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Rise of the Novel

English Summer Vacation Project

Sairath Das, Class XII, Section R, DPS Ruby Park, Kolkata.

The dominant genre in world literature - the novel, is actually relatively
young form of imaginative writing. Only about 250 years old in England and embattled from the start - its rise to preeminence has been striking. After
sparse beginning since 17th Century England, the novel grew exponentially
in production by the 18th Century and in the 19th Century, became the
primary form of popular entertainment.

The rise of the novel as an important genre is generally associated with
the growth of the middle class in England. The English novel has generally
been seen as beginning with Daniel Defoes Robinson Crusoe (1719), though
John Bunyans The Pilgrims Progress (1678) and Aphra Behns
Oroonoko (1688) are also contenders. Another important early novel is
Gullivers Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift.
Novelists of the late 17th Century rejected Behn and other popular
novelists and idealised the realism of Bunyans works. Three of the foremost
novelists of this era are Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Samuel
Richardson. In the work of these three writers, the realism and drama of
individual consciousness that we most associate with the novel took
precedence over external drama. A number of profound social and economic
changes affecting British culture from the Renaissance through the eighteenth
century brought the novel quickly into popular prominence. The broadest of
these was probably the advancement in the technology of printing in the 16th
and 17th centuries. Written texts - once the province of the elite - were now
available to a growing population of readers.
Authors became free agents dependent on popular sales for their
success and sustenance. The demand for reading material allowed a great
number of writers to make a living from poetry and fiction.

Eminent Novelists of different Genre

Horace Walpoles 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto, invented the
Gothic fiction genre. This genre combined the macabre fantastic, supernatural and usually involved haunted castles and grave-yards. Later
novelists Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding figure of the Gothic villain.
Mary Shelleys novel Frankenstein (1818) is another important Gothic
novel as well as early example of science fiction.
Jane Austins (1775 - 1817) works are part of the transition to 19th
century realism. Her plots though fundamentally comic, highlight
dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic
security. Some of her important works are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and
Sensibility and Emma.
An interest in rural matters and the changing social and economic
situation of the countryside is seen in the novel of Thomas Hardy (1840 1928). He gained fame as an author of such novels as Far from the Madding
Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the
Important development occurred in the 19th century. Although
predated by John Ruskins The King of the Golden River (1841), the history
of the modern fantasy genre is generally said to begin with George
McDonald, the influential author of The Princess and the Goblet.
H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946) writing career began in the 1890s with
science fiction novels like The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the
Worlds (1898).
Some of the major novelists writing in Britain at the start of the 20th
century were an Irishman James Joyce (1882 - 1941), and two immigrants,
American Henry James (1843 - 1916) and Pole Joseph Conrad (1857 - 1924).
Another significant modernist in the 1920s was Virginia Woolf (1882 1941) who was an influential feminist and a major stylistic innovator
associated with the stream of consciousness technique. Her novels include
Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves and To the Lighthouse.

Among popular novelist Daphne Du Maurier wrote Rebecca, a

mystery novel, in 1938 and W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) of Human
Bondage (1915) a strongly autobiographical novel, is generally agreed to be
his masterpiece. In genre fiction Agatha Christie was an important writer of
crime novels, short stories and plays, best remembered fro her eighty
detective novels and her successful West End theatre plays.
Another popular writer during the Golden Age of detective fiction was
Dorothy L. Sayers, while Georgette Heyer created the historical romance

It can thus be rightly concluded that the novel should not be solely
considered in terms of great art but also as an all-purpose medium that caters
to different strata of literacy. The novel as a genre will continue to thrive and
there would be many more eminent novelists who would enrich our mentalspace.