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The Rise of the Novel Essay Sample

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The Rise of the Novel Essay Sample

At the end of the 18th century a new literary genre started developing all over Europe: the Novel. It was a revolution whose roots were as old as the other literary genres. In fact, this new way of writing borrowed many narrative forms from other genres, such as diaries, biographies of adventurers, travellers’ tales and so on. But now let’s focus our attention on the main causes of the naissance and of the success of the novel: • The augmentation of learned people, thanks to the increasing number of schools and the introduction of the compulsory school system. • The proliferation of newspapers, such as the Tartler and the Observer, made people more learned and interested, so they started asking for more books and readings to improve their education and cultural knowledge. • People needed a new sort of entertainment, since theatres had been closed. • The need of a new literary genre (apparently) more simple than poetry, but anyway able to convey important messages. • The increase in the number of circulating libraries, which permitted people to borrow books with little expense. • The improvement in printing technology that induced books to be cheaper and faster to print.

Anyway, Novel acquired its definitive organic structure, thanks to some important writers:

DANIEL DEFOE: he created the first “fictional world”, combining fictional material with his great realism in describing places. His two most important works are Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. Robinson Crusoe: this famous novel is based on the real story of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish mariner, who shipwrecked on the desert island of Juan Fernandez, where he remained four years. Deriving his inspiration from this fact, and adding his own experiences as a merchant and a journalist, Defoe succeeded in building up the perfect portrait of the English middle class man of that period: a self-made man, intelligent, clever, with a great faith in God and strong abilities, that let him overcome any difficulty (Homo economicus). Moll Flanders: that’s to say the story of a prostitute, living in the underworld of London, who manages to regain her respectability, thanks to her strong will and capacities.

JOHNATAN SWIFT: he improved the realistic way of writing, introducing more and more details. His most famous novel is Gulliver’s Travel, in which he makes a satire against England politics, showing all his loathing of mankind. As Defoe, in writing, he uses a first person narrator, since the novel is under a diary form.

SAMUEL RICHARDSON: he was very interested in the psychological analysis of characters and brought a modernisation to the epistolary novel genre. His masterpiece is Pamela or the Virtue Rewarded, a novel written as a collection of letters. The story is about a young lady, Pamela, who works as a maid in a rich family, where her master tries to seduce her. Since she’s a very clever girl, Pamela doesn’t accept her master’s advances, because she fears he’ll leave her alone, after reaching his goal. Her virtue is rewarded at the end of the story, when she him. This novel is prolix and sentimental. Richardson wrote it on the request of a famous printer, who wanted a book able to learn poor people, and most of all poor women, about morality. With Pamela, Richardson contributed to the creation of a standard female character.

HENRY FIELDING: he gave an organic structure to his novels, dividing them into chapters, around a special episode. Moreover, he introduced “round” characters that are characters that develop and evolve during the story, and a third person omniscient narrator. Fielding most important novel is Tom Jones, a Foundling. It’s the story of a foundling, who has a generous but too instinctive nature, and who becomes the protagonist of a series of adventures, obviously with a happy ending. In this book, Fielding contrasted the conventional morality of Richardson, that he considered too hypocritical (Tom Jones, before discovering himself the son of a nobleman and changing his mind, makes all sort of experimentation and freedom, also sexually. All this is a clear opposition to Pamela’s virtue). Anyway, as Richardson, Fielding had got an optimistic view of society and life in general: he believed in progress and evolution.

Laurence Sterne: apart from Sentimental Voyage (translated by Ugo Foscolo), the most relevant Sterne’s innovations are in Tristam Shandy, an outstanding work, totally different from the works of the authors contemporary with him. In Tristam Shandy the plot is non-existent; there’s no edifying or reform purpose, but only a deep analysis of feelings, tenderness of heart, a continuous transition from tears to smile, a clever study of characters. The great number of digressions (“digressions are the sunshine, the soul, the life of reading”), oddities, such as blank pages with fingertips, and the chaotic development of the stories make Sterne be considered a forerunner, the father of the Stream of consciousness technique.

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