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.
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- Teaching Readers to Read: Richardson and Fielding
- Macmillan Education UK
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