Introduction to "The beginnings of the English novel" (University of Freiburg, 1997)

Differences in literary histories - characterized at times almost by a certain arbitrariness

- Example, German novel theory, English novel theory.

English - distinction between novel and so-called "romance"

History of the terms

Until quite late in the eighteenth century , the term "novel" was used very loosely. Different uses:

1. tales shorter than traditional romances

2. a plot of love and intrigue

3. native heritage rather than Continental loyalties.

In the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth, "novel" was often applied to narratives much like romances

- Term in other linguistic traditions often does not make the distinctions that have come to seem crucial to the English tradition - main German distinction between Roman and Epik.

Definition of the novel coming full circle - except for literary critics, any longer fictional work in prose is a novel.

Several features that various critics have put forth to characterize the novel:

Ian Watt, "formal realism"

Philosophical background - Descartes and Locke, truth discovered by the individual through his or her senses. Individual apprehension of reality.

- individualist, innovating reorientation

  • "The novel is thus the logical literary vehicle of a culture, which, in the last few centuries, has set an unprecedented value on originality, on the novel; and it is therefore well named." (13)
  • -- Rejection of traditional plots. Novels differ from earlier narrative fiction in a certain freedom from stereotypes in plot, character, and names. Traditional literary formulas rejected. Refusal to follow set patterns - independence from traditional notions of the "universality" of human nature and human rituals.

    -- Self-consciousness about innovation and novelty. Although they are often anxious, like Fielding, to claim a place in literary tradition, novelists frequently insist on their originality. "Oddity" of Tristram Shandy compared to traditional literary forms.

    -- Particularity. Manifests itself most strongly in characterization and presentation of background. "... the novel is surely distinguished from other genres and from previous forms of fiction by the amount of attention it habitually accords both to the individualisation of its characters and to the detailed presentation of their environment." (18) Break with tradition in giving characters realistic rather than allegorical names (although "telling names" were still used extensively).

    -- Emphasis on personality of character, consciousness through duration in time - interpenetration of past and present self-awareness. Function of memory.

    Previous attitude more a-historical, e.g. Shakespeare's use of historical setting. Striking lack interest in day-to-day temporal setting.

    -- Specificity in setting (place, correlation of time)

    -- Adaptation of the prose style to give an air of complete authenticity. (27)

    "The previous stylistic tradition for fiction was not primarily concerned with the correspondence of words and things, but rather with the extrinsic beauties which could be bestowed upon description and action by the use of rhetoric." (28)

    32. "The narrative method whereby the novel embodies this circumstantial view of life may be called its formal realism; formal, because the term realism does not here refer to any special literary doctrine or purpose, but only to a set of narrative procedures which are so commonly found together in the novel, and so rarely in other literary genres, that they may be regarded as typical of the form itself."

    Formal realism as convention. Air of total authenticity - confusion between fact and fiction.

    Michael McKeon, "progressive narrative"

    Novel arising out of conflict between aristocratic ideology, progressive ideology and conservative ideology (backlash)

    In his criticism of Watt, McKeon points out that "romance" continues to be extremely important in an anti-individualist and idealizing tradition.

    Emphasizes how Fielding, one of the acknowledged fathers of the English novel, doesn't really fit (which Watt simultaneously admits and ignores)

    - theoretical inadequacy of our distinction between romance and novel

    Turns to Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of "heteroglossia" to help explain what distinguishes the novel from other genres. Encompasses Fielding much better. (literary dialogue)

    Watt's hypothetical analogy between the rise of the novel and the rise of the middle class questionable.

    p. 19. "To begin at the beginning therefore requires that we begin at the end. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the stabilizing of terminology -- the increasing acceptance of "the novel" as a canonic term, so that contemporaries can "speak of it as such"--signals the stability of the conceptual category and of the class of literary products that it encloses."

    McKeon's thesis:

    - categorial instability about how to tell the truth led to "rise of the novel" - novel itself inevitably also reflects this instability

    - questions of truth and virtue - instability of social categories, how the external social order is related to the internal, moral state of its members

    - both pose problems of signification. "What kind of authority or evidence is required of narrative to permit it to signify truth to its readers? What kind of social existence or behavior signifies an individual's virtue to others?" (20)

    Novel can be understood as cultural instrument designed to confront intellectual and social crisis. This conflict embodied in Richardson and Fielding, who according to this method can be understood as representing alternative methods of doing the same thing.

    Question to think about - where do you think Behn would fit in in this scheme?

    Other characteristics (from J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels)

    -- Contemporaneity. Unlike literary forms that feature an appeal to the exotic and the far-away in place and time, novels are stories of now or about events in a relevant past.

    -- Believability. The people who exist and the things that transpire in novels are recognizable as behaving and occurring in believable human ways -- things happen in the fictional world according to laws that are essentially like those governing the everyday world. Credibility and probability the essential qualities.

    -- Familiarity. Everyday existence and common people. In her distinction between romance and novel, Clara Reeve (1785) speaks of the "picture of real life and manners" provided by the latter, and by "real" she seems to emphasize the lower social rank of characters as much as loyalty to observation rather than artifice: "The Novel gives a familiar relation of such things, as it passes every day before our eyes."

    -- Individualism, subjectivity. The crucial difference between individuals in romances and novels -- different awareness of the processes of thought and feeling that affect individuals in relation to their world and their experiences in it. The subjectivity of the novel involves not just a raised status for the individual self but an intensified consciousness of selfhood.

    -- Object of identification - give reader a sense of what it would be like to be someone else, of how another identity would feel. Readers of novels "identify" or "empathize" with the heroes and heroines of novels, suggesting a greater closeness between readers and novel characters than between readers and characters in other fictional forms.

    -- Coherence and unity of design. The novel seeks to gather its multiple parts under some guiding design, theme or governing idea. Novels tend to be morc explicitly ideological than most literary species.

    -- Inclusivity digressivenes, fragmentation. Shapelessness summed up in Fielding's insistence in the second chapter of Tom Jones: "I intend to digress, through this whole History as often as l see Occasion: Of which I am myself a better Judge than any pitiful Critic whatevcr" (1. ii. 37). The freedom to digress.

    How the English theory of the novel came about:

    By the mid 18th century, the new form was still searching for identity, terminology, and definition

    A generation before, writers such as Daniel Defoe, Eliza Haywood, Mary DelaRivier Manley and Penelope Aubin had created significant works of fiction of the emerging kind. Richardson and Fielding created a consciousness among readers and potential writers that a significant and lasting form had been come about and that literary careers could be built upon the genre. Narrative and fiction --- the modes of the future.

    - still major issues of definition.

    Clara Reeve, 1785 -- clear the new species had been established.

    On the other hand, no single word or phrase can distinguish the novel from romance or from anything else, not possible to settle for ''realism" or ''individualism" or "character" as the defining characteristic

    Aphra Behn, Oroonoko

    The figure of the narrator; narrative style; "realism"

    How does Behn's little novel fit in with these theories of the novel? Where does it conform and where does it diverge? (go through some of the elements of the list, emphasize particularity)

    What is the effect of the narrative voice?

    What is the point of view? How does it contradict itself?

    Who is the narrator?

    What is the narrator's postion in the society she is depicting? How does she contradict herself in her self-portrayal?

    What should we think of the novel's claim to truth? Why?

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