To apprehend "the rise of the novel" as a vortex of cultural conflict helps to refocus the way gender difference and strife crosscut the expansion of novel reading in early modern culture. The romance was associated with women because of its popularity with women readers. Reeve, by casting The Progress of Romance in the form of a series of salonlike lectures and debates between Hortensius and Euphrasia with Sophronia acting the role of a nonpartisan judge , inscribes the debate about romance and its value within a battle of the sexes.
By exfoliating her account of the novel's progress in a series of lessons that finally wins the willing conversion of a skeptical male, Reeve's text acquires the shape and feel of a seduction. Hortensius seems to relent in his opposition to romance because of his high regard for Euphrasia. But the resolution of this staged debate does not overcome the deeper resonances of the gendered contest around romances and novels. The pejorative terms applied to romance fanciful, wishful, out of touch with reality, etc. The favorable terms applied to novels realistic, rational, improving are congruent with those that describe the male as a politically responsible member of the public sphere.
Within the context of the debate about novels, it is not surprising that male and female critics offer different pathways toward the novel's elevation. In elevating the novel, Coventry follows Fielding's attempt to splice classical knowledge and criticism into the reading of the novel.
Although John Dunlop, like Reeve, applies a modern, historicist, more or less tolerant horizon of scholarship to the novel, his appeal to philosophical grounds for evaluating fiction helps push the novel toward a monumental cultural role. In elevating the novel, Clara Reeve like Mary Wollstonecraft and Laetitia Barbauld later turns the novel into a form for transmitting social knowledge. Reeve ends her literary history by offering two lists to parents, guardians, and tutors, "intended chiefly for the female sex": "Books for Children" and "Books for Young Ladies.
Literary history acquires the pedagogical function it still serves in literary studies: it becomes a reading list with its entries contextualized by narrative. Given the way literary history is used to shape pleasure and define value, how could it be different?
Thus the various positions upon what constitutes the first novel, and implicitly, what is the most valuable paradigm of novelistic authorship, work within the earliest literary histories of the elevated novel, and are reflected in the divergent critical valuations of Richardson and Fielding. In this way, the rivalry of Richardson and Fielding on the market during the s was reproduced in the earliest literary criticism and history of the novel.
Coventry ignores Richardson in proclaiming Fielding's unheralded achievements, while Johnson's prescription for the novel's cultural role is rigged to favor Richardson's fictional practice. The antagonism of Richardson and Fielding expresses itself through the writings of Hazlitt, Coleridge, Scott, and every subsequent literary historian of their differences.
This antagonism shows little sign of dissipating in our own day. It is not just that different values reflect themselves in diver gent accounts of our cultural repertoire. There are also always different agendas for the future dispositions of pleasure and value.
Thus recent feminist critics have found Richardson most useful in their critical work, but Fieldingnot. The elevation of the novel and its countersigning by literary history is neither simply right nor wrong, good nor bad.
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New discursive formations-like the elevated novel-incite new and valuable cultural production. Thus, however unfair or tendentious its judgments about the early novels of Behn, Manley, and Haywood, literary history's sublimation of "the novel" enables the ambitious novelistic projects of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
One example is the quixotic ambition to write "the Great American Novel. Yet its judgments are also always-and interminably-open to revision.
The appeals court of culture is always in session. The recent feminist revaluation of the women novelists of the early eighteenth century seems to depend upon a contemporary reinterpretation of what is happening in the novels of Behn, Manley, and Haywood: explicit treatments of gender, sexuality, and power that have critical currency in our own time.
This chapter's account of the cultural scandal of novel reading, and of the inventive responses of novelists and literary historians to that scandal, suggests a signal tendency of most literary histories of the novel.
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Like a museum, literary history turns the strife of history into a repertoire of forms. It does so by taking differences that may have motivated the writing or reading of novels within specific historical contexts-differences of religion, politics, class, social propriety, or ethical design, to name a few-and converts them into differences of kind. Thus, for example, the polemic between Richardson and Fielding about the sorts of narrative and character fiction should possess comes to represent, within literary history, two species of novel: the Richardson novel of psychology and sentiment, and the Fielding novel of social panorama and critique.
The novels of amorous intrigue written by Behn and the early Haywood have a bad difference that puts them entirely outside the frame of literary history of the elevated novel. Notice the reversal of vision that literary history effects.
