The novel proper in English literature began in the 18th century. But the rudiments of the novel could be seen even in Chaucer’s conception of the gallery of characters in The Canterbury Tales. Several Elizabethan writers wrote prose fiction which laid the foundations of the English novel. Among them the most important were John Lyly who wrote ‘Euphues’ and Nash, the author of ‘The unfortunate Traveller’. The first work was a didactic prose fiction in the picarseque tradition and the second was a realistic story of action. In 1678 John Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ was published. In many respects this ranks as a novel. Then came Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Several critics thinking that Robinson Crusoe was the first great novel in English literature thought it was up your fantasy. Swift’s work is considered to be the first great satiric expression.
HOW IT EVOLVED:
It was in the 18th century that the novel acquired its modern form. Samuel Richardson, the author of ‘Pamela’ is regarded as the originator of this form. His great novel was told in the form of letters. Richardson was concerned with moral themes in all his novels he was an adept in expressing human feelings and motives through character. Henry Fielding parodied Richardson’s Pamela in his novel ‘Joseph Andrews’. His ‘Tom Jones’ is a great novel in the picarseque tradition. He anticipated Dickens in his social criticism and satire. Two other important points in the field of the novel were Smollet who wrote ‘Roderick Random’, ‘Peregrine Pickle’ and three other novels and Sterne, the author of ‘Tristram Shandy’. Among the later novelist of the eighteenth century Goldsmith deserves mention as the author of ‘The vicar of wakefield’ the earlist domestic novel in English. The first great women novelists first Fanny Burney who published her ‘Evelina’ in 1778.
The 19th century saw the development of the novel in various directions. The novel discarded the sensationalism of the 18th century Gothic writers like Horace Walpole and Picarseque tradition of Fielding and smollet. It entered a new era of artistic refinement, thematic liberalism and stylistic innovations. Jane austen’s domestic novels reached unprecedented artistic perfection. Her novels such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Emma’ dealt with a respectable country society and the presented a miniature world dominated by graceful social conventions and manners. Scott inaugurated the historical novel in which picarseque details were combined with romantic feelings for the past. Some of his famous novels are Waverley, Ivanhoe, The Talisman and Kenilworth. The tradition of the historical novel was carried on by a few others including Charles Reade, the author of ‘The Cloister’ and the ‘Hearth’. The two women novelist Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte were a striking contrast to Jane Austen. In the novels Jane Eyre and wuthering Heights respectively they made use of the elements of horror and soul-suffering to heighten a human story of violent passion.
CHARLES DICKENS’S CONTRIBUTION:
The most outstanding name in the Victorian novel is Charles Dickens. He developed more complex plots than his predecessors and introduced greater human interest, pathos and humour. Some of his novels contain autobiographical elements. He was supreme in depicting the life of London and he used in novel as a platform for social reform. His most famous novels are there with David Copperfield, Great Exceptions, Nicholas Nickleby and A Tale of two cities. Thackeray excelled in the novel of ideas. Vanity Fair is his masterpiece. He moralizers and his weapons for social criticism and reforms are irony and satire.
George Eliot novels contains philosophical observations on religion, politics and morals. Her famous novels are Adam Bede, Middlemarch and Silas Marner. Another novelist who stands out as a satirist and was George Meredith. His novel such as ‘The Egoist’ and ‘The ordeal of Richard Feveral’ anticipate the psycho-analytical method that become so popular with the 20th century novelists. Pain and tragedy found their most artistic expression in the novels of Thomas Hardy. He took his characters from the peasantry of his native Wessex and portrayed the innermost soul of his characters with great insight, affection and even humour. some of his important novels are ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, ‘The Return of the Native’ and ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
Stream of consciousness novel found its exponents in Virginia woolf and James Joyce. Novels like Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs dalloway’, ‘To the Lighthouse’ and James Joyce ‘ulysses’ inaugurated the trend of exploring the subconscious recesses of the human mind. Novelist such as D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley introduced several innovations in theme and style. The most significant novels of D.H. Lawrence are ‘Sons and Lovers’, ‘Woman in Love’ and those of Huxley are ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Crome yellow’.
During the last fifty years the scope of the novel has widened to include almost every subject. It has become the most popular medium through which an author can reach the public. There have been as a host of good novelist during the last fifty years – E.M. Forster, Somerset Maugham, Charles Morgan, Graham Greene, Kingsly Amis, Iris Murdoch and William Golding.
The English novel is no more a drawing room entertainment address to the ladies as novelist George Moore once said.