Screens, Research and Hypertext

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Fashion and Literary Criticism

Deconstruction: short-lived literary fad, or key to understanding hypertext?

There was a moment in the 1970s and ’80s when deconstructionism was all the rage in literary theory. Looking back, I think it was probably on its way out of fashion by the time I started at Hampden-Sydney College. But it had been a huge influence on Drs. Elizabeth Deis and Lowell Frye, my advisors-turned-colleagues-turned friends, who co-taught a freshman honors course on the Industrial Revolution.

I didn’t entirely understand what they meant the day they assigned us to read David Lodge's Nice Work and explained that it deconstructed the Victorian novel.

It was a couple of years later, when I’d reread Dickens’ Hard Times as part of a course on the Victorian novel that I really started to understand.

Lodge’s lurid sex scenes and his lengthy descriptions of bathrooms were commentaries on the Victorian’s refusal to admit the existence of basic bodily functions. And the plot resolution—one that involves marriage offers, emigration, and financial salvation from a long-forgotten rich relative/casual acquaintance—were spoofing the escapist happy endings of Victorian literature.

That Lodge's academic co-protagonist spent much of the novel explaining the deconstruction of the Victorian novel as part of a novel deconstructing the Victorian novel anticipated Charlie Kaufman by a more than a decade is a delight.

For more context

There's playing with genre tropes and then there's playing with the very form of books.

What to read next

Lodge's work is a Victorian novel that has changed directions.

Other items of interest

Why are we talking about David Lodge and Charles Dickens?

What's between the texts can be more important than what's inside.

I'm not sure why we're suddenly talking about literary theory, but I like it!