(Or: analysis of 15 “unimportant” pages from an important novel)
The following text is an attempt to clear up the usage of the notorious formula from the literary theory “unity of subject matter and form”. We’ll try to do that by analyzing the behavior of catalysis. (The term catalysis is taken from the renowned article by Roland Barthes: “Introduction in the structural analysis of narrating”1F).
In order to avoid the oddly enough resistant human characteristic —extensive explaining, we’ll confine our interest to a short excerpt of 15 pages of a novel by the Croatian writer Janko Leskovar (1861-1944). The short novel that we are to deal with has 105 pages, and is titled “Fallen Castles” (first published 1896), and our task are the 15 pages, from 47 to 62. 2F
We’ve chosen 15 pages that in the whole of the novel seem completely unimportant, even redundant: it is exactly that part of the book that an average reader skips; we can illustrate that visually by absent gaze at the margins of the book. The reader’s attention at these 15 pages weakens, after the reader notices that nothing important happens there.
The hero, Pavle, meets several people unimportant from the aspect of the story and he starts conversations that don’t lead to anything important for the plot; he finds himself in series of unnecessary situations; the reader comes across a line of images from his neighborhood. According to Jacobson, this denseness of narration is the first sign that we’re reading a work from the realistic genre. (This is a novel from the “psychological realism”).
Our question is if each of these meetings (predications) that the hero has according to their order and format, i.e. formally, are meaningful in respect to the subject matter of the novel. Does it make any difference that Pavle meets the locksmith first and then his uncle or are these events just accidentally one next to another? Our elaboration will show that every single event in the novel according to their order and intensity have their own concrete function in the book. In other words, this text will prove that event order (even the most superfluous at first sight) produces certain features with the hero by means of elements of the discursive texture – signifiers, and the hero who is bearer of a certain idea – signified. The question is: how does the text produce certain characteristics with the hero?
2. What’s going on?
This is a novel about a man between two women, and our 15 pages present only the man and none of the women. It is not surprising then, that the impatient reader is interested in seeing which woman Pavle chooses, keeping in mind that “each life has its boring paths and each book its poring parts” (Roussell) in a Sergei Bubka manner, the reader jumps over the part, not reading it at all. But the jump proves to be wrong move, since these pages hold the key to understanding Pavle’s choice (or unwillingness to choose) and his women. For the unfamiliar reader we are obliged to present this man, seriously affected by problems and his encounter first with the first and then the other woman. The beginning of the novel reveals 27 year old Pavle already having experienced the turbulent encounters with women. Those scenes are described retrospectively and therefore stand apart from the narrative present, but represent the subject of our analysis.
Our broken Pavle is a stout, tall and attractive young man with pointed beard and tanned face. The cultural codex of that time defines him a modern man (because of the shape of his beard) with a non-aristocratic (rural) background (because of his sun-tanned face). Pavle possesses spiritual qualities as well. He is musically gifted and among his other talents, he is very good at economic issues. As a grown up he shares the later interest with his aristocrat neighbor – Žiga Borgović. This happens in wrong time since Ljudmila, his neighbor’s daughter turns him on and Pavle falls for her. The girl returns her love and they become friends and socialize for several years concealing the feelings they share. One sunny day, on the estate of the neighbor-aristocrat, remote relatives arrive. (Probably in the same way described in an identical scene later in the book, where ladies with necklaces and fat-necked gentlemen jump out of their sport cars) The complexes are annoying like flies, so one day, Pavle, irritated by the flies, will drag Ljudmila, who was busy attending her relatives, in the nearby woods. He falls on his knees beneath the puzzled girl and hastily declares his love for her. Blinded by love, Pavle won’t see the relatives’ grinning faces behind his suspenders. What he doesn’t see is what she does.
1. From: “Theory of prose” selection of texts, translation and introduction by Atanas Vangelov, Detska radost, Skopje, 1996. Roland Barthes “Introduction a l’analyse structurale des récits”
2. According to the following publication: Janko Leskovar: “Fallen Castles”, “Matica Hrvatska” Zora-Zagreb, 1963, edition – “Five Centuries of Croatian Literature” (book no. 59).