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THE RISE OF THE NOVEL

In the eighteenth century the years after the forties witnessed a wonderful efflorescence
of a new literary genre which was soon to establish itself for all times to come as the dominant
literary form. Of course, we are referring here to the English novel which was born with
Richardson's Pamela and has been thriving since then.
When Matthew Arnold used the eithets !e"cellent! and !indisensable! for the eighteenth
century which had little of good oetry or drama to boast of, he was robably aying it due
homage for its gift of the novel. #he eighteenth century was the age in which the novel was
established as the most outstanding and enduring form ofliterature. #he eriodical essay, which
was another gift of this century to Englishliterature, was born and died in the century, but the
novel was to en$oy an enduringcareer. It is to the credit of the ma$or eighteenth%century novelists
that they freed the novel from the influence and elements of high flown romance and fantasy, and
used it to interret the everyday social and sychological roblems of the common man. #hus
they introduced realism, democratic sirit, and sychological interest into the novel& the
'ualities which have since then been recogni(ed as the essential rere'uisites of%every good novel
and which distinguish it from the romance and other imossible stories.
Reasons for the Rise and Popularity:
)arious reasons can be adduced for the rise and oularity of the novel in the eighteenth
century. #he most imortant of them is that this new literary form suited the genius and temer
of the times. #he eighteenth century is *nown in English social history for the rise of the middle
classes conse'uent uon an unrecedented increase in the volume of trade and commerce. Many
eole emerged from the limbo of society to occuy a resectable status as wealthy burgesses. #he
novel, with its realism, its democratic sirit, and its concern with the everyday sychological
roblems of the common eole esecially aealed to these nouveaia riches and rovided them
with resectable reading material. #he novel thus aears to have been secially designed both to
voice the asirations of the middle and low classes and to meet their taste. Moreover, it gave the
writer much scoe for what +a(amian calls !morality and sentiment!%the two elements which
ma*e literature !oular.! #he decline of drama in the eighteenth century was also artly
resonsible for the rise and %ascendency of the novel. After the ,icensing Act of -./., the drama
lay moribund. #he oetry of the age too%e"cet for the brilliant e"amle of 0oe's wor*&was in a
stage of decadence. It was then natural that from the ashes of the drama 1and, to some e"tent, of
oetry, too2 should rise the hoeni"%li*e shae of a new literary genre. #his new genre was, of
course, the novel.
Before the Masters:
3efore Richardson and 4ielding gave shae to the new form some wor* had already been
done by numerous other writers, which heled the ioneers to some e"tent. Mention must here be
made of 5wift, 6efoe, Addison, and 5teele. 5wift inGulliver's Travels gave an interesting
narrative, and, in site of the obvious imossibility of the !action! and incidents, created an effect
of verisimilitude which wasto be an imortant characteristic of the novel. #he +overley aers of
Addison and 5teele were in themselves a *ind of rudimentary novel, and some of them actually
read li*e so many ages from a social and domestic novel. #heir good%humoured social satire,
their eye for the oddities of individuals, their basic human symathy, their lucid style, and their
sense of eisode%all were to be asired after by the future novelists. 6efoe with his numerous
stories li*e Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and Roxanashowed his uncanny gift of the
circumstantial detail and racy, griing narrative combined with an unflinching realism generally
concerned with the seamy and sordid asects of life 1commonly, low life2. 7is lead was to be
followed by ' numerous novelists. 6efoe's limitation lies in the fact that his rotagonists are
sychologically too simle and that he ma*es nobody laugh and nobody wee. 3ut his didacticism
was to find favour with all the novelists of the eighteenth, and even many of the nineteenth,
century. 5ome call 6efoe the first English novelist. 3ut as 6avid 6aiches uts it in A Critical
History of n!lish "iterature, )ol. II, whether 6efoe was !roerly! a novelist !is a matter of
definition of terms.!
The Masters:
3etween -.89 and -:99 hundreds of novels of all *inds were written. 7owever, the real
!masters! of the novel in the eighteenth century were four%Richardson, 4ielding, 5mollett, and
5terne. #he rest of them are e"tremely inferior to them. Oliver Elton maintains; !#he wor* of the
four masters stands high, but the foothills are low.! #he case was different in, say, the mid%
nineteenth century when so many e'ually great novelists were at wor*. 4ielding was the greatest
of the foursome. 5ir Edmund <osse calls Richardson !the first great English novelist! and
4ielding, !the greatest of English novelists.! 4ielding may not be the greatest of all, but he was
certainly one of the greatest English novelists and the greatest novelist of the eighteenth century.
