Nation and Novel: The English Novel from Its Origins to the Present Day

By Patrick Parrinder | Go to book overview

4
Histories of Rebellion: From
1688 to 1793

Once, when Mr Crawley asked what the young people were reading,
the governess replied 'Smollett.' 'Oh, Smollett,' said Mr Crawley,
quite satisfied. 'His history is more dull, but by no means so dan-
gerous as that of Mr Hume. It is history you are reading?' 'Yes,' said
Miss Rose; without, however, adding that it was the history of
Mr Humphry Clinker.

(Thackeray, Vanity Fair)

IN this anecdote from Becky Sharp's life as a governess, Thackeray has managed to pick one of the few mid-eighteenth-century novels that did not contain the word 'history' in its title. Eighty years before The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave had been subtitled 'A True History'. The popular novels of Delarivier Manley (1670–1724) and Eliza Haywood (?1693–1756) were presented to the public as 'true histories', 'secret histories', or even 'true secret histories'. Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740–1) was followed by Clarissa: or the History of a Young Lady (1748–9) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1754), while Fielding's masterpiece was The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749). Fielding repeatedly plays on the various meanings of 'history' in his novels. In The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews (1742) he ridicules 'those romance writers who entitle their books, “The History of England, the History of France, of Spain, & c.”'.1 In The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (1755) he calls romance the 'confounder and corrupter of true history'.2 The narrator of Tom Jones pours scorn on 'some pages, which certain droll authors have been facetiously pleased to call The History of England'.3 Here Fielding's target was the Jacobite historian Thomas Carte, and Fielding's writings in the anti-Jacobite cause included a brief pamphlet on The History of the Present Rebellion in Scotland (1745). His successors among the eighteenth-century novelists include Smollett, Oliver Goldsmith, and

-82-

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