English 6236:  Restoration Literature

 

Early Novel

 

Assignment:              Dangerfield Don Tomazo (Salzman 349-446)

                                    Congreve, Incognita including Preface (471-526)

                                    *** Read Salzman's introduction pp. ix-xxvi

 

Bibliography:  Crystal

Post 14

 

 

Because this is the last class, we can take the opportunity to tie together some of the major themes and ideas we have examined in the literature of the Restoration.  As always, I would like the class to follow your interests; therefore, come prepared to discuss the questions and observations you have made on these and other texts from the semester.

 

*************************

I.          How can we classify these texts generically?  What do they share with the picaresque, the criminal biography, the spiritual autobiography, the romance, the political memoir?

 

(The following definition is taken from Holman and Harmon's A Handbook to Literature 6th Edition.)

 

Picaresque Novel:  A chronicle, usually autobiographical, presenting the life story of a rascal of low degree engaged in menial tasks and making his living more through his wits than his industry.  The picaresque novel tends to be episodic and structureless.  The picaro, or central figure, through various pranks and predicaments and by his associations with people of varying degree, affords the author an opportunity for satire of the social classes.  Romantic in the sense of being an adventure story, the picaresque novel nevertheless is strongly marked by realism in petty detail and by uninhibited expression.

            Seven chief qualities distinguish the picaresque novel.  1) It chronicles a part or the whole of the life of a rogue.  It is likely to be in the first person.  2)  The chief figure is drawn from a low social level, is of loose character, and, if employed at all, does menial work.  3)  The novel presents a series of episodes only slightly connected.  4) Progress and development of character do not take place.  The central figure starts as a picaro and ends as a picaro, manifesting the same qualities throughout.  When change occurs, as it sometimes does, it is external, brought about by the picaro's falling heir to a fortune or by marrying money.  4)  The method is realistic.  Although the story may be romantic in itself, it is presented with a plainness of language and a vividness of detail such as only the realist is permitted.  6) Thrown with people from every class and often from different parts of the world, the picaro serves them intimately in some lowly capacity and learns all their foibles and frailties.  The picaresque novel may in this way be made to satirize social castes, national types, or racial peculiarities.  7) The hero usually stops just short of being an actual criminal.  The line between crime and petty rascality is hazy, but somehow the picaro always manages to draw it.  Carefree, amoral perhaps, the picaro avoids actual crime and turns from one peccadillo to disappear down the road in search of another.

 

 

            What thematic or stylistic concerns do these fictions share with the drama of the Restoration?  With the poetry?  How are they unique?

 

            What are the characteristics of these 'novels'?  (Can we even call them novels?)  In what ways do they correspond with the prose of the Renaissance?  How do they anticipate the eighteenth-century novel?  The nineteenth-century novel?  (See excerpt from Hunter.) 

 

            What ideological suppositions do these texts embody?  How do they establish authority?  What claims do they make about power? about society?  about the reader? 

 

            To what extent are these political texts?  What social problems do they mediate? (See excerpt from McKeon).

 

            Consider the history of the Restoration and its relationship to the genres we have studied.  Place these texts in that history.  Do you see any evidence of the same historical forces affecting poetry and drama in these fictions?

 

            Compare these two works to the fiction of Aphra Behn.  What elements of style, structure and literary conventions do they share?  Examine the conventions of plot, the role of romance, the function of the narrator, the development of character.

 

II.         Examine the Preface to Incognita.  How does Congreve distinguish between the Romance and the Novel?  Do these distinctions hold within his own narrative?  How does Congreve rate his fiction with respect to drama?  What cultural values does this hierarchy reflect?

 

            What evidence of Congreve the dramatist can you find in Incognita?  How does the plot compare with that of The Way of the World (1699)?  How do the characters compare?  Which do you prefer and why?

 

            Consider the range of critical opinion on Incognita discussed on p. xxiii.  Does the tale merit such consideration?  On what grounds can you value the fiction?