Samuel Richardson (1689-161!:
7e was the father of the English novel. 7e set the vogue of the novel with
hisPamela, or #irtue Re$arded 1-.8-2. It was in the eistolary manner. It too* England by storm.
In it Richardson narrated the career of a rustic lady's maid who guards her honour against the
advances of her dissolute master who in the end marries her and is reformed. Pamela was
followed by Clarissa ffarlo$e 1-.8.%8:2, in eight volumes. It was, again, of the eistolary *ind,
Richardson's third and last novel was %ir Charles Grandison 1-.=82. #he hero is a model
+hristian gentleman very scruulous in his love%affair.
Among Richardson's good 'ualities must be mentioned his *nowledge of human,
articularly female sychology and his awareness of the emotional roblems of common eole.
7e comletely, and for good, liberated the novel from the e"travagance and lac* of realism of
romance to concentrate on social reality. #he note of morality and sentimentality made him a
oular idol not only in England but also abroad. #hus 6idoret in 4rance could comare him to
7omer and Moses> 7owever, his morality with its twang of smugness and rudery did not go
unattac*ed even in his own age. 4ielding was the most imortant of those who reacted against
Richardsonian sentimentalism and rudish moralism. One great defect of Richardson's novels,
which is esecially noticeable today, is their enormous length. #he eistolary techni'ue which he
adoted in all his three novels is essentially dilatory and reetitive, and therefore ma*es for
bul*iness. 7e is at any rate a very good sychologist and as one he is articularly admirable for,
what a critic calls, !the delineation of the delicate shades of sentiment as they shift and change
and the cross%uroses which the troubled mind envisages when in the gri of assion.''
"enry #ieldin$ (1%-&'!:
4ielding in the words of 7udson, !was a man of very different tye. 7is was a virile,
vigorous, and somewhat coarse nature, and his *nowledge of life as wide as Richardson's was
narrow, including in articular many asects of it from which the rim little rinter would have
recoiled shoc*ed. #here was thus a strength and breadth in his wor* for which we loo* in vain in
that of his elder contemorary. Richardson's $udgment of 4ielding%that his writings were
'wretchedly low and dirty'%clearly suggests the fundamental contrast between the two men.! 7is
very first novel, &ose'h Andre$s1-.8?2, was intended to be a arody of Pamela, articularly of its
riggish morality and lachrymosic sentimentalism. According to Wilbur ,. +ross, Richardson
!was a sentimentalist, creating athetic scenes for their own sa*e and degrading tears and
hysterics into a manner.! In &ose'h Andre$s 4ielding light%heartedly titled against morbid
sentimentalism and sham morality. After the ninth chater of the boo*, however, he seems to
have outgrown his initial intention of arody. 0arson Adams, one of the immortal creations of
English fiction, aears and runs away with the rest of the novel. &ose'h Andre$s was followed
by Tom &ones 1-.8@2 and Amelia 1-.=-2. We may add to the list of his fictional wor*s &onathan
(ild the Great 1-.8/2, a cynically ironical novel which, as ,egouis says, must have been written
!after a fit of gloom.A
4ielding's novels are characterised by a fresh and realistic moral aroach which admits
occasionally of animalism and ribaldry, a searching realism, good%humoured social satire, and
healthy sentiment In his abundant and coarse vigour, his common sense and unflinching realism,
and his delight in hysical beauty 1esecially female2 he is essentially a masculine writer. 7e does
not have the delicacy of Richardson. It may be said that it is not Richardson who is the !father of
the English novelB it is in fact, 4ielding. As for Richardson, he is only the !mother! of the English
novel>
It is to the credit of '4ielding that unli*e Richardson and most of his own successors, at
least in Tom &ones 1if not the other novels, too2, he rovided a glowing model of a well%
constructed lot. According to +oleridge, &ones 1with 5ohocles')edi'us the *in! and 3en
Conson's The Alchemist+ is one of the three wor*s in world literature which have erfectly
constructed lots.
