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The Novel before the Novel:

This book is about reading the English novel during the "long eighteenth century," a stretch of
time that, in the generally accepted ways of breaking up British literary history into discrete
periods for university courses, begins after the Restoration of King Charles in !""# and ends
around !$%#, before the reign of &ueen 'ictoria( )t the beginning of this period, the novel can
hardly be said to e*ist, and writing prose fiction is a mildly disreputable literary activity( )round
!+,#, -aniel -efoe.s fictional autobiographies spark continuations and imitations, and in the
!+/#s, with 0amuel Richardson and 1enry 2ielding.s novels begin what is perceived as "a new
kind of writing(" By the end of the period, with 3ane )usten and 4alter 0cott, the novel has not
only come into e*istence, it has developed into a more5or5less respectable genre, and in fact
publishers have begun to issue series of novels 6edited by 4alter 0cott and by )nna Barbauld,
among others7 that establish for that time, if not necessarily for ours, a canon of the English
novel( 4ith the decline of the English drama and the almost complete eclipse of the epic, the
novel has become by default the long serious literary form, on its way to becoming by the mid5
nineteenth century, with -ickens, Thackeray and Eliot, the pre5eminent genre of literature( This
chapter will consider how and why the novel came to be when it did(
But before we get to that story, we need to make sure that that.s the right story to be telling(
8argaret -oody argues on the first page of her provocatively titled The True Story of the Novel
that "the 9ovel as a form of literature in the 4est has a continuous history of about two thousand
years(" 0he is certainly right that long form prose fiction goes back to the Greek romances of
the first through fourth centuries CE: the earliest is probably Chariton.s Chaereas and Callirhoe
and the best5known ;ongus.s Daphnis and Chloe( These were tales of lovers, usually nobly5
born, beautiful and chaste, whose flight from parental opposition leads them into incredible
dangers surmounted by unbelievable artifices( 2or e*ample, in Leucippe and Clitophon 6second
century romance by )chilles Tatius7 the lovers are shipwrecked, then captured by bandits, who
proceed to sacrifice ;eucippe and, after disemboweling her, to eat her liver< Clitophon, who has
observed this from afar, wants to commit suicide until he is informed by his clever servant that
;eucippe is alive, thanks to a wandering actor who impersonated the priest and used a retractable
dagger55a theatrical prop he happened to have with him55along with some animal.s blood and
entrails, to simulate the sacrifice(
By evening we had flled and crossed the trench, and I went to the
cofn prepared to stab myself. "Leucippe," I cried, "thy death is
lamentable not only because violent and in a strange land, but
because thou hast been sacrifced to purify the most impure; because
thou didst loo upon thine own anatomy; because thy body and thy
bowels have received an accursed sepulchre, the one here, the other in
such wise that their burial has become the nourishment of robbers.
!nd this the gods saw unmoved, and accepted such an o"ering# But
now receive from me thy ftting libation." !bout to cut my throat, I saw
two men running up, and paused, thining that they were pirates and
would ill me. $hey were %enelaus and &atyrus# &till I could not re'oice
in their safety, and I resisted their attempt to tae my sword. "If you
deprive me of this sword, wherewith I would end my sorrows in death,
the inward sword of my grief will in(ict deathless sorrows upon me. Let
me die) Leucippe dead, I will not live." "Leucippe lives #" said %enelaus,
and, tapping upon the cofn, he summoned her to testify to his
veracity. Leucippe actually rose, disembowelled as she was, and
rushed to my embrace.
-oody.s claim that "Romance and the 9ovel are one" 6!=7 has generally been found
unconvincing( )lthough -oody can point to a group of "tropes" 6general plot points and themes,
like erotic desire and generational conflict7 that one can find in both the >reek romances and the
English novel of the eighteenth century, this is a very weak claim, since they can be found
without looking very hard pretty much everywhere else in literature as well( 1er stronger claim55
that these "tropes" are moments in the worship5service of the 8other >oddess, which continues
in the novel into our own day55has generally been met with ridicule( But the genre of romance
was certainly around and being read in the eighteenth century( t was viewed as the competition,
though: many of the eighteenth5century novelists insisted on defining their work in opposition to,
rather than within, the genre of romance(
The other genre of prose fiction current during this late classical period is the 8enippean satire,
e*emplified by )puleius.s Golden Ass, and ?etronius.s Satyricon 6both first century )-7( These
were episodic tales primarily ridiculing the behavior and pretensions of wealthy middle5class
citi@ens of the Roman empire. 1ere.s a sample from the Satyricon< the narrator is a guest at an
over5the5top dinner in the mansion of a parvenu e*5slave named Trimalchio:
I in*uired who that woman could be who was scurrying about hither
and yon in such a fashion. "&he+s called ,ortunata," he replied. "&he+s
the wife of $rimalchio, and she measures her money by the pec. !nd
only a little while ago, what was she# %ay your genius pardon me, but
you would not have been willing to tae a crust of bread from her
hand. -ow, without rhyme or reason, she+s in the seventh heaven and
is $rimalchio+s factotum, so much so that he would believe her if she
told him it was dar when it was broad daylight# !s for him, he don+t
now how rich he is, but this harlot eeps an eye on everything and
where you least e.pect to fnd her, you+re sure to run into her. &he+s
temperate, sober, full of good advice, and has many good *ualities, but
she has a scolding tongue, a very magpie on a sofa, those she lies,
she lies, but those she dislies, she dislies# $rimalchio himself has
estates as broad as the (ight of a ite is long, and piles of money.
