Film Theory: Lukas–Theory of the Novel

The sociology of literature, a subfield of the sociology of culture, studies the social production of literature and its social implications.

Classical Sociology

None of the ‘founding fathers’ of sociology produced a detailed study of literature, but they did develop ideas that were subsequently applied to literature by others. Karl Marx’s theory of ideology has been directed at literature by Pierre Macherey, Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson.

Max Weber’s theory of modernity as cultural rationalisation, which he applied to music, was later applied to all the arts, literature included, by Frankfurt School writers such as Theodor Adorno and Jürgen Habermas.

Emile Durkheim’s view of sociology as the study of externally defined social facts was redirected towards literature by Robert Escarpit.

Bourdieu’s work is clearly indebted to Marx, Weber and Durkheim


Georg Lukács’s The Theory of the Novel, first published in German in 1916, in the Zeitschrift fur Aesthetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft. In 1920 it was republished in book form, which influenced the Frankfurt School.

A second edition, published in 1962, influential on French structuralism.

The Theory of the Novel argued that, whilst the classical epic poem had given form to a totality of life pregiven in reality by the social integration of classical civilization, the modern novel had become “the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given.”

The novel form is organized around the problematic hero in pursuit of problematic values within a problematic world.

Lukacs’s istinctive contribution to the sociology of literature was The Historical Novel, written in German but first published in Russian in 1937, and appeared in English translation in 1962.

Lukács argued that the early 19th century historical novel’s central achievement was to represent realistically the differences between pre-capitalist past and capitalist present. This was not a matter of individual talent, but of collective historical experience, because the French Revolution and the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars had made history for the first time a mass experience.

He argued that the success of the 1848 revolutions led to the decline of the historical novel into ‘decorative monumentalization’ and the ‘making private of history.’

The key figures in the historical novel were those of the early 19th century, especially Sir Walter Scott.

Lukács was an important influence on Lucien Goldmann’s Towards a Sociology of the Novel, Alan Swingewood’s discussion of the sociology of the novel in Part 3 of Laurenson and Swingewood’s The Sociology of Literature and Franco Moretti’s Signs Taken for Wonders.