Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth

Excerpt

The death of the novel has been announced on several occasions during the past two hundred years. The first was probably round about the year 1770. Fielding and Richardson appeared to have achieved everything of which the novel was capable, Smollett and Sterne were regarded as marking the beginning of a period of decadence and, when they were gone, it was hard to see just where and how any fresh development was possible. The novel was in the hands of the Grub Street hacks and the fair authoresses. As late as 1790 the Monthly Review pronounced that the manufacture of novels had been so long established that they had arrived at mediocrity.

Fair authoresses were regarded as a race apart. When their work came into the hands of the gentlemanly reviewer he examined it chiefly for spelling mistakes and errors of grammatical construction. There are a number of kind things that one would like to say about these ladies, but unfortunately most of them would be untrue: it is not true, for example, that even in Fanny Burney do we find any deeper understanding of feminine nature than was shown by Richardson. Feeling that they were in print only on sufferance, under the protection of anonymity or a husband's foreword, they set about portraying women as it was thought proper for men to know them. It could hardly be expected of young ladies who had taken to the writing of novels because, in comparison with other forms of literature, it seemed so easy that they should be capable of the gusto for realism . . .

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