The English Novel in History, 1700-1780

The English Novel in History, 1700-1780

The English Novel in History, 1700-1780

The English Novel in History, 1700-1780

Synopsis

The English Novel in History 1700-1780 provides students with specific contexts for the early novel in response to a new understanding of eigtheenth-century Britain. It traces the social and moral representations of the period in extended readings of the major novelists, as well as evaluating the importance of lesser known ones. John Richetti traces the shifting subject matter of the novel, discussing: * scandalous and amatory fictions * criminal narratives of the early part of the century * novels promoting new ideas about the nature of domestic life * novels by women and how they relate to the shift of subject matter.

Excerpt

The past recedes very quickly. In old photographs, friends and family look strange, dressed in oddly cut clothing, somehow impenetrable behind the familiar humanity. In their recording of instants that quickly harden into a frozen past, photographs have a distinctive pathos. Reminders of a lost presence, like the figures on Keats’ urn, photographs tease us out of thought. But they come powerfully to life when a voice seems to speak for them. The fairly crude eighteenth-century illustrations that accompany some familiar novels—Crusoe in his costume of animal skins or Pamela writing pensively, for example—are memorable only because of their link with narrative voices. These images satisfy a curiosity for external outline, a curiosity provoked by a resonant or tremulous voice that we have heard in these novels.

The strangeness of the past intensifies if we look back before living memory and before photographs, to the documentary remains of the millions who have preceded us. The eighteenth-century British novel is a unique set of documents by which we can try to hear voices that speak something very like our language. We now recognize that the novel adds up in the long run (and retrospectively) to an unprecedented attempt to project a new sort of particularized presence, and to imagine persons speaking about themselves in their singularity, asserting themselves as unique individuals and thereby breaking with those generalized types and with those communal affiliations that had long served as the primary markers of identity. Such individuals are more than empirical subjects; they are rather what the anthropologist Louis Dumont calls “independent, and autonomous, and thus (essentially) non-social moral being[s]” peculiar to modern ideology.

Eighteenth-century strangeness has only recently been fully acknowledged. Historians warn us that we have minimized important differences and that the people of only a few centuries ago lived in a world radically distinct from our own. Social historians, especially, have

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.