This book begins with two questions: Why are so few novels remembered while so many thousands are forgotten? Is literary history incomplete without accounting for these books? These questions, and others like them, have stimulated this study of “better fiction”—novels that were better than formula fiction but not as good as high art. In their time, these novels were within educated readers' reference and memory, but over the years they have passed out of sight. Although these novels frequently won prizes and were often greeted respectfully, even eagerly, in the review columns of important magazines and newspaper supplements, they go unrecollected and unread not because their authors suffered from gender, racial, or political prejudice. On the contrary: because they occupied the very center of the literary landscape, these middle-class realistic novels constituted the merely ordinary, that is, the fiction against which academic tastemakers later needed to contradistinguish the best.
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