What does the fictional chapter do? Why do novels have them and how have they changed? This talk will propose the chapter — among the most innocuous and pervasive of the novel’s formal features — as a new object of analysis, and offer suggestions on what methods are appropriate in order to approach a phenomenon so ubiquitous and so various. In particular, it will ask how patterns evident in the chapter’s deep history, dating back to the editorial labors of late antiquity and early Christianity, can offer clues to the shape and function of chapters in the novel, with special attention to eighteenth and nineteenth-century examples.
Nicholas Dames is the Theodore Kahan Professor of Humanities in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he teaches nineteenth-century fiction, the history and theory of the novel, the history of reading, and the aesthetics of prose fiction from the eighteenth century to the present. Dames is currently at work on a book, The History of the Chapter in the West, which traces the development of the chapter from an editorial and scribal practice of late antiquity and early Christianity to a compositional practice of the European novel.