The Fantasy Novel Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

To speak of the “fantasy novel” in the context of the eighteenth century comes close to committing a contradiction in terms: Novels were about life as it was lived and had left behind the conventions of allegory and fable along with the decorations of the marvelous and the magical. It is arguable, though, that the withdrawal left behind a connecting spectrum of ambiguous works, and—more important—that it soon led to some important reconnections. Jonathan Swift’s use of the techniques of narrative realism in his chronicling of the imaginary voyages of Lemuel Gulliver gave to his work a crucial modernity that is responsible for its still being widely read and enjoyed today.

The rise of the gothic novel in the last decades of the eighteenth century, in connection with the emergence of the Romantic movement that spread from Germany to France, England, and the United States, represents a definite reaction against the advancement of literary realism. The gothic novel, indeed, is almost an “antinovel” of its day, substituting a fascination with the ancient for a preoccupation with the modern, an interest in the bizarre for an obsession with the everyday, an exaltation of the mysterious for a concern with the intelligible, a celebration of the barbaric for a smug appreciation of the civilized. From the standpoint of today, the gothic can be seen to have been subversive in several different ways. It was subversive in a literary context because it opposed the dominant trend toward the development of the modern realistic novel. It was subversive in a sociological context because it reflected the fact that the values of the ancien régime were under stress and that the decadence of that regime was symptomatic of its imminent dissolution. It was subversive in a psychological context because it...

(The entire section is 739 words.)