Lukács, György

Assigned: Lukács, György. From The Historical Novel, from Chapter One. “The Classical Form of the Historical Novel” (869-81). Also read the editors’ introduction (866-68).

From The Historical Novel (1937)

From Chapter One. “The Classical Form of the Historical Novel”

1. Social and Historical Conditions for the Rise of the Historical Novel

1. On 869-70 (“The historical novel arose…”), according to György Lukács, when did the “historical novel” arise, and what quality or concern was missing from novels up through the eighteenth century that is required if we are to call a novel genuinely “historical” (869)? How, for example, did even the “great realistic social novel of the eighteenth century” (869), for all its value, still not show the regard for history that Lukács says is the mark of historical novels? How does Lukács part company with what he calls “the Romantic-reactionary legend” (870) about the supposed lack of “any sense or understanding of history” (870) during the Enlightenment, and how does he describe the course he will pursue in the rest of this chapter as an investigator of the historical sense?

2. On 870-71 (“This applies above all to France…”), Lukács concentrates on the state of historical awareness in Great Britain during the eighteenth century. How does he contrast the British with France in this regard? (870) How, as well, does he contrast the two major economists Adam Smith (author of the 1776 early-capitalist classic The Wealth of Nations)and the important but lesser-known James Steuart with an eye towards the way these two processed the history of the development of capital? (871)

3. On 871-72 (“It is only during the last phase …”), Lukács describes the development of the historical sense in Germany during the time frame he has been discussing, namely the Enlightenment. What differentiated Germany from France and Great Britain in this regard? What was it about the German economic and political environment that, according to Lukács, caused that country’s Enlightenment (in German, die Aufklärung)to lead its intellectuals especially to “turn to German history” (872) and thereby to serve as a preparation for the historical consciousness of Walter Scott in Great Britain?

4. On 873-74 (“It was the French Revolution…”), according to Lukács, how did experiencing the French Revolution change the historical sense of many Europeans, including, for example, that of the German intellectual Heinrich Heine as documented in his 1827 Buch le Grand? What did the French Republic’s new way of creating mass armies, relating to the regions they occupied, and waging a vast war all across Europe have to do with the coming-into-being of this more intense, democratic sense of history?

5. On 874-76 (“It is in the nature of a bourgeois…”), how, according to Lukács, did the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-15 (i.e., the wars that came with the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor in 1803) lead to an “awakening of national sensibility and with it a feeling and understanding for national history” (875) as well as a new sense for the connection of nations to world history? Moreover, what transformation in the understanding of economic and social development occurred as a result of the great mass events of this period?

6. On 876-77 (“It is already clear from these…”), according to Lukács, “conscious historicism” (876) reached its greatest intensity after Napoleon’s fall in 1815, and in the somewhat later reactionary Legitimism that came to dominate the European intellectual scene. What outlook on history did so-called “Legitimists” take? (Legitimists supported the restoration of the old French monarchy under the Bourbon dynasty.) Furthermore, according to Lukács, what new ethical and intellectual conditions were imposed upon those who (such as the Marquis de Condorcet and Charles Fourier) still defended progressive views after the Revolutionary Period—what new way of interpreting historical “progress” (877) emerged and became obligatory?

7. On 877-78 (“This new phase in the ideological…”), how did the German philosopher Georg Hegel—in spite of his “Idealist” bent—epitomize the new “progressive” view of revolution and history that came on in the nineteenth century? In what sense was historicism (a deep appreciation for historical process) vital to the Hegelian version of history? How, according to Lukács, does this kind of history differ profoundly from the historical notions that dominated in past eras, and particularly during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment?

8. On 878-79 (“Thus there arose, in both a concrete…”), how does Lukács characterize and draw the implications of what he has been calling “a new humanism, a new concept of progress” (878) in Hegel and then, in somewhat altered form, in some of the great Utopian philosophers of the nineteenth century? What stark choice, according to Lukács, did the 1848 Revolution (which led to the ousting of King Louis Philippe in February of that year and to the establishment of the Second Republic, 1848-52) confronted believers in progress and historians generally?

2. Sir Walter Scott

9. On 879-81 (“Such was the historical basis…”), how does Lukács sum up his view of Sir Walter Scott’s intellectual background and work as a novelist? Why doesn’t it matter, in his view, that Scott was not particularly aware of the philosophical underpinnings that made his kind of novelistic method possible? All the same, what is the appropriate judgment, according to Lukács, on Scott’s influence onthe writing of fiction during and after his time? How, too, was Scott more savvy about the reality of English history than the Continental “historical ideologists of progress” (881) who preceded him?

10. General question: In our excerpt from The Historical Novel, György Lukács examines the developments that paved the way for the historical novel as exemplified in the work of the Romantic-Era writer Sir Walter Scott. There are, of course, many other kinds of novel: Gothic, sentimental, realist, epistolary, sci-fi, picaresque, and so forth. Which of these do you favor, and why? Are there are any types of novel that you prefer not to read? If so, what is it about them that you don’t find interesting or engaging?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake