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About this book

Why have scholars located the emergence of the novel in eighteenth-century England? What historical forces and stylistic developments helped to turn a disreputable type of writing into an eminent literary form?

This Reader's Guide explores the key critical debates and theories about the rising novel, from eighteenth-century assessments through to present day concerns. Nicholas Seager:
• surveys major criticism on authors such as Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Jane Austen
• covers a range of critical approaches and topics including feminism, historicism, postcolonialism and print culture
• demonstrates how critical work is interrelated, allowing readers to discern trends in the critical conversation.

Approachable and stimulating, this is an invaluable introduction for anyone studying the origins of the novel and the surrounding body of scholarship.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
The Rise of the Novel is one of the best-known, most commonly taught, and enduringly satisfying concepts in literary criticism. Its classic formulation, in Ian Watt’s seminal The Rise of the Novel (1957), locates this process in eighteenth-century England as the effect of a number of social and intellectual developments that resulted in the stylistic innovation of formal realism. This study will answer a number of questions. Why do we locate the rise of the novel in the eighteenth century? Why in England (or, more properly, Britain)? By when had the novel finished rising? What were the historical conditions that made the novel possible? What formal features took shape as the novel developed? And what criticisms has Watt’s ‘rise’ model received?
Nicholas Seager

Chapter One. Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Accounts of the Rise of the Novel

Abstract
Writers were puzzling over the nature and provenance of fiction even as the novel was said to be rising, and the terms on which they conducted the debate continue to resonate with modern critics. This chapter addresses attempts to account for the development and progress of the English novel from the eighteenth century through the Romantic period to Victorian and Edwardian histories of fiction.
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Two. New Criticism to The Rise of the Novel, 1924–57

Abstract
This chapter begins with Ernest Baker’s ten-volume History of the English Novel (1924–39) and ends with Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel (1957). In this period, a range of new ideas about the intellectual and social contexts of the rising novel, and about the formal development of fiction, were introduced. It will be shown that Watt’s field-defining study is, in some respects, a synthesis of ideas about the early novel that took shape in the forty years prior to its publication. Watt’s argument is here contextualized in relation to contemporaneous ideas, in particular as a reaction to formalist accounts of the emergent novel that dominated the early- to mid-twentieth century.
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Three. Restructuring the Rise of the Novel, 1958–85

Abstract
This chapter surveys rise-of-the-novel criticism in the immediate wake of Watt, who set the terms on which the discussion would be conducted for decades and who became the figure everyone had to deal with. A wider turn to the rhetoric and poetics of fiction informed analysis of the early novel at this time, as literary criticism concentrated on narrative structure, technique, and genre, rather than historical contexts, producing a considerable amount of formalist supplementation to Watt’s sociohistorical approach. We might say that scholars broadly accepted Watt’s historical points but sought to clarify aspects of his account of the formal properties of the emergent novel. After outlining early responses to Watt, this chapter considers approaches to the novel through genre, plot, characterization, reader response, and narrative technique. The process of canonization I traced in Chapters 1 and 2 left Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne as the novelists before Austen who mattered. This narrow canon and the formalist tendency to focus on particular works mean that the treatment of individual authors and novels became important in understandings of the rise of the novel in this period.
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Four. Cultural History and the Rise of the Novel, 1980–9

Abstract
This chapter surveys rise-of-the-novel criticism in the 1980s, a predominantly historicist period of literary scholarship which set about explaining how texts are the products of social and cultural forces. New, historically grounded, explanations of the novel’s emergence appeared. Tellingly, however, this chapter begins and ends with restatements of the enduring significance of Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel.
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Five. Feminism and the Rise of the Novel

Abstract
Feminist literary criticism, which first gained ground in the 1970s and 1980s, now informs a major strand of eighteenth-century novel studies. The work surveyed in this chapter has achieved several things. It has recovered and accounted for the aesthetic and historical significance of a large corpus of female-authored novels before Jane Austen. It has helped to explain the processes of canon formation by which these novels came to be excluded. It has appraised the representations of women in canonical fiction. And it has provided critiques of the gendered ideologies of the early novel, particularly its collusion in the cultural disenfranchisement of women, such as through its promotion of the private, ‘domestic’ sphere of cloistered femininity as a separate realm from the male ‘public’ sphere of political and economic activity. This chapter begins with the recovery efforts of the 1980s, moving to a section on romance and realism that reflects on the gendering of genre, then to studies that have elucidated the early novel’s gendered ideologies, and finally to competing accounts of the novel’s relationship to domesticity.
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Six. Postcolonialism, Postnationalism, and the Rise of the Novel