Preface to the Second Edition
If we inter pret the writings of Behn, Richardson, and Fielding as part of the cultural history of Britain, we can find complex patterns of antagonism and detect the conscious and unconscious efforts of each author to distinguish his or her writing from its antecedents. By differentiating his novels from Behn's, Richardson engenders many of the differences evident between their novels. By contrast, literary history "finds," upon the archival table of its investigations, different novels, which it then attempts to distinguish and classify.
Differences among novels are no longer effects of history, but the initial data for literary classification. Often presented as the humble, minimal, and preliminary axiom of a literary history, the idea of the novel operates within the literary history of canonical texts as a kind of law. Changes in the idea of the novel during the nineteenth century were a necessary precondition for the belated emergence of the novel's origins as a compelling enigma.
Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novel keeps rising, and The Columbia History of the British Novel is one more symptom of that movement. Space does not permit a full genealogy of the evolution of the question of the novel's origins. But I can offer a brief sketch of those changes whereby the question becomes one of the Gordian knots of literary studies.
Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, novels are collected, edited, reviewed, and taught in schools and universities. Three basic shifts in the category of "the novel" are concomitants of this modern institutionalization of the novel as an object of knowledge in literary studies. First the novel is nationalized.
Novels were once considered the type of writing most likely to move easily across linguistic and national boundaries. The critics and literary historians I have quoted in this chapter found the romances and novels of different nations on the same shelves. Reeve and Dunlop discuss the novels of Cervantes, Marivaux, and Rousseau within the same conceptual coordinates as the novels of Richardson and Fielding.
But in the nineteenth century, novels come to be understood as a type of writing particularly suited to representing the character, mores, landscape, and spirit of the nation. At its most significant, a novel is, in the phrase of the French literary historian Hippolyte Taine, an expression of "the voice of the people.
In the wake of this idea, a thesis develops that would never have occurred to Reeve or Dunlop: that the modern English novel has little or nothing to do with earlier novellas and romances, and thus it does not develop out of Italian, Spanish, or French precursors. Instead the novel is said to derive from distinctly English discourses: the journalism of Addison and Steele, the party writers of the reign of Queen Anne, the new Science, religious autobiography like Bunyan's, writers of travel and adventure, and so on. This position was first clearly enunciated by the nineteenth-century professor of English at Glasgow, Walter Raleigh, in his book The English Novel It has been developed much more fully in recent books by Michael McKeon and J.
Paul Hunter. While Reeve's "progress of romance" and Dunlop's "history of fiction" are inclusively multinational, extending backward to ancient and medieval times and across the channel to include Continental romance and novella, national literary histories cut these temporal and spatial links. Traits of the British culture-empiricism, protestant individualism, moral seriousness, and a fondness for eccentric character-are promoted from secondary characteristics of novels which happened to have been written in England to primary radicals of the novel's generic identity.
By narrowing the vortex of the novel's formation, a nationalist British literary history produces a new object of cultural value now dubbed "the English novel. A synecdoche wags the dog.
In this way a national literary history overcomes what has always worried the earliest promoters and elevators of the novel in Britain: the belatedness and indebtedness of English fiction. The claim for the priority of the English novel made by this group of literary historians involves a shift in the novel's distinct identity: instead of consisting in its moral coherence, the novel's identity comes to derive from its adherence to some sort of realism.
Although the kernel of this thesis is at least as old as the distinction between romance and novella defined by Congreve, Reeve, and others, the nineteenth century contributes an arduous and subtle development to the idea of what constitutes realism. With the development of the idea of society as an organic totality, the novel becomes-for Balzac, Dickens, and Eliot-uniquely appropriate for its study and analysis. Novelistic realism is complicated and enriched by those novelists-especially Flaubert and James-who undertake to aestheticize the novel.
As art, the novel realizes its equality with poetry, and prepares itself for entrance into the "Great Tradition" Leavis's title of Western literature. The idea of the novel as art means that novel studies, and literary histories of the novel, come to privilege the novel's "form. With the idea of the novel's nationalism, its realism, and its power to express a personal interiority emerge three questions that have preoccupied scholarly study of the early British novel for at least one hundred years.
Out of the concept of the novel's Englishness emerges a new question: how, where, and why does the English novel begin, originate, arise? This question is framed so as to assure that its answer will come from within the study of British culture.
Once the novel is given a modern, relatively scientific epistemological mission-to be realistic in its representation of social and psychological life-one must ask, what constitutes realism? What form of writing should serve as the paradigm for novelistic mimesis? These are not so much questions that can be answered as a terrain for interminable negotiation and invention. Finally, how is the Englishness and realism of the novel implicated in the invention of the modern subject?