The Rise of the Novels in the Eighteenth Century

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Monday, December 27, 2010
The Rise of the Novel in the Eighteenth Century
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 epithets "excellent" and "indispensable" for the eighteenth century which had little of good poetry or drama to boast of, he was probably paying it due homage for its gift of the novel. The eighteenth century was the age in which the novel was established as the most outstanding and enduring form of
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Defoe's limitation lies in the fact that his protagonists are psychologically too simple and that he makes nobody laugh and nobody weep. But his didacticism was to find favour with all the novelists of the eighteenth, and even many of the nineteenth, century. Some call Defoe the first English novelist. But as David Daiches puts it in A Critical History of English Literature, Vol. II, whether Defoe was "properly" a novelist "is a matter of definition of terms."
The Masters:
Between 1740 and 1800 hundreds of novels of all kinds were written. However, the real "masters" of the novel in the eighteenth century were four-Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne. The rest of them are extremely inferior to them. Oliver Elton maintains: "The work of the four masters stands high, but the foothills are low." The case was different in, say, the mid-nineteenth century when so many equally great novelists were at work. Fielding was the greatest of the foursome. Sir Edmund Gosse calls Richardson "the first great English novelist" and Fielding, "the greatest of English novelists." Fielding 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 (1689-1761):
He was the father of the English novel. He set the vogue of the novel with hisPamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1741). It was in the epistolary manner. It took England by storm. In it Richardson narrated the career of a rustic
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