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Reviews

"Franta tells an accurate and important story about how impossibility, unintelligibility, unpredictability, and disorder inform both narrative and style in the latter half of the long eighteenth century... Each chapter of Systems Failure offers a worthy contribution to the criticism of its respective subject, and the book might be especially useful to students and scholars of the Romantic and Victorian eras seeking an entry point into the eighteenth century."

"This book is at once a counterhistory of the rise of the novel and a meditation on the social world as an elusive object of knowledge... While many others have emphasized the novel's commitment to representing the social world, this book demonstrates that such a commitment is compatible with a keen awareness of the inadequacy of the genre to that task... it is an admirable feature of Franta's argument that it often points past the edges of his archive toward a century-spanning, multidisciplinary history."

"Andrew Franta's Systems Failure: The Uses of Disorder in English Literature challenges a familiar account of the Enlightenment that views it as an age of order premised upon an overriding confidence in systems and systematic thinking... In Franta's compelling study, the novel becomes a kind of laboratory, or "staging ground," for Enlightenment theories that attempt to "apply principles derived from the natural sciences to the social world." What the novels that feature in Systems Failure discover is that the terrain of fiction—social life—seems always to escape systematic attempts to explain it. Fiction, one might say, is not reducible to principle."

"By viewing characters as products of systems, Franta is able to show how the literature of this period contributed to "the idea that society has a structure," paving the way for the development of disciplinary sociology in the nineteenth century. As its title suggests, Systems Failure is a work whose strength lies in its author's ability to handle polarizing abstractions with nuanced attention."

"An interesting, readable, and entertaining book, filled with excellent insights. Franta's prose is rich, and his argument is ingenious."

"This engaging, humane book proposes a new way of thinking about how and why the form of the novel emerged intertwined with Enlightenment systems-building. Franta argues that books by Johnson, Sterne, Smollett, Godwin, Austen, and De Quincey compassionately nudged readers towards 'a way of living with the inevitability of failure.'"

"That the British novel did not 'rise' during the eighteenth century so much as flounder, that it was a detour in many cases from a social reality routed through individual experience, is just one of the bombshells in Andrew Franta's exciting new study. Systems Failure is particularly apt not just because structures, networks, and other configurations routinely take precedence over reference and character development, but because these same systems fail amid the gyrations of what turns out to have been a self-reflexive medium all along. Beginning with Johnson's Life of Savage and continuing in works by Smollett, Godwin, and especially Austen, Franta tracks a development where the representational assumptions surrounding these writers are challenged from within, yielding something at once familiar and indelibly strange."

"Systems Failure is a profoundly 'human,' humanist book, attentive to explorations of failure, the contours of complex events, and the inevitable mismatch of things to ideas. And it belongs therefore on the shelf of anyone interested in the recent return to the Enlightenment not as a moment of triumphant system-building, but as a moment of encounter with difference, complexity, and the limitations of human knowledge."