The Rise of the Novel

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Monday, December 27, 2010 The Rise of the Novel in the Eighteenth Cent ry !ntrod ction" In the eighteenth century the years after the forties witnessed a wonderful efflorescence of a new literary genre which was soon to establish itself for all times to come as the dominant literary form. Of course, we are referring here to the English novel which was born with Richardson's Pamela and has been thriving since then. When Matthew Arnold used the e ithets !e"cellent! and !indis ensable! for the eighteenth century which had little of good oetry or drama to boast of, he was robably aying it due homage for its gift of the novel. #he eighteenth century was the age in which the novel was established as the most outstanding and enduring form of literature. #he eriodical essay, which was another gift of this century to English literature, was born and died in the century, but the novel was to en$oy an enduring career. It is to the credit of the ma$or eighteenth%century novelists that they freed the novel from the influence and elements of high flown romance and fantasy, and used it to inter ret the everyday social and sychological roblems of the common man. #hus they introduced realism, democratic s irit, and sychological interest into the novel& the 'ualities which have since then been recogni(ed as the essential rere'uisites of%every good novel and which distinguish it from the romance and other im ossible stories. Reasons for the Rise and #o$ larity" )arious reasons can be adduced for the rise and o ularity of the novel in the eighteenth century. #he most im ortant of them is that this new literary form suited the genius and tem er of the times. #he eighteenth century is *nown in English social history for the rise of the middle classes conse'uent u on an un recedented increase in the volume of trade and commerce. Many eo le emerged from the limbo of society to occu y a res ectable status as wealthy burgesses. #he novel, with its realism, its democratic s irit, and its concern with the everyday sychological roblems of the common eo le es ecially a ealed to these nouveaia riches and rovided them with res ectable reading material. #he novel thus a ears to have been s ecially designed both to voice the as irations of the middle and low classes and to meet their taste. Moreover, it gave the writer much sco e for what +a(amian calls !morality and sentiment!%the two elements which ma*e literature ! o ular.! #he decline of drama in the eighteenth century was also artly res onsible for the rise and %ascendency of the novel. After the ,icensing Act of -./., the drama lay moribund. #he oetry of the age too%e"ce t for the brilliant e"am le of 0o e's wor*&was in a stage of decadence. It was then natural that from the ashes of the drama 1and, to some e"tent, of oetry, too2 should rise the hoeni"%li*e sha e of a new literary genre. #his new genre was, of course, the novel. %efore the Masters" 3efore Richardson and 4ielding gave sha e to the new form some wor* had already been done by numerous other writers, which hel ed the ioneers to some e"tent. Mention must here be made of 5wift, 6efoe, Addison, and 5teele. 5wift in Gulliver's Travels gave an interesting narrative, and, in s ite of the obvious im ossibility of the !action! and incidents, created an effect of verisimilitude which was to be an im ortant characteristic of the novel. #he +overley a ers of Addison and 5teele were in themselves a *ind of rudimentary novel, and some of them

actually read li*e so many ages from a social and domestic novel. #heir good%humoured social satire, their eye for the oddities of individuals, their basic human sym athy, their lucid style, and their sense of e isode%all were to be as ired after by the future novelists. 6efoe with his numerous stories li*e Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and Roxana showed his uncanny gift of the circumstantial detail and racy, gri ing narrative combined with an unflinching realism generally concerned with the seamy and sordid as ects of life 1commonly, low life2. 7is lead was to be followed by ' numerous novelists. 6efoe's limitation lies in the fact that his rotagonists are sychologically too sim le and that he ma*es nobody laugh and nobody wee . 