A comprehensive, ambitious, and demanding critique of eighteenth-century English and French fiction, Story and History rereads the major works of the period as components in a systematic exploration of how the ordering of experience by individuals might relate to larger orders of authority. Interpreting the evolving thematic pattern of fiction in both countries as a plot in its own right, William Ray argues that the novel's rise in the eighteenth century coincided with a growing conviction - which the genre both reflected and fostered - that selfhood, social identity, public authority, and ultimately even historical truth and cultural values, all hinge on narrative representation.
From the early novels of individualism, which emphasize the relating of personal experience as a means of altering social hierarchies and securing privileges for the exceptional individual, to the later metanovels, whose complex dialectical models of history both invite and exclude manipulation of the shared record, Story and History traces not only the relationship of individual story to collective history, but also finction's evolving grasp of its own cultural authority.
Presented as an evolving story whose episodes are furnished by the successive works in treats, the sutdy seeks its model of the eighteenth century's understanding of narration and social reality within the stories of narrative manipulation contained in the most influential fiction of the period. Novels examined include: La Princesse de Cleves, Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Poxana, La Vie de Martanne, Le paysan parvenu, Manon Lescout, Pamela, Clarissa, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise, Tristam Shandy, Jacques le fataliste, and Les Liaisons dangereuses.
Private lives and public stories; personal ordering and providential order; negotiating reality; individualism and authority; the seduction of the self; from private narration to public narrative; textualizing the self; the necessary other - the dialogical structure of the self; self-ish narration and the authorial self; the emergence of literary authority; exemplification and the authoring of utopia; ironizing history; the great scroll of history; self emplotment and the implication of the reader.