[LMB] History of Novels

Elin B elbju at yahoo.se
Sun Jan 9 12:14:21 GMT 2011

John Lennard wrote about the history of novels, disputing the claim of novels existing in the Classical Era novels that I (not Paula; she was quoting me) that I'd picked up from the work "The True Story of the Novel" by Margaret Anne Doody. 

> John: Mmm. No argument about the complexity, worthiness
> &c. of the works Doody cites, but novel form is not just a matter of 
> taste - and what Doody leaves wholly out of account is the plain fact 
> that the novel as we have it is a child of the printing press.
> It's easy to think a new technology is just a distribution
> system for an old one (photography, cinema, TV, video ...) but it usually
> ain't, and printing was not merely a way of copying and distributing a
> pre-existing narrative form. It took a century or so for metamorphosis to
> complete, with late Elizabethan pamphlets at one end (Nashe et al.) and > the emergent novel at the other (Behn, Defoe et al.), but, however slow, > the change is sure, and as a long prose form written for a mass market 
> served by a publishing industry much about the novel is distinctive.
> Doody's quite right to trash critical attitudes that suppose the newer 
> to be intrinsically superior, and does a good rescue job for older 
> romances and classical tales of various kinds, but her chosen argument
> is one long fudge.

John, you may very well be right about the importance of the printing press and the new mass market for what we call "novel". In any case, I have not studied the question enough to feel confident abut further arguing that point.

So, leaving the matter of pre-printing era long prose fiction aside, I was still a bit surprised to see you cite Defoe and Behn but not Cervantes, as I usually see "Don Quixote" mentioned as either the first true novel, or one of the first, in other books of literary history. How would you classify that work? 

Elin B

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