The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding


In 1938 I began a study of the relation between the growth of the reading public and the emergence of the novel in eighteenth-century England; and in 1947 it eventually took shape as a Fellowship Dissertation for St. John's College, Cambridge. Two wider problems, however, remained unresolved. Defoe, Richardson and Fielding were no doubt affected by the changes in the reading public of their time; but their works are surely more profoundly conditioned by the new climate of social and moral experience which they and their eighteenth-century readers shared. Nor could one say much about how this was connected with the emergence of the new literary form without deciding what the Novel's distinctive literary features were and are.

These are the problems with which I am here concerned, and they are so large that their treatment is necessarily selective. I have not, for example, made more than incidental reference to the earlier traditions of fiction, nor to the more immediate precursors and contemporaries of my central figures; equally regrettably, my treatment of Fielding is briefer than that of Defoe and Richardson -- since most of the new elements of the novel had by then appeared, there seemed no need to go beyond an analysis of how he combined them with the classical literary tradition. Finally, although my main effort has been to elucidate in a fairly systematic fashion the enduring connections between the distinctive literary qualities of the novel and those of the society in which it began and flourished, I have not limited myself to such considerations: partly because I also wanted to give a general critical assessment of Defoe, Richardson and Fielding; and partly because my studies had confronted me with the monitory example of how that rigorously systematic thinker Walter Shandy would 'twist and torture everything in nature to support his hypothesis'.

I am obliged to William Kimber and Co. for permission to quote an extract from Peter Quennell's Mayhew's London; also to the editors and publishers of the Review of English Studies and of Essays in Criticism for allowing me to use, especially in chapters I, III and VIII, material which originally appeared . . .

Additional information

Includes content by:
  • I. P. W.
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Berkeley, CA
Publication year:
  • 1957


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