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

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

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

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.

Excerpt

A Tale of a Tub and Clarissa are unlikely yokemates, yet as Swift perceived, opposites are prone to meet. the clashes of these two books exemplify conflicting elements of the arguments of Sir William Temple and William Wotton, the principal antagonists in the ancients and moderns controversy of late-seventeenth-century England. While less directly engaged in these issues on behalf of the moderns than Swift, Temple's protégé, had been on behalf of the ancients, Richardson explicitly acknowledges his hostility to his predecessor. Nearly a half century after the publication of the Tale, Richardson expresses his antagonism to Swift in Clarissa, once directly in a footnote and elsewhere by allusions associating Swift's Tale with Lovelace. and Richardson encouraged the writing of, and then published, one of the final salvos of the ancients and moderns controversy, Young's Conjectures on Original Composition, which repeatedly cites Swift denigratingly, while extolling the moderns' potential for greatness and including Richardson among examples of modern excellence.

The late-seventeenth-century battle of the "ancients and moderns" in England may be baldly summarized as one between two views of history— that of the humanists, who valued knowledge of the past only insofar as it was intrinsically valuable for the present, and that of the antiquaries, who valued whatever understanding of the past became available no matter how estranged from present concerns. Richard Bentley, the great classical scholar and a principal combatant in the controversy, exemplifies much that was associated with antiquarianism. in his Dissertation attached to the second edition of William Wotton's Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, he exposed the spuriousness of the epistles of Phalaris with a . . .

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