Murray, Jack
September 1980
Contemporary Literature;Autumn80, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p572
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
In The Melodramatic imagination Peter Brooks has shown how a popular nineteenth-century art form such as melodrama was adapted to the novel by such writers as Balzac, Hugo, and, later, Henry James.[1] In this new literary context, melodrama underwent considerable transformation, becoming what Brooks terms the "melodramatic mode." It is the purpose of the present study to show how Marcel Proust finds his place among these writers and how he used melodrama and the melodramatic mode for his own purposes. Melodrama seems to have appealed to these novelists because of its very excess, its radical polarities, its patent oversimplifications, its unrestrained exploitation of the emotions. Specifically, it allowed a lively contention betwen clearly delineated forces of good and evil, although obscuring the wellspring of the motivations or moral elements at work so that the antagonists had the ambiguous luster of enigmatic symbols, their battles the mythical dimensions of cosmic struggles. Melodrama, once transformed in the novel into the melodramatic mode, lost much of its naive oversimplification but retained the capacity to indicate, beyond the problematical surface of reality, the presence of a deeper reality. This reality the surface appearances could only denote through signs which in themselves did not carry a clear or transcendent meaning.


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