature was produced and
consumed in a material world which was itself shaped by a complex mix of economic, political, social, cultural and intellectual forces; we wished, in other words, to stress the concrete materiality of literature. But we wished to do this by not then arguing that literature was a mere reflection of the historical forces shaping society. Literature, as we saw it, was part and parcel of how societies are formed and changed; it had, for us at least, some dynamic of its own. Or, to put it another way round, history needed literature not as some kind of creative affirmation of what we already knew, but as an active and integral part of reaching an understanding of past societies and their relation to the present.

 
    This then, represented, and represents, a point of departure.  It is no more than that because, once confronted, the problems
proliferate. But there is one vital difference between 1975 and 1986, and this book bears testimony to it: many of these problems have at least been engaged. One that has become important to us is why, as we have already implied, one piece of literature is seen as 'great' whilst others are assigned the labels . . .  'minor', 'popular', or are indeed considered so inferior as to  be not worth mentioning at all. On its own, the question 'What makes novel X better than novel Y?' represents no challenge to traditional literary criticism. Indeed, the theoretical assumptions and methodology of that criticism are designed precisely to ask, and resolve, such a question. But once shift the theoretical foundation that underpins the 'major'/'minor' distinction and not only does a whole new range of literature become available to us, but new ways of looking at the relationship between literature and society also emerge. For example, they allow us to explore a specific definition of a 'popular fiction' we have already touched on: one that presupposes a large readership or audience forit in ifs own day. To take an example from this book: once Edward Jenlrins's Ginx's Baby does not need to be judged on a scale of 'literary greatness', then some interesting questions about Jenkins's contemporary popularity begin to be taken seriously. The problem that this in its turn poses is: how do we relate Jenkins's work to his society; how do we read it historically?

    Once the procedures of conventional literary criticism have shown to be problematical, they clearly cannot be defended in an innocent or unselfconscious way.  Meaning in such works has to be found by reference to other criteria. This is not to say that literary critical skills prove totally inappropriate.  The question of how to 'read' such works must involve detailed attendance to the written text as well as to the wider society and discourses within which it is located. But the essays in this book may indicate that when we address best-selling authors, these skills have to be combined with a variety of strategies in which 'the literary' can be made to meet 'history' and vice versa in order to search out meaning. The essays on Mrs Oliphant, Edward Jenkins, Geoffrey Household, Daphne du Maurier and Philip Gibbs, for example, all dismiss the 'history-as-context- for-the-study-of-fiction ' approach, and seek instead to weave together the text, the genre and the specific history of the period.  And all these essays create specifically different 'histories' in order to answer the question why those books were a popular 'good read' in their own day.

    Two things stand out here. The first is the difficulty that some (though not all) of these popular fictions present to the modern
reader. They are not easy reading. But then not many present-day readers can escape into an effortless reading of George
Eliot or Henry James. The equivalent difficulty, say, of late nineteenth-century 'popular' texts results from historical changes in language and narrative form rather than from a confirmation of any elitist distinction between 'ephemera' and 'classics'. The second point is that the histories of 'popular fictions' have to be constructed; that is, their histories cannot be taken from standard secondary works on the history of their period. Hence not only are those works rediscovered and examined, but in the process the history of the period is itself reappraised. The reason for this is obvious: if a piece of popular fiction is both difficult to read and not subject to the conventional criteria of 'literary merit', then how to read its 'meanings' has to be extracted more deliberately from the ideological, social and political matrix that encloses and, in large measure, produces it. We are not saying, however, that the history comes first and the text is then applied to that history; rather that the text itself forms part of that history--part, in other words, of the attempt to understand forms of consciousness and the articulation of ideas in a past society.  Michael Denning's essay on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, while also introducing popular theatre into the book, illustrates this point. It is not simply that the contemporary meaning of  The Beggar's Opera has to be sought within the specific history of the period, but that Gay's work constitutes a dynamic part of that history, helping both to articulate the tensions and contradictions within society and, in giving them popular expression, to heighten their significance as part of contemporary con-
sciousness. To write about popular fictions is to write history.

