History of the Evolution of the English Novel

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Dictionary defines the term novel as ”A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” The novel, therefore, developed as a piece of prose fiction that presented characters in real-life events and situations. Novel as a literary genre emerged in the beginning of the eighteenth century. It is an important part of English literature. Even these days, literature serves as a gateway to learning of the past and expanding ones knowledge and understanding of the world. The rise in literacy level has contributed towards the rise of the English novel.

A great novel often seems to describe an entire society, creating a vivid image of the relationships among whole classes of people. It‟s no wonder that novels are frequently described as the forerunners of modern ethnographies and social histories. Novels evolved from the Romantic period to become the leading literary genre during the Victorian period. Well, these changes can be mainly seen through the evolvement of historical novel, novels of manners and realistic fiction.

The first type of novel evolved is historical novel. Those novels are of historical based. The contents in which the stories are set always have historical bases. Some characters are created and others really existed. It has clear description of the time, society and places. The narrator is in the third person and is out of the story. It is usually told in chronological order but with frequent flashbacks. Historical novels are not only set in the past but may also take place against the backdrop of real-life events. In some cases, important historical figures may even appear as characters. In Scott‟s Waverley (1814), generally regarded as the first important historical novel in England, Charles Edward Stuart, or “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” makes an especially dramatic appearance in chapter 40.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was first and foremost a storyteller of this kind of novel. In the book, Rise of the Novel states that Defoe’s ‘fiction’ is the first, which presents us with a picture of both-individual life in its larger perspective as a historical process, and in its closer view, which shows the process being acted out against the background of the most ephemeral thoughts and action. One of the most important works written by Scott is”Ivanhole”

Ivanhoe takes place during the crucial historical moment just after Richard’s landing in England, before the king has revealed himself to the nation. Throughout the novel, Richard travels in disguise. The emphasis of the book is on the conflict between the Saxons and the Normans. Ivanhoe–a Saxon knight loyal to a Norman king emerges as a model of how the Saxons can adapt to life in Norman England. But more outstanding than any metaphor in Ivanhoe is the book’s role as an adventure story, which is by far its most important aspect. With its scenes of jousting knights, burning castles, and damsels in distress, Ivanhoe is one of the most popular historical romances of all time.

Daniel Defoe‟s Robinson Crusoe and Henry Fielding‟s Tom Jones are some of early English novels. Every novel of Scott’s obviously has a strong infusion of Regency life and thought. Over the course of his prolific career, Scott also elevated the status of the novel form in England, where it had often been regarded as disreputable and dangerous. Writing in the 1810s and 1820s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, Scott uses such novels as Waverley to press a number of urgent questions: How do societies grow and change over the course of time? What happens when traditional ways of life must give way to larger historical forces? Scott‟s responses to these questions are complex and, at times, uncertain, although he always sides with the forces of modernization, he also acknowledges the intense appeal and enduring value of longstanding traditions.

The second type of novel is the novels of manners. A novel of manner is the novel dominated by social customs,manners, conventions, and habits of a definite social class. It is so called bourgeois novel. Austen is one of the popular writers of this kind of novels. Perhaps the most beloved of all English novelists.She was the daughter of a humble clergyman living in a little village. Austen began her first serious literary projects while in her 20s.Novel-writing was a part of her everyday life. Her work has attracted a wide range of admirers. It has been the subject of innumerable film and television adaptations.

She is one of the literary giant of the history of literature. Most of her writing, shared the same plot. It centers on women at that time. Her main interest was the moral, social and psychological behavior of her heroines. She wrote mainly about young heroines as they grew up and search for personal happiness. (Carter, McRae.1997)

With the increase of the literacy, the demand on the reading material increased rapidly, among well-to- do women, who were novel readers of the time.Jane Austen brought good sense and balance to the English novel which during the Romantic age had become undisciplined. The, novel, written by Richardson and Fielding needed reform which were provided by Jane Austen. She published six novels, which have now placed her among the front rank of English novelists.

She did for the English novel precisely what the Lake poets did for English poetry-she refined and simplified it, making it a true reflection of English life. As Wordsworth made a deliberate effort to make poetry natural and truthful, Jane Austen also had in her mind the idea of presenting English country society exactly as it was. She is one of the sincerest examples in English literature of art for art‟s sake.Her major great novels are Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansefield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasuon. Of these Pride and Prejudice is the best and most widely read of her novels. Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Mansefield are now placed among the front rank of English novels. From purely literary point of view Northanger Abbey gets the first place on account of the subtle humour and delicate satire it contains against the grotesque but popular‟Gothic‟ novels.

In the Romantic period the mainly literary genre was poetry but also have a prose production, mainly novels. Novels evolved, such as, gothic novel- set in ancient times and in isolated places, for example castles or ruins. Terror is a fundamental element in gothic novel and it is the predecessor of horror. The characters described are exaggerated. There is usually a heroine, a young woman, who is always threatened by a villain. There is also a hero that attempts to defend the heroine. Another important characteristic is the presence of ghosts, monsters, supernatural beings, vampires. The most important gothic novels are “The castle of Otranto” and “The monk”.These novels are set in the upper middle class. There is a distinction between upper middle class and middle class. All the protagonists are really influenced by the rules and manners of the society of that time.

