Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Traveling the World with a Real Friend: The Eighteenth-Century Novel Reconsidered

Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Traveling the World with a Real Friend: The Eighteenth-Century Novel Reconsidered

Article excerpt

Traveling the World with a Real Friend: The Eighteenth-Century Novel Reconsidered BETTY A. SCHELLENBERG Paula Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia, eds. A Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. 550 + xiii pp. $199.95.

[David] spent whole Days . . . wishing he could meet with a Friend that he could live with, who could throw off all separate Interests; for where Selfishness reigns in any of the Community, there can be no Happiness. After he had resolved these things several times in his Mind, he took the oddest, most unaccountable Resolution that ever was heard of, viz. To travel through the whole World, rather than not meet with a real Friend.

From the time he lived with his Brother, he had led so recluse a Life, that he in a manner had shut himself up from the World; but yet when he reflected that what is called the Customs and Manners of Nations, relate chiefly to Ceremonies, and had nothing to do with the Hearts of Men; he concluded, he could sooner enter into the Characters of Men in the great Metropolis where he lived, than if he went into foreign Countries; where, not understanding the Languages so readily, it would be more difficult to find out the Sentiments of others, which was all he wanted to know. He resolved therefore to take a Journey through London; not as some Travellers do, to see the Buildings, the Streets, to know the Distances from one Place to another, with many more Sights of equal Use and Improvement; but his design was to seek out one capable of being a real Friend, and to assist all those, who had been thrown into Misfortunes by the ill Usage of others.

He had good Sense enough to know, that Mankind in their Natures are much the same every where; and that if he could go through one great Town, and not meet with a generous Mind, it would be in vain to seek farther.

- Sarah Fielding, The Adventures of David Simple (1744)

Sarah Fielding's The Adventures of David Simple is not even mentioned in Paula Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia's A Companion to the Eighteenth- Century English Novel and Culture, and yet I was reminded of it often as I read this latest offering in the Blackwell Companion series. David Simple announces his intention to take in the whole world and then circumscribes that world to his own city; he walks the streets of a great metropolis yet peers into hearts. Fielding's hero thus invokes both a venerable tradition of travel accounts and a growing fascination with the burgeoning city of London, both a universalizing discourse of sentiment and a parochial discomfort with foreign customs and languages. As his quest proceeds, he encounters the new credit economy and invokes tired gender stereotypes (with the help of Henry Fielding's revision to Sarah's novel). He listens to one tale of scandalous romance set in France and several "novelistic" accounts of vulnerable Englishwomen resisting seduction, while passing through his own series of Spectator-like encounters with satiric character types. He observes and, in Volume the Last (1753), is finally entrapped by a growing web of consumerism, a lack of wage-earning opportunities, and an inability to pay the rent, finding in the process that happiness can no longer be defined in communal rather than economic terms. In short, David Simple is capacious and multifaceted enough to be illuminated by virtually all of the studies gathered into the Companion to the Eighteenth-Century English Novel and Culture-not least in that its author calls it, not a novel, but a "moral romance."

Thus David Simple, a popular and respected work in its time, demonstrates the value of this collection of twenty-three essays that sets out, according to Ingrassia's introduction, to "upend some of the traditionally held 'truths' about the novel" (1). One of these mistaken "truths" is that of the prominence of the novel in eighteenth-century Britain: as the relatively recent digital accessibility of catalogs and printed materials of the period has made abundantly clear, the novel was far from being the most popular print form of the period, and, in Ingrassia's words, "was not even a recognized or codified genre until well after mid-century (and, arguably, later)" (1). …

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