$here+s more silver plate lying in his steward+s ofce than other men
have in their whole fortunes# !nd as for slaves, damn me if I believe a
tenth of them nows the master by sight....
Both romance and fictional satire, prose versions of tragedy and comedy, continue into the high
middle ages and the Renaissance in different forms( n the middle ages the dominant form was
the chivalric romance< in English the longest, most detailed, and most artistic of these is Thomas
8alory.s Morte d'Arthur published !/$= by Ca*ton( 2ictional satire also continues, usually in
shorter forms, of which the best known are the comic tales in the Decameron by >iovanni
Boccaccio and the fabliau, which English5speaking readers know best in the bawdy stories in
rhyming couplets told by the 8iller and the Reeve in Chaucer.s Canterbury Tales(
There is a genuine flowering of Eli@abethan prose fiction but it nevertheless does not produce
anything remotely like the eighteenth century novel( Ane strand, that of the long form romance,
long form, is the pastoral; these are English te*ts usually mi*ing prose and poetry like 0idney.s
Arcadia 6!=$#< New Arcadia !=$"7 and 8ary 4roth.s Urania 6!",!7( 0ome of the shorter and
less elaborate versions of prose romance served as the sources of 0hakespeare.s comedies, like
Thomas ;odge.s lyrical Rosalynde 6!=B#7, which became As You Like It, and Robert >reene.s
acerbic Pandosto !he !riu"ph o# !i"e 6!=$$7, which became !he $inter%s !ale( Behind the
poetic prose of these romances stands 3ohn ;yly.s &uphues 6!=+$7, a homiletic conduct book
written in an style with elaborately balanced phrases, that has given its name to the genre( This
style can be seen in the following soliloCuy from Pandosto, in which 2ranion 6on whom
)ntigonus in The Winter's Tale is based7 meditates whether he should follow his sovereign.s
orders to kill the Cueen:
!h ,ranion, treason is loved of many, but the traitor hated of all. /n'ust
o"ences may for a time escape without danger, but never without
revenge. $hou art servant to a ing, and must obey at command. 0et,
,ranion, against law and conscience it is not good to resist a tyrant
with arms nor to please an un'ust ing with obedience. 1hat shalt thou
do2 ,olly refuseth gold, and fren3y preferment; wisdom seeeth after
dignity, and counsel looeth for gain. 4gistus is a stranger to thee, and
5andosto thy sovereign. $hou hast little cause to respect the one, and
oughtest to have great care to obey the other. $hin this, ,ranion, that
a pound of gold is worth a tun of lead, great gifts are little gods, and
preferment to a mean man is a whetstone to courage. $here is nothing
sweeter than promotion, nor lighter than report. 6are not then though
most count thee a traitor, so all call thee rich.

But some of the more interesting prose fiction of the si*teenth century is e*plicitly antiromantic:
coney-catching pamphlets like those of Robert >reene, e*plaining petty criminals. methods(
The tradition goes back to the 0panish picaresque in La 'ida de La(arillo de !or"es 6!==/7 and
Gu("an de Al#raches 6!=B$7, which inspired works like -eloney.s !ho"as o# Readin) 6!=B$D7
and Thomas 9ashe.s Un#ortunate !ra*eler !=B/755possibly the most readable of the
Eli@abethan novellas today( 1ere 3ack 4ilton convinces a credulous innkeeper that enemies at
1enry '.s court have plotted against him, telling the king that he sells his alcoholic cider to the
7h, *uoth he, I am bought 8 solde for doing my 6ountry such good
seruice as I haue done. $hey are afraid of mee, because my good
deedes haue brought me into such estimation with the communalty, I
see, I see it is not for the lambe to liue with the wolfe.
$he world is well amended, thought I, with your &idership.... !nswere
me, *uoth he, my wise young Wilton, is it true that I am thus
vnderhand dead and buried by these bad tongues2
-ay, *uoth I, you shall pardon me, for I haue spoen too much
alreadie, no defnitiue sentence of death shall march out of my wel
meaning lips, they haue but lately suct mile, and shall they so
sodainly change theyr food and seee after bloud2
7h but, *uoth he, a mans friend is his friend, fll the other pint $apster,
what sayd the ing, did hee beleeue it when hee heard it, I pray thee
say, I sweare to thee by my nobility, none in the worlde shall euer be
made priuie, that I receiued anie light of this matter from thee.
