Versions of Arcadia
Virginia Woolf may have been right when she said that 'In the Arcadia, as in some luminous globe, all the seeds of English fiction lie latent'.1 But what impact did Sidney's great work really have? For much of the seventeenth century the Arcadia enjoye…ort of unchallenged pre- eminence. The major literary figures wrote epic poems and plays, and not prose fiction…arge amount of somewhat dreary courtly romance writing took Sidney as its founding father at the same time as it avoided any meaningful engagement with his example; more popular romance admired or satirized him from afar. But it needed an odd coincidence for Sidney to stand godfather to the modern novel. Samuel Richardson was one of the printers of the 1724–5 Works; this was reprinted in the Dublin edition of 1739, which was to be the last edition of Sidney's collected works until the twentieth century.2 By that time Richardson was turning himself int…riter, and in 1740 he published his Pamela, a work that learns how to shape and describe its heroine's spirited and virtuous response to adversity from her namesake, the Pamela of Book III of the revised Arcadia. Romance had given birth to the novel, and the Arcadia becam…ork that excited the admiration only of lexicographers.3
Did the Arcadia alter the course of earlier English prose fiction? It is hard to answer this question as positively as we might like. Certainly Sidney's prose style had an impact on the way English was written.
1 'The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia', in The Common Reader, Second Series (London, 1932), 40–50 (49).
2NA, li; Dennis Kay, 'Introduction: Sidney—A Critical Heritage', in Kay, 32; Garrett, 47; William M. Sale, Jr, Samuel Richardson: Master Printer (Ithaca, N.Y., 1950), 204.
3 Cf. Kay: 'The transmission of genres could hardly be neater. Richardson and the novel took over from Sidney and romance, and many of the characteristics of responses to Sidney in the preceding generation were smoothly transferred to Richardson' (32). Dr Johnson set Sidney's language as the boundary further back than which he would not stray in his Dictionary. Among the harsh critics of the Arcadia were Walpole, William Godwin, in his The Enquirer (1797), and Hazlitt.