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What--other than embarrassment--could one hope to gain from prolonged exposure to the social mistake? Why think much about what many would like simply to forget? InBad Form: Social Mistakes and the Nineteenth-Century Novel,Kent Puckett argues that whatever its awkwardness, the social mistake-the blunder, the gaffe, the faux pas-is a figure of critical importance to the nineteenth-century novel. While offering significant new readings of Thackeray, Flaubert, Eliot, James, and others, Puckett shows how the classic realist novel achieves its coherence thanks to minor mistakes that novels both represent and make. While uncovering the nineteenth-century novel's persistent social and structural reliance on the non-catastrophic mistake-eating peas with your knife, saying the wrong thing, overdressing-Bad Form argues that the novel's once considerable cultural authority depends on what we might otherwise think of as that authority's opposite: a jittery, anxious, obsessive attention to the mistakes of others that is its own kind of bad form. Drawing on sociology, psychoanalysis, narrative theory, and the period's large literature on etiquette, Puckett demonstrates that the nineteenth-century novel relies for its form on the paradoxical force of the social mistake.
Kent Puckett is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.