$hat frme afance, *uoth I, had I in you before, or else I would neuer
haue gone so farre ouer the shooes, to pluce you out of the mire. -ot
to mae many wordes 9since you will needs now: the ing saies (atly,
you are a miser 8 a snudge, and he neuer hopt better of you. -ay then
9*uoth he: *uestionlesse some planet that loues not syder hath
conspired against me.

0o romance and satiric anti5romance developed in various forms for around !=## years before a
dialectical synthesis of the two genres e*plicitly took shape in !ervantes" Don +ui,ote 6!"#+7(
These episodic tales about the country gentleman )lonso &uiEano, whose reading of chivalric
tales have created in him the delusion that he is the noble -on &ui*ote, could be said to initiate
the European novel( Don Quixote is translated into English by Thomas 0helton as early as !"!,,
but it is surprising how little Cervantes affects the course of prose fiction in English, until 1enry
2ielding nearly !=# years later set his Cui*otic ?arson )dams on the high road in -oseph
Andrews 6!+/,7(
The flowering of the Eli@abethan period is followed by a relative desert in the seventeenth
century( There are influential works of prose fiction, such as the lengthy pastoral romances
translated from the 2rench, like 1onorF -.GrfF.s Astr.e 6translated as the omance of Astrea and
Celadon, =%BB pages, published in stages from !"#+5,+7< and 8adeleine de 0cudFry.s Grand
Cyrus and Cl.lie published in the !"=#s7( But there is no canonical English te*t of prose fiction
until 3ohn Bunyan.s Pil)ri"%s Pro)ress 6!"+$7, which puts to use colloCuial, racy language in its
homiletic allegory( n a more minor vein, the line of romance is carried forward by two
Restoration playwrights, )phra Behn and 4illiam Congreve, in /roonoko, or !he Royal Sla*e
6!"$$7 and Inco)nita 6!"B#7( /roonoko will be discussed in all its comple*ities in chapter %(
Inco)nita, unfortunately out of print, reads a bit like a "noveli@ation" of a Restoration comedy
with a marriage plot: Congreve has hit upon a way of writing fiction using comic form< what he
lacks is a way of making us visuali@e the characters and the reality of the dramatic situation
without the presence of stage actors( n other words he "tells" but does not "show("
The movement of the picaresCue and its combination with other nonfictional genres like the
spiritual autobiography and the lives of notorious criminals can be seen in te*ts like 2rancis
Kirkman.s !he Counter#eit Lady Un*eiled, or the 0istory o# 1ary Carleton, a retelling of the
nonfictional story of a notorious imposter, bigamist and thief of that name who ended her life on
the gallows in !"+%( These nonfictional genres become important in the lineage of -aniel -efoe,
who would use the various lives of Carleton and other criminals in his own fiction 6particularly
his most accomplished impersonations, 1oll 2landers and Ro,ana7( ;ennard -avis suggests in
2actual 2ictions 6!B$%7 that it was nonfictional work of this sort55biography, spiritual
confession, and crime news55that contributed most to the development of the novel in the ne*t
century( But it is interesting and true that in the seventeenth century, the period when English
prose is acCuiring its fluidity and rapidity of effect55the sort of change you see when you move
from 0idney to -ryden55is also a time when there aren.t any canonical or even semi5canonical
fictions( The novel really gets started in eighteenth century England, doubting that gets us
nowhere, but accounting for why it happened then and there is the real problem(
II. The #ise of the Novel
?robably the most influential single book on the eighteenth century novel was an 4att.s: !he
Rise o# the No*el 6!B=+7( There had been chronological studies of fiction before55including an
encyclopedic ten5volume 0istory o# the &n)lish No*el by Ernest Baker55but 4att.s was the first
book to pose the Cuestion of historical causation(
t is important to understand how an 4att.s posed the Cuestion: he accepts the general
assumption that the English novel starts with -efoe, Richardson and 2ielding, but that there was
no common influence among the three, so that understanding why the novel sprung up when it
did is a matter of understanding what preparation the general culture had made for the
appearance of a new genre and form of te*t(
$here are still no wholly satisfactory answers to many of the general
*uestions which anyone interested in the early eighteenth century
novelists and their wors is liely to as) Is the novel a new literary
form2 !nd if we assume, as is commonly done, that it is, and that it
was begun by ;efoe, <ichardson and ,ielding, how does it di"er from
the prose fction of the past, from that of =reece, for e.ample, or that
of the %iddle !ges, or of seventeenth>century ,rance2 !nd is there any
reason why these di"erences appeared when and where they did2
&uch large *uestions are never easy to approach, much less to answer,
and they are particularly difcult in this case because ;efoe,
<ichardson and ,ielding do not in the usual sense constitute a literary
school. Indeed their wors show so little sign of mutual in(uence and
are so di"erent in nature that at frst sight it appears that our curiosity
about the rise of the novel is unliely to fnd any satisfaction other than
the meager one a"orded by the terms +genius+ and +accident,+ the twin
faces on the ?anus of the dead ends of literary history. 1e cannot, of
course, do without them) on the other hand there is not much we can
do with them. $he present in*uiry therefore taes another direction)
assuming that the appearance of our frst three novelists within a
single generation was probably not sheer accident, and that their
geniuses could not have created the new form unless the conditions of
the time had also been favorable, it attempts to discover what these
favorable conditions in the literary and social situation were, and in