 

            Compare the narrative technique in Don Tomazo to that in Incognita.  To what extent does irony operate in these texts?  If these texts are ironic, then what is the object of the irony?

 

III.       Contemporary Theories of the Novel

 

            Ian Watt's seminal study The Rise of the Novel (1957) identifies formal realism as the characteristic attribute of the novel:

 

[F]ormal, because the term realism does not here refer to any special literary doctrine or purpose, but only to a set of narrative procedures which are so commonly found together in the novel, and so rarely in other literary genres, that they may be regarded as typical of the form itself.  Formal realism, in fact, is the narrative embodiment of a premise that Defoe and Richardson accepted very literally, but which is implicit in the novel form in general:  the premise, or primary convention, that the novel is a full and authentic report of human experience, and is therefore under an obligation to satisfy its reader with such details of the story as the individuality of the actors concerned, the particulars of the times and places of their actions, details which are presented through a more largely referential use of language than is common in other literary forms (32).

 

Compare the two narratives for today's reading with respect to the convention of formal realism.  Does one use the convention more effectively?  How does the formal realism of the narrative enhance the reading experience?  Is this an adequate criterion for judging the novel?

 

The following excerpt from Michael McKeon's The Origins of the English Novel (1987) summarizes (and simplifies) his argument:

 

"The Novel" must be understood as what Marx calls a "simple abstraction," a deceptively monolithic category that encloses a complex historical process.  It attains its modern, "institutional" stability and coherence at this time because of its unrivaled power both to formulate, and to explain, a set of problems that are central to early modern experience.  These may be understood as problems of categorial instability, which the novel, originating to resolve, also inevitably reflects.  The first sort of instability with which the novel is concerned has to do with generic categories; the second, with social categories.  The instability of generic categories registers an epistemological crisis, a major cultural transition in attitudes toward how to tell the truth in narrative.  For convenience, I will call the set of problems associated with this epistemological crisis "questions of truth."  The instability of social categories registers a cultural crisis in attitudes toward how the external social order is related to the internal, moral state of its members. For convenience, I will call the set of problems associated with this social and ethical crisis "questions of virtue."  Questions of truth and questions of virtue concern different realms of human experience, and they are likely closely analogous.  Both pose problems of signification:  What kind of authority or evidence is required of narrative to permit it to signify truth to its readers?  What kind of social existences or behavior signifies an individual's virtue to others?

            The instability of generic and social categories in the period from 1600 to 1740 is symptomatic of a change in attitudes about how truth and virtue are most authentically signified.  But the novel comes into existence in order to mediate this change in attitudes, and it therefore is not surprising that it should seem a contradictory amalgam of inconsistent elements.  In fact, the crucial period of the novel's origins is best understood according to a dynamic model of conflict that occurs, for questions of truth as well as virtue, in several stages.  (20-21)

 

Consider what characteristics of these narratives fit McKeon's description of the novel and its ability to mediate social and epistemological problems.  How do they reflect questions of truth?  How do they embody questions of virtue?  What formal attributes contribute to the expression and resolution of these questions? 

 

In Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction (1990), J. Paul Hunter identifies nine features of the novel which few novel-theorists address because they make the novel difficult to treat aesthetically:

 

1)  The marvelous, or that which is unusual, unpredictable, strange and surprising (but not outside the realm of possibility);

 

2)  The engagement with taboos, "the forbidden, repressed, or secret arenas of human activity, as well as those private recesses of the human mind, will, and appetite that produce them";

 

3)  The tendency toward the confessional or exhibitionistic;

 

4)  The novel's tendency both to probe and promote loneliness and solitariness;

 

5)  The tendency to categorize and differentiate readers and try to mediate among their conflicting habits and interests;

 

6) Earnest engagement in epistemological issues:  How do you know things;

 

7)  Convention of story-within-stories;

 

8)  The verbal texture of the novel -- what remains outside of straight or true narrative;

 

9)  Didacticism.

 

Which of these conventions appear in the narrative for today?  To what extent are they significant?  Consider the implications for these conventions.  What do they mean in the literary contexts?  In the historical contexts?