"Forms of Life" by Martin Price

Forms of Life Character and Moral Imagination in the Novel Martin Price

Publication date:
15 Jul 2011
Yale University Press
374 pages: 235 x 156mm
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The novel contains imagined lives that achieve a kind of meaning and intensity our own lives do not.  Out of the novelist’s moral imagination—the breadth and depth of his awareness of human motivations, tensions, and complexities—emerge fictional persons through whom we learn to read ourselves.  This eloquent book, exploring fictional lives in crucial moments of choice and change, stresses both their difference from and their deep connections with life.


Martin Price writes here about ways in which character has been conceived and presented in the novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Beginning with chapters that cogently argue the artistic value of character, Price then deals with the different forms character has taken in individual novels.  His first discussions center on authors—Jane Austen, Stendhal, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy—who define individuals by their adherence or opposition to social norms.  The next chapters deal with novelists for whom the moral world is largely internalized.  The characters of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, and E.M. Forster live in society and act upon it, but the authors are particularly concerned with the confusions, terrors, and heroism that lie within consciousness.  The last chapter uses novels about the artist by James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Thomas Mann in order to apprehend the process by which experience is transformed into art. 


Avoiding both formalistic and moralistic extremes, this new book by a distinguished critic helps us recover a fuller sense of literary form and the forms of life from which it emerges. 

"The ten chapters dealing with specific finely textured. This is likely to be the best traditional study of character to appear in the 1980s. . . . This book is recommended for colleges aspiring to strong undergraduate collections of criticism, and it is essential to the libraries of graduate and research institutions."?Choice

"In these individual analyses, Price is remarkably effective at recreating the experience of reading each novel and of making each of them instruct and inform both himself and the reader in unexpected ways. To read Forms of Life, then, is to read great novels though a new set of eyes."?Arlin G. Meyer, Christianity & Literature

"An eloquent and judicious work, free of cant and special pleading. . . . Civilized and civilizing."?William B. Bache, Modern Fiction Studies

"There are no disappointing chapters in Forms of Life; each arrests the reader with an opportunity to reject its suppositions, to affirm or debate them. . . . An impressive achievement it is, rich in ideas and moralities and people."?Lillian D. Bloom, Novel: A Forum on Fiction

"Price has written one of the most interesting and lucid, surely one of the most discerning, critical studies ever produced on the novel. . . . The sheer amount of thinking that goes on in each of Price's sentences, to say nothing of the wealth of humane and pertinent learning they reflect, puts this book in a class apart."?Giles Gunn, Religious Studies Review

"Few critics of the novel in recent times have done so much to brighten, enliven or clarify those limits, or to refine our understanding of the conventions by which we read."?Eric Warner, Essays on Criticism