Sensibility in English Prose Fiction, 1760-1814: A Reinterpretation

By Walter Wright Francis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
CHIEF FOREIGN INFLUENCES

Cleveland, by 1734 (tr.).
Manon Lescaut, 1738 (tr.).
Le Doyen de Killerine, 1742 (tr.).
Fanny, 1767 (tr.).
The History of Sidney and Volsan, 1772 (tr.).
The History of Count Gleichen, 1786 (tr.).
Warbeck, 1786 (tr.).


The Novels of Prévost

THE NATIVE influences would gradually have led prose fiction to new themes, and they would have increased the variety of the feelings it portrayed. They were not the only forces, however, which brought fresh life to the novel. The chief foreign influence upon the English writers of sensibility was that of the French novelists, Prévost and D'Arnaud, from whom the English novelists gained inspiration and borrowed materials.

Dr. J. R. Foster, the only critic who has discussed Prévost's influence in England,1 has contributed valuable information concerning the translations of Prévost's works, and has pointed out parallels between their plots and those of English novelists. He has failed, however, to discern the differences between Prévost and other novelists of sensibility. He has grouped his novels with others which agree in appealing to the heart.

The novels of Mmes. De la Fayette, D'Aulnoy, De Tencin, Riccoboni, and De Genlis, and those of Marivaux and the Abbé Prévost were animated by the spirit of that philosophy of the heart which Richardson had made so savory.2

But he has not realized that Prévost appeals mainly to feelings different from those awakened by Marivaux and by Richardson.

Whereas Marivaux3 depicted emotions which could arise in rather narrowly domestic circumstances in a world well controlled by decorum, and were notable for delicacy, rather than for power, Prévost developed passions remarkable for their strength and for their freedom from conventional restraint.

____________________
1
"The Abbé Prévost and the English Novel," Pub. Mod. Lang. Assoc., XLII ( 1927), 443-64.
2
Ibid., 444.
3
And Richardson, except when portraying villains.

-53-

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