The Rise of the Novel in the Eighteenth Century
( A Brief Summary of the first three lectures)
1- The first half of the eighteenth century marks the rise of a new literary genre: works of prose called today ‘novels’. 2- The novel has its roots in the short tales of the middle and Elizabethan ages, like romances and other adventure stories. 3- Romances- also called “French romances”- are fictitious, fanciful stories in prose about knights and their deeds. They were full of fanciful, unrealistic incidents and creatures like magic swords, dragons, monsters,…etc.
4- Many social and intellectual factors in that age (the 18th c) had combined to create something new and different in that prose form:
a) Individualism: The new form, i.e the novel is about certain realistic people living in a certain society and not about fanciful characters, supermen or monsters. On the contrary, the characters are ‘individualized’: which means that every individual, person or character ( ordinary or extraordinary) is independent from other individuals. In the past, individuals or characters in the prose works never stood for themselves: they stood for certain abstracts or qualities :Mr. Greedy, Mr. Angry, Mrs. Domineering, ..etc. With the rise of this literary form, individuals are drawn realistically as independent, regardless of their social status or personal capacity. The characters are analyzed in detail, and shown as complex individuals, affected by social pressures. b) The rise of the middle class: The new middle class in England ( consisting of merchants, lawyers, businessmen, doctors,..etc.) were very educated, but they were unlike the upper classes who were taught in Greek and Latin. The middle-class people could read in English, so they among the readers of then novels at that time. c) Educated women: Women became educated at that time , and so they were a crucial factor in producing a readership for fiction. They benefited from the rise of the novel because they were not educated in Greek and Latin but in history, English grammar, geography,..etc. d) Better education for the middle classes coincided with a period of great leisure for women in the middle and upper classes. This left a vacuum in their lives which demanded to be filled. Men, also, demanded imaginative works because they looked for other interests beyond their jobs. Thus, the novel opened new real worlds. e) The increase and spread of newspapers during the eighteenth century is evidence of this interest. Many periodicals such as The Spectator and The Tattler were popular. Addison and Steele, the editors of those periodicals created characters such as Sir Roger de Coverley-an individualized character with essay-like short stories. f) Thirst for travel books characterized by realistic incidents and realistic characters during a period where the British Empire was expanding show the people’s need to learn about other people from other cultures and other lands with different traditions and manners..Many of the eighteenth-century novels were written in the form of travel books such as Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels to satisfy this thirst. g) The thirst of the reading public to learn about the manners, and circumstances of other classes and localities. Richardson’s Pamela is a plan to write a series of letters which provide examples of the correct way of behaving in different social situations. h) The novelists, too, felt it was their duty not just to inform but also to teach moral lessons. This shows the moral usefulness of the novel. Thus while the novelists introduce their readers to new social worlds, and show the manners of others, they provide the best moral way for their readers to behave. This triple aim- to reveal, to educate, and to encourage moral behavior was an important feature of the eighteenth-century novel. i) As a consequence, the novels were...
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