Chapter 4 asks why the encyclopedia should have been so important a formal template for interwar novelists. Contesting the encyclopedia’s reputation as a monument to Enlightenment hubris, the chapter returns to Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s writings about their Encyclopédie to reactivate that project’s self-professed multivocality, self-contradiction, and obsolescence; its compensatory bent for prophecy; and its aim to safeguard against disastrous knowledge-loss in the event of catastrophe. These features, many of which persisted in early-twentieth-century encyclopedias such as the celebrated eleventh Britannica (1910–11), made the genre a powerful model for interwar writers undertaking comprehensive projects that did not default to epic’s militarized holism. The chapter aims to undo the conflation of epic and encyclopedic modes in influential studies of long-form narrative and to show how epic crystallizes the political logic of total war.
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