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About this book

This book advances a new cultural reading of the formation of the British novel. Rejecting a teleological narrative of the genre's 'rise' and through close analysis of key texts, the authors present a dynamic picture of the emergence of the novel, which focuses upon formal innovation, social engagement, and artistic and commercial competition.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Modelling the Novel

Abstract
To see how sophisticated today’s browsers in the fiction sections of bookshops and on the internet have become, it is necessary only to look at the astonishingly fine discriminations that are made by commentators on and consumers of one single sub-genre: science fiction. Science fiction is already a specialized generic niche within the broader category of fiction, and it is often further distinguished into the broad subcategories of science fiction and science fantasy. Then the fun really starts.
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan

2. Missing Parts: Fiction to Defoe

Abstract
By way of preface to Incognita; or, Love and Duty Reconcil’d (1692), which he refers to as a ‘novel’, William Congreve, best known as the dramatist who gave us The Way of the World (1700), draws a distinction between ‘romances’ and ‘novels’ that has been cited many times subsequently. The distinction is made in terms of the greater ‘familiarity’ of novels, their superior credibility and down-to-earth quality:
Romances are generally composed of the Constant Loves and invincible Courages of Hero’s, Heroins, Kings and Queens, Mortals of the first Rank, and so forth; where lofty Language, miraculous Contingencies and impossible Performances, elevate and surprize the Reader into a giddy Delight, which leaves him flat upon the Ground whenever he gives of, and vexes him to think how he has suffer’d himself to be pleased and transported, concern’d and afflicted at the several Passages which he has Read, viz. these Knights Success to their Damosels Misfortunes, and such like, when he is forced to be very well convinced that ‘tis all a lye. Novels are of a more familiar nature; Come near us, and represent to us Intrigues in practice, delight us with Accidents and odd Events, but not such as are wholly unusual or unpresidented, such which not being so distant from our Belief bring also the pleasure nearer us. Romances give more of Wonder, Novels more Delight.1
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan

3. Novels and Anti-novels: Contesting Fictions

Abstract
A recent newspaper survey published in The Guardian recorded the finding that 81 per cent of a sample of young people between the ages of 18–24 could not name 3 novels by Charles Dickens. This was taken to be an index of educational failure, a clear indication that today’s youths are know-nothings, ignorant of the ‘classic’ landmarks of their cultural heritage. Such a view is somewhat ironic given that, in the early phase of its development, the novel had to struggle hard against a powerful anti-novelistic discourse in order to gain any kind of cultural respectability. When did this situation begin to change? When did the novel begin to be taken seriously as an art form, to the extent that, by the millennium, ignorance of its most esteemed practitioners can be regarded as a touchstone of national malaise? The year 1884 was clearly significant, because in that year Sir Walter Besant gave a lecture at the Royal Institution setting out the proposition ‘that Fiction is an Art in every way worthy to be called the sister and the equal of the Arts of Painting, Sculpture, Music, and Poetry’.1 Besant’s proposition is less important in itself than for the fact that it stimulated Henry James to write his landmark essay ‘The Art of Fiction’ (1884), in which he advances a manifesto for serious fiction:
Only a short time ago it might have been supposed that the English novel was not what the French call discutable. It had no air of having a theory, a conviction, a consciousness of itself behind it — of being the expression of an artistic faith, the result of choice and comparison … During the period I have alluded to there was a comfortable, good-humoured feeling abroad that a novel is a novel, as a pudding is a pudding, and that our only business with it could be to swallow it … [The novel] must take itself seriously for the public to take it so.2
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan

4. Teaching Readers to Read: Richardson and Fielding

Abstract
The previous chapter plotted a triangulation between Defoe, Haywood and Swift in the 1720s, arguing that while the first two were involved in a market-driven competition to locate a successful fictional product, Jonathan Swift found one serendipitously, by writing against the grain of the early novel’s emerging subject-matter and formal structures. In the 1740s, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding emerged as the individuals who would forward the fictional project. In the 1730s, however, it would have seemed far from inevitable that the novel as a genre had a future. Swift, as we have seen, did not intend Gulliver’s Travels to be a contribution to it; if Gulliver’s Travels did contribute to the project of prose fiction, it did so despite its author. Haywood did not write novels in the 1730s, and the most active literary forms were poetry, where Alexander Pope, James Thomson and Edward Young were the most powerful presences, and theatre, which was dominated by John Gay and Henry Fielding. The twentieth-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, in his writing about history plays, speaks of the need to represent history not as an inevitable process but as a series of turning points at which things might have turned out otherwise. To the historian of the novel, the late 1730s was just such a nodal point. We have already described an underlying process — ‘novelization’ — that we see as contributing to the onward development of prose fiction. Individuals have to embody that abstract process, however, and conditions have to favour their emergence.
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan

5. Renewing the Novel: Novelty, Originality and New Directions

Abstract
As we saw in Chapter 4, during the 1740s Richardson and Fielding advanced both the art and the standing of prose fiction, each initiating a new line of novelistic development. Both authors would go on to publish one further novel in the early 1750s, Fielding with Amelia (1751) and Richardson with Sir Charles Grandison (1753–54). Right up to the end of the century, both authors would also continue to be honoured as the progenitors of modern prose fiction. But what about other novelists at this time, who found themselves writing in the wake of Richardson and Fielding? The fate of the novel in the second half of the eighteenth century has proved a perennial thorn in the side of literary histories of the early novel, particularly those that are concerned with tracing the ‘origins’ of the genre. Typically, the development of the novel post-Fielding receives only limited attention in such histories — a trend that was inaugurated by Ian Watt’s influential account, which concludes with just a brief, inconclusive discussion of Laurence Sterne. Implicit in this approach to the fiction of the second half of the century is the idea that, after Fielding, the future of the novel was essentially secured — that authors now knew precisely how to write a novel (or, like Sterne, how to parody the novel genre), and that a market of novel-readers was now firmly established.
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan

6. The Sympathetic Strain: Sterne and Sentimental Fiction

Abstract
In the final weeks of 1759, the first two volumes of a new fictional work were published in York, at the author’s own expense. Entitled The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, the book was the first piece of extended prose fiction by Laurence Sterne, a middle-aged clergyman who, having tired of his involvement in local, political and ecclesiastical affairs, had cast his gaze towards the prospect of literary fame. From such humble beginnings emerged the cultural phenomenon of the 1760s. Given its origins in provincial obscurity, the hubbub that Sterne’s book managed to create among the fashionable literary culture of London was truly remarkable. As with Pamela during the 1740s, the publication of Tristram Shandy provoked a mini-industry of printed responses, both imitative and antagonistic, along with assorted other testaments to its permeation of contemporary culture: a Tristram Shandy card game; Tristram Shandy china ware; a Tristram Shandy race horse. As Boswell’s enraptured response above vividly conveys, to have failed to peruse Sterne’s book during the early months of 1760 could have made one appear unfashionably ‘ill bred’. And yet, from the very beginning, responses to Tristram Shandywere rarely untinged by concerns about the work’s moral moorings. Soon enough, in fact, both Sterne and his book would themselves come to seem ‘ill bred’.
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan

7. Narrating the Nation: Leisure, Luxury and Politeness

Abstract
By the second half of the eighteenth century, the novel had established itself as one of the most important media for examining contemporary social developments and cultural concerns. In this chapter, we move back from the cusp of Revolution to consider the visions of Britain that were offered in two novels published during the 1770s: Tobias Smollett’s Humphry Clinker (1771) and Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778). Working both the comic and the sentimental seams of the genre’s development, these novels constituted perhaps the most successful attempts that had thus far been made to synthesize the panoramic social vision of Fielding with a Richardsonian attendance to the minutiae of personal feeling and individual situation. Following the lead of scholars such as John Brewer and Roy Porter, who have tracked the transformation of British culture between the English Restoration and the French Revolution, we focus here particularly upon the novels’ portrayal of a leisure culture of pleasure gardens, assembly rooms, spa towns and sociable pastimes — all part of a new ‘entertainment industry’ that included the novel itself.1 Through the observations of their central characters, Smollett and Burney’s novels recreate in vivid detail the contemporary experience of this commercialized culture of pleasure and politeness.
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan

8. Conclusion: Making the Novel, Reading the Novel

Abstract
Working as we have been on a book about the making of the novel as a literary genre, we were eager to read the most recent high-profile account of the novel in English: Terry Eagleton’s The English Novel: An Introduction. Given the probable wide dissemination of this book and its likely influence on popular understanding of the topic, we have to register our disappointment with Eagleton’s approach. In Eagleton’s study, the early history of the novel is represented by Defoe and Swift, Richardson and Fielding, and Sterne; which is to say, by a handful of male writers from a canon that is only slightly less circumscribed than that constructed by Ian Watt nearly half a century ago. There is no room here, it would seem, for early century amatory fiction, for non-Shandean sentimentalism or the Gothic, or for less well-known spin-offs and sub-genres, such as the novel of circulation or women’s utopian fiction. In Eagleton’s account, moreover, there are no notable women novelists before Jane Austen. In a brief preface, Eagleton offers, as an excuse for confining his study ‘so high-mindedly to the literary canon’, ‘the need to discuss authors whom students are at present most likely to encounter in their work’.1
Brean Hammond, Shaun Regan
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