3ut his didacticism was to find favour with all the novelists of the eighteenth, and even many of the nineteenth, century. 5ome call 6efoe the first English novelist. 3ut as 6avid 6aiches uts it in A Critical History of n!lish "iterature, )ol. II, whether 6efoe was ! ro erly! a novelist !is a matter of definition of terms.! The Masters" 3etween -.89 and -:99 hundreds of novels of all *inds were written. 7owever, the real !masters! of the novel in the eighteenth century were four%Richardson, 4ielding, 5mollett, and 5terne. #he rest of them are e"tremely inferior to them. Oliver Elton maintains; !#he wor* of the four masters stands high, but the foothills are low.! #he case was different in, say, the mid% nineteenth century when so many e'ually great novelists were at wor*. 4ielding was the greatest of the foursome. 5ir Edmund <osse calls Richardson !the first great English novelist! and 4ielding, !the greatest of English novelists.! 4ielding may not be the greatest of all, but he was certainly one of the greatest English novelists and the greatest novelist of the eighteenth century. &am el Richardson '1()*+17(1," 7e was the father of the English novel. 7e set the vogue of the novel with his Pamela, or #irtue Re$arded 1-.8-2. It was in the e istolary manner. It too* England by storm. In it Richardson narrated the career of a rustic lady's maid who guards her honour against the advances of her dissolute master who in the end marries her and is reformed. Pamela was followed by Clarissa ffarlo$e 1-.8.%8:2, in eight volumes. It was, again, of the e istolary *ind, Richardson's third and last novel was %ir Charles Grandison 1-.=82. #he hero is a model +hristian gentleman very scru ulous in his love%affair. Among Richardson's good 'ualities must be mentioned his *nowledge of human, articularly female sychology and his awareness of the emotional roblems of common eo le. 7e com letely, and for good, liberated the novel from the e"travagance and lac* of realism of romance to concentrate on social reality. #he note of morality and sentimentality made him a o ular idol not only in England but also abroad. #hus 6idoret in 4rance could com are him to 7omer and Moses> 7owever, his morality with its twang of smugness and rudery did not go unattac*ed even in his own age. 4ielding was the most im ortant of those who reacted against Richardsonian sentimentalism and rudish moralism. One great defect of Richardson's novels, which is es ecially noticeable today, is their enormous length. #he e istolary techni'ue which he ado ted in all his three novels is essentially dilatory and re etitive, and therefore ma*es for bul*iness. 7e is at any rate a very good sychologist and as one he is articularly admirable for, what a critic calls, !the delineation of the delicate shades of sentiment as they shift and change and the cross% ur oses which the troubled mind envisages when in the gri of assion.'' -enry .ielding '1707+/0,"

4ielding in the words of 7udson, !was a man of very different ty e. 7is was a virile, vigorous, and somewhat coarse nature, and his *nowledge of life as wide as Richardson's was narrow, including in articular many as ects of it from which the rim little rinter would have recoiled shoc*ed. #here was thus a strength and breadth in his wor* for which we loo* in vain in that of his elder contem orary. Richardson's $udgment of 4ielding%that his writings were 'wretchedly low and dirty'%clearly suggests the fundamental contrast between the two men.! 7is very first novel, ?ose h Andrews [email protected], was intended to be a arody of Pamela, articularly of its riggish morality and lachrymosic sentimentalism. According to Wilbur ,. +ross, Richardson !was a sentimentalist, creating athetic scenes for their own sa*e and degrading tears and hysterics into a manner.! In &ose'h Andre$s 4ielding light%heartedly titled against morbid sentimentalism and sham morality. After the ninth cha ter of the boo*, however, he seems to have outgrown his initial intention of arody. 0arson Adams, one of the immortal creations of English fiction, a ears and runs away with the rest of the novel. &ose'h Andre$s was followed by Tom &ones 1-.8A2 and Amelia 1-.