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Author: G. David Sheps
Editor: Dedria Bryfonski
Date: 1980
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,516 words

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In their themes and motifs, Mordecai Richler's novels return regularly to a constant set of preoccupations. Despite this consistency, however, his career as a novelist has undergone some interesting alterations in terms of his moral attitudes towards his favourite preoccupations. This change of outlook has naturally been accompanied by a change in style and genre. It would have been difficult, on the basis of his early naturalistic novels, to anticipate the satirist and caricaturist who emerged with The Incomparable Atuk and Cocksure.... Occasional satirical elements are utilized by most novelists. It is another matter altogether to step from a dominant narrative mode of realistic characterization, verisimilitude of action and psychological plausibility to a dominant mode of conscious caricature in characterization, purposeful implausibility of action and fantasy in events. For a novelist to alter his style and narrative mode so decisively, a deliberate change in moral outlook must have occurred.... One of the theses of this interpretation is that, philosophically, Richler has moved from a tentative Romanticism to a kind of Classicism. (pp. ix-x)

In Richler's first novel, The Acrobats, we can already see most of the materials that recur in his later work: power, egoism, self-realization, struggle for survival, the conflict of generations and youthful rebelliousness, the need to escape from a confining environment, the sense of moral disillusionment and the fear of failure. The form of his first novel (and of all his naturalistic novels) is that most traditional of fictional structures: the attempted progress of the sensitive young man ... in escaping the fetters of an inhibiting situation and in advancing towards a form of independence, realization of what he takes to be his inherent potentialities or worldly success and recognition. In other words Richler's theme is that of the attempted rise from rags to riches, on several moral and aesthetic levels. (p. x)

This configuration, of course, is not surprising in a novelist. It is a truism that the novel is the bourgeois literary form. Theorists of the novel, like Ian Watt, have emphasized that the novel is specifically the literary form which is structured by the sense of time and movement as progressive, qualitative change, i.e. the notion that time must not be wasted and that the measurement of time should also measure changes in the person's status or situation.... Naturally it reflects a society where social mobility and the idea of self-development are both possible and social and psychological imperatives. The novel, therefore, is the form which best expresses romantic individualism.... Richler's novels are located in bourgeois time. His young men in a hurry or on the make (whether the hustler, Duddy Kravitz; the impatient aesthete, André Bennett; or the mixture of the two, Noah Adler) are the distant cousins, not only of Paul Morel, Stephen Dedalus and Sammy Glick, but also of Raskolnikov, Julien Sorel, Emma Bovary and Hedda Gabler. Like these nineteenth century heroes and heroines, they are manic depressive (the characteristic bourgeois psychosis, if we can believe the evidence of Ibsen and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100003165