2007-08 BM1: Session 5

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Back to 2007-08 BM1 Introduction to the Critical and Scholarly Discussion of Literature, Part 1

Argument 5: The "Rise of the Novel" has been twice re-written over the past 100 years

  • The rise of the novel was originally - from the 16th into the 18th century - understood as the rise of realistic shorter stories (today called "novellas") defeating the rivaling romances
  • Novels - such as Cervantes' Novelas exemplares (1613) - were supposed to
  • teach through good and bad examples of what men and women did in peculiar ("novel", i.e. new) situations
  • entertain with their rapidly evolving plots of intrigues (i.e. secret plans),
  • be written in plain and modern language,
  • end in a point - a surprising turn of the events which the story teller could be expected to use for a more or less serious moral conclusion
  • Romances - such as the Amadis which had driven Cervantes' Don Quixote into a comical heroism - were supposed to
  • be long epic works
  • delight with a language full of lofty expressions,
  • be constructed as in successions of adventures,
  • celebrate the deeds of great heroes,
  • inspire an emulation of the hero's spirit.
  • The "rise of the novel" as defined in 1957 by Ian Watt in his book of the same title
  • turned French fictional works of the 17th century into original production of "romances",
  • claimed the new romances written by Defoe and his followers to be the first real "modern novels".
  • Research of the last two decades has detected a production of "novels" written before Defoe. Authors from Aphra Behn to Eliza Haywood have become "mothers of the English novel" in this development.


  • Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel. Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding (London, 1957).
  • Richetti, John J., Popular Fiction before Richardson. Narrative Patterns 1700-1739 (Oxford, 1969).
  • Spufford, Magaret, Small Books and Pleasant Histories (London, 1981).
  • Davis, Lennard J., Factual Fictions. The Origins of the English Novel (New York, 1983).
  • McKeon, Michael, "Generic Transformation and Social Change: Rethinking the Rise of the Novel," Cultural Critique, 1 (1985). [repr. in Damrosch, Leopold Jr., Modern Essays on Eighteenth Century Literature (New York/ Oxford, 1988), p.159-81.
  • Spencer, Jane, The Rise of Woman Novelists. From Aphra Behn to Jane Austen (Oxford, 1986).
  • Spender, Dale, Mothers of the Novel. 100 Good Women Writers Before Jane Austen (London/ New York, 1986).
  • McKeon, Michael, The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).
  • Todd, Janet, The Sign of Angellica. Women, Writing, and Fiction, 1660-1800 (London, 1989).
  • Hunter, Paul J., Before Novels. The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth Century English Fiction (New York/ London, 1990).
  • Reconsidering The Rise of the Novel - Eighteenth Century Fiction, Volume 12, Number 2-3, ed. David Blewett (January-April 2000). ASIN: B000MV7YGA
  • Michael McKeon, Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).
  • Simons, Olaf, Marteaus Europa, oder, Der Roman, bevor er Literatur wurde (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001).