Monday, January 24, 2011

the rise of english novel

The Rise of the English Novel
The dominant genre in world literature , the novel is
actually a relatively young form of imaginative writing . Only
about 250 years old in England — and embattled from the
start — its rise to preeminence has been striking . After
sparse beginnings in seventeenth - century England , novels
grew exponentially in production by the eighteenth century
and in the nineteenth century became the primary form of
popular entertainment .
Elizabethan literature provides a starting point for
identifying prototypes of the novel in England . Although
not widespread , works of prose fiction were not
uncommon during this period . Possibly the best known
was Sir Philip Sidney ' s Arcadia, a romance published
posthumously in 1590. The novel also owes a debt to
Elizabethan drama , which was the leading form of popular
entertainment in the age of Shakespeare . The first
professional novelist — that is , the first person to earn a
living from publishing novels— was probably the dramatist
Aphra Behn. Her 1688 Oronooko , or The Royal Slave
typified the early English novel: it features a sensationalistic
plot that borrowed freely from continental literature ,
especially from the imported French romance. Concurrent
with Behn ' s career was that of another important early
English novelist : John Bunyan. This religious author ' s
Pilgrim ' s Progress , first published in 1678, became one of
the books found in nearly every English household .
In the second half of the seventeenthcentury , the novel
genre developed many of the traits that characterize it in
modern form. Rejecting the sensationalism of Behn and
other early popular novelists , novelists built on the realism
of Bunyan ' s work. Three of the foremost novelists of this
era are Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding , and Samuel
Richardson. Defoe' s name , more than that of any other
English writer, is credited with the emergence of the " true "
English novel by virtue of the 1719 publication of The
Adventures of Robinson Crusoe . In the work of these three
writers , the realism and drama of individual consciousness
that we most associate with the novel took precedence
over external drama and other motifs of continental
romance. Contemporary critics approved of these elements
as supposedly native to England in other genres , especially
in history , biography , and religious prose works.
A number of profound social and economic changes
affecting British culture from the Renaissance through the
eighteenth century brought the novel quickly into popular
prominence. The broadest of these were probably the
advances in the technology of printing in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries which made written texts — once the
province of the elite— available to a growing population of
readers. Concurrent changes in modes of distribution and
in literacy rates brought ever increasing numbers of books
and pamphlets to populations traditionally excluded from
all but the most rudimentary education, especially working -
class men and women of all classes . As the circulation of
printed material transformed , so did its economics , shifting
away from the patronage system characteristic of the
Renaissance , during which a nation' s nobility supported
authors whose works reinforced the values of the ruling
classes . As the patronage system broke down through the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries , authors became free
agents in the literary marketplace , dependent on popular
sales for their success and sustenance , and thus reflecting
more and more the values of a predominantly middle - class
readership. The demand for reading material allowed a
greatly expanded pool of writers to make a living from
largely ephemeral poetry and fiction .
These monumental changes in how literature was
produced and consumed sent Shockwaves of alarm
through more conservative sectors of English culture at the
beginning of the eighteenth century . A largely upper- class
male contingent, reluctant to see any change in the literary
status quo , mounted an aggressive "antinovel campaign . "
Attacks on the new genre tended to identify it with its
roots in French romance , derided as a sensationalistic
import antithetical to English values . The early targets of
these attacks were those writers , including Behn , Eliza
Haywood, and Delarivier Manley , who had produced
original English prose " romances" based on the conventions
of the French style . At the same time , however , more
women in particular were writing novels that made a
display of decorum and piety , often reacting to detractors
who charged that sensationalistic tales of adventure and
sexual endangerment had the potential to corrupt adult
female readers and the youth of both sexes . The outcome
of this campaign was not the demise of the novel , but the
selective legitimation of novels that displayed certain ,
distinctly non - romantic traits . These traits became the
guidelines according to which the novel as a genre
developed and was valued . Most venerated by this tradition
are the three leading eighteenth- century male novelists :
Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding . Modern students of the
novel are often unaware of the tumultuous controversy
that attended its first steps at the end of the seventeenth
century. For the most part , feminist scholars have been
responsible for generating the recovery of the novel ' s
earliest roots and for opening up discussion of its cultural
value in its many different forms.

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