    Indeed, to write about any kind of literature should lead to the crucial recognition that it is inevitably implicated in the
process of history. So, to write about 'Literature' is also to write history. But popular fictions are not some trivial exhibit waiting
to be discovered and mined by historians whose respect for 'great literature' persuades them that they should leave the task
of re-reading the traditional texts to their literary colleagues: they, too, have specific formal structures which need equally
careful analysis. Only when we reject the notion of 'popular fiction' as topical content and 'literature' as timeless form can
we begin properly to interpret its historical significance. That is why it is important to avoid a dismissive critical condescension
in the use of terms like 'formula' and 'stereotype'. If the twelve romance novels written by Charlotte Lamb in 1985 follow a
familiar narrative formula, then part of their familiarity comes from their conscious inheritance of narrative structures found in
Emily or Charlotte Bronte. This is not a question of one 'unique' original being converted into the facsimiles of mass production:
there are eccentric best-sellers and formulaic classics. The readers of Charlotte Lamb do indeed have a comforting idea of
how her novels will end; but there are not many surprises, either, in the final pages of Jane Austen.

    But the arbitrary distinction between popular fiction and literature is even more problematical. Why, for example, are
some pieces of fiction which were popular in their own day still apparently popular in the late twentieth century? Why are some
popular fictions also rated as 'great literature'?  The answers provided by the essays in this book point us in some interesting
directions. First, we need to recognize that a piece of fiction is produced not just once, but time and again for each succeeding
generation, and that it is 'read' differently by different generations, each making its own sense of the text for its own purposes.
Second, these texts are constantly re-produced in other ways: turned into films, TV plays, radio dramas and so on. A work of
popular fiction can then literally take on a multitude of forms, be given a multitude of historically specific 'meanings', and thus
become one work of many popular fictions. Hence, as the essay on the 1944 film version of Shakespeare's Henry V shows, what is already constituted as part of England's 'great literary tradition' can be used quite consciously as part of a patriotic,
morale-boosting, war effort; thereby re-creating Shakespeare as popular fiction, while at the same time allowing audiences of the day to see that their national identity ('Englishness') is something shaped by, and understood through, the work of a literary
titan like Shakespeare.

    What the film of Henry V also suggests is the extent to which conscious efforts are constantly made to popularize 'great literature'. In the second half of the twentieth century, by such devices as the 'classic serial', television has further enhanced
this popularization. In one sense, therefore, the 'great tradition' has been strengthened by means of turning novels and plays
into modern 'popular fictions'. But equally, as the activities of the Virago publishing house show, the notion of an exclusive
canon can be subverted by simply calling every novel published a 'modern classic'. This may be merely a canny publisher's decision to promote a new evaluation of work previously ignored or unsold, but anti-hierarchical effects are equally achieved by less direct political mechanisms. The BBC Drama Department has a continuing investment in the national icon of Charles
Dickens, so that an adaptation of, say, Bleak House can be used to prove that the BBC still brings 'culture to the masses'; that it can do so 'artistically'; and that it can also make 'culture' a commercial success. Yet it takes the BBC a full-page  advertisement in the 'quality' national press to construct an arbitrary tradition in which Tender is the Night becomes the natural sequel to Dennis Potter's re-creation of the Jazz Age in Pennies from Heaven.