Abstract
Postcolonial criticism’s interest in historical literature endeavours to track its complicity in imperial ideology, and the attention postcolonialists have given to the rise of the novel is exemplary in this regard. In addition, critics have addressed the emergent novel’s role in propagating both racial and national ideology. The Englishness of the novel, a construction I traced in Chapters 1 and 2, has been challenged by critics who locate the rise of the novel in international cultural exchange.
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Seven. Rethinking the Rise of the Novel, 1990–2000

Abstract
The 1990s and the new millennium produced a considerable amount of revisionist scholarship that sought to complicate the enduringly authoritative account of the novel’s rise offered by Ian Watt. With the launch of Eighteenth-Century Fiction in 1988, the subject gained a dedicated journal. In the previous two chapters, I surveyed feminist and postcolonial work which overlaps chronologically and sometimes methodologically with the accounts discussed here. Collectively, the work in this chapter approaches the early novel less as a cohesive literary form and more as a contested historical discourse — in the period itself and in later reconstructions. The chapter finishes with the special issue of Eighteenth-Century Fiction, called Reconsidering the Rise of the Novel (2000).
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Eight. Print Culture and the Rise of the Novel, 1990–2010

Abstract
This chapter examines the impact on the study of the emergent novel of recent work informed by book history, the economics of literary production, and the history of reading. It asks how the emergent novel fits into eighteenth-century print culture, how and by whom early novels were produced and read, and what significance should be accorded to fiction’s physical and typographical form in accounting for the novel’s rise. This work builds on studies I have surveyed in previous chapters, and the reader of those chapters will realise how longstanding is the connection between the novel and developments in print technology. Ian Watt posited that the novel’s rise was coincident with that of a middle-class reading public (see Chapter 2). Terry Lovell subsequently shifted Watt’s focus on production to consumption of fiction (see Chapter 5). Lennard Davis argued for the formative influence on the novel of the deregulation of print, and Michael McKeon, following Elizabeth Eisenstein’s groundbreaking The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979), set the novel’s emergence in the larger revolution in print technologies (see Chapter 4).
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Nine. Thematic Criticism of the Rise of the Novel (I): Family, Law, Sex, and Society

Abstract
This chapter and the following discuss criticism of the rise of the novel since the mid-1990s. This work is predominantly historicist, and I have labelled it thematic, because typically a historical topic is analysed in relation to the novel. Some studies make more of an issue of generic development than others, and these will be accorded more space. Thematic contextual criticism often operates with a selective smattering of texts, which can appear arbitrary and on whose supposedly representative status large generalizations about the novel’s development and eighteenth-century culture are sometimes based. The guiding assumption of much of this criticism is that literature is both an agent and a reflection of social change, participating in extra-literary discursive formations. In this chapter, I will cover work on the emergent novel in relation to family, law, sex, and society.
Nicholas Seager

Chapter Ten. Thematic Criticism of the Rise of the Novel (II): Money, Medicine, Politics, and Things

Abstract
This chapter begins by aiming to answer the question of how critics after Watt have interpreted the rising novel’s relationship to economic forces. Next it considers the place of fiction in eighteenth-century political ideology and then in relation to contemporaneous medical ideas. Finally, through the lens of thing theory, it discusses the novel’s place in a material culture of objects.
Nicholas Seager

Conclusion: Recent and Future Directions

Abstract
Beginning a story of the novel with the beginning of the eighteenth century is an arbitrary choice’, declares Patricia Meyer Spacks.1 The criticism that I have organized into a narrative about the developing idea of the rise of the novel validates this point. However, the connection between this historical period and this literary genre is hard to sever, and given the weight of criticism behind it I would question the usefulness of doing so. Perhaps Watt’s account seems so enduringly satisfying because it is a simplification. As far as simplifications go, it is remarkably capacious, but simplifications always need to be complicated. I want to conclude this book not with summary, but with a comparison of two recent books, each generously offered as resources for non-specialists and students, which take different, but I would argue complementary, approaches to the development of the novel, indicating the current state of critical understanding.
Nicholas Seager
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