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Olaf Simons/ Anton Kirchhofer, a The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 : Market Observations

3. The rise of the novel – a 17th century achievement

3.1 Conflicting terminologies
3.2 The rise of the novel and the defeat of the old epic romance
3.3 The rise of the "new romance" - from Fénelon and DeFoe into the 19th century


Three Novels line
  Novels dominated the market before Robinson Crusoe appeared in 1719 - this allowed critics to call for a "New Romance" to replace the scandalous productions of the 17th century.  
Conflicting terminologies

In the course of the 17th century two European languages - Spanish and English - modified the terminologies employed for referring to prose fiction. The old word "romance" gave way to the new word "novel" which denoted short histories. At the end of the 18th century, in consequence of a new development, both languages needed new words for referring to short histories. It was not that works of epic length had been displaced by the short histories that had been fashionable in the 17th century. The mid-18th century had seen the old epic-length multi-volume fiction prosper again. In English this was referred to by the new word "novel"; French and German continued to use the old terms "romain" and "Roman" respectively. Since the expected triumph of the short genre had failed to take place, a distinction between long and short performances became necessary again. The English began to speak of the "novella" in order to designate what the "novel" had once been. The "novel" itself had become a genre of epic dimensions in a process one might best describe with early 18th century terminology as the "rise of a new romance".

The French and German markets allowed the old terms "romain", "Roman" to live on. The developments were, however, much the same. The 17th century had seen a rise of "petites histoires", "Historien von curieusen Begebenheiten" in the field of the old "Roman". The 18th century saw a new production of full blown epic performances on the same field. Retrospective scholarship, which conceived the history of the novel as the history of epic performances, has widely ignored these developments. A rise of a short genre of novels hardly fitted in the picture. The following arguments will try to bring the developments noted by early-18th century observers back into view.

The rise of the novel or the defeat of the old epic romance

The battle between "novels" and "romances" was old. Chaucer's Pilgrims had fought it when they placed lofty performances in the tradition of classic and medieval epics against performances in the lower genres of stories told simply to make certain points - on the cleverness of students, the stupidity of jealous old husbands, the inhabitants of a certain city, the truth of women, and what not. Authors of full blown romances hardly cared about the lower production. Authors of the short genre following Boccaccio and Chaucer promoted their strand of writing more aggressively against the old type of prose fiction: the short exemplary stories defeated, they unanimously claimed, the longer "romantick" productions of tedious virtues and bombastic language.

The argument reached a new level with the arrival of the printing presses. Romances became accessible, so critical voices claimed, as a modern sort of escapism leading into a dream world of lost chivalry. The competition evolved into an open conflict with the publication of Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605/15)link - the epic about the reader who had devoured all the volumes of the Amadis and ended up losing his reason over them. The alternative was openly stated with the publication of Cervantes' Novelas Exemplareslink in 1613: The old romance had to give way to the European tradition of the novella. But romances continued to be written - especially in the bucolic genre following Heliodor. In the mid-17th century, however, there was opposition to the romance even among French authors who supplied Europe with romances at the time. Paul Scarron openly followed Cervantes in 1651 with the publication of his Roman Chapter 21 in the first volume proposed, instead of the usual entertainment, a reflection on the developments in the market. The conflict between "novels" and "romances" had gained the dimensions of a national competition:

From Plays, they proceeded to talk of Romances. The Counsellor said, that nothing could be more diverting, than our modern Romances; that the French alone knew how to write good ones; however, that the Spaniards had had a peculiar Talent to compose little Stories, which they called Novelas, which are more useful and more probable Patterns for us to follow, than those imaginary Heroes of Antiquity, who grow oftentimes tedious and troublesome, by being over-civil, and over-virtuous. In short, that those Examples which may be imitated are at least as beneficial, as those that exceed all probability and belief: from all which he concluded that if a man could write as good Novels in French, as those of Miguel de Cervantes, they would soon be as much in Vogue, as ever heroick Romances have been. Roquebrune was not of the same Opinion: He affirm’d very positively, that there could be no Pleasure in reading Romances, unless they contained the Adventures of Princes, nay, and of great Princes too, and that for that reason Astrea only pleased him here and there. In what Histories can one find Kings and Emperors enough to make new Romances, said the Counsellor? We must feign ’em replied Roquebrune, as they usually do in fabulous Stories, which have no Foundation in History. I perceive then, return’d the Counsellor, that Don Quixot is very little in your Favour? ’Tis the silliest Book that ever I read replied Roquebrune; tho’ it be cried up by a great many Men of Wit.

The Whole Comical Works of Monsr. Scarron (London: S. & J. Sprint/ J. Nicholson/ R. Parker/ B. Tooke, 1700), p.101.

A generation later France had adopted the new taste. 1670 saw the publication of the Zayde - a "Spanish history".link The book deserves a place in the annals of the history of prose fiction as it opened with Pierre Daniel Huet's treatise Upon the Origin of Romances. Huet paid little tribute to the recent rivalry between novels and romances. He was interested in a cross-cultural history of prose fiction from the beginnings of written documents. After the aberrations of the middle ages - so the prefatory treatise to the "Spanish History" revealed - the development had eventually led to the modern novel. Marie de La Fayette, the unnamed author of Zayde, completed the argument eight years later with the publication of her Princesse de Clé This work was immediately recognised as the French equivalent to the Spanish histories. Here one had a piece tasting of a French romance. Yet it was definitely a novel: a story told as a rare example - in this case of outstanding, if not catastrophic female virtue.

