English novel came into existence in the beginning of 18th century with the emergence of new middle class. During this time, public interest in human characters grew and this led to the popularity of autobiographies, biographies, journals, diaries and memoirs. Novelists showed interest in the newly emerged complex middle-class characters who were struggling with their morality and social issues. Tom Jones, a foundling was written by Henry Fielding during this time and focused on the social structure that prevailed in England during that time.
The first half of the 19th century was influenced by romanticism and the focus was on nature and imagination. Gothic (horror) and romantic novels were written during this time. Jane Austen wrote highly polished novels about the life of the landed gentry and social issues like marriage and property from women’s perspective.
In the period between 1837 to 1901, the Victorian novelists became popular. They portrayed middle-class, virtuous heroes responding to harsh society. Stories of working class poor people were directed to incite sympathy. The development of the middle-class and the manners and expectations of this class, as opposed to the aristocrat forms were the focus of the novelists of this period. Charles Dickens emerged as a literary figure and wrote about London life and struggles of the poor in Oliver Twist.
In the early twentieth century, Rudyard Kipling wrote highly versatile novels, short stories and poems, often based on his experience in British India. E.M.Forster also wrote A Passage to India which reflected challenges to imperialism. Novels from this era reflected great world events such as The Great Depression, World War II, Hiroshima, The Cold War and Communism. Crime, political and military confrontations were the areas of novelists and readers interest.
By looking at the history or genesis of novel in England above, we realise that author’s of different eras have provided the readers with a glimpse, if not a complete picture of a society, economic trends, cultural and religious beliefs of the time they wrote in. With change in time and situation of the world, the focus area of the novelist kept on moving. They covered varied subjects in their work starting from romances to naturalism, marriage and property, middle-class and landed gentry and so on.
THE HISTORICAL origins and development of the English novel, its relations to continental fiction, the vexed question of the definition of the form itself—all these are matters too complex to be handled here. The present brief discussion can only treat, and by dangerously wide generalization, three or four of the outstanding characteristics of British prose 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. 1 From this point of view, however, one matter of history is significant,—namely, that the novel first emerged as a definite literary type in the eighteenth century, which laid the foundations also for the social sciences and which was, more than any previous century, an age of criticism and reflection. The impetus of the earlier renaissance, with its soaring imagination, its dazzling poetry, its passion for the fullness of sensuous experience, had long since expended itself, leaving to the mid-seventeenth century a dangerous heritage of libertinism on the one side and sectarian zeal on the other. The disastrous conflict between these two extremes of character produced, by way of reaction, a temper of moderation and reasonableness, equally averse to sensualism and to mystic exaltation, more concerned, on the whole, with life as it has been and as it is than with life as it might be; a frame of mind distrustful of fine-spun theories, but profoundly humanistic, in that it held with Pope that “the proper study of mankind is man.” Such was,...