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THE ENGLISH NOVEL OF THE 18TH CENTURY


How Did the Novel in English Come to Be?

The present English word, Novel, derives from the Italian novella for "new",
"news", or "short story of something new", itself from the Latin novella. A novel
is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both
in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance. The roots of the novel
extend as far back as the beginning of communication and language because
the novel is a compilation of various elements that have evolved over the
centuries.

The Romantic period saw the first flowering of the English novel. The Romantic
and the Gothic novel are closely related; both imagined almost-supernatural
forces operating in nature or directing human fate.

The English novel developed during the 18th century, partly in response to an
expansion of the middle-class reading public. One of the major early works in
this genre was the seminal castaway novel Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe.
The 18th century novel tended to be loosely structured and semi-comic. There
was a public demand for the novel. With the expansion of the middle class,
more people could read and they had money to spend on literature. There was
already a high interest in autobiography, biography, journals, diaries, memoirs.

A sense of the fact that fiction, to be literature, must be something more than
the relation of a bare fact, tragic, comic, or neutralthat the novelist is a cook,
and must prepare and serve his materials with a sauce as much his own as
possible, of plot, arrangement, character-drawing, scenery, conversation,
reflection, and so on.

The four elements of the novel are sometimes, and not incorrectly, said to be
Plot, Character, Description, and DialogueStyle, which some would make a
fifth, being rather a characteristic in another order of division.

Until quite late in the eighteenth century, the term "novel" was used very
loosely. Novel or fiction had been referring to Different uses as to any tales
shorter than traditional romances, or any plot of love and deception. In the
late seventeenth century and early eighteenth, "novel" was often applied to
narratives much like romances

The rise of the novel in 1740 marks the end of prose fiction designed solely for
amusement and entertainment. The critical nature of the new type is nearly
always apparent from this date, and usually there is a well-defined purpose
clearly expressed in the author's preface.

The main purpose of the old romance was entertainment and amusement; but
this purpose changed when Richardson's first novel was given to the public.
After this event, all of the great eighteenth century novelists, under the
disguise of amusement, boldly and somewhat announce in their preface that
their object is "to promote the cause of religion and virtue." they instruct the
reader while showing vice and virtue in their true light.

The theme of the eighteenth-century novel is the history of persons, regarded


as moral beings, and treated in relation to each other and to society. The
second and third quarters of the eighteenth century were years particularly
watchful and critical in all matters affecting the religious, moral, social, and
political conditions of the times.

Early eighteenth-century readers of travel narratives were apt to criticize


authors for making up tales rather than recording actual experiences.
Consequently, authors of the same period typically presented their writings as
manuscripts they had found and edited for public consumption. In this way,
Realism in the novel was synonymous with veracity: it denied altogether its
fictionality and, in prefaces and other narrative devices, asserted its reality to
the reader.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the reading public happily consumed
"novels"those prose fictions understood to be an author's original fabrication
with wholly fictive characters and events. Since realism in these works could
not suggest anything about their veracity, it encompassed instead the
dominant meanings the term has today, "particularity of description" and "the
primacy of individual experience."

It is significant that the English novels underwent an entire change of


design during the process of composition. The tendency has been, as it was
in the Elizabethan drama, toward fullness of incident, plenty of background,
numerousness and variety of characters, rather than toward concentration of
interest and singleness of artistic purpose.
The result is frequently a lack of harmony in the design or an appearance of
negligence in the details of a plot, and a style marked rather by vigor and
natural grace than by subtlety or dexterity.
The four writers who did really make contributions in improving the novel of the
18th century are Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Jane
Austen.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)


Fiction is a mystery partly set a-working in the medieval romance, then mostly
lost, and later recovered by Daniel Defoe. Defoe is really the first of the

magicians. The writing of novels was a second thought which came to Defoe
late in life.Defoe commenced novelist at about the age of sixty.

In his novels, Defoe's first business is to impose the story on the reader for
truth. Clearness of sight and a fine sense of the harmony between big things
and small underlie what little art Defoe possesses in the telling of his tales.

Defoes plots are of the "strong" orderthe events succeed each other and are
fairly connected, but do not compose a history so much as a chronicle. His
descriptions are sufficient. But it is far from elaborate in any other way and has
hardly the least decoration or poetical quality. The illusion he brings to bear
upon our minds is perfect and complete, and his method is the rapid addition of
incident and episode. He never stops to explain his narrative, and rarely makes
comments upon it.

For most people Defoe means one book, and that, a book which has come to be
regarded as a boy's tale of adventure Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe has
no complications and no plot. When Crusoe finds himself on the desert island,
his first consideration is, "What was next to be done? And the story tells simply
and straightforwardly what was done -next. Perhaps nobody, except Defoe,
could tell a story in that way, and interest generations of readers, from the boy
who has just mastered the spelling of his words to the learned pedant.

Certainly one great appeal which Robinson Crusoe makes is, that the hero of
the wonderful story is a very ordinary person, not a whit cleverer than our poor
selves.Anybody could play Crusoe's part without training. He stands for each
one of us. The simplicity of the tale carries us over into the pages of the book.
To read it is to adopt a special fashion of living for the time being.

Richardson (1689-1761)

Samuel Richardson, founder of the modern novel, carried the development of


the English novel far on its way.Richardson introduces a wholly new method of
writing stories to be read. He does not try to interest the reader in the story for
its own sake, but in the moral he has to teach, and he appeals, not to our
interest in facts, but he attempts to evoke the feelings and touch the emotions.

As a boy Richardson had served maids by writing their love letters; he seemed
to have a skill at this manner of love-making and when in the full maturity of
fifty years, certain London publishers requested him to write for them a
narrative which might stand as a model letter writer from which country
readers should know the right tone.

