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Most realist novels end up ratifying rather than criticising the prevailing social order". Discuss with detailed reference to one or more novel on the course.

Most realist novels end up ratifying rather than criticising the prevailing social order". Discuss with detailed reference to one or more novel on the course.

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The dialectic of criticism and ratification of prevailing social norms is clearly evident in many of the most enduring and popular novels. By focusing on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), the present essay proposes to examine this symbiotic relationship of novel and society, in the context of the personal social status of each author.
The dialectic of criticism and ratification of prevailing social norms is clearly evident in many of the most enduring and popular novels. By focusing on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), the present essay proposes to examine this symbiotic relationship of novel and society, in the context of the personal social status of each author.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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03/16/2014

 
10."Realist novelists often appear to be critical of modern society. However, mostnovels end up
 ratifying
rather than
 criticising
the prevailing social order". Discusswith detailed reference to one or more novel on the course.
For the neophyte of English literature, it comes as a rather surprising fact to learn that the ‘novel’,whose emergence as a literary form is generally considered to have been inaugurated by Defoe’s
 Robinson Crusoe’
(Watt, 9)
 ,
is less than three hundred years old. Given its status as possibly themost popular form of contemporary literature, it equally surprising to imagine an age when theexistence of the novel needed to be justified and its very institution, defended.To understand the innate bias towards the novel, one needs to appreciate the radical philosophicalperspectives which were in vogue in 18
th
century England and the prejudices they evoked. SinceDescartes’ (1596-1690) insistence on the discovery of truth as a function of individualexperience, as opposed to an acceptance of universally held traditions (
 Discourse on Method 
(1637)), ‘philosophical realism’ had come of age. This innovative rationalistic philosophy (whichmistrusted the dogmatic pronouncements of authority) rejected much of the established order andits traditions and resulted in violent upheaval and revolution across much of Europe, culminatingin the French Revolution of 1789 (The so-called ‘Enlightenmentwas based essentially onCartesian philosophy).
 
The impact of Enlightenment philosophy was keenly felt in England and the trepidation of thelanded gentry was palpable. This aristocratic class held power and were primarily responsible fornational and foreign political policies of the time. These policies were designed to preserve theEmpire abroad and the
status quo
at home, respectively. As eighteenth century Irish historytestifies, ‘colonial’ rebellions of this period were crushed with particular severity.In the context of the Enlightenment, Watt notes that the novel was the ‘logical literary vehicle of aculture …..which had set an unprecedented value on originality’ (Watt, 13). Given the prejudiceand fear of the dominant social classes regarding ‘originality’, it is hardly surprising that the firstnovels, which were characterised by their ‘realistic’ outlook on life and fidelity to individualhuman experience, were greeted with some suspicion. The realisation of the tentative relationship that existed between the authors’ personal aspirationsand ideals, and their hopes for societal acceptance of their work, is an essential aspect of anycritical analysis of the novel. The dialectic of criticism and ratification of prevailing social norms,informs much of the novel content and is clearly evident in many of the most enduring andpopular works. By focusing on Defoe’s
 Robinson Crusoe
(1719) and Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice
(1813), the current essay proposes to examine this symbiotic relationship of novel andsociety, in the context of the personal social status of each author.The first and perhaps the starkest example of attempting to conform to societal norms, whileadvocating personal ideals, appears in Defoe’s
 Robinson Crusoe.
Eagleton defines Defoe himself as being ‘lower middle class or
 petty bourgeois
in status, in tune with the common people yetmore educated, aspiring and politically articulate…..a political maverick who affirmed the radicalequality of men and women…’ and ‘spoke for a capitalist and commercial class which was
 
growing increasingly impatient with tradition’ (Eagleton, 23).At the beginning of 
 Robinson Crusoe
we are introduced to a young headstrong entrepreneurialcharacter whose sole obsession is with making his fortune from trade (Defoe, 10). He isdetermined to defy convention and define his own destiny, in spite of the moral and religiousprotestations of his father. At the end of the novel, after many exotic adventures (to the shores of Africa and the plantations of Brazil) and after what most people would consider a harrowingexperience of isolation on a Caribbean Island, the reader is left with an almost identicalprotagonist (excepting his bank balance) who has undergone remarkably little psychologicalchange. For the modern reader, the absence of any real development of character is perhaps themost striking and incredible aspect of the story. However, such omission gives a very clear insightinto the novel’s
raison d’etre.
Having blatantly little interest in human psychology or personalgrowth, Defoe’s novels seems to exist solely for the purpose of extolling individualism and radicalcommercialism. In this context, the parallels between Eagleton’s description of Defoe and the character of Robinson Crusoe are all too obvious. Crusoe is the embodiment of all that Defoe values in therising merchant class of his own time. He is the new ‘
homo economicus’
(Watt, 44), a mercurial jack-of-all-trades, whose outlook on the world as one large material resource to be exploited, isardently admired and zealously advocated. Indeed, if written in verse,
 Robinson Crusoe
couldaptly be named ‘An Ode to Capitalism’.However, while no doubt a tenet of Defoe’s, this unashamedly individualistic and mercenaryapproach to life was bound to pose problems for contemporary readership, most of whom wereChurch of England Protestants. Eagleton notes that a form of society was emerging in England atthe time which was moving beyond the religious and the metaphysical but still needed to appeal

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