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen comments on the phenomenon of social mobility. She uses marriage as a metaphor for political and social regeneration. The happy couple at the end of Pride and Prejudice serves as an example of how wealth and privilege can be combined with a sense of duty and humility. Although earlier writers had tried to create similar effects, none of them had managed the task as skillfully as Austen. Therefore, her novels would become classic expressions of the emerging comedic tradition in English fiction.

Austen has often been praised for her use of dialogue and her handling of dramatic scenes. She is also thought to be a master of narrative construction, gifted with an impeccable sense of how to shape and structure a story. Yet her greatest achievement, and her most important contribution to the development of the novel, may be her innovative treatment of human consciousness. If we consider passages from Pamela, Tom Jones, and Austen‟s Emma, we will see that Austen gives us a vivid sense of what her heroine is thinking and feeling. Indeed, through her inventive use of what we now call free indirect discourse, she paves the way for generations of later writers and provides a compelling image of consciousness itself.

Finally, the third type of novel is the realistic fiction or novel. They were popular during the Victorian period. In this period, the novel became the most popular in England and the world (Carter, McRae, 2001). It was an ideal form to describe contemporary life. It was also the basis for Victorian which mostly reflects the individualist with its society. Novel at this time has flourished since there was increase literacy in the society and effects of industrialization. Industrial Revolution that Britain had seen and its effect were mirrored in the novels that become the means of portraying life, its social and moral values.Thus, the novel in the nineteenth century was a tool which the writers used to deliver social criticism. They attempt to show the Victorian readers about the trouble behind the beautiful scene of their society (Carter, McRae.2001). It was the new form that was developed from drama (Flecher.2002)

It is also portrayed as age of novel by novelists as Bronte sisters. The Bronte sisters (Charlotte Emily and Anne), introduced the female characters. They depicted a picture about women and their struggles in Victorian England. Charlotte„s Jane Eyre (1847) also depicts women„s position in Victorian England struggling to achieve self-fulfillment in a society known by its oppression and imbalance between social classes.

Though there are many great novelists during this period but Charles Dickens is one of the greatest. He is the few authors whose works are still the most popular and read of the time (Thornley, Robert, 1984, as cited in Khan, M.T.A, 2017). Born in February 1812 at Portsmouth, England, Charles Dickens was the son of Elizabeth Barrow, a house wife and John Dickens. In his novel, Dickens created a ‘condition of England’, which is directly concerned with contemporary problems and social issues. It shows the exploitation of the labour class by merciless industrialists. Dickens is critical about utilitarian laws so he aimed at ensuring justice through ethical and moral means. Therefore he can be regarded as a novelist with a social purpose.

As a novelist Dickens has been viewed and studied from different viewpoints by literary critics. They studied him deeply and intensely and came to the conclusion that he was a realist, naturalist, satirist, social reformer, feminist, social documentarist, all rolled in one. Most of his novels describe the hardships of life. In his work Hard Times (1954) Dickens provides an insight into the Victorian world. The fictional city of Coke town is represented as a mirror, reflecting 19th century England. It portrays the worst side of the new industrial society and how the poor lived. It shows the poverty and bad conditions of the workers due to industrialization. Within an industrial society, money is the controller. The novel‟s moral could be that if we chase only after money in our life, and allow it to suppress our joy, in the end, we are no better than just a bunch of machines. He expresses the concerns about the working class. He takes on the role of a social commentator, criticizes the industrialization of England and reveals among the most urgent issues of the time the mechanization of human beings, social inequality, extinction of fancy as a consequence of industrialization, and also the unjust position of women.

In his another great work, Oliver Twist, Dickens writes of the social problems of young boys of the poor and working class. It also portrays the problems of children in cities where poor people had no chance to share in the success of the nation. His novels depict the problems of the Victorian society. Likewise, his other novels too have themes portraying the life of his society. His other great novels include Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend.It was the novel that was the dominant genre in the Victorian period. Thus, the Victorian novel is greatly known for its concern for the problems of the day, and the principal form in Victorian age. (Carter, McRae.2001)

The nineteenth century was the great age of the English novel (Ghazali, 2009, as cited in Khan, M.T.A, 2017). In the nutshell, novel has its place not only in the past but even today. Reading novels allows us to gain access to deeply imagined lives other than our own. Great novels could strengthen our moral muscles. Stories organize us culturally and emotionally. They offer us the opportunity to develop wisdom. Stories stretch our minds and help to grow our moral capacity. Literature, especially the novel is infused in school curriculum, mainly to provide variety and motivation and can be a vehicle for developing analytical skills. It gives students the opportunity to read and analyze longer text selections, important for the developmental student who usually lacks extensive reading practice. Novelist such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had made great contribution to the English literature.

Their novels are popular and widely read even today. They are preferred by all the age level. It was also said that the dominant genre in Victorian literature was the novel (Cuddon, 1998). ”The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Thus, the quote strongly states the importance of reading novel. By the close of a novel by Fielding or Austen or the Dickens, each of the characters has found his or her proper place in society.


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