=-2. We may add to the list of his fictional wor*s &onathan (ild the Great 1-.8/2, a cynically ironical novel which, as ,egouis says, must have been written !after a fit of gloom.B 4ielding's novels are characterised by a fresh and realistic moral a roach which admits occasionally of animalism and ribaldry, a searching realism, good%humoured social satire, and healthy sentiment In his abundant and coarse vigour, his common sense and unflinching realism, and his delight in hysical beauty 1es ecially female2 he is essentially a masculine writer. 7e does not have the delicacy of Richardson. It may be said that it is not Richardson who is the !father of the English novelC it is in fact, 4ielding. As for Richardson, he is only the !mother! of the English novel> It is to the credit of '4ielding that unli*e Richardson and most of his own successors, at least in Tom &ones 1if not the other novels, too2, he rovided a glowing model of a well%constructed lot. According to +oleridge, &ones 1with 5o hocles' )edi'us the *in! and 3en ?onson's The Alchemist+ is one of the three wor*s in world literature which have erfectly constructed lots. Tobias &mollett '1721+71," Along with Richardson and 4ielding, 5mollett is generally included among the masters of eighteenth%century novelC but, as 7udson oints out, !it must be distinctly understood that his wor* is on a much lower level than theirs.! 7is novels are of the icares'ue *ind, and include Roderic, Random 1-.8:2, Pere!rine Pic,le 1-.=-2, and Hum'hrey Clin,er 1-..-2. 5mollett was a realist and had his own art of racy narrative and eye%catching descri tion. 7e was a *een observer of the coarser facts of life, articularly naval life. 7e e"ulted in coarseness and brutality. 7e never bothered about the construction of a lot. Dor did he bother about morality, Richardsonian or !4ieldingian.! 7is humour, in *ee ing with his nature, is coarse rather than subtle or ironical and arises mostly out of caricature. 7a(litt observes; !It is not a very difficult underta*ing to class 4ielding or 5mollett%the one as an observer of the character of human life, the other as a describer of its various eccentricities.! 5mollett's characterisation is necessarily oor. 7is heroes are mechanical u ets rather than living ersonalities. #hey are meant only for the bringing in of new.situations. As a critic uts it, !Roderic* Random's career is such as would be enough to *ill three heroes and yet the fellow lives $ust to introduce us to new characters and situations.! 1a rence &terne '1712+(),"

7is only novel is Tristram %handy which a eared from -.=A to -.E. in nine volumes and which is described by 7udson as !the strange wor* of a very strange man.! If this wor* can be called a novel, it is one of its own *ind, without redecessors and without successors. 7udson observes; !It is rather a medley of unconnected incidents, scra s of out%of%the%way learning, whimsical fancies, humour, athos, reflection, im ertinence, and indecency.! #he lot is of the barest minimum; we have to wait till the third boo* for the birth of the hero> And he is ut into breeches only in the si"th> What a ace of develo ment> It was, says +ross, !a sad day for English fiction when a writer of genius came to loo* u on the novel as the re ository for the crotchets of a lifetime.! 5terne's sentimentalism was to leave a lasting trace on the English novels which followed. What is 'uite remar*able in Tris-am %handy is the wonderfully living characters of Fncle #oby, the elder 5handy, his wife, and +or oral #rim. The Novel after &terne" After Tristram %handy we find in the eighteenth century a remar*able roliferation of novels. 3ut none of the later novelists comes anywhere near Richardson and 4ielding. We find the novel develo ing in many directions. 4our ma$or *inds of the novel may be recogni(ed; 1i2 #he novel of sentiment. 1ii2 #he so%called <othic novel. 1iii2 #he novel of doctrine and didacticism. 1iv2 #he novel of manners, 7enry Mac*en(ie's The Man of Feelin! 1-..-2 is rominent among the novels of sentiment. According to +ross, !written in a style alternating between the whims of 5terne and a winning laintiveness, GitH en$oys the distinction of being the most sentimental of all English novels.! #he <othic novel, which a eared towards the end of the eighteenth century, indulged in morbid sensationalism with im ossible stories of su ernatural monsters and blood%curdling incidents. 