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Novel Beginnings

Novel Beginnings: Experiments in Eighteenth-Century English Fiction

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Novel Beginnings
    Book Description:

    In this study intended for general readers, eminent critic Patricia Meyer Spacks provides a fresh, engaging account of the early history of the English novel.Novel Beginningsdeparts from the traditional, narrow focus on the development of the realistic novel to emphasize the many kinds of experimentation that marked the genre in the eighteenth century before its conventions were firmly established in the nineteenth. Treating well-known works likeTom JonesandTristram Shandyin conjunction with less familiar texts such as Sarah Fielding'sThe Cry(a kind of hybrid novel and play) and Jane Barker'sA Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies(a novel of adventure replete with sentimental verse and numerous subnarratives), the book evokes the excitement of a multifaceted and unpredictable process of growth and change.Investigating fiction throughout the 1700s, Spacks delineates the individuality of specific texts while suggesting connections among novels. She sketches a wide range of forms and themes, including Providential narratives, psychological thrillers, romans à clef, sentimental parables, political allegories, Gothic romances, and many others. These multiple narrative experiments show the impossibility of thinking of eighteenth-century fiction simply as a precursor to the nineteenth-century novel, Spacks shows. Instead, the vast variety of engagements with the problems of creating fiction demonstrates that literary history-by no means inexorable-might have taken quite a different course.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12833-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Excitement of Beginnings
    (pp. 1-27)

    THE YEAR 1719 PRODUCED two fictional best sellers in England: Daniel Defoe’sRobinson Crusoeand Eliza Haywood’sLove in Excess.Literacy was rising, and an increasingly large and eager audience now devoured fiction in many forms. Just over twenty years later, Samuel Richardson would publishPamela,which generated controversy as well as excitement, stimulating parodies, continuations, and other printed responses. These conspicuous instances suggest that the novel—which hardly yet knew itself to be “the novel”—already engaged wide and enlarging attention.

    Robinson Crusoe,as even many children still know, narrates the vicissitudes of a mariner shipwrecked on a desert...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Novels of Adventure
    (pp. 28-58)

    NO MAN BUT AN IDIOT ever wrote except for money, Dr. Johnson told Boswell. No woman either, he might have added. Early novelists, men and women alike, impelled to make their livings from writing needed to engage paying audiences. Exploring new possibilities for prose fiction, many decided that adventure supplied an obvious hook. Sarah Fielding in the opening pages of her 1754 novel,The Cry,makes it clear that she expects her audience to want “a number of surprising incidents and adventures” (11). Although she does not propose to satisfy this desire, she acknowledges that adventure easily arouses the reader’s...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Novel of Development
    (pp. 59-91)

    OF THE MANY NOVELS produced in the eighteenth century, Henry Fielding’sTom Jonesis probably the one most people think of when required to rack their brains for an example of the species. The old Tony Richardson movie, with its vitality and sexiness and its unforgettable eating scene, may be partially responsible for this recognition. ButTom Jonesas a book is also vital and sexy, and it is only one of many robust fictions that follow the career of a single human being richly imagined in a setting of other human beings and imagined as having meaning by virtue...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Novels of Consciousness
    (pp. 92-126)

    DURING THE SAME PERIOD that produced novels likeTom JonesandPeregrine Pickle,which made happenings in the world the center of interest, writers of fiction also created work focusing more intensely on internal than on external event. The world (and “the world”: the eighteenth-century imagining of a frivolous, often corrupt, but severely judgmental society) remained important in such fictions, but the consciousness possessed and experienced by an individual or individuals operating in relation to it became central to the novelistic action.

    In an era of slow, difficult travel, spatially separated friends and lovers resorted to copious letter writing to...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Novel of Sentiment
    (pp. 127-159)

    THE PARTICULAR FORM OF consciousness that we encounter inA Sentimental Journeyattracted such interest in the eighteenth century that it generated a novelistic subgenre of its own. For several decades, the sentimental novel, or novel of sensibility, intended to arouse as well as to render sympathetic feelings, flourished in England (as well as on the Continent). Sentimental novels assumed the individual and social importance of sensitivity to the troubles of others. In addition to representing heroes, and occasionally heroines, of extraordinary responsiveness, they also commented on social institutions.

    One of the best-known examples of the form — better known, perhaps,...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Novel of Manners
    (pp. 160-190)

    A STRIKING ABSENCE OF visual detail marks most of the novels discussed thus far.Robinson Crusoe,which tells us about every item salvaged from the ship, every piece of clothing Crusoe manufactures, every aspect of his fortifications, makes a rare exception. Although Richardson’s works dwell on subtle shades of psychological development; although Fielding can report in mock-heroic style individual aspects of a pitched battle among women, in general novelists fail to tell much about how things or people or places look.Moll Flandersprovides little sense of the cityscape Moll inhabits.Roxanaoffers a relatively full account of its protagonist’s...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Gothic Fiction
    (pp. 191-221)

    The gothic novel—a orm, unlike the novel of manners, with little ostensible connection to ordinary life—originated in a dream. Such, at any rate, was the claim of Horace Walpole, who dreamed, he said, of a giant helmet and forthwith composedThe Castle of Otranto(1764). This short work (110 pages in the World’s Classics edition) is generally thought to have initiated a genre that continues to flourish, although frequently in debased form; that draws even now on material reminiscent of dreams; and that still attracts large audiences—as it did from the beginning. First published pseudonymously, the novel...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Political Novel
    (pp. 222-253)

    POLITICAL FICTION ABOUNDED IN England during the final years of the eighteenth century. Unlike the other subgenres we have examined, examples of such fiction do not fall readily into a typical formal mode. Novelists with political purposes freely utilized forms that had developed for narratives of adventure, of development, especially of romance. Formal suggestion thus reinforced ideological purpose by conveying the view that politics can be understood to include all else.

    Most eighteenth-century political fiction appeared in the century’s concluding decade, when the French Revolution held forth menace and promise, political repression threatened the principle of free speech in Great...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Tristram Shandy and the Development of the Novel
    (pp. 254-276)

    Paradoxically, The most eccentric novel of the eighteenth century best exemplifies the genre’s developing resources and the sense of wide possibility that had accrued to it.Tristram Shandy(1759–67), a diverting, willful, rule-breaking work that bears few obvious similarities to other fiction of its own period or to anything else before postmodern inventions, nonetheless reveals much about what had happened to the novel in less than fifty years of its early evolution. The Russian critic Victor Shklovsky declared Laurence Sterne’s masterpiece “the most typical novel in world literature” (170)—presumably meaning that in his book Sterne consciously deployed the...

  13. Afterword: WHAT CAME NEXT
    (pp. 277-286)

    WHAT CAME NEXT: THE NOVELS of Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, Mary Shelley—immensely readable works of enduring popularity. And after them the Brontës, Dickens, Eliot. We all know the riches of nineteenth-century fiction; their abundance derives partly from that of eighteenth-century novels.

    Nothing in the eighteenth century accounts for Austen, any more than anything before him accounts for Fielding, despite the fact that we can discern some of his roots. Austen too has roots, of course, and many of them lie in the works—and the kinds of work—we have considered. The extant letters between Austen...

    (pp. 287-292)
    (pp. 293-298)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 299-310)