what ways ;efoe, <ichardson and ,ielding were its benefciaries. 9@:
$ormal #ealism( 4att identifies the novel proper with the literary techniCue he calls "formal
realism," which is defined in terms of the te*t.s e*plicit notation of the circumstantiality of the
dramatic events( n terms of the history of thought, "formal realism" is the literary eCuivalent of
what he calls the "realist" philosophy of -escartes and ;ocke, with their emphasis on
particulars as the basis of knowledge, and the source of all abstract or general ideas, and on
knowledge as growing from our in%ivi%ual e&perience of specific times and places, rather than
by authorities or by abstract principles derived a priori( 4att doesn.t e*actly say that -efoe
couldn.t have written without ;ocke, but the implication of the interdependence of literary on
philosophical realism is that we don.t need to look earlier than the !"$#s for the philosophical
roots of the literary phenomenon(
In%ivi%ualism. 4att saw formal realism, especially that of -efoe, as going hand in hand with a
belief in individualism, in the sense that the individual is viewed as able to define and master his
or her own fate, rather than having to find a role relative to a group or a hieratic system of
authority( This belief 4att identifies with the social movements favoring ?rotestantism and
$he novel+s serious concern with the daily lives of ordinary people
seems to depend upon ... that vast comple. of interdependent factors
denoted by the term +individualism+.... $he concept of individualism...
posits a whole society mainly governed by the idea of every
individual+s intrinsic independence, both from other individuals and
from that multifarious allegiance to past modes of thought and action
denoted by the term +tradition+>>a force that is always social, not
individual.... It is generally agreed that modern society is uni*uely
individualist ... and that of the many historical causes for its
emergence two are of supreme importance>>the rise of modern
industrial capitalism and the spread of 5rotestantism, especially in its
6alvinist or 5uritan forms. (AB:.
#ea%ing 'ublic( n addition to these ideological factors, 4att proposed that the rise of the novel
depended on the emergence of a different and larger middle class reading public( The problem is
that literacy beyond the ability to sign one.s name was rare at the beginning of the eighteenth
century( There isn.t any evidence for a mass reading public at the time of -efoe, or even at the
end of the eighteenth century55and 4att is well aware of this( 0till, he feels that the slow,
continual e*pansion of the reading public into the middle class 6and among the household
servants of the urban aristocracy and middle class as well7 might have "tipped the balance" so
that the money to be made would be made by appealing to the middle class interests(
4vidence on the availability and use of leisure confrms the previous
picture given of the composition of the reading public in the early
eighteenth century. ;espite a considerable e.pansion it still did not
normally e.tend much further down the social scale than to tradesmen
and shopeepers, with the important e.ception of the more favored
apprentices and indoor servants. &till, there had been additions, and
they had been mainly recruited from among the increasingly
prosperous and numerous social groups concerned with commerce and
manufacture. $his is important, for it is probable that this particular
change alone, even if it was of comparatively minor proportions, may
have altered the centre of gravity of the reading public sufciently to
place the middle class as a whole in a dominating position for the frst
In looing for the e"ects of this change upon literature, no very direct
or dramatic manifestations of middle>class tastes and capacities are to
be e.pected, for the dominance of the middle class in the reading
public had in any case been long preparing. 7ne general e"ect of come
interest for the rise of the novel, however, seems to follow from the
change in the centre of gravity of the reading public. $he fact that
literature in the eighteenth century was addressed to an ever>widening
audience must have weaened the relative importance of those
readers with enough interest in classical and modern letters; and in
return it may have increased the relative importance of those who
desired an easier form of literary entertainment, even if it had little
prestige among the literati.... It is certain that this change of emphasis
was an essential permissive factor for the achievements of ;efoe and
<ichardson. 9CD>C@:
4att is particularly interested in the fact that women become an important element of the reading
public in the eighteenth century, and that their interests were better served by those of the novel
as it developed than by the traditional genres( 64omen also become important as writers, a fact
4att is less interested in(7 )nother key issue is that the booksellers of the time 55 we would call
them publishers 55 are replacing aristocratic patrons as the chief middlemen for the production of
literature, which would have favored market forces 6and therefore the interests of the middle
classes7 at the e*pense of traditional values and forms(
( !he /ri)ins o# the &n)lish No*el 345563785
4att.s theory dominated the critical landscape for thirty years, until scholar 8ichael 8cKeon did
an elaborate revision of 4att.s vision of history( 8cKeon was in essential agreement with the
way 4att set up the Cuestion55that the origins of the English novel are to be e*plained by
e*plaining the social and intellectual preconditions that made possible writers like -efoe,
Richardson and 2ielding(
Ane minor thing that is Cuite obviously wrong with 4att is that, while positing that the English
novel begins with -efoe, Richardson, and 2ielding, the model he created did not really apply
