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Women Novelists Before Jane Austen

Women Novelists Before Jane Austen: The Critics and Their Canons

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Women Novelists Before Jane Austen
    Book Description:

    By the time Ian Watt publishedThe Rise of the Novel. in 1957, it was clear that many women novelists before Jane Austen had been overlooked in critical studies of literature and that some of them had been completely forgotten by the reading public. In this book, Brian Corman explores the question of how and why this came about. Corman provides a systematic survey of the reputations of early women novelists as canons of the novel developed over a period of roughly two hundred years, and, in so doing, suggests reasons for their frequent exclusion.

    Women Novelists before Jane Austenchallenges the view that exclusion from the canon was a simple function of gender and goes deeper to examine potential reasons why certain women writers were overlooked. In the process, it provides an overview of histories of the British novel from the beginning through to the mid-twentieth century, ending with the publication of Watt's famous text. Further, Corman offers a prolegomenon to the important recovery work of the late-twentieth century in which many revised accounts of the history of the novel appeared, essentially improving the scope covered by Watt. This study historicizes the place of early women novelists in the British canon in order to provide an informed context for current views.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8963-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    This study evolved from my interest in the historiography of the early English novel. Questions like ‘What was the first novel?’ or ‘Who was the first novelist?’ and ‘Why did the novel “rise” in the eighteenth century?’ have occupied literary historians since they first decided to consider the history of the form. As a habitual reader of early and out-of-date literary histories and someone long fascinated by the ever-changing answers to a limited number of central problems, I originally contemplated a history of histories of the novel. Eventually, I came to focus on a single problem in the literary histories....

  5. 1 The Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 9-28)

    John Dunlop claims that hisHistory of Fictionis the first ‘attempt towards a general History of fiction’ (11) in Britain. Given the range and inclusiveness of his work the claim is a just one, but like all histories, his is not without a prehistory. Dunlop acknowledges the work of Percy and Warton on the origins of what he calls ‘Romantic’ fiction but ignores his three important predecessors, Clara Reeve, John Moore, and Anna Laetitia Barbauld, the three critics with the greatest expertise on the history of the novel – though to be fair to Dunlop, none produced a full ‘general’...

  6. 2 1800–1840
    (pp. 29-54)

    The history of the English novel is a Regency invention; the tastes and values of the Regency historians set the tone for all subsequent study. This was the time of the first serious attempts at canon making, and the canon established by the critics of the Romantic period became the canon to be modified thereafter. It is a period of ever-increasing reviews of novels, anthologies and collections of novels, and general novel criticism and theory. The three most important Regency novel critics, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, John Colin Dunlop, and Sir Walter Scott, merit special and fuller attention. A number of...

  7. 3 1840–1880
    (pp. 55-108)

    The critics and literary historians I discuss in the following three chapters are no longer writing about their contemporaries when they turn to the novel and the women novelists before Austen. Reviews of new novels were increasingly high-profile features of the most important and respected periodicals; even the most highly regarded men of letters frequently contributed these reviews. They are, of course, no longer immediately relevant to this study, but they point to the status and interest in the novel generated by Scott and his successors. That interest also resulted in an explosion of criticism of the novel and, of...

  8. 4 1880–1920
    (pp. 109-174)

    I began chapter 3 with reference to the explosion of writing about the novel in the Victorian period. That explosion continued to grow exponentially during the second half of Victoria’s reign and for the first decades of the new century. In addition to the growing production of popular literary histories and encyclopedias, there is an increased interest in histories of the novel and a developing interest in more general studies of it. This is also the period that sees the introduction of English studies to the curricula of many universities, and, with it, the production of the first considerable body...

  9. 5 1920–1957
    (pp. 175-250)

    The final period considered in this study, 1920–57, sees a further explosion of academic scholarship and critical attention to the novel. The shortest period covered in any of my chapters becomes the longest chapter, since it discusses the largest number of publications. This is also the chapter in which I have had to be most selective in my choice of critics. The chapter is divided along the same lines as chapter 4, with the addition of a section devoted to critical studies of the novel. There is relatively less activity in the area of histories aimed at the general...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 251-254)

    I conclude my study with the 1956 and 1957 appearance of two highly formative studies of the eighteenth-century novel for my generation: Alan Dugald McKillop’s (1892–1974)The Early Masters of English Fictionand Ian Watt’s (1917–99)The Rise of the Novel. Both books incorporate the dominant views of mid-century; in the process each also inadvertently contributed to a later, more thorough, re-evaluation of the early novel in general, and, more particularly, of the importance of early women novelists. McKillop’s is the more traditional study, and it proved far less influential. More than Watt, he attempts to promote the...

  11. Appendix: Novels Cited
    (pp. 255-262)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 263-266)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-286)
  14. Index of Authors/Critics and Their Works
    (pp. 287-326)