- The English Novel: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton
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- The English Novel an Introduction
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After sparse beginnings in the seventeenth century, the novel form grew exponentially in the eighteenth century, and became the primary form of popular entertainment in the nineteenth. The rise of the novel as an important literary genre is generally associated with the growth of the middle class in England and the subsequent emergence of a new reading public. Arcadia was published posthumously in and was one of the best known examples of prose fiction of the time. Singh 2 In the second half of the 17th century, the novel slowly developed features that characterize it today.
Sensationalism was rejected and novelists built on realism. It is to the credit of the major eighteenth-century novelists that they freed the novel from the influence and elements of high flown romance and fantasy, and used it to interpret the everyday social and psychological problems of the common man. They introduced realism, democratic spirit, and psychological interest into the novel— the qualities which have since then been recognized as the essential prerequisites of every good novel. Watt, Rise of the Novel. Realism and drama of individual consciousness took precedence over external drama and continental motifs.
This was seen as natively English, and already familiar to other genres such as history, biology and religious prose works.
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Social and economic changes brought the novel to its prominence. The novel, as a new literary form, suited the genius and temper of the times. The eighteenth century is known in English social history for the rise of the middle classes consequent upon an unprecedented increase in the volume of trade and commerce. The novel, with its realism, its democratic spirit, and its concern with the everyday psychological problems of the common people especially appealed to these nouveau riches and provided them with respectable reading material.
Concurrent changes in methods of distribution and literacy rates brought books and pamphlets to people hitherto excluded from all but the most rudimentary forms of education- mostly working class men and all women. The decline of drama in the eighteenth century was also partly responsible for the rise and ascendency of the novel. The Licensing Act of saw drama lay on the way out. The poetry of the age too-except for the brilliant example of Pope's work- was in a stage of decadence.
The English Novel: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton
The eighteenth century, thus, had little of good poetry or drama to boast of. Journalism emerged and the periodical essay was born, but also died in the century. The novel endured. The novel form also led to a breakdown of the patronage system. Circulation of printed material transformed, and so did its economics. Earlier, patronage system would force writers to write for those paying them and reinforce the opinions of the ruling class.
Now, they became free agents of the literary marketplace. They were dependent on popular opinion, and thus began reflecting the values of the rising middle class. Literature became a commodity. Not all were happy with the new genre, though. The predominantly male elite became uncomfortable with the novel, since it disturbed the status quo, and they launched a tirade against it, claiming that its French romance roots and sensational elements were antithetical to English values.
The critics also claimed that tales of romance, adventure and sexual expression would corrupt readers, especially women. Many women also wrote in ways that critics found objectionable.
Two other classes of relatively poor people who now had time and opportunity to read were apprentices and household servants. One of the first professional novelists, some argue, was dramatist Aphra Behn. Her novel, Oronooko or The Royal Slave, had a number of features common to most early English novels- sensational plot and elements borrowed from continental literature, especially French romance. The particularity of the novel reflected the new philosophical direction of the eighteenth century.
There was a rejection of traditional plots, particularization of time, particularization of space, and specific and concrete setting. Philosophic problems associated with personal identity were explored and there was a rejection of typed characters, with a turn toward more individualized characters with proper names. There was also a turn toward historical specificity, in sharp contrast to the traditional trend of timeless stories dealing with unchanging moral truths.
As the form developed, there was a transition from courtly codes of love institutional, stylized, aristocratic to romantic codes of love individual, particularized, bourgeois. As with all other changes, this too was closely linked with societal conditions. Singh 5 A noteworthy aspect of both the 18th and 19th century novel is the way the novelist directly addressed the reader. For example, the author might interrupt his or her narrative to pass judgment on a character, or pity or praise another, and inform or remind the reader of some other relevant issue.
The form gave unprecedented value to originality, the new. Both Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones feature protagonists who travel the roads of England, encountering characters from every class. First published in , Tom Jones was an instant success and went on to inspire writers such as Dickens with its realistic approach to characterisation.
