Mary Davys (essay date 1725)
SOURCE: Preface to The Works of Mrs. Davys, 1725, in Eighteenth-Century British Novelists on the Novel, edited by George L. Barnett, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968, pp. 38-39.
[In the following essay, Davys comments on the methods and motivations of her own work.]
'Tis now for some time that those sort of writings called novels have been a great deal out of use and fashion and that the ladies (for whose service they were chiefly designed) have been taken up with amusements of more use and improvement—I mean History and Travels, with which the relation of probable feigned stories can by no means stand in competition. However, these are not without their advantages, and those considerable, too. And it is very likely the chief reason that put them out of vogue was the world's being surfeited with such as were either flat and insipid, or offensive to modesty and good manners, or that they found them only a circle or repetition of the same adventures.
The French, who have dealt most in this kind, have, I think, chiefly contributed to put them out of countenance, who, tho' upon all occasions and where they pretend to write true History, give themselves the utmost liberty of feigning, are too tedious and dry in their matter, and so impertinent in their harangues that the readers can hardly keep themselves awake over them. I have read a French Novel of four hundred pages without the least variety of events, or any issue in the conclusion either to please or amuse the reader, yet all fiction and romance, and the commonest matters of fact, truly told, would have been much more entertaining.
Now this is to lose the only advantage of invention, which gives us room to order accidents better than Fortune will be at the pains to do, so to work upon the reader's passions, sometimes keep him in suspense between fear and hope, and at last send him satisfied away. This I have endeavoured to do in the following sheets. I have in every Novel proposed one entire scheme or plot, and the other adventures are only incidental or collateral to it, which is the great rule prescribed by the criticks, not only in tragedy and other heroick poems but in comedy too. The...
(The entire section is 922 words.)