The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolution

By M. O. Grenby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Representing revolution

Go, Englishman, and tell your countrymen the things that thou hast witnessed. Things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived. How then shall men describe? Let example speak what precept would fail to enforce, and may the misfortunes of this hapless pair prevent the misfortunes of others.

Edward Sayer, Lindor and Adelaïde, a Moral Tale. In which are exhibited the Effects of the Late French Revolution on the Peasantry of France (1791)

I own the King's situation must be interesting, horribly interesting, but it is an interest that pervades the globe, and I believe few bosoms in Paris have more lively feelings on the subject than it excites in those of England.

R. C. Dallas, Percival, or Nature Vindicated. A Novel (1801)

Representing revolution was the most straightforward means of infusingan ideological purpose into fiction. That we tend to think of the ideological novel of the 1790s as an ovel of ideas is simply the residue of the over-emphasis on Jacobin novels in the literary response to the Revolution. When Edmund Burke wished to execrate recent events in France, even before events there turned irredeemably vicious, he chose a pseudo-fictional form which, in large part, depicted, rather than reasoned, the Revolution. It was a decision for which he was roundly ridiculed by his opponents, but the Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) was nevertheless hugely popular, as well as successful in its polemical aims, and it certainly influenced numerous novelists. Many quickly realised that a narrative provided the scope to illustrate a philosophy from its origins, through its progress, to its effects, and to cover protagonists in satirical contempt, or glowing eulogy, according to their opinions. Even those authors not attemptingdidactic fiction could benefit, the Revolution providingtheir fiction with a contemporaneity and weightiness that could make a claim for an increased

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