To a greater extent than any other literary form, the novel is consistently and directly engaged with the society in which the writer lives and feels compelled to explain, extol, or criticize. The English novel, from its disparate origins to its development in the eighteenth century, from its rise in the nineteenth century to its present state, has been strongly influenced by the social, political, economic, scientific, and cultural histories of England. In fact, English writers dominated the novel genre in its earliest stages of development and continued to do so through much of its history. As a realistic form, the novel not only reflects but also helps define and focus society’s sense of itself, and as the novel reflects the growth of England first into a United Kingdom, then into an empire, and its decline to its present role in the Commonwealth of Nations, it does so predominantly through the eyes of the middle class.
Indeed, the origins and development of the English novel are most profitably examined in relation to the increasing growth and eventual dominance of the middle class in the course of several hundred years. Typically concerned with middle-class characters in a world largely of their making, the novel sometimes features excursions into the upper reaches of English society; with more frequency, it presents incursions by members of the upper class into the familiar world of the solid middle class. As a form of realistic literature...
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