The novel is a hard form to pinpoint and define. The novel exists in a wide-range of structures. Today, many famous authors, such as Will Self and Philip Roth, consider the novel a dying art form. A dead art form means the form no longer is read or produced. Phillip Roth said ” People will still be reading them, but they will be cultic. Something like the level of people who read Latin poetry.”
To find out the answer to whether or not the novel is an endangered species of art, we should look back into the history of the form. We should look at the evolution English novel from its very beginnings up to the present day. We should look at structure, the key authors, and the cultural context, in which these novels were written.
This will give us the best context to answer whether or not the novel is a dying art form.
18TH CENTURY NOVEL
Defoe is considered to be the father of the English novel. The one who ushered the art into Britain. Before this time, the narratives in England were restricted to the epic poem and the play. He is most known for Robinson Crusoe. Most literary historians consider Robinson Crusoe the first English novel.
Robinson Crusoe takes the form of a fictionalized journal. The first and third sections of the book carry the most narrative power. The middle portion of the novel is dull. The portion consists of daily and weekly accounts of food and tasks.
The section is trying on patience. Today, the construction would be considered flawed.
Richardson arrived on the novel scene soon afterward. He wrote epistolary novels. An epistle is a letter. Epistolary novels use a series of letters to form a narrative. Letter series based novels contain loose structures. The novels, also, do not create an immersive world to which readers can transport themselves. The most well-known of Richardson’s novels is Clarissa.
Clarissa concerns the seduction of Clarissa Harlow by Richard Lovelace. The book displays Clarissa’s failure to heed her parent’s warnings about the deviant Lovelace. Clarissa, at the end of the novel, is a shamed woman. He wrote the novel to instruct young women how to behave and to illustrate consequences of going outside societal rules. Richardson and many other 18th century novelists were stern moralists. Their goal was to be a moral preacher to a reader.
Laurence Sterne was another novelist, during the 18th century, who served as a major player in the novels form. The Life and Opinion’s of Tristram Shandy Gentleman is the novel he is most known for. The novel uses commentary to narrate. The narrator is Tristram. He is the member of the Shandy family. The family of Shandy is the topic of the novel. The novel does not contain a story.
The novel’s narrative consists almost solely of commentary. The novel contains many instances of commentary piled atop commentary, to which more commentary is piled upon. It consists of the commentaries of each of the Shandy Family, primarily, his father and his uncle Toby.
Henry Fielding wrote novels, which bear closer to relation to the novels of today than his contemporaries. Fielding, instead of looking to his countrymen for technique and construction, drew from Cervantes Don Quixote and Rabelais Gargantuan and Pantagruel, while employing the aspects of the domestic setting of Richardson. His most famous Novel is The History of Tom Jones a Fondling
Heavy Commentary dominated the book, however, the novel contained a building narrative. It also contain a few letters spaced within its pages. Feilding took the roguish heroic character traits found in Gargantua and Pantagruel and Don Quixote applied them to Tom Jones, the protagonist, and set him on a series of loosely related adventures, while framing the entire novel around a familiar marriage plot. The length of the novel, as with many novels of the period is beefed, due to heavy intercession and commentary of the narrator.
(to be continued)