particularly well to 2ielding( )s 4att himself noted, the elements of "formal realism" are not as
important in 2ielding as they are in Richardson and -efoe: Gnlike -efoe and Richardson,
2ielding uses type names for his characters 6like )llworthy and Thwackum7, doesn.t minutely
describe furniture, clothing and landscapes, freCuently summari@es the content of people.s
utterances instead of minutely detailing what they say, and so on( )nd you can.t write 2ielding
out of the history of the novel, since he is so important for the later development of 0mollett and
)usten, and still later for -ickens and Thackeray(
n a more important sense, though, what is wrong with 4att, from 8cKeon.s point of view, is
that he simply doesn.t go back far enough to find the roots of what happened to English society,
and he doesn.t dig deep enough( 8cKeon is a 8ar*ist, so he would find 4att.s three factors,
individualism, protestantism and capitalism, all in the wrong order( 2irst there must come the
economic transformation of a society, then its social transformation, and finally the revolution in
ideology that mediates, e*plains, and Eustifies the new relationships(
8ercantile capitalism had been displacing feudal agrarianism since the late fifteenth century as
the source of English wealth, and the process is continuing throughout the period of the rise of
the novel( But the catastrophe for the ideology of the feudal period is for 8cKeon the crucial
period of the rise of the novel( 8cKeon sees the seventeenth century as the great watershed, the
point at which the old ideologies collapse to be replaced by those of the modern world(
;ike any good 8ar*ist, 8cKeon sees these ideological shifts as happening in what we might call
the plot form of transcendental dialectic, in which old ways of understanding the notions of truth
and virtue call into being their opposites, and then the hypostati@ed opposites call into e*istence a
third term, which partly recurs to the first, partly opposes it( These dialectics operate in what
8cKeon calls "0tories of Truth" and "0tories of 'irtue":
$he novel... attains its modern "institutional" stability and coherence at
this time because of its unrivaled power both to formulate and to
e.plain a set of problems that are central to early modern e.perience.
$hese may be understood as problems of categorial instability, which
the novel, originating to resolve, also inevitably re(ects. $he frst sort
of instability with which the novel is concerned has to do with generic
categories; the second, with social categories. $he instability of generic
categories registers an epistemological crisis, a ma'or cultural
transition to attitudes toward how to tell the truth in narrative.... $he
instability of social categories registers a cultural crisis in attitudes
toward how the e.ternal social order is related to the internal, moral
state of its members.... Both pose problems of signifcation. 1hat ind
of authority or evidence is re*uired of narrative to permit it to signify
truth to its readers2 1hat ind of social e.istence or behavior signifes
the individual+s virtue to others2 (20)
4e could diagram 8cKeon.s dialectical oppositions thus:
Stories of Truth:
romance ideology <-------> naive empiricism
(truth via tradition and authority) | (truth of experience)
extreme skepticism
(critiques empiricism as giving rise to pseudohistories;
returns to authority and tradition as sounder basis of truth)
Stories of Virtue:
aristocratic ideology <-----> progressive ideology
(birth=worth) | (critique of birth = worth)
(vaue defined by status) | (aows for aternative
| midde cass vaues)
conservative ideology
(the critique of putocratic bias of progressive ideoogy
and the return to more traditiona vaues of honor)
8cKeon.s argument is not that his oppositional elements lead to a clear resolution, but rather that
the novel as it develops is shaped from within by the tensions of the struggle( 1is
epistemological dialectic describes a shift from an opposition between 6!7 ideali@ed romance
plots and 6,7 literally true stories narrated by individuals giving their subEective impressions,
toward 6%7 a new sort of "truth"55an ideal of verisimilitude, in which fictional characters behave
in the way real people would in their situations55which is precisely the kind of truth we e*pect
from the novel( -efoe.s obinson Crusoe does not reproduce the literal e*perience of the title
character.s real5life counterpart, )le*ander 0elkirk< rather the castaway plot, with all the
minutely detailed events by which Robinson survives, is made to serve Robinson.s fictional
Eourney from the heedless adventurer to the Christian who accepts his worldly fate as part of
>od.s providence( 0imilarly in terms of virtue, the conservative ideology critiCues the e*cesses
of both aristocratic and bourgeois values< Richardson.s Clarissa positions his Christian heroine
as threatened, and ultimately destroyed, both by the aristocratic ;ovelace.s pursuit of power and
pleasure and by the bourgeois 1arlowe family.s urgent need to pursue ever5greater wealth and
status( )nd unlike 4att, 8cKeon clearly includes 2ielding in his purview, although with
2ielding it is primarily the authorial voice rather than the character5narrators of -efoe and
Richardson that is the repository of the clearest vision of truth and virtue(
'( Causality and the 9ovel
8cKeon.s e*planation of the economic and social factors leading to the development of the
English novel is so much more powerful that 4att.s that one might think that was the end of the
matter( n fact it may be too powerful, because the general factors 8cKeon is interested in55his
stories of truth and stories of virtue55are not peculiar to narrative literature at all: we find them
behind the drama and poetry of the eighteenth century, and indeed behind a good deal of the
