The Gimmick of the Novel of Ideas

Sianne Ngai at The Paris Review:

Arising by most accounts in the last decades of the nineteenth century, the novel of ideas reflects the challenge posed by the integration of externally developed concepts long before the arrival of conceptual art. Although the novel’s verbal medium would seem to make it intrinsically suited to the endeavor, the mission of presenting “ideas” seems to have pushed a genre famous for its versatility toward a surprisingly limited repertoire of techniques. These came to obtrude against a set of generic expectations—nondidactic representation; a dynamic, temporally complex relation between events and the representation of events; character development; verisimilitude—established only in wake of the novel’s separation from history and romance at the start of the nineteenth century. Compared to these and even older, ancient genres like drama and lyric, the novel is astonishingly young, which is perhaps why departures from its still only freshly consolidated conventions seem especially noticeable.

more here.