    Similarly, for every popularization of an 'A-level' certified classic, there is the reverse process whereby a steady middle-
brow fiction such as Paul Scott's Raj trilogy is converted into a classic to be adorned by the Dames of the British stage and sold to Mobil's Masterpiece Theatre. And here Granada proves its own fitness to make great literature speak to each age and
generation. The fact that this literature does so 'speak', of course, largely depends on the way in which it is made to speak to
its audience, on the way it is given 'relevance' and modern popular appeal. These notions of relevance and popularity can appear to be arbitrary. Why decide, for example, that 1983 should be the 'Year of India'? The explanation must be that such a decision is bound up inextricably with perceptions of proven public taste--the success, for instance, of Attenborough's Gandhi two years earlier--so that in 1983 India comes to be represented on our screens by Paul Scott, E.M. Forster and M.M. Kaye, author of The Far Pavilions. In the end, though, what television and film have done is to create a fusion of 'great' and 'minor' literature very much within the realm of 'the popular'. Despite this process, perhaps ironically, 'great literature' does not lose out. Its status seems, on the contrary, to be enhanced. Indeed, we might suggest that the very survival of that ideological concept 'the great tradition' depends as much upon its artefacts being transformed into contemporary popular entertainment, as upon their appearance on A-level and degree syllabuses.

    A play's or novel's popularity can, therefore, be re-created time and again. But the creation of that popularity involves
aiming a fiction at a specific audience--or market. The musical version of Oliver Twist, first as theatre then as film, does not seek exactly the same audience as the BBC TV serialization. The success of one may help to increase the popular audience for the other, but in no sense are popular fictions directed towards, or consumed by, an undifferentiated mass audience. Clearly we need to know more about its composition, and Kate Flint's essay recognizes the importance of the nature of the audience in
accounting for the success of popular fictions. (3)  But despite such honourable exceptions, this is one area with which Literature and History has not been able to deal. What does emerge in many of the essays collected here, however, is that popular fictions are made not simply by audience response, but, more importantly, by the determined efforts of some authors, film-makers and publishers: some, that is to say, who so consciously gear their books, films or plays to what they believe or know to be popular, who have such a heightened sense of market, demand and 'taste', that they must know what they are 'creating' is, in fact, a product. Most fiction is of course a product in the sense that it is written or made to be sold and marketed, but one characteristic of 'popular' fiction must be that its relationship to the market, its place in the socio-economic relations of production, is different from that of 'non-popular' fiction.

    Two essays deal with this issue, though in significantly different ways. Kathy MacDermott points to the early eighteenth-century relationship between writing and the market as a key moment in the creation of the concept 'literature',
and thus to the imminent dichotomy between 'high culture' and 'low culture'. Norman Feltes highlights the way in which
Dickens, who is now considered to have written 'serious' fiction, was consciously involved, not simply in writing a best-seller,
but in producing a commodity. What these two essays jointly challenge is the myth that 'great literature' is produced by those
whose creative genius drives them unerringly on, and 'popular fictions' by those whose only real concern is market demand.
Deliberately conceived popular fictions may, indeed, be seen by their producers first and foremost as commodities; but the
relationship between all fictions and the market--its nature and composition, and how the commodity is produced for it--must be a crucial consideration in any full discussion of literature, popular or otherwise.