philosophical and historical writing as well(
)nd here again, as with 8argaret -oody.s theory, the issue is how we frame the ve*ed Cuestion
of what we mean by "the novel(" 2or 8cKeon, the "novel" whose origin he wants to e*plain
takes a multiplicity of forms: Cervantes.s satire on knightly romance, Bunyan.s religious
allegories, -efoe.s pseudo5autobiographies, 0wift.s 8enippean satire, Richardson.s serious and
tragic novels in letters, 2ielding.s comic and serious narratives, and 0terne.s strange mi*ture of
sentimentality and satiric wit( 0ome of these forms have "legs": they continue and develop
further in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, while others are te*ts that have Renaissance or
even 8edieval forebears but don.t e*tend their tradition into later periods( That is the basis of
Ralph Rader.s strong critiCue of 8cKeon.s e*planation of the rise of the novel: precisely what is
it whose cause we want to understandD
!ausality is a word that has many meanings( >enerally it means agency, sometimes teleology<
but we also distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions, between predisposing and
precipitating causes( 4e fle*ibly use the term "cause" or HoriginI for each of these things, and in
our general conversation we don.t usually get confused since we know which we really want to
talk about in particular cases( n remoter matters, however, like the writing of literary history, it
is possible to have a marked preference for one form of causality over another(
The controversy between 8ichael 8cKeon and Ralph Rader on the origins of the English novel
is illustrative of this( t isn.t Eust that 8cKeon and Rader disagree over what caused the English
novel, it.s that they don.t even agree on what should count as an e*planation( 2or 8ichael
8cKeon the true e*planation of the origin of the novel has to be found in the predisposing
factors: his e*planation ends when he has elucidated what made society change in such a way as
to make meaningful the notion of a narrative in which the domestic struggles of individuals were
made significant, and was at the same time "realistic," like the truth about the real world but not
historically veracious( The peculiar concerns and intents of the authors of these novels are less
important: for 8cKeon, if Richardson had not written the first English novel, someone else
would have, and the course of literary history would have developed almost precisely as it did(

But for Rader, it doesn.t count as an e*planation of the novel to be able to say how society got to
the state where it could support fictional narrative as a literary genre( 2or Rader the predisposing
causes are less interesting, and he is willing to take 8cKeon.s e*planations of them for granted(
nstead the novel begins when a particular individual550amuel Richardson55tells a story about a
virtuous servant who marries a well5born landowner, and tells that story in a way that was uniCue
at the time(
2or Rader, what was original about Pamela was that the events recounted had to be understood
in two different ways at once, on a narrative plane and on an authorial plane( That is, the reader
is forced to take the story as autonomously "real," in the sense that we understand ?amela.s
world as operating by the laws that obtain in our own world and therefore independent of our
desires about her 6the narrative plane7< and as "constructed" in that we understand the novel in
terms of Richardson.s creative intention, forming e*pectations and desires respecting the
protagonist that shape our sense of the whole 6the authorial plane7( 2or Rader the crucial moment
is the construction of a form that operates on both levels at once55autonomous narrative and
authorial construct( Ance that had been done, others could and did imitate the achievement,
bringing to the form new sorts of meaning and structure(
These preferences as to what counts as an acceptable e*planation of the origin of a genre have
further conseCuences( Rader is not deeply concerned with the predecessors to Richardson.s
formal achievement, because Bunyan, -efoe, and 0wift belong to strands of literary history that
did not initiate world5historical change(
)nd in a similar way in the opposite direction, 8ichael
8cKeon loses much of his interest in the history of the novel once the genre has gotten fully
started, as though it were the embryology of the novel rather than its history that is of primary
4ell, which of them is rightD s the origin of the English novel to be found in its predisposing or
its precipitating causesD Clearly both55and neither( 0urely each answer is only one element of
what would be a totally satisfying solution, and rationally, we ought to reEect the eitherJor Cuality
To the e*tent that Rader cares about what happened earlier, it is in terms of predecessor forms such as that shaping
-efoe.s Moll !landers 6which Rader calls an imitation of "naive incoherent autobiography7, forms that died out after
the novel as such appeared, though they were influential much later upon what he calls the "simular" novel 6like
3oyce.s ?ortrait of the Artist or 4oolf.s Mrs" Dallo#ay, which 6in a very different way7 imitates autobiography(
"The claim Kto historicityL and its subversion end in the triumph of the creative human mind, a triumph already
prefigured at the moment of the novel.s emergence: in Richardson the triumphant mind is that of the protagonist< in
2ielding it is that of the author( The implications of the formal breakthrough of the !+/#s are pursued with such
feverish intensity over the ne*t two decades that after Tristram Shandy, it may be said, the young genre settles down
to a more deliberate and studied recapitulation of the same ground, this time for the ne*t two centuries" 68cKeon,
$ri%ins of the &n%lish Novel, /!$55!B7( 8cKeon must be Eoking here, since his e*pressed belief that the novel
