Rise of the English Novel (2)

End of the Seventeenth Century and Beginning of the Eighteenth Century: Novel is Assuming Shape

The novel dimly took shape by the end of seventeenth century. Aphra Behn’s “Orinooko, The Royal Slave” shows power of description, and some claim to plot, characterization and dialogue. Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s progress” (1668), though intended to be an allegory, shows a smoothly working plot, a variety of characters impressive descriptive passages, and simple, dramatic dialogue.

Daniel Defoe represents the culmination of the seventeenth century tendencies in English fiction. He emerged as a novelist with the publication of “Robinson Crusoe”. Some of his other novels are “The memoirs of a Cavalier”, “Captain Singleton”, “Moll Flandors”, “Colonel Jacob” and “Roxana”.

Novelist of the Eighteenth Century, the two prominent essayists Steele and Addison, reflected some traits of the novel in their essays which were published in “The Spectator” and “The Coverly Papers”. There is little plot in their essays but the character sketches are very entertaining and reveal the spice of delicate humor.

Professor Saintsbury designates Tobias George Smollett (1721-1771), Laurence Sterne (1715 – 1768), Samuel Richardson (1689 – 1761) and Henry Fielding (1707 – 1754), as the “four wheels of the wain” of the English novel in theeighteenth century.

(i) Richardson, as the creator of the Novel of Sentiment, drew his strength and inspiration from national and middle class material. His first novel, “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded” (1740) came into existence out of a purely commercial undertaking. It was a popular success because its matter, manner and morality were new. His other novels were “Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady” and “History of Sir Charles Grandison”.
(ii) Henry Fielding goes with Samuel Richardson. Though both were reformers of “a depraved age”, their literary methods were different. Fielding was a satirist, whereas Richardson was a preacher. Fielding’s first novel was “The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams” (1742). “Jonathan Wild the Great” (1743) is a mock-heroic biography of a famous thief. “The History of Tom Jones, a Founding” (1749) is the best and most well known of his novels. His last novel “Amelia” was published in 1751. As a novelist, Fielding marked the rise of a new school of fiction. He created the Novel of Realism, and perfected the satiric Novel of Manners.
(iii) Smollett’s novels---“Roderick Random” (1748), “Peregrine Pickle” (1751), “Ferdinand Count Fathom” (1753), “Sir Launcelot Greaves” (1762), “Humphrey Clinker” (1771)---contain his observations and experiences as surgeon, sailor, and hack-writer.
(iv) In Sterne’s novels—“Tristram Shandy” (1760-1767), “Sentimental Journey” (1768)—the sentimental novel reaches the extreme limits of its principle.

It was Fielding who gave the English novel a new conception of unity and breadth and depth which was not to be discerned in any of his predecessors. It is the work of the fiction writers earlier to him against the background of which he shines.


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