The contribution of the Eighteenth Century periodical to the development of the novel in England

Date
1934-08-30
Authors
Taylor, Willie Lee
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Abstract
Description
The novel in the modern and specific sense of the word had not yet come into existence at the beginning of the eighteenth century. All the factors necessary to produce it, however, were present at least in a rudimentary form when the century got under way. The periodical had its origin in England at approximately this same time and was, in considerable measure, the product of the same social and intellectual factors that produced the novel. To a curious investigator of complete editions of twelve of these outstanding eighteenth century periodicals (Tatler, Spectator, Guardian, Rambler, Adventurer, World, Connoisseur, Idler, Mirror, Lounger, Observer, and Looker-On) there comes a distinct surprise at the great variety and amount of fiction that they contain. Fiction is used here in a rather broad sense , for we shall find in the course of the investigation that the periodical contains only the beginnings of what is called fiction today. "Characters", stories, allegories, visions , and oriental tales, all go to make up a body of entertaining and amusing reading which is somewhere near the border- line between the informal essay, on the one hand, and the true fictitious narrative on the other. Instructive , too, the essayists would have us say, for the purpose of most of their papers was similar to that expressed in the dedication to the Spectator, "to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in dress, discourse, and behaviour. " This didactic purpose is everywhere present; consequently, fiction in the novel, as in the essay, is introduced chiefly to attract readers who Without it would never seek the solid advice and good moral preaching that underlies the narrative . The early novelists recognized the possibilities of this wholly new and unworked field of matter and method in the periodical, seized upon the approaches it offered, and made gallant attempts to bring the novel into touch with life. An effort is made in the discussion that follows to present the contributions of representative eighteenth century periodicals in revealing sources of material to the first novelists, and in presenting suggestive methods of developing plot, characterization, and setting. The allegories, oriental tales, and visions have been disregarded entirely, and only the "characters" and bits of narration, the beginnings of the modern short story and novel, are considered . If stress seems to be laid on the Tatler and Spectator to the undue neglect of other periodicals , it is only because they furnish more abundant material for this particular study than their successors , and because, in coming before the creation of the novel , they therefore were more influential in the formation of its materials and methods. Discussion of the plots, characters, and purposes of the periodicals imitative of these two eighteenth century literary pioneers, is intended the more to emphasize what is generally to be found in them. Only occasionally do we find an entirely new tendency established, a new theme for a plot, a new character creation, or a new purpose voiced after these our originals, the Tatler and the Spectator. That the novel definitely grew out of the periodical essay with such precision that the traces of its growth can be shown has long been a commonplace of criticism. Although the debt is recognized, there remains a need for an analytical study of the precise obligation which the novelist has incurred in material, method, and procedure, to the periodical essay . There has never been, to the writer 's knowledge, any survey of the material contained in this thesis. It is hoped, therefore , that it will constitute a chapter in the history of eighteenth century literature. The only unpleasant personal association attaching to this study grows out of the disparity between intention and achievement . As I have reread these pages, I am dismally aware that it is quite perversely unlike the thought which first welled up in my mind. I hope, however, that, within the maze of foot-notes and facts, I have not lost the essential spirit of utterance .
Keywords
English peridocals, English novels, Eighteenth Century periodicals
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