The Development of the Novel in the 18th Century

The 18th Century

The time between 1650 and 1750 is said to have brought forth the best works of English satire. In Gulliver's Travels (1726), JONATHAN SWIFT used the medium of travel literature and discovery, fashionable at the time, as a vehicle of satire. It is a collection of satires about Samuel Gulliver who sets out on a series of voyages to fictitional countries (Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, Lagado, the Houyhnhums). SWIFT exposes the political and religious conflicts of his time; he satirizes the preoccupation with reason as well as philosophers and scientists who have lost touch with real life.

The Satirical Verse Epic

By putting the trivial event of cutting a lady's lock of hair into verse epic, ALEXANDER POPE's The Rape of the Lock (1712–14) became a mock-heroic epic. It parodied the verse epic and satirized conventions as well as mannerisms of the aristocracy.

POPE's Dunciad (1728,1742/43; derived from dunce = a very stupid person) is a mock-heroic epic and parody, too. It ridiculed “dulness” in general and the “dulness” of literary criticism in the cheap mass fiction of POPE's time.

SAMUEL BUTLER's Hudibras (1663–78) is a mock heroic epic which makes fun of Puritanism. The plot and the characters were modelled on CERVANTE's Don Quixote: Hudibras, the pedantic Puritan, and his companion Ralpho experience a series of adventures.

The Picaresque Novel

The picaresque novel presented a character's adventures in an episodic structure and aimed to satirize the ideals of romance.
Developed in Spain in the 16th Century, its most important example is CERVANTES' Don Quixote (1605), which paved the way for the modern novel. Moll Flanders (1722) by DANIEL DEFOE was modelled on the picaresque narrative and has a loosely knit episodic structure. It claimed to present a realistic life story. So did Robinson Crusoe (1719), which deals with the problem of a single man surviving on an uninhabited island. The novel is based on the source of the Scottish sailor ALEXANDER SELKIRK (1676–1721) who was put ashore on the desolate island of Juan Fernandez, 400 miles off the Chilean coast.

DEFOE's novel can be considered an allegory of mankind; it reflects the development of civilization, reduced to a period of 28 years. The economic theories of ROUSSEAU, CARLYLE and MARX, as well as German theories on education were influenced by the tale of a man left to his own resources. “Robinsonades”; survival stories, are imitations of DEFOE's novel:

  • R. L. STEVENSON, Treasure Island (1883)
  • R.M. BALLANTYNE, Coral Island (19th century)
  • It was also the source for Lord of the Flies (1954) by WILLIAM GOLDING.

A contemporary example of the picaresque novel is The Adventures of Augie March (1953) by SAUL BELLOW (b. 1915).

HENRY FIELDING's two novels of “comic epic poem in prose”, Joseph Andrews (1742) and Tom Jones (1749), tell the various adventures of their protagonists in the picaresque manner. Their encounters with characters (types) of differing social standing serve as a vehicle to ridicule affectation, vanity and hypocrisy. They provided a panoramic view of 18th century English society. Describing trivial events in the epic style was used as a means of mocking at human imperfection. Both novels used the ploy of the self-conscious narrator who invites the reader to witness the process of selecting material and composing the narration.

The Sentimental Novel (Der empfindsame Roman)

The sentimental novel or novel of sensibility became fashionable in the course of the 18th century. Its emphasis was on the characters' emotions and feelings rather than on the sequence of events. The sentimental novel of the 18th century showed a growing insight into the human soul. This led to the first English novels of character: Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady (1747–48) by SAMUEL RICHARDSON. Pamela is an epistolary novel (Briefroman), a genre that became quite popular during the 18th century. It tells the story of a 15-year-old servant who, by her virtue and goodness, reveals the true character of her master and is finally rewarded by her master marrying her.

“It is virtue and goodness only that make the true beauty.”
(Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, Volume I, end of letter VIII)

The plot develops throughout the many letters that Pamela writes to her parents. The reader is confined to the narrator's experience (first person narrator) and what she chooses to write; action and characters are presented from a limited point of view.

LAURENCE STERNE's Tristram Shandy (1760–67) used the narrative technique of the self-conscious narrator. The self-conscious narrator is mainly occupied with presenting his own personality and imagination. He comments on himself as a writer and on his book as the product of writing. The self-conscious narrator is made the subject of his own book; tracing the narrator's motives becomes the chief task of the reader.
As a result the narration often gets side-tracked, and there are many delays before delivering the information promised: in spite of the novel's title we get to know little about the life of Tristram Shandy who is born in Book IV and soon totally disappears from the story. Tristram Shandy is an experiment on the sequence of time. The narration deals with four different lines of action set at different periods of time, shifting from one level to another in the middle of the action. Episode is heaped upon episode before any of them has been completed. Graphic devices contribute to the humorous effect of the novel: blank pages, black pages or lines illustrating the narrator's digressions. Tristram Shandy is considered to be the most experimental novel that has ever been produced.

“I wish I could write a chapter upon sleep.
A fitter occasion could never have presented itself, than what this moment offers, when all the curtains of the family are drawn – the candles put out – and no creature's eyes are open but a single one, for the other has been shut these twenty years, of my mother's nurse.
It is a fine subject!
And yet, as fine as it is, I would undertake to write a dozen chapters upon button-holes, both quicker and with more fame, than a single chapter upon this.”

(Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy. Book IV, Chapter XV)

Stand: 2010
Dieser Text befindet sich in redaktioneller Bearbeitung.

Lexikon Share
Englisch Note verbessern?

Kostenlos bei Duden Learnattack registrieren und ALLES 48 Stunden testen.

Kein Vertrag. Keine Kosten.

  • 40.000 Lern-Inhalte in Mathe, Deutsch und 7 weiteren Fächern
  • Hausaufgabenhilfe per WhatsApp
  • Original Klassenarbeiten mit Lösungen
  • Deine eigene Lern-Statistik
  • Kostenfreie Basismitgliedschaft