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This essay puts forward a theoretical definition of the tragic and argues, against orthodox criticism, that some novels should be considered tragic forms. The tragic is defined as any form that articulates dialectically the uncertainty of action and the fact of suffering. The formalist and idealist conceptions of tragedy have both tended to exclude the modern novel from the tragic. Against this exclusion, it is argued that the essence of the tragic is to remind us that we cannot control the consequences of our actions and that we are not always able to avoid the suffering that they cause. Novels, at least some of them, have retained this fundamental message of the ancient tragedy and exercise a salutary political and ethical effect in the modern world.
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