Literature in the Dawn of Sociological Theory: Stories That Are Telling focuses on a selection of novelists from the early 1800s to the early 1900s and their connections to the insights of Classical Sociological Theory and the sociological imagination. This monograph also considers the aesthetic, sociological, and literary insights of Theodor Adorno, György Lukács, Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, Wolf Lepenies, Franco Moretti, Lucien Goldmann, and John Orr. The main chapters discuss the fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. The concluding chapter reflects on the dawn of modernity, especially the birth of capitalism and the plague crisis via Boccaccio’s Florence, significant to The Decameron. Throughout the text, Sarah Louise MacMillen considers these “stories that are telling” in light of social issues today. She presents a case for highlighting the authors of the past, wherein these fictional accounts anticipate some of our contemporary social problems and social movements. These dynamics include the environmental crisis, the effects of globalization, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, “cancel culture,” debates about gender nonconformity, and secularization. Finally, MacMillen reflects on the need for solidarity in shifting patterns of social existence and rebuilding post-COVID.
Sarah Louise MacMillen is associate professor of sociology and director of the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Resolution Minor Program at Duquesne University.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Introduction—Literature in the Dawn of Sociological Theory
Chapter Two: New England Shadows: Hawthorne, Faust, and the American Spiritual Character
Chapter Three: Moby-Dick as Modern Epic: “Symphony” in a Broken Ontology
Chapter Four: Literary Metanoia and the Sociological Imagination in Joseph Conrad: Colonialism and Western Idealism
Chapter Five: Women and Men: the Tragicomic
Chapter Six: Suspending Modernity: Gender and History in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Chapter Seven: The Absurd Christian and the Sociological Imagination of Dostoevsky
Chapter Eight: Conclusion—Stories in the Dawn of Capitalism: Crisis and Narrative in Boccaccio’s Decameron
In this important book, Sarah MacMillen moves easily between the domains of literature and the classical sociological tradition, demonstrating with considerable insight how the cross-fertilization of these discourses yields a more profound understanding of how the forces of industrialization, urbanization, secularization, capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism intersect powerfully with the biographical trajectories of individuals.
MacMillen’s profound examination of literature and the history of sociological thought is a boon to those of us who teach the theorists of the classical era. It makes salient the connection of sociology to the humanities, while highlighting the critical potential of sociological thought vis-à-vis capitalist modernity. Highly recommended!
What does sociological theory have to say about literature? How can today’s social problems and controversies be critiqued when looking back at such works as Moby Dick (Melville), Heart of Darkness (Conrad), Orlando (Woolf), The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne), and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Brothers Karamazov? In this collection, MacMillen reveals her extensive reading in religion, popular culture, sexuality, literary theory, and social philosophy. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.