Communities in Fiction reads six novels or stories (one each by Trollope, Hardy, Conrad, Woolf, Pynchon, and Cervantes) in the light of theories of community worked out (contradictorily) by Raymond Williams, Martin Heidegger, and Jean- Luc Nancy.
The book’s topic is the question of how communities or noncommunities are represented in fictional works. Such fictional communities help the reader understand real communities, including those in which the reader lives. As against the presumption that the trajectory in literature from Victorian to modern to postmodern is the story of a gradual loss of belief in the possibility of community, this book demonstrates that communities have always been presented in fiction as precarious and fractured. Moreover, the juxtaposition of Pynchon and Cervantes in the last chapter demonstrates that period characterizations are never to be trusted. All the features both thematic and formal that recent critics and theorists such as Fredric Jameson and many others have found to characterize postmodern fiction are already present in Cervantes’s wonderful early-seventeenth-century “Exemplary Story,” “The Dogs’ Colloquy.” All the themes and narrative devices of Western fiction from the beginning of the print era to the present were there at the beginning, in Cervantes
Most of all, however, Communities in Fiction looks in detail at its six fictions, striving to see just what they say, what stories they tell, and what narratological and rhetorical devices they use to say what they do say and to tell the stories they do tell. The book attempts to communicate to its readers the joy of reading these works and to argue for the exemplary insight they provide into what Heidegger called Mitsein— being together in communities that are always problematic and unstable.
“What brings Communities in Fiction its true distinction is the facility and creativity with which Miller retrofits each of the major artifacts in his purview to his communal ‘reality testing.’ Communities in Fiction is a work utterly remarkable for its mastery, its erudition, its theoretical creativity, and its good sense. This wonderful volume is truly delightful.”
Like Trollope, one of his subjects here, Hillis Miller has long perfected a style of warmly conversational lucidity. He communicates his pleasures and his perplexities as he guides you through readings that are at once leisurely and compelling.
J. Hillis Miller's Communities in Fiction is a magnificent repondering of the Victorian novel's ability to render consciousness of self and other. Lucid and urbane, the book is a model of theoretical investigation that would be perfectly accessible to a nonspecialist reader.
—SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900