    This leads on to another set of questions neatly highlighted by Paul O'Flinn's essay on Frankenstein. (4)  It illustrates, first, an earlier point: that popular fiction is continuously reproduced, until, in the case of Frankenstein, one text has become a multitude of popular fictions. Second, it asks why and how some popular fictions stay 'popular' from one generation to the next (Dracula and Sherlock Holmes spring to mind here, as well as Frankenstein), other than by their elevation to canonic literature. Third, it asks how far the re-creation of popular fictions involves their transmission more widely within people's everyday lives--as O'Flinn says: 'Versions of the monster glare out from chewing-gum wrappers and crisp bags ... [while] in the USA he forged a chain of restaurants.' Frankenstein forces us to recognize, therefore, that some popular fictions have virtually nothing to do with their authorial text. What do the scores of Frankenstein films in the twentieth century have to do with Mary Shelley's original? Indeed, is her text, apart from supplying a name and a basic idea, at all relevant to an investigation of the 'Frankenstein' phenomenon in twentieth-century mass entertainment?  Feminist critics such as Ellen Moers may have established Mary Shelley's creation of an enduring myth for a widely varied audience, but there is a vast gulf between a writer's--or
director's--knowledge and use of an original source and an audience's perception of something called 'Frankenstein'. This
is not to make an elitist distinction between intellectual respect for, and popular indifference to, the 'original text' (after all, Mrs.
Gaskell was capable of the now hackneyed confusion between monster and creator). But while an audience may have to have
some kind of recognition of Shakespeare as England's 'greatest poet' to be attracted to the film of Henry V, no such knowledge of Mary Shelley attracts audiences to the latest Frankenstein film.  It is not Mary Shelley that matters, but a consciousness of
numerous previous films. The question thus becomes: how is this Frankenstein kept alive as a popular piece of modern fiction? And much the same might be asked of Dracula or Sherlock Holmes. What we must note is that a complex set of ideas and
expectations surround a name, and so enable some variation on the theme to be constantly reproduced--even, in the case of
Sherlock Holmes, to the point where a television company can make a series 'based on' the original Conan Doyle stories. But
such a series is only possible, in effect, because of a whole legacy of previous fictionalizations of 'Holmes' which have little to do with the original.

    With some popular fictions, then, it is possible to work and rework a particular motif within a given set of audience expecta-
tions, so that, in the case of film, people can 'know' what they are seeing before they have seen it, or, with format books such as Mills & Boon romances, to 'know' what they are going to read before they have read them. But that knowledge comes from practised viewing and reading which, in themselves, contribute to the successful formula: Hollywood films are pre-viewed and
re-edited until they coincide with 'the audience's' expectations; Mills & Boon elaborately test their readers' responses to varia-
tions in the traditional ingredients of their romances. Such an emphasis on the complicated reciprocal relation between con-
sumer and produce may seem to come uncomfortably close to praising the democracy of the market, but we need to take that
risk if we are to avoid a functionalist sociology which insists upon mechanically reading off ideological effects from the formulae ossified in a 'lesser tradition' of popular fiction. 'Formula' and 'genre' are important to the study of popular fiction, but not because these notions serve to distinguish it from 'Literature', rather because they draw attention to the ways in which readers go about their reading. As Janice Radway has established in Reading the Romance, there is a real gain in moving our attention from the solitary text 'taken in isolation, to the complex social event of reading'. (5)  But the present essays are written in the main by academics trained in the formal close reading of texts rather than in the ethnographic skills which inform Reading the Romance. Literature and History, predictably, has not received many investigations into what can be called the sociologies of taste or pleasure. This does not mean that the readings published in the journal merely celebrate the arcane textual mysteries of 'popular' discourses. It is because many works of popular fiction are seemingly 'easy to read' that so much interesting work can be done in tracing the historical processes of reproduction and revaluation. A best-seller can provide an enjoyably slick surface from which we can skid away from the fixities of literary typology to the freedom of historical and cultural change.

    And yet the cry may still go up that what distinguishes 'Literature' from popular fiction is that 'great art' stimulates and enhances our imagination, our understanding, our intellect, whereas most popular fictions subdue, deaden or deny them. So, the argument might run, the intellectual challenge of reading Richardson's Pamela proves far more demanding, and therefore rewarding, than that involved in reading Jackie Collins's The Bitch. But for many people in the late twentieth century Pamela is scarcely readable, while The Bitch presents an 'easy read'. Is this, then, still to say that, having acquired the status of 'great art', Pamela speaks now more meaningfully than The Bitch? What we want to deny is the factitious distinction between 'high' and 'low' culture, the boundary between them being so frayed by constant movement that its only use now is to mark the ideological motives of those who insist that it still provides a necessary function. Those who read or scrutinize Dickens as a novelist secure within the canon (if not 'the great tradition'), and ignore his simultaneous appearance on TV at Sunday tea-time, are substituting a previously freeze-dried version of the past for the dynamics of historical process. A properly historical reading of Dickens, or any other writer, has to recognize these seismic shifts--movements which make any Richter-like measurement of 'popular' and 'classic' fiction futile or partisan.