Again it is a tale of attempted seduction. The virtuous Clarissa is wooed, beguiled, deceived and assailed by the rakish Lovelace, a highly sophisticated libertine. We are given both the correspondence between Clarissa and her friend Anna Howe, and that between Lovelace and his fellow rake Belford. In later editions he rewrote the novel to make Lovelace more obviously villainous.
Clarissa is a massively long novel, and it is also challenging to modern readers because of the artificiality of its use of letters. How could its protagonists have had time to write so much? Yet it is a work of great psychological complexity and tragic ambitions. Even Fielding admired it. Novelists who came after Richardson were able to feel that their chosen genre had achieved respectability, perhaps even literary dignity. Sterne, an obscure Yorkshire vicar until his book became a popular sensation, was the only novelist of the century to have had a university education, and Tristram Shandy was duly packed with learned jokes and parodies of other books.
These were combined with bawdy jokes, sentimental set pieces and elements of extraordinary narrative experiment. The novel veers unpredictably backwards and forwards in time, and uses an array of witty visual devices, all to tell the story of the utterly eccentric Shandy family. Some critics were disapproving, but readers loved it. Sterne came to London and relished his role as a celebrity author. Tristram Shandy used a great deal of autobiographical material, and encouraged readers to identify the author with his fictional narrator. By being composed and published in five separate instalments over the course of some seven years, it was able to respond to its own reception.
Uncharitable reviewers of the first two volumes were duly mocked in the next two. This rare set contains first editions of all nine volumes of Tristram Shandy , signed in three places by Sterne himself. Usage terms Public Domain Booksellers All of the novels that we now think of as the greatest of the 18th century were also best-sellers.
In the eyes of some contemporaries, the sin of the Novel was that it was a commercial product. Novels were among the new literary goods on which a new group of entrepreneurs, 18th-century booksellers , depended. These men and a tiny number of women combined the roles of publishers, retailers and sometimes printers too. Below this exalted rank were less celebrated booksellers who made a living producing and marketing whatever ephemeral, usually anonymous, novels could latch on to the latest fictional fashion.
They catered for an expanding genteel readership with money to spend on cultural pleasures. This portrait of the author Samuel Richardson was painted by Mason Chamberlin in or before Richardson was a printer and bookseller by trade. The novel encouraged new kinds of literary consumption, and then profited from them. The growth of circulating libraries in Britain is contemporary with the growth of the novel from the mid 18th century.
In return for a subscription, readers would be able to borrow a certain number of volumes at one time. The surviving catalogues and advertisements for some of these libraries confirm that much of their available stock consisted of novels. By the late 18th century, even small provincial towns had circulating libraries.
Documents Similar To The English Novel an Introduction
These were crucial, for a novel was still a luxury purchase. They also encouraged the idea that some kinds of books were not to be lodged forever on a shelf, but consumed voraciously. Also accompanying and fuelling the rise of the novel was the development of book reviews in specialist magazines. The Monthly Review , which began appearing in , was the first such publication and it was soon joined by others.
Though its reviews were not limited to novels, these were among its highly profitable staple fare. Meanwhile, the very irresistibility of the rise of the novel ensured that moralists warned of its dangers.
The English Novel an Introduction
Contemporary moralists — some of whom were themselves novelists — invariably depicted the typical novel reader as an easily misguided young woman, who was deluded or over-stimulated by all the novels she read. However, such moralists were also mocked. The audience was clearly expected to recognise and laugh at the foolish authority figure who disapproves of novels. And he is doomed to be thwarted.
Frances Burney carefully copied out reviews of her first novel. Usage terms Public Domain in most countries other than the UK. In fact, by the s the novel was increasingly respectable. Frances Burney ached with anxiety about the likely response of her father when he discovered that she was the author of the novel Evelina , published to some acclaim in In fact, she need not have worried: he was delighted to have a daughter who had written such morally a impeccable, as well as entertainingly satirical, book.
Burney, whose subsequent, less sprightly novels Cecilia and Camilla , were much admired by contemporaries, also showed that women were not just the supposed consumers of this now dominant genre. They could be successful writers of novels too. The young Jane Austen read her avidly and followed her example.