7orace Wal ole, Mrs. Radcliffe, !Mon*! ,ewis, and William 3ec*ford were the most im ortant writers of this *ind of novel. #he novel of doctrine and didacticism includes such wor*s as Mrs. Inchbad's .ature and Art 1-.AE2 and William <odwin's Caleb (illiams 1-.A82. #hese wor*s used the form of the novel $ust for ro agating a s ecific oint of view. #he novel of manners was mostly atronised by fairly intelligent female writers such as 4anny 3urney and Maria Edgeworth who aimed at a light transcri tion of contem orary manners. 5arah 4ielding's /avid %im'le 1-.882, 6r. ?ohnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia 1-.=A2, and Oliver <oldsmith's #he #icar of (a,efleld 1-.EE2 also deserve a s ecial mention in an account of eighteenth%century novel. 5arah 4ielding's wor* was ins ired by the success of Pamela0 It abounds in faithfully rendered scenes of ,ondon life. 6r. ?ohnson's wor* is h$ighly didactic. It em hasi(ed !the vanity of human wishes! in the form of an allegorical tale which he wrote in a very des ondent mood induced by the death of his mother. <oldsmith's wor* is, in the words of +ross, !of all eighteenth%century novels, the one that many readers would the least willingly lose.! #his novel is admirable, among other things, for the sensitive characterisation of 6r. 0rimrose and the general sanity of the ! hiloso hy of life! which ee s through, it.

T-E N34E1 !N EN516ND #he 7arvard +lassics 5helf of 4iction. -A-.. #7E 7I5#ORI+A, origins and develo ment of the English novel, its relations to 1 continental fiction, the ve"ed 'uestion of the definition of the form itself&all these are matters too com le" to be handled here. #he resent brief discussion can only treat, and by dangerously wide generali(ation, three or four of the outstanding characteristics of 3ritish rose fiction of the last two hundred years, and can suggest rather than formulate those intellectual and moral traits of the national character which are thus indicated. 4rom this oint of view, however, one matter of history is significant,&namely, that the 2 novel first emerged as a definite literary ty e in the eighteenth century, which laid the foundations also for the social sciences and which was, more than any revious century, an age of criticism and reflection. #he im etus of the earlier renaissance, with its soaring imagination, its da((ling oetry, its assion for the fullness of sensuous e" erience, had long since e" ended itself, leaving to the mid%seventeenth century a dangerous heritage of libertinism on the one side and sectarian (eal on the other. #he disastrous conflict between these two e"tremes of character roduced, by way of reaction, a tem er of moderation and reasonableness, e'ually averse to sensualism and to mystic e"altation, more concerned, on the whole, with life as it has been and as it is than with life as it might beC a frame of mind distrustful of fine%s un theories, but rofoundly humanistic, in that it held with 0o e that Ithe ro er study of man*ind is man.B 5uch was, at its best, the tem er of the eighteenth century, and it was in this intellectual atmos here that the English novel had its beginnings. 4urther, in the eighteenth century, England was undergoing an economic and industrial 3 transformation which awa*ened new as irations in, and o ened new o ortunities to, the great Iu er middleB class. 1#he merchant 5ir Andrew 4ree ort, in the 5 ectator club, is a figure much more re resentative of the ros erous man of the mid%century than #ory 5ir Roger.2 #he early novel was written for the ublic augmented by this large and mi"ed class. Its character, then, was determined, first by the lively sense of fact and the singularly sane and clear standards of $udgment characteristic of the intellectuals of the eighteenth centuryC and secondly, by the redominant interests of the new reading ublic, with their democratic sym athies, their (est for actual e" eriences, and their abundant racticality. All this, however, e" lains 6efoe, 4ielding, and 5mollett much more than Richardson and 4 5terne. In the latter writers different 'ualities redominatedC their tem eraments were emotional rather than racticalC their styles had not the fine unconcern, Ithe erfect manner of the eighteenth century.B In these res ects the sentimentalism of Richardson and 5terne was sym tomatic of an im ending changeC for the aristocratic tradition of reason and good sense was, in this same century, to be rudely challenged, and the e" losive forces were already at wor* in the rim little stationer and the hilandering arson. Observing, however, this stri*ing difference, we may oint out that even Richardson was constrained by his sense of fact&he was e" loring, more minutely than any one had done before, the inmost feelings of womenJs heartsC and that 5terneJs chief interest lay in observing, recording, and, it is fair to add, inducing, delicate fluctuations of emotion about lifeJs

