Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Theory of the Novel: Clara Reeve. The Progress of Romance (1785)), Vol. I, Evening vii.


Clara Reeve. The Progress of Romance (1785)), Vol. I, Evening vii.

Euphrasia .... The word Novel in all languages signifies something new. It was first used to distinguish these works from Romance, though they have lately been confounded together and are frequently mistaken for each other.

Sophronia. But how will you draw the line of distinction, so as to separate them effectually, and prevent further mistakes?

Euphrasia. I will attempt this distinction, and I presume if it is properly done it will be followed,-If not, you are but where you were before. The Romance is an heroic fable, which treats of fabulous persons and things.-The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and of the times in which it is written. The Romance in lofty and elevated language, describes what never happened nor is likely to happen.-The Novel gives a familiar relation of such things, as pass every day before our eyes, such as may happen to our friend, or to ourselves; and the perfection of it, is to represent every scene, in so easy and natural a manner, and to make them appear so probable, as to deceive us into a per­suasion (at least while we are reading) that all is real, until we are affected by the joys or distresses, of the persons in the story, as if they were our own.
Clara Reeve. The Progress of Romance (1785)), Vol. I, Evening vii.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Theory of the Novel: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Preface (1762) to La Nouvelle Heloise (1760).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Preface (1762) to La Nouvelle Heloise (1760).
Nature and the Supernatural in the Novel as argued in the following excerpt:
N .... These letters are not letters, this novel is not a novel: you characters are people from another world.
R. I'm sorry for this world then.
N. Don't worry; there are plenty of mad people here too. You characters, however, are not to be found in nature.
R .... Why make up your mind about them in this way? Do you really claim to know just how far men can differ from each other how much characters vary, or to just what extent customs an prejudices alter with time, place and period? Who dares to set precise limits to nature and say: man can go as far as this, but no further?
N. By that remarkable reasoning, unheard-of monsters, giants, pygmies, fantasies of every kind, could all be admitted as parts of the natural order and portrayed. We should no longer possess any common standard. I repeat, in representations of human nature, everyone must be able to distinguish the human being.
R. I agree with that, provided that one also knows how to distinguish what makes for differences of type from what is essential to the species. What would you think of people who could only recognize members of our own species when they are dressed as Frenchmen?
N. What would you think of the man who, without describing form or feature, sets about portraying a human being with a veil for clothing? Wouldn't one have the right to ask him where the human being was?
R. Without describing form or feature? Are you being fair? That there are no perfect people-that is the really unlikely thing ... I must ask you to look once more at the inscription on the copy.
N. Les Belles Ames! [the beautiful souls] Fine sounding words!
R. 0 philosophy, what pains you are at to shrivel human hearts and make men paltry.
N. But the romantic spirit exalts and deceives ...
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Preface (1762) to La Nouvelle Heloise (1760

Monday, September 24, 2012

Theory of the Novel: Tobias Smollett. Preface to Roderick Random

It is no wonder that the ancients could not relish a fable in prose, after they had seen so many remarkable events celebrated in verse by their best poets.

But when the minds of men were debauched, by the imposition of priestcraft, to the utmost pitch of credulity, the authors of romance arose, and, losing sight of probability, filled their performances with the most monstrous hyperboles. If they could not equal the ancient poets in point of genius, they were resolved to excel them in fiction, and apply to the wonder rather than the judg­ment of their readers.

Accordingly they brought necromancy to their aid, and instead of supporting the character of their heroes by dignity of sentiment and practice, distinguished them by their bodily strength, activity, and extravagance of behavior. Although nothing could be more ludicrous and unnatural than the figures they drew, they did not want patrons and admirers, and the world actually began to be infected with the spirit of knight-errantry, when Cervantes, by an inimitable piece of ridicule, reformed the taste of mankind, representing chivalry in the right point of view, and converting romance to purposes far more useful and entertaining, by making it assume the sock, and point out the follies of ordinary life.

The same method has been practiced by other Spanish and French authors, and by Monsieur Le Sage, who, in his Adventures of Gil Blas, has described the knavery and foibles of life, with infinite humor and sagacity.
Tobias Smollett. Preface to Roderick Random (1748)..

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Theory of the Novel: Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Supernatural

Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) is long novel, and to many critics the novel with the most perfect plot. But what the reason I always revisit it is for the chapter preambles that Fielding included to elucidate on the novel as a genre.
In the excerpt that follows Fielding writes with some humor the dangers for writers of appealing to supernatural agents. Actually he is quite clear in issuing a warning that going outside the realm of possibility exposes the writer to ridicule and derision. So, beware of ghosts, miracles, fairies—and the like.

... I think it may very reasonably be required of every writer, that he keeps within the bounds of possibility; and still remembers that what it is not possible for man to perform, it is scarce possible for man to believe he did perform.

This conviction perhaps gave birth to many stories of the ancient heathen deities (for most of them are of poetical original). The poet, being desirous to indulge a wanton and extravagant imagination, took refuge in that power, of the extent of which his readers were no judges, or rather which they imagined to be infinite, and consequently they could not be shocked at any prodigies related of it. This hath been strongly urged in defense of Homer's miracles; and it is perhaps a defense; not, as Mr. Pope would have it, because Ulysses told a set of foolish lies to the Phaeacians, who were a very dull nation; but because the poet himself wrote to heathens, to whom poetical fables were articles of faith.
For my own part, I must confess, so compassionate is my temper, I wish Polypheme had confined himself to his milk diet, and preserved his eye; nor could Ulysses be much more concerned than myself, when his companions were turned into swine by Circe, who showed, I think, afterwards, too much regard for man's flesh to be supposed capable of converting it into bacon.

I wish, likewise, with all my heart, that Homer could have known the rule prescribed by Horace, to introduce supernatural agents as seldom as possible. We should not then have seen his gods coming on trivial errands, and often behaving themselves so as not only to forfeit all title to respect, but to become the objects of scorn and derision. A conduct which must have shocked the credulity of a pious and sagacious heathen; and which could never have been defended, unless by agreeing with a supposition to which I have sometimes almost inclined, that this most glorious poet, as he certainly was, had an intent to burlesque the superstitious faith of his own age and country.
But I have rested too long on a doctrine which can be of no use to a Christian writer; for as he cannot introduce into his works any of that heavenly host which make a part of his creed, so it is horrid puerility to search the heathen theology for any of those deities who have been long since dethroned from their immortality.

Lord Shaftesbury observes that nothing is more cold than the invocation of a muse by a modern; he might have added, that nothing can be more absurd. A modern may with much more elegance invoke a ballad, as some have thought Homer did, or a mug of ale, with the author of Hudibras; which latter may perhaps have inspired more poetry, as well as prose, than all the liquors of Hippocrene or Helicon.

The only supernatural agents which can in any manner be allowed to us moderns, are ghosts; but of these I would advise an author to be extremely sparing. These are indeed, like arsenic, and other dangerous drugs in physic, to be used with the utmost caution; nor would I advise the introduction of them at all in those works, or by those authors, to which, or to whom, a horse-laugh in the reader would be any great prejudice or mortification.

As for elves and fairies, and other such mummery, I purposely omit the mention of them, as I should be very unwilling to confine within any bounds those surprising imaginations, for whose vast capacity the limits of human nature are too narrow; whose works are to be considered as a new creation; and who have consequently lust right to do what they will with their own.
Man, therefore, is the highest subject (unless on very extra­ordinary occasions indeed) which presents itself to the pen of our historian, or of our poet; and in relating his actions, great care is to be taken that we do not exceed the capacity of the agent we describe.
Henry Fielding. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) Book VIII, Chapter i.