To(ias Smollett (1)1-1!:
Along with Richardson and 4ielding, 5mollett is generally included among the masters of
eighteenth%century novelB but, as 7udson oints out, !it must be distinctly understood that his
wor* is on a much lower level than theirs.! 7is novels are of the icares'ue *ind, and
include Roderic, Random 1-.8:2, Pere!rine Pic,le 1-.=-2, andHum'hrey Clin,er 1-..-2. 5mollett
was a realist and had his own art of racy narrative and eye%catching descrition. 7e was a *een
observer of the coarser facts of life, articularly naval life. 7e e"ulted in coarseness and brutality.
7e never bothered about the construction of a lot. Dor did he bother about morality,
Richardsonian or !4ieldingian.! 7is humour, in *eeing with his nature, is coarse rather than
subtle or ironical and arises mostly out of caricature. 7a(litt observes; !It is not a very difficult
underta*ing to class 4ielding or 5mollett%the one as an observer of the character of human life,
the other as a describer of its various eccentricities.! 5mollett's characterisation is necessarily
oor. 7is heroes are mechanical uets rather than living ersonalities. #hey are meant only for
the bringing in of new.situations. As a critic uts it, !Roderic* Random's career is such as would
be enough to *ill three heroes and yet the fellow lives $ust to introduce us to new characters and
situations.!
*aurence Sterne (11+-68!:
7is only novel is Tristram %handy which aeared from -.=@ to -.E. in nine volumes
and which is described by 7udson as !the strange wor* of a very strange man.! If this wor* can be
called a novel, it is one of its own *ind, without redecessors and without successors. 7udson
observes; !It is rather a medley of unconnected incidents, scras of out%of%the%way learning,
whimsical fancies, humour, athos, reflection, imertinence, and indecency.! #he lot is of the
barest minimum; we have to wait till the third boo* for the birth of the hero> And he is ut into
breeches only in the si"th> What a ace of develoment> It was, says +ross, !a sad day for English
fiction when a writer of genius came to loo* uon the novel as the reository for the crotchets of a
lifetime.!
5terne's sentimentalism was to leave a lasting trace on the English novels which followed.
What is 'uite remar*able in Tris-am %handy is the wonderfully living characters of Fncle #oby,
the elder 5handy, his wife, and +ororal #rim.
The ,o-el after Sterne:
After Tristram %handy we find in the eighteenth century a remar*able roliferation of
novels. 3ut none of the later novelists comes anywhere near Richardson and 4ielding. We find the
novel develoing in many directions. 4our ma$or *inds of the novel may be recogni(ed;
1i2 #he novel of sentiment.
1ii2 #he so%called <othic novel.
1iii2 #he novel of doctrine and didacticism.
1iv2 #he novel of manners,
7enry Mac*en(ie's The Man of Feelin! 1-..-2 is rominent among the novels of
sentiment. According to +ross, !written in a style alternating between the whims of 5terne and a
winning laintiveness, GitH en$oys the distinction of being the most sentimental of all English
novels.! #he <othic novel, which aeared towards the end of the eighteenth century, indulged in
morbid sensationalism with imossible stories of suernatural monsters and blood%curdling
incidents. 7orace Walole, Mrs. Radcliffe, !Mon*! ,ewis, and William 3ec*ford were the most
imortant writers of this *ind of novel. #he novel of doctrine and didacticism includes such wor*s
as Mrs. Inchbad's.ature and Art 1-.@E2 and William <odwin's Caleb (illiams 1-.@82. #hese
wor*s used the form of the novel $ust for roagating a secific oint of view. #he novel of
manners was mostly atronised by fairly intelligent female writers such as 4anny 3urney and
Maria Edgeworth who aimed at a light transcrition of contemorary manners.
5arah 4ielding's /avid %im'le 1-.882, 6r. Cohnson's Rasselas, Prince of
Abyssinia 1-.=@2, and Oliver <oldsmith's #he #icar of (a,efleld 1-.EE2 also deserve a secial
mention in an account of eighteenth%century novel. 5arah 4ielding's wor* was insired by the
success of Pamela0 It abounds in faithfully rendered scenes of ,ondon life. 6r. Cohnson's wor* is
h$ighly didactic. It emhasi(ed !the vanity of human wishes! in the form of an allegorical tale
which he wrote in a very desondent mood induced by the death of his mother. <oldsmith's wor*
is, in the words of +ross, !of all eighteenth%century novels, the one that many readers would the
least willingly lose.! #his novel is admirable, among other things, for the sensitive
characterisation of 6r. 0rimrose and the general sanity of the !hilosohy of life! which ees
through, it.
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