A Short History of the English Novel.

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by otaku31, Sep 27, 2021.

  1. otaku31

    otaku31 Well-Known Member

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    The novel is an extended fictional prose narrative of considerable length organized around a set of characters and (interconnected) events that deal with the depiction of human experience. The earliest modern European novel is said to be Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, a Spanish picaresque narrative of the early 17th century (Thomas Nashe's Jack Wilton is an even earlier picaresque novel, but possibly because of its lesser influence, it yields the epithet to Quixote). The most important formal element of the picaresque that has influenced later novels is its episodic structure, where incidents and settings not having much in common are loosely strung together by the presence of a central character.

    Moving on to the England, it's Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) that is widely held to be the first English novel, even though Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688) and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678) predate it a by good few decades, Bunyan's work often rejected on the grounds that it is a Christian allegory and Behn's piece on the claim that it is too short and too exotic (though more recent scholarship places it in the genre of the imperial romance) to be classified as such. But the rise of the early novel also saw the rise of the English middle and mercantile class. In fact, Robinson Crusoe breaks away from earlier conventions by making its hero a man of the commercial class whose concerns are realistically economic rather than idealistic. Because it focused on the ordinary man and his ordinary concerns rather than the kings, heroes and lofty ideals informed by earlier literary forms, the novel was initially considered vulgar, accused of giving its readers funny ideas, but soon enough, it came into its own.

    Widespread literacy and the blooming of the print culture provided the audience for this new form, and the need of a vehicle of expression for the rising middle class saw to its popularity. But apart from its humble origins and allegiance to the middle classes, what next becomes most noticeable is the sheer number of women writers who took to it. From Behn, Eliza Haywood, Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen and Mary Shelley to Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontes (Charlotte, Emily, Anne) and George Eliot— no other literary form till then had boasted so many female contributors in their ranks. The novel then, in a way, could be considered the most democratic of literary forms, giving voice to the unheard. Later on, the social novels of Dickens and co. would only go on to reinforce this notion.

    But while the dominance of the Victorian socio-realist novel is well-documented, it is the 18th century (and the two or three decades preceding and following it) that actually saw more experimentation with this form. Behn's Oroonoko can be said to be a precursor to both the imperial romance and the postcolonial novel like Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart nearly three centuries after, Samuel Richardson's seminal work Pamela and its greater successor Clarissa invented the epistolary mode, Henry Fielding carried forward the picaresque while Laurence Sterne anticipated Joyce, the stream of consciousness and the modern and post modern novels in his highly unconventional, non-linear narrative Tristram Shandy. Sir Walter Scott started off the historical novel while Ann Radcliffe popularized the gothic fiction begun by Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Jane Austen continues to be the hallmark of the satirical novel of manners popularized by Burney, further refining it through her introduction of the free indirect discourse which guarantees her immoveable place in the literary world for all time to come.

    I have just pierced the tip of the iceberg; there is a lot more I wanted to write about including novels' serialization in periodicals, circulating libraries, the three decker format, but that's for another time. I'm too tired. Ciao!

    NB: This is not well researched, thoroughly fact-checked or comprehensive in any way since I just vomited whatever came to mind.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2021
  2. L4

    L4 Well-Known Member

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    Did you read most of those novels? Many classic novels are so good and make very complete stories. I love them
     
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  3. Dr_H_16

    Dr_H_16 Well-Known Member

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    There's a period of my life where I read Jane Austen works almost religiously.
     
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  4. Sawanara murasaki

    Sawanara murasaki Sawa the HEro-sensei

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    I love reading classic English novels and I read many in the past but only the Victorian writer's books so I wish I could read the oldest books too:blobsob::blobsob::blobsob:

    I love Jane Eyre btw, a book written by Charlotte Brontë. A good romance book to read. Well, I love Victorian romance only, hehe:blobpeek:
     
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  5. otaku31

    otaku31 Well-Known Member

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    Many, if not most.

    You, sir, have excellent taste. There hasn't arguably been a better wordsmith in English literature.

    I have read Don Quixote (translated), Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Tom Jones, Ivanhoe, Evelina and a few of Austen's so far as Pre-Victorian novels are concerned. Jane Eyre was decent though I swore never to reread Emily's Wuthering Heights. Anne Bronte is said to have written one acclaimed novel whose title I can't remember. And then there's Dickens, Eliot, Stevenson, Wilde et al.
     
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  6. Tech is life

    Tech is life [Disinterested]

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    Fellow reader . I finally met a person who likes to read novels as crazy as me..
     
  7. Nightow1

    Nightow1 Well-Known Member

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    Don't ever read Chinua Achebe's No Longer At Ease. It's a piece that should be condemned to the pits of literary hellfire and brimstone where it should be sentenced to broken book spine, bad glue and smudgy prints.

    I had to do it for literature class and is the prime reason I got a B instead of my constant As in my exam. The book is a chronological mess and if not for the post-colonialism fad, it would IMO never be seen as a decent piece of work. In hindsight, I should have taken a knife to it before my exams and rearranged it into a more readable form but when you are that young, you worry about your parents coming down on your head for "bad behavior" and cutting up a "textbook" would qualify, even if it would have been an improvement.
     
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  8. Hazel00

    Hazel00 Highland Knight | From Karsuk

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    Talking about classic, i lost my jane austen pride and prejudice when i visited my mother's house. When i go back few months later, it's gone :blobsob:
     
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  9. Sawanara murasaki

    Sawanara murasaki Sawa the HEro-sensei

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    I love this book too:blobsob::blobsob::blobsob:
     
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  10. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    Great stuff, but this portion should come with a caveat. It's true for the earliest of the European novels, but the first proper novel is widely acknowledged as the 11th century Japanese book "the Tale of Genji" by Murasaki Shikibu. For something a bit more mainstream, the earliest Chinese novel is the 14th century "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by Luo Guanzhong.
     
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  11. Wujigege

    Wujigege *Christian*SIMP*Comedian

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  12. Kadmos1

    Kadmos1 Well-Known Member

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    I guess it comes down to how one defines "novel" because I know John Smith of Pocahontas fame published a few books.