If we need any further proof, we can simply turn to the essay on Angela Carter. Patricia Duncker discusses Carter's very
particular use of that most popular genre, the fairy story; and, of course, Carter's work has already been turned into film. But,
intriguingly, the back cover of the King Penguin edition of Carter's The Bloody Chamber promotes the book in this way: 'In
tales that glitter and haunt--strange nuggets from a writer whose wayward pen spills forth stylish, erotic, nightmarish jewels of prose--the old fairy stories live and breathe again'; and goes on to quote Robert Coover's opinion that it is 'a classic of short fiction, literally aglow with lyrical intensity, comic ingenuity'. Indeed, this promotion neatly sums up the dilemma: how do you market a contemporary writer like Angela Carter?  Of what literary tradition should she be made a member? The blurb touches both the potentially 'classic' nature of her writing, as well as the potentially 'popular'--the erotically gothic.  But it is not just Penguin's dilemma; it is ours too. Can we locate her writing within 'popular fiction', and how does it affect our definitions of that term if we do? One thing is clear: Carter's work refuses any inclination we may have to measure and define popular fictions over against 'serious' literature. If we once deny any such discriminations, then all writing, theatre or film-making has to be understood and studied in a different set of terms. And if these terms contain the notions of the author's sense of his or her 'market', of audience and audience expectations, of writing/film/theatre as product or commodity, and of the specific historical location of that product, then we may have a better chance of understanding the place of the cultural within the social formation and, within that, what we might mean by 'popular fictions'. In the end, however, the ultimate issue is not a better understanding of the 'popular fictions' themselves, but what they tell us of the constitution of culture--in particular popular culture--and of cultural politics.
 

    Finally, it is also important to recognize that the cultural politics and theory which inform the essays collected here have
their own history. All appeared as articles in Literature and History some time between 1979 and 1984, and they are marked by the particular history of political and intellectual debate that pervaded the 1970s and early 1980s. One significant effect of this on the journal's editors was our recognition that it was not enough passively to reflect the current arguments. We concluded that we should actively encourage contributions to the debate. So these essays did not appear in the journal by accident, and
neither is it a coincidence that the earliest date of publication of any of them was 1979.

    In 1979 Literature and History became more explicitly interested in theory than it had been previously. It was, ironically perhaps, a strange moment for this to happen, and the strangeness of the moment affected the character of the journal's theoretical offerings. 1978 had seen the publication of E. P. Thompson's The Poverty of Theory, his call to History to act as the last bastion of defence against Theory: a Theory that had (only on the left, of course) already greatly influenced literary studies.  The following year saw the issues raised by The Poverty of Theory turned into a moment, a very theatrical moment, of high drama. At the Ruskin College History Workshop that autumn, in the packed arena of a disused church, to the delight of many and the embarrassment of some, Edward Thompson again attacked theory. The politics of this are significant. Addressed as it was to cheering (socialist) historians, the attack encouraged them not simply to be wary of theory, but to deny it an important place in historical studies. Moreover, there was nothing fortuitous in the fact that the person attacked that night was Richard Johnson of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, himself a historian. There was, it seemed to some of us, a markedly reactionary tenor to the whole performance. The Centre had done a great deal in the 1970s to stress the importance of theory, but by the late 1970s it, and Richard Johnson in his own work, had already begun to explore new ways of applying the 1970s 'moment of Theory' to intellectual debate and academic research. (6)  By 1979 'Theory', as an autonomous and abstruse field of study (a latter-day scholasticism?), was already giving ground to new forms of empirical work. What the debates of the 1970s had taught us was that such work could not return to an innocent empiricism: an empiricism which, in literary studies for example, simply centred on 'the text itself', or even 'the text in its social context'. We needed to utilize theory, but to take it beyond its self-referential exclusiveness and its resistance to direct engagement with material problems. What we learned, however, from that dramatic moment at Ruskin College was that this intellectual and political shift in the use of theory would be easier to achieve in literary studies than in history, since an influential group of socialist historians seemed to be refusing history any part (except outright resistance) in the debate about the uses of theory. In addition, there was a larger context in which this 'moment' occurred: the impact of Thatcherism on left politics, plus the urgent need to understand the popularity of such a destructive political regime and to discover how the left could counter it. Literature and History, then, as a 'radical' journal was set a problem: how to respond both to the debate about 'Theory' and to developments in national politics?

