Paul Cezanne, Seated Peasant
, 1895-1900, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Image is taken from WebMuseum Web site: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/
This subject traces the history of the European novel by studying texts that have been influential in that history in connection with two interrelated ideas. The first of these ideas underlies much of our modern regard for the novel as a literary form–namely, the idea that if fiction intends to deal with the most important forces animating the collective life of humanity, it will not deal with the actions of persons of immense consequence–kings, princes, high elected officials and the like–but rather with the lives of apparently ordinary people and the everyday details of their social ambitions and desires: to use a phrase of Balzac's, with "ce qui se passe partout" (what happens everywhere). This idea sometimes goes with another: that the most significant representations of the human condition are those dealing with a particular type of protagonist–namely, with someone not obviously qualified to be of consequence in the world (by reason, say, of birth or inheritance) but nonetheless conceives of himself or herself as destined for great accomplishment and who tries to compel society to accept him or her as its agent.