spends the entire period from !+"# to !B"# without moving past the dialectical space represented by Richardson and
2ielding in effect reduces the history of the English novel to the history of its origin, and, in a sense, is a reduction
ad absurdum of his dialectical method and his vision of history written from the topos of the predisposing cause(
of the Cuestion( But while we can reEect the disEunction as undesirable, it is harder to come up
with a method of historical research that does not enforce it( )s 3ohnson.s mlac cautioned
Rasselas, one cannot at the same time fill one.s cup from the mouth and the source of the 9ile(
)nd the systematic study that provides us with a sense of all that was crucially necessary to
produce an artifact will never tell us about the moment of invention that went beyond the
necessary to the sufficient( 4hen the focus is upon the individual genius engaged in constructing
something new out of materials that are available to hand, we see the foreground with clarity, but
the background55including how those materials came to be available to hand55recedes into a blur(
Conversely, when it is the ground that occupies our attention, we must take the figure for
granted( ndeed those who investigate the background may even assume that the foregrounded
individual.s contribution is ultimately not very important(
4ith technological invention parallel discoveries are common( f Edison had not invented the
lightbulb in Actober !$+B, someone else would have done so a few months or years later, that we
would be lighting our homes and offices in similar ways, though without paying our bills to
Consolidated (%ison( Those who follow in the path of artistic innovators, similarly, often pay
them the homage of picking up their topics and techniCues55which is why aspects of the specific
architecture of Pa"ela run throughout the history of the novel into our own time, via -ane &yre,
!ess o# the D%Ur9er*illes, Re9ecca, and 2i#ty Shades o# Grey:
'( The Rise of the )udience
0o the preconditions for the development of the novel had to be present, as 8cKeon argued,
while a single innovating craftsman, 0amuel Richardson, had to create a new form of writing that
created a life world that we could view as autonomous while responding to its constructed
nature( But a third factor was at work that brought the novel from its despised status as a genre
around the beginning of the eighteenth century to its far higher position a century later, when it
surpassed drama and rivaled poetry, and this was an audience for whom the novel did genuinely
important cultural work( Catherine >allagher has summed up the case for this in the earliest
version of her book, Nobody's Story(
0tarting off where Roland Barthes does in his essay ";.Effet du rFelle," >allagher argues that
realism was not a way of trying to hide or disguise fictionality but was, rather, the formal sign of
fiction( Before the middle of the eighteenth century there were Eust two categories: truths and
lies( 9arratives were known to be untrue because they were grossly improbable( 0uch narratives
are not similar to the fictions of midcentury but radically different from them( 4hen fiction as a
third category took shape its mark was realism and verisimilitude, and not improbability 6as a
mark of non5truth7(
< that eighteenth5century readers identified with novel characters because the latter were fictional
and not in spite of that fact< and that these readers had to be taught how to read fiction 6it didn.t
come naturally7, and as they learned this skill, new emotional dispositions were created(" 6,"/7
!( ?ure fiction is distinguishable from a lie( 2iction has "no intention to be credited" 6c!$
Catherine >allagher, H9obody.s 0toryI 8odern ;anguage &uarterly 6!BB%7, ,"%5++"the category of pure fiction,
properly speaking, was an invention of the mid5eighteenth century< that
,( ?ure fiction is about 9obody( That is, the characters have no real5life referents< they are not
surrogates for real people Ke(g(, 8oll 2landers for 8oll King or 8ary Carleton, Robinson Crusoe
for )le*ander 0elkirkL( )nd the story is told for its own sake: we want to read it because it is
about 9obody(
%( ?ure fiction could stimulate "compassion" "identification" and "sympathy" because the stories
were about 9obody( C> asserts that these important emotionsMwhich were in fashion and
caused the fashion of the sentimental novelMwere hard to achieve, acc to C!$ philosophers,
unless the obEect was a family member or a business associate or both( The fact that other people
had other bodies, other relatives, other property, was an impediment to sympathetic
identification( Therefore stories about 9obody55fictional characters with none of those
impediments55were more effective than stories about real people, who could be adversaries or
competitors( )s 2ielding says in -oseph Andrews, his satiri@ed characters are not an individual
but a species( )nd when we aren.t seeing someone else we become capable of seeing ourselves,
gaining self5knowledge of an important sort( 6C> thus views the private moral correction we get
in 2ielding as opposed to the public e*ecution we get in the satires of ?ope as similar to the
social changes that were moving away from public e*ecutions and towards modern modes of
discipline and self5discipline(7
/( Readers had to be taught to read fiction because it didn.t come naturally( That.s why we get
fictions like Charlotte ;enno*.s !he 2e"ale +ui,ote satiri@ing people who think fictions are
true rather than fictional, why we get 2ielding scolding the reader for thinking that his characters
are specific rather than embodiments of general faults like selfishness and hypocrisy(
=( But in addition to the naive reader who takes fiction for truth, there is the sentimental reader
who takes fiction too seriously( 6n one sense taking it seriously at all might be thought too
