DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH NOVEL IN THE 18'TH CENTURY: DR. HARESHWAR ROY
The discovery of the modern novel is the typical growth of the 18'th century. It is the original contribution of
England to the
world of literature. The novel as a popular genre began with Richardson's Pamela in 1740. But the root of
the English novel plunges deep through the centuries. In 14'th and 15'th
centuries the novel was in the process of formation. In those early days the
novel was in the form of romantic tales based upon adventures and romantic
episodes. A certain amount of prose fiction did exist in the 16'th and 17'th
The Beginning: Malory's Morte D'Arthur is a noticable romance. It was the first English romance. With this book the English novel took a distinctive forward step. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales have all the qualities of the latter day fiction. In The Canterbury Tales Chaucer produced the first English novel. Another great work of value before the Elizabethan fiction was Thomas More's Utopia. Thus in early days Chaucer and More gave a new turn to fiction. They changed the course of romances to religious and social portraiture of life.
Sixteenth Century: In 16'th century a real process of evolution commenced. Though the Elizabethans did not succeed in evolving the novel, their efforts made the making of novel possible. In Elizabethan age the idea of the novel grew more definite. Most of the fiction of this age was either romantic or didactic.
‘ Arcadia’ is a
romance of chivalry. Lodge's ‘Rosalynde’ and Greene's ‘Pandosto’ are purely
romantic fiction. A didactic stain ran through the writings of Lyly, More and
Bacon. A realistic note was struck by Delony, Dekker and Nashe. Nashe's work is
the early source of the realistic novel of today.
Seventeenth Century: During the 17'th century, English novel took a new form under the influence of the French novelists. The French romances deeply influenced the English novels. In
they are known by the name of the heroic romances of the 17'th century. These
romances were entirely removed from ordinary life. Later on Mrs. Aphra Behn and
several other women writers cultivated a new form of fiction. It preserved the
truth of life. The most important writer of the 17'th century is John Bunyan.
His 'The Pilgrim's Progress' and ‘The Life and Death of Mr. Badman’ come nearer
to modern novel. His works paved the way for the rise of novel in the 18'th
Eighteenth Century: The real beginning of the English novel took place in the 18'th century. The rise of the novel was a result of the democratic movement. The spread of education increased the number of readers. The appearance of newspapers and magazines developed the habit of reading. New prose style and decline of drama These things made way for the 18'th century novel.
Defoe: The English novel began with the publication of Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe'. He was the first great novelist who introduced a new technique in realism. 'Robinson Crusoe' is supposed to be the first great English novel. Baker considers 'Robinson Crusoe' as the first modern novel. In short, Defoe came very near to the genuine novel. But some critics are of the view that the element of adventures and crime are so prominent in Defoe's work that they shold be classed as romances and not as novels. Addison and steele contributed much to the evolution of realistic novel. Novel finds its beginning in The Tattler, The spectator and The Gaurdian.
The four wheels of the novel: The 18'th century is the golden age of novel. In this age there were four men of genius. They were Richardson, Fielding, Smollett and Stern. With them novel reached the highest point of glory. They are known as The Four Wheels of Novel. Among these four wheels Fielding is called the father of English novel. His 'Joseph Andrews', 'Jonathan Wild', 'Tom Jones' and 'Amelia' are very popular novels. He is known for his theory of novel, realism, characterisation and craftmanship. Smollett widened the scope of novel. He introduced same new elements. His contribution is also noteworthy. His 'Humphry Clinker' is a very popular novel. Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy' is also a very popular novel. Sterne also contributed novel much. He is the pioneer of modern impressionism.
Thus in 18'th century novel reached at its climax. Summing up the contribution of the four wheels of the novel Rickett says"
Richardson has given sentimentality, Fielding
humour, Smollett liveliness".