The English Novel Summary


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Multiculturalism in the novel

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Beginning in the last half of the twentieth century, a reinvigorated strain of fiction came to reflect the growing ethnic diversity of England’s people and their multicultural character and global concerns, as many Commonwealth writers and expatriates chose England as their residence and principal forum. In addition, the growing genre of postcolonial fiction gave writers from the former British colonies new themes, genres, and readers. Three writers of the 1980’s amply illustrate this diversity. Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki in 1954; his family moved to England in 1960. Ishiguro’s first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982), is narrated by a Japanese widow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, who is living in England. An Artist of the Floating World (1986) is the story of an old Japanese painter oppressed by guilt over the prostitution of his art in the service of Japanese imperialism. With his universally acclaimed third novel, The Remains of the Day (1989), winner of the Booker Prize, Ishiguro made a bold leap; here his first-person narrator is an English butler in the mid-1950’s, a figure at once comic and poignant. The first-person narrator of When We Were Orphans (2000) is also an Englishman, but one who grew up in colonial Shanghai in the 1930’s. The Unconsoled (1995) is Ishiguro’s exploration of a dreamscape so ambiguous that it thoroughly upsets traditional narrative concepts. The main character, Mr. Ryder, finds that his conflicted past and his insecurities about his future transform everything he encounters into a surreal dream of reality. This defamiliarization from the real is one of the universal themes that Ishiguro gravitated toward in rejection of the earlier emphasis on the lapse between Japanese and English cultural identities. In either case, his fiction cautions that “we tend to think we’re in far more control than we are.” This confusion about identity and lack of control is fully realized in Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let Me Go (2005), which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best British science fiction novel of the year.

Salman Rushdie, born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1947, was educated in England. His novel Midnight’s Children (1981) views the partition of India and the creation of the independent Muslim state of Pakistan through the lens of Magical Realism. The novel was chosen, on the fortieth anniversary of the Booker Prize, as the Best of the Booker, the best of the novels ever to have won the coveted prize. Shame (1983) covers much of the same territory. Rushdie achieved international notoriety with his Joycean novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), a great wheel of a book that was condemned by Muslim fundamentalists for what they considered blasphemous treatment of the Qur՚n and of the life of Muḥammad. In Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), a children’s book written for adults as well,...

(The entire section is 1211 words.)