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Reading the Times

Temporality and History in Twentieth-Century Fiction

Randall Stevenson

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A wide-ranging study of shifting temporalities and their literary consequences in twentieth-century fiction

From the Prime Meridian Conference of 1884 to the celebration of the millennium in 2000; from the fiction of Joseph Conrad to the novels of William Gibson and W.G. Sebald, Reading the Times offers fresh insight into modern narrative. It shows how profoundly the structure and themes of the novel depend on attitudes to the clock and to the sense of history’s passage, tracing their origins in technologic, economic and social change. It offers a new and powerful way of understanding the relations of history with narrative form, outlining the development and demonstrating – through incisive analyses of a very wide range of literary texts from late nineteenth to early twenty-first century – their key role in shaping fictional narrative throughout this period. The result is a highly innovative literary history of twentieth-century fiction, based on an inventive, enabling method of understanding literature in relation to history – in terms, in every sense, of its reading of its times.

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Introduction: Picnic Time, Prime Time, Story Time
1. ‘All Those Figures’: Joseph Conrad and the Maritimes
2. ‘Wheels within Wheels’: D.H. Lawrence, Industrial Time and War Time
3. Times in the Mind: Modernism in the 1920s
4. Not Like Old Times: the 1930s to Mid-Century
5. ‘Time is Over’: Postmodern Times
Conclusion: Millennial Times, Perennial Times.

About the Author

Randall Stevenson is Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature at the University of Edinburgh. Born in the north of Scotland, grew up in Glasgow and studied in the universities of Edinburgh and Oxford. Lectured on modern literature in 15 countries in Europe and in Nigeria, South Korea and Egypt. General Editor of the Edinburgh History of Twentieth-Century Literature in Britain series.


The impressively wide scope of the study is facilitated by Stevenson's great talents as a storyteller, Not only is Reading the Times a study of narrative, but it also deploys narrative in a highly skilful manner itself . . .light-footed summary . . . able to guide the reader through vast tracts of literary history . . . breathtaking

A rich and enjoyable narrative of fiction's various experiments with time over the course of the twentieth century

great explanatory power . . great strengths . . . relates temporal experiments in fiction to a wide range of material and historical conditions . . .

- David Shackleton, The Review of English Studies

Think there’s nothing left to be said about time in the twentieth-century novel? Read Randall Stevenson’s Reading the Times, and think again. Stevenson gives us a new history of narrative form that is at the same time a compact cultural history of the century.

- Brian McHale, The Ohio State University

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