trivial affairs. In such ways even the sentimentalists of the grou are affected by the revailing realism. #his tendency toward realism has remained characteristic of the English novel. #here have 5 been, of course, cons icuous e"ce tionsC the 3rontes, with their haunting strangenessC R. ,. 5tevenson, and lesser gentlemen of the I<ad(oo*s>B tribeC above all, 5ir Walter 5cott, erha s the greatest figure of 3ritish fiction and certainly the rince of romancers. 3ut 5ir WalterJs romanticism is very different from that of )ictor 7ugo or that of <oethe in his early eriod, being neither a assionate assertion of individualism nor a mood of lyrical melancholy. It is s irit at once robust and social, youthful but of an ancient line, drawing its rich stores from fireside legend and from roud national tradition. Moreover, con$oined with the vigorous imaginativeness of the Waverley novels is a considerable element of realismC 5cottish ty es of character are as faithfully de icted in 6avid 6eans, 6ominie 5am son, and 3ailie Dicol ?arvie as are English ty es in 5'uire Western and 0arson Adams. And on the whole it is a realistic tradition which has dominated English fiction. It a ears in 6ic*ensJs lovingly minute descri tions of ,ondon streets and in #hac*erayJs truthful ictures of the Inns of +ourts. 3ut it may erha s be best studied in <eorge Eliot, whose #ullivers, 6odsons, and 0oysers are li*e master ieces of genre ainting. #he line between realism and satire is often difficult to draw. In English fiction the two are 6 closely relatedC indeed, the generali(ation that realism is ervasive will hold only if the latter term is so defined as to include wor* animated by the s irit of satire or of comedy. Dow the elements of the satiric s irit are disa robation and humor, and its method of characteri(ation is analogous to caricature. 5atire roduces figures which lac* the rounded com leteness of real men and womenC it gives us, wittingly, a distorted view of society&a #anity Fair, for instance. And the s irit of comedy too, may im ose u on oneJs selection and oneJs treatment of material, limitations incom atible with the strictest realism. +ertainly in the English novel humor, conceived broadly, has been a constituent of the very first im ortance, ranging from the boisterous mirth of 4ielding to the amused enetration of ?ane Austen and the elaborate irony of <eorge Meredith. If other evidence were lac*ing, the novels alone would furnish evidence of the rich fund of humor ossessed by the 3ritish race. In 6ic*ens this humor is united with an inordinate susce tibility to athos, in #hac*eray with a gentle disillusionment, in <eorge Eliot with an e"traordinary sensitiveness of conscienceC in none is it at once more wholesome and more sym athetic than in 5ir Walter. )ery significantly, of the greater 3ritish novelists, only Richardson seems to have been deficient in the ca acity of laughter. Ket the English Dovel has been a serious form of literature, concerned very largely with 7 standards of conduct and informed often with rofoundly moral ur oses. 3oth 4ielding and Richardson had ronounced ethical convictions, and were at ains to $ustify their writings u on moral grounds. In the case of Tom &ones, the modern reader may feel that the unselective realism of the boo* to some e"tent obscures the authorJs avowed ur ose &Ito recomment goodness and innocenceB&but it must be remembered that 4ieldingJs wor* is a *ind of rotest against what seemed to him the maw*ish unreality of RichardsonJs. And ever since their day, whether rightly or wrongly, o ular discussion of fiction in England and 5cotland has roved li*ely to ta*e a didactic rather than an esthetic turn. Of the comic writers re resented in this series, ?ane Austen alone is free from didactic

