Short Fiction of the Seventeenth Century

Short Fiction of the Seventeenth Century

Short Fiction of the Seventeenth Century

Short Fiction of the Seventeenth Century

Excerpt

The reader who picks up this volume is about to embark upon a real adventure, for seventeenth-century fiction, in striking contrast to the work of the Age proper, is relatively unknown. In view of the variety of entertaining stories available during the century this general neglect seems strange and rather hard to account for, though perhaps it is the lack of big names among the fiction writers of the period that is to blame. Yet if the seventeenth century has no Sidney or Greene or Lodge it does have a number of interesting and highly readable volumes of fiction which can easily challenge comparison with their sixteenth-century predecessors. The dramatists of the Stuart era certainly thought so, for, like Shakespeare, they borrowed heavily from their story-telling contemporaries, and so too must the general public have thought, to judge from the great number of editions of fiction titles published. Particularly notable is the wide variety of kinds of stories available, ranging in length from the huge romance in the French manner to pithy anecdotes, in tone from the courtly to the everyday, and in style from plain down-to-earth raciness to impossibly high-flown estheticism. Readers in the 1600s had no reason to complain of dearth or dullness.

Perhaps the most striking fact in seventeenth-century fiction is the twofold division into romantic and realistic. The reader always had, theoretically at least, a choice: idealized love and adventure, or crude but entertaining scenes of common life. On the one hand there was the body of romances and tales offering sentimentally refined love, exciting (if incredible) adventure, and bursts of elaborate rhetoric; on the other there was a smaller but still varied . . .

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