The Boundaries of Fiction: History and the Eighteenth-Century British Novel

Synopsis

Focusing on canonical works by Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and others, this book explains the relationship between British fiction and historical writing when both were struggling to attain status and authority. History was at once powerful and vulnerable in the empiricist climate of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, suspect because of its reliance on testimony, yet essential if empiricism were ever to move beyond natural philosophy. The Boundaries of Fiction shows how, in this time of historiographical instability, the British novel exploited analogies to history. Titles incorporating the term ?history,? pseudo-editors presenting pseudo-documentary ?evidence,? and narrative theorizing about historical truth were some of the means used to distinguish novels from the fictions of poetry and other literary forms. These efforts, Everett Zimmerman maintains, amounted to a critique of history's limits and pointed to the novel's power to transcend them. He offers rich analyses of texts central to the tradition of the novel, chiefly Clarissa, Tom Jones, and Tristram Shandy, and concludes with discussions of Sir Walter Scott's development of the historical novel and David Hume's philosophy of history. Along the way, Zimmerman refers to such other important historical figures as John Locke, Richard Bentley, William Wotton, and Edward Gibbon and engages contemporary thinkers, including Paul Ricoeur and Michel Foucault, who have addressed the philosophical and methodological issues of historical evidence and narrative.