Sunday, October 21, 2012

Theory of the Novel: Sir Walter Scott. 'Essay on Romance



Dr. Johnson has defined Romance in its primary sense, to be 'a military fable of the middle ages; a tale of wild adventures in love and chivalry,' But although this definition expresses correctly the ordinary idea of the word, it is not sufficiently comprehensive to answer our present purpose. 

A composition may be a legitimate romance, yet neither refer to love nor chivalry—to war nor to the middle ages. The 'wild adventures' are almost the only absolutely essential ingredient in Johnson's definition.

We would be rather inclined to describe a Romance as 'a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvelous and uncommon incidents;' thus being opposed to the kindred term Novel, which Johnson has described as 'a smooth tale, generally of love'; but which we would rather define as 'a fictitious narrative, differing from the Romance, because the events are accommodated to the ordinary train of human events, and the modern state of society.'

Assuming these definitions, it is evident, from the nature of the distinction adopted, that there may exist compositions which it is difficult to assign precisely or exclusively to the one class or the other; and which, in fact, partake of the nature of both. But, generally speaking, the distinction will be found broad enough to answer all general and useful purposes.
 
Sir Walter Scott. 'Essay on Romance' (1824)

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