A Treatise on the Novel

A Treatise on the Novel

A Treatise on the Novel

A Treatise on the Novel

Excerpt

The Novel as a literary form has still a flavour of newness. It is true that it can trace its descent from Longus, Heliodorus and Petronius, and from medieval prose romances; it is true, but not very interesting, and more learning than thought has been employed to trace this descent, which is no uncommon thing in Genealogy. In a family that has in modern times produced great men, they are what we care about; we are impatient with long accounts of their remoter ancestors, though they must of course have had ancestors. In the same way prose fiction before the eighteenth century can only matter to us as scholars, not as critics or general readers.

When we remember what the romances of his time were like, we are not indignant with Bossuet for praising Henriette d'Angleterre, in his funeral oration upon her, because she did not care for novels. 'Our admirable princess studied the duties of those whose lives make up history; there she insensibly lost the taste for romances and for their insipid heroes, and, anxious to form herself upon truth, she despised those cold and dangerous fictions.'

Even in our own times the Novel is sometimes still attacked; but though we can readily pardon Bossuet, it is not so easy to pardon those who attack a form that has been used by Jane Austen, by Stendhal, by Tolstoy, by Flaubert, by Henry James and by Proust. Attacks upon the Novel as a form have adversely influenced both novelists and critics, many of whose worst errors can directly be traced to a low view of this form of art.

The case put forward against the novel by Mr. Montgomery . . .

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