    What we have called 'the moment of Theory' in the 1970s had been, for the most part, a peculiarly introverted left political
affair. But if this theory was to be utilized, it had to engage with the existing loci and practices of most literary and historical
studies. It had to recognize that they occur, by and large, in the classroom; that these disciplines have an institutional form; and
that within the institutions of education radical notions of what constitutes 'literature' and 'history' are in conflict with the
traditional constitution of these subjects. The 'Literature Teaching politics' network had been addressing this problem since  1979, but it was also one that Literature and History could not ignore. Indeed, since 1979 the journal has tried to marry theory to the more immediate demands of teaching literature and history in higher education. We recognized, in other words, that there was little point in theoretically deconstructing the status of, say, Jane Austen, when Jane Austen continued to be required reading on the curriculum of most, if not all, English degrees.  But that by no means implied that we thought theory was pointless. Rather it meant that Literature and History had to find, first, theoretically-informed articles on established texts and authors and, second, articles which shifted the debate from canonic texts and authors towards other forms of writing, Hence
our special interest in 'popular fictions'. For what that interest signals is not an appropriation of the latest intellectual fad, but
a way of re-thinking--and of teaching - Literature-and-History.

    What this book should demonstrate, therefore, is that the study of popular fictions help to reformulate conceptions of
'Literature' and of literary criticism. Certainly, it represents something of what Literature and History has been trying to
achieve, at least since 1979: a way of forging the relationship between 'writing, history and ideology'. These essays display
theoretical work which is--no longer paradoxically--preoccupied with particular texts, authors or genres, and materially
specific issues such as the processes of production and reproduction. And yet, as the inclusion of Tony Bennett's essay shows, this in no way denies the validity of work concerned to define 'popular fictions' in more general theoretical terms. All the essays argue that to continue to teach 'Literature' as if it comprises only the 'great texts' is to play Hamlet without the prince (or even Dracula without the Count). The study of  popular fictions calls History back on to the stage as a crucial participant in reformulating a relationship between fictional production and society. This book, then, represents a contribution to an intellectual debate and to a political struggle, because it aims to place popular fictions, as a dynamic element of the socio-cultural formation, on the curriculum. It aims to legitimize the critical study of all forms of writing. And it aims to make
Literature without History, and History without Literature, intellectually and educationally unthinkable.
 

Notes

(1)  Janet Batsleer, TonyDavies, Rebecca O'Rourke and Chris Weedon,  Rewriting English (Methuen, London 1985), p. 2.

(2)  Tony Bennett, 'Marxism and popular fiction', Literature and History, vol. 7:2 (Autumn 1981), p. 151.  An edited version of this essay appears in this book.

(3)  See also on this topic the important essay by Darko Suvin,'The social addressees of Victorian fiction', Literature and History, vol. 8:1 (Spring 1982).

(4)  Paul O'Flinn,  'Production and reproduction: the case of Frankenstein',  Literature and History,  vol.  9:2  (Autumn  1983),  pp. 200-1.  An edited version of this essay appears later in this book.

(5)  Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984), p. 8.

(6)  See, for example, Richard Johnson's essays in John Clarke, Chas Critchcr and Richard Johnson (eds), Working Class Culture: Studies in History and Theory (Hutchinson, London 1979).