Richardson's greatest contribution, however, was his introduction of character


insight to the novel. His use of the letter form eased the discussion of Pamela's
thought. He defined the form as "the most natural and the least probable way
of telling a story." Richardson claimed for the method that it enabled the author
to give a lively picture of the emotions and feelings of the actors.

Richardson builds up his characters step by step touch by touch. Richardson is


not our first novelist of character but our first novelist of feminine characters.
He is the first to make novels effective and popular.

Richardsons novels have moral purposes. They imply the contrast between
virtue and villainy, between innocence and guiltiness, between love and lust.
His novels are also sentimental, but this sort of sentimentality was the fashion
of the time. Richardson justified his fiction writing upon moral grounds and
upon those alone is shown in the descriptive title-page of Pamela, "Published in
order to cultivate the principles of virtue and religion in the mind of youth of
both sexes."

He wrote three novels Pamela, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison. All the three
are epistolary novels (in a letter-form). Though he did not invent the form,
Richardson did invent the novel of common life. Richardsons method was
progressive. For example, in Pamela, each letter is rather more evoking than
the one preceding. Pamela, the popular novel comprised of 32 letters, was the
story of a maid who resisted several advances of her lord until he proposed to
her. Pamela writes letters too frequently, and rather too well, she exactly
represents the sentiments of the ignorant, unsophisticated servant-girl.
Richardson, with his Pamela extended the scope of the novel to include a new
meaning in character emotion.

Fielding (1707-1754)
In the rise of the English novel in the eighteen-century, the name of Henry
Fielding shines as prominently as that of Samuel Richardson. Richardson and
Fielding, though recognized as classic masters in English novels, are however
widely different as novelists. Like Richardson, Fielding did not write many
novels. His notable novels include Joseph Andrews, The History of Jonathan
Wilds, The History of Tom Jones, and Amelia. His novels are not in a letters form
like Richardsons. His method is direct, and the story is developed through
narration as well as conversation.

As playwright, as justice, as novelist, Fieldings wit and humor were repeatedly


directed against the corruption and vice of the day. He earnestly desired to
expose sham and hypocrisy in politics, in society, and in religion; consequently
he marshaled all the wit and humor at his command to this end, but he
formulated no system or code of morality as did Richardson.

Fielding's literary life falls naturally into two divisions, the play-writing days, and
the period of the novels beginning with the year 1742.When he came to the
writing of novels, Fielding had not only conceived a strong sense of literary
responsibility, but he had formulated theories and ideals of work.

Fieldings first notable novel Joseph Andrew, published in 1742, was supposed
to ridicule Richardsons Pamela. Instead of the virtuous maidservant, Fielding
presents Joseph, an honest servant, who resists seduction from his mistress. He
is ultimately thrown out of employment for resisting her. There follows a series
of adventures on the road, where Joseph is accompanied by Parson Adams, who
becomes the source of endless fun and comedy. He tells the story not for the
sake of moralizing, like Richardson, but simply because it interests him and his
only concern is to laugh men out of their follies. Fielding was different,
though, in that he has been called "the first unashamed novelist in England" for
his use of an omniscient narrator over an autobiography form. In his writing,
Fielding knew he was creating something new - what he called the "comic prose
era." He parodied religion and added satire to his writing. Fielding's Andrews
furthered the scope of the novel. Joseph Andrews is a book which is always new.
It reflects the courage and virtue and humor and spirit of adventure and mean
vices which form the staple of human nature at all times and in all places.

Jane Austen (1775-1817)


Jane Austens novels present a record of the life of the upper middle classes in
Southern England at the end of the eighteenth century focusing on practical
social issues, especially marriage and money.

Austens first important achievement is to bring to the English novel dramatic


plots. She has the genius of a great dramatist. The unity of purposes, the
complete inter-dependence of the main plot and the sub-plots, the perfect
association of the action and the characters, and dramatic irony make her plots
highly dramatic. To this may be added the objectivity of narration, the complete
withdrawal of the creator from the creation, for she hardly speak in her own
person to give a direct comment.

Jane Austen has given us a multitude of characters. Remarkably, no two villains


are alike, nor two fools for even the greatest novelists are guilty of repetition.
However, her real achievement in characterization is the ironic exposition of the
follies and nonsense of human manners. She excels in the depiction of the
ridiculous and of the gap between a reality and an appearance.
Her most important contribution to the English novels is her ironic world view.
This view lies in the recognition of the fact that man is confronted with the
choice of two things that are mutually exclusive. The two are equally attractive,
equally desirable, but ironically, incompatible. Ironically, the theme of Pride
and Prejudice is the contrast between complexity and Simplicity. Both the
qualities have their own attractions and dangers in them. Perhaps one would
like to be simple and complicated all at once, but that is not possible; which is
the irony. Jane Austen projects this ironic world view practically in all her novels.
Pride and Prejudice, like most of Jane Austen's works, employs the narrative
technique of free indirect speech. This has been defined as "the free
representation of a character's speech, by which one means, not words actually
spoken by a character, but the words that typify the character's thoughts, or
the way the character would think or speak, if she thought or spoke."

Documentation
Williams, Harold. Two Centuries Of The English Novel. London. Waterloo
Place, 1911
Herber, Charles. The Eighteenth-Century Novel In Theory And Practice.
Virginia. The Ruebush-Kieffer Company,
Burton, Richard. Masters Of The English Novel. New York. Henry Holt And
Company, 1909
Saintsbury, George. The English Novel. London.1913

http://www.lit-arts.net/Behn/novel.htm
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