seriously, since our concern in the novel is always about 9obody(7 2rom about !+"# on, we get
attacks on fiction in the press from moralists who think that the "disproportionate activity of the
representative faculties" leads to unsteadiness of character and emotional disorder(
)nd some novelists 6not all7 begin to "manipulate the processes of identification and
disidentification, to teach readers to break off the sympathetic response especially in moments of
romantic indulgence(" 0o the novel is a school for the moral sentiments, but they will fail if they
work sentimentally: the reader has to learn how to stop sympathi@ing and will inappropriate
feelings away((((
";earning to recogni@e 9obody.s numerous particular guises and then to identify with them one
after another created a new kind of overburdened and therefore tentative emotional being( t was
almost inevitable that sophisticated techniCues for managing this emotional plurality would
evolve in the very genre that had created the perceived problem in the first place( am
suggesting finally, that the telos of emotional overload was its management, and that 9obody.s
story, simply by virtue of its fictionality, has played a very real role in the creation of the modern
2inal matter: )istory of the #ise of the Novel an% )istorical 'resentism
The Cuestion of when the English novel starts depends on what the novel is doing formally
when we ask the Cuestion( RaderNs answer 6it starts with Pa"ela7 makes sense for people who
are trying to e*plain what he calls Hthe novel of represented actionI and the Hsimular novel(I n
other words, if you are trying to e*plain the origin of what ;eavis called The 'reat Tradition
6)usten through -1 ;awrence7, Pa"ela has the answer( f your focus on the novel comes
through ?ostmodernism, a lot of the e*perimentation with prose forms between !""# and !+/#
becomes much more relevant to your sense of what the novel is all about( n other words, we
write the histories that make sense to us in the present, whatever present we are living in(
Read last paragraphs of review of &ncyclopaedia o# the No*el, which both supports Rader with
an international slant 6because the histories of the various European versions of the novel,
whatever individual nations were up to before the mid C!$, are hugely impacted by Richardson
and via Richardson Rousseau7 and limits Rader, by suggesting that all these histories only work
for !+=#5!B=# 6through the decline of 1igh 8odernism7 and no longer describe the situation the
world is in(
;ooking back at 3ohn Richetti.s article on the English novel in the eighteenth century, it is
striking how little e*planatory force he gives to the congeries of narrative genres of the late
seventeenth century out of which Richardson and 2ielding emerged( This runs against the grain
of recent studies of the origin of the novel, the grand narratives by 9ancy )rmstrong, Ros
Ballaster, 3ohn Bender, 1omer Abed Brown, ;ennard -avis, 8argaret -oody, Catherine
>allagher, 3( ?aul 1unter, and 4illiam Beatty 4arner( 8any of these histories have been
pushing back the historical hori@on of the "novel" from -efoe into the romances and amorous
fictions and chroniCues scandaleuses of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries(
Abviously one motivation is the need of scholars, particularly feminist scholars, for more fodder,
but given how unnecessary it is these days to claim a place on ?arnassus for the obEects of our
study, that cannot be the only answer(
Richetti.s notion that Pamela was uniCuely important in the foundation of the novel as an
institutional form really rests on a cultural hori@on that views the historical seCuence starting
with Richardson and 2ielding and continuing through 0mollett, 0terne, Burney, )usten, 0cott,
-ickens, the Brontes, Thackeray, Trollope, Eliot, 1ardy, Conrad, and 3ames, all of this leading
up to the high modernist works of 3oyce and 4oolf, as the backbone of a great and enlightened
civili@ation( Born like Richetti in the !B/#s, can still feel the attraction of this vision of a >reat
Tradition( But in the twenty5first century, we live under the pull of the postmodern, and if the
dry crumbs and abimes of self5refle*ive narrative 6in Barth, 9abokov, Robbe5>rillet and
Calvino7 are no longer in the height of fashion, we are nevertheless writing "novels" in scare
Cuotes rather than 9ovels( 4hat Catherine >allagher thought the great innovation of the
eighteenth century, the telling of "9obody.s 0tory"55pure fiction about characters with whom we
can let ourselves identify because we are sure they are unreal55is no more( t has given way to
"0omebody.s 0tory," a fictionali@ed version of reality, which may tilt more or less toward the
documentary and historical( 4hat we most want to read today are stories about Thomas
Cromwell, about 8ason and -i*on, about 8argaret >arner, about )nna 4intour(
The other great change, since the achievements of high modernism, one need hardly point out, is
that the novel has become considerably less important than it used to be as a class of cultural
obEect( Competing for its place in supplying us with obEects of feeling and thought are all the
latest movies and reality T' series and music videos and original cable series like 1omeland and
>ame of Thrones( )nd the fictions that grab us are, more often than not, romances like the 1arry
?otter series, amatory fictions like 2ifty 0hades of >ray, or chroniCues scandaleuses, thinly
veiled romans a clef like The >hostwriter or ?rimary Colors( The world of narrative in the early
twenty5first century, in other words, looks a lot more like that of the late seventeenth century,
messy and turbulent, without a world5historical art form, than like the second half of the
eighteenth century, when all Europe was learning to improve on Richardson.s ?amela(