motive. #his is not because she was indifferent to moral values, but because her chosen game was harmless absurdity rather than moral obli'uity. 7ers is the Islim feasting smileB of the s irit of comedy,&an e" ression, be it noted, seldom caught on the sturdy features of ?ohn 3ull. Much more ty ically 3ritish is 6ic*ensJs burning indignation at cruelty, hy ocrisy, and meanness, or #hac*erayJs little homilies on the virtues of *indness and sim licity. And the history of the novel has reflected the broader social movements of the time,&the s read of democracy, the growth of humanitarianism, the struggle of the toilers to obtain industrial freedom. 6ic*ens was erha s of most im ortance to his own generation because of the indictment which he brought against their ac'uiescence in such institutions as the debtorsJ rison and 5'ueersJs school. #his reoccu ation with the moral side of life shows itself in other ways in a hiloso hical mind li*e <eorge EliotJs. #o her the inward and s iritual as ects of the roblem of evil were of more interest than the mere organi(ation of social and religious forces. In her novels as well as in her life, <eorge Eliot reveals the change which many thoughtful minds underwent in the disturbed )ictorian eriod. It is not fanciful to see a relation between the moral struggle of Maggie #ulliver in The Mill on the Floss and ?. 5. MillJs s eculations u on the hiloso hy of liberalismC both turn u on the nature of the individualJs rights to ha iness and the obligations which he owes to society. On the side of form and structure, the tendency of the English novel may be indicated by a 8 'uotation from 4ielding, whose e"am le has been influential; IMy reader then is not to be sur rised, if in the course of this wor* he shall find some cha ters very short and others altogether as long; some that contain only the time of a single day and others that com rise yearsC in a word, if my history sometimes seems to stand still, and sometimes to flyC for all which I shall not loo* on myself as accountable to any court of critical $urisdiction whateverC for as I am in reality the founder of a new rovince of writing, so I am at liberty to ma*e what laws I lease thereinC and these laws my readers, whom I consider as my sub$ects, are bound to believe in and to obeyLB #he tendency has been, as it was in the Eli(abethan drama, toward fullness of incident, am litude of bac*ground, numerousness and variety of characters, rather than toward concentration of interest and singleness of artistic ur ose. #he greater men have commonly been rolific writers, wor*ing often under ressure, and little given to revision. #he result is fre'uently a lac* of ro ortion in the design or an a earance of negligence in the details of a lot, and a style mar*ed rather by vigor and natural grace than by subtlety or de"terity. 5cott, for instance, a ra id writer, was often careless in minor mattersC Richardson, though he had much of the artistJs feeling, interminably roli"C and 5terne wayward and ur osely baffling. #he desultory narrative of Pic,$ic, Pa'ers, 1which does finally achieve some semblance of lot2 is an e"treme e"am le of looseness of structure, which, however, may be best illustrated by the o ular biogra hical ty e of novel such as /avid Co''erfield0 It is significant that several well *nown English novels underwent an entire change of design during the rocess of com osition. In all these res ects Miss Austen, with her deft handling of lot and her admirable com actness of hrase, is e"ce tional. Of course e"am les are not lac*ing, in other writers, of structural s*illC <eorge EliotJs Romola might be cited, or almost any of the novels of #homas 7ardy. 3ut com aratively few English novels have been notable for architectural erfection. It is difficult to thin* of 3ritish novels which show such artistic com ression as 7awthorne achieved in The %carlet "etter0

#hese four characteristics, then, may be ta*en as broadly ty ical of the English novel; 9 realism, humor, didacticism, and elasticity of form. Among the literary ty es, for the last hundred years the novel has undoubtedly en$oyed the widest o ularity. Its vitality, as regards both roduction and consum tion, shows no signs of diminution. 5. 0. +.

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