Origins and Development of the Novel, 1740-1890

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Last Updated on September 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

There are many crucial figures for understanding the development of the English novel, including both critics and writers. Among the most important is the literary critic Ian Watt (9 March 1917 – 13 December 1999). He was an English veteran of World War II, was educated at Cambridge, and had a distinguished career as a professor of English at Stanford University. His book The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957) argued for the genre as an expression of bourgeois individualism. In part, his argument relies on a circular definition, as he used the term "romances" to refer to earlier long works of prose fiction that were not exemplars of bourgeois individualism. Scholars of the classical tradition argue that translation and imitation of Greek novels was just as important. Jacques Amyot's (30 October 1513 – 6 February 1593) translation of Longus was quickly adapted into English by Angel Day (1587). Euphues by John Lyly (c. 1553 – November 1606) was another important early English imitation of a Greek novel.

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Watt's account of the rise of the novel focuses on three major eighteenth century authors.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe (c. 1660 – 24 April 1731) was a novelist, journalist, and religious dissenter who wrote pamphlets advocating religious liberty and other political causes as well as literary works. Among his most enduring works were Robinson Crusoe (1719), a tale of an English castaway on a remote tropical island, and Moll Flanders (1722), a colorful story of an Englishwoman living on the fringes of society.

Samuel Richardson

Samuel Richardson (baptized 19 August 1689 – 4 July 1761) was an English writer and publisher. He is associated with a genre known as the epistolary novel, or the novel in letters. Rather than having a narrator, such novels consist of a series of fictional letters which advance a narrative. Many scholars argue that the genre evolved out of the popular letter-writing manuals of the period. Richardson's three best know epistolary novels are Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740); Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748), and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753).

Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 – 8 October 1754) was a prolific author in a variety of genres. His 1741 novel An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, or Shamela, was a parody of Richardson's Pamela. His best-known novel was Tom Jones, revolving around the life of a foundling who eventually attains a fortune.

Other Novelists

An important development at the end of the century was the Gothic novel, exemplified by Horace Walpole and Anne Radcliffe, and slightly later the more realistic work of Jane Austen. By the mid-nineteenth century, many different genres of novel proliferated, including the romantic works of the Brontë sisters, the sensation novels of Braddon, and more realistic novels by such authors as Trollope, Dickens, and Thackeray.

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