The entire 21st chapter of the Comical


In 1683 the anonymous Sentimens sur l’histoire offered a lengthy analysis of the development which had led from romances to novels over the past eighty years. The Princess of Cleves served as the perfect example of the new art. The essay appeared at the right moment in order to accompany the career the novel itself now made on the European market.[1] The Abbé Bellegarde adorned his Lettres curieuses de littérature et de morale (Paris: Jean & Michel Guignard, 1702) with a paraphrase of the thoughts. Adrian Moetjens pirated that piracy in The Hague the very same year. An English version of the complete Lettres appeared in 1705. Another English version appeared the same year as preface to the Secret History of Queen It did not acknowledge its source, and in order to disguise more effectively that it was in fact a translation, it said that which in the French version is said about the history of the novel in France, about the history of the novel in England.

This did not require a great many changes. Bellegarde opened "The Romances in France have for a long Time been the Diversion and Amusement of the whole World,". No change was required here. Moving to the new little histories, Bellegarde had claimed that they suited the French taste in particular since the French "have no sooner begun a Book but they desire to see the end of it". The same thing could as easily be said about the English: "These little Pieces which have banish’d Romances are much more agreeable to the Brisk and impetuous Humour of the English, who have naturally no Taste for longwinded Performaces, for they have no sooner begun a Book but they desire to see the end of it". The development had come from France and found the English most ready to appreciate the new production.

The next set of arguments could remain unchanged. The novels were shorter, they concentrated on single events, they did not teach by presenting over-virtuous heroes but by giving examples of how things could develop - whether good or bad. The incidents were not far fetched but mostly recent and plausible. The characters showed weaknesses, and the dangers they suffered moved the readers to indentify with them, which allowed the absence of a moralising narrator's voice. Compassion had to create the moral balance especially since the new stories did not necessarily end happily any longer. The author of a novel was in the new position of a historian:

Link to a parallel edition of the Sentimens sur l’histoire and its

Tout Historien doit être extrémement desinteressé; ce n’est point à lui à louër, ni à blâmer les personnes dont il parle; il doit se conten|<62>ter d’ecposer les faits, laissant und liberé entiere au Lecteur, d’en juger comme il lui plaira; sans quìl prenne le soin de disonlper ses Heros, ou de faire leur apologie, Il n’est pas le juge du merite de ses Heros; son emploi est de les representer tels qu’ils sont, & de faire la peinture de leurs sentiments, de leurs mœurs, de leur conduire: il sort en quelque façon de son cractere, & de ce parfait desinteressement, quand il ajoûte auc noms des personnes qu’il introduir, des épithetes pour les blâmer, ou pour les louer. Il est peu d’Histoiriens, qui suivent éxactement cette regle, & qui conservent cette indifference, dont ils ne peuvent s’éloigner, sans se rendre suspects de parrialité. Every Historian ought to be extreamly uninterested; he ought neither to Praise nor Blame those he speaks of; he ought to be contented with Exposing the Actions, leaving an entire Liberty to the Reader to judge as he pleases, without taking any Care not to blame his Heroes, or make their Apology; he is no Judge of the Merit of his Heroes, his Business is to represent them in the same Form as they are, and describe their Sentiments, Manners and Conduct; it deviates in some manner from his Character, and that perfect uninterestedness, when he adds to the Names of those he introduces Epithets either to Blame or Praise them; there are but few Historians who exactly follow this Rule, and who maintain this Difference, from which they cannot deviate without rendring themselves guilty of Partiality. Ferner erfordert die Qualität eines Geschicht-Schreibers, daß er ohn interessirt sey, und niemahls entweder lobe oder schelte diejenige, wovon er redet. Er muß zu frieden seyn ihre Handlungen zu erzehlen, und dem Leser die Freyheit zu lassen, nach seinem Willen davon zu urtheilen, ohne daß er etwas suche, so an der Conduite seiner Helden zu tadeln, und ohne daß er sie vertheydige. Ihm stehet es nicht zu, zu urtheilen von ihren meriten; es ist genug, daß er sie vorstelle, wie sie sind, und nur ihre Gedancken, Meynungen, Sitten und Conduite anmercke. Thut er das Gegentheil, so weicht er aus den Schrancken einer Unpartheilichkeit, zumahl, wann er zu denen Nahmen derjenigen, so er aufführet, Bey-Wörter, so ihnen zum Ruhm oder Schande gereichen, beygefüget. Unterdessen aber findet man wenige Historien-Schreiber, welche diese Regel accurat folgen, und sich indifferent aufführen, da sie es doch um so vielmehr thun sollten, als sie sich im Gegentheil dem Laster der Partheylichkeit dadurch unterwerffen.
J. B. Morvan De Bellegarde, Lettres curieuses de littérature et de morale (Paris: J. & M. Guignard, 1702), p.61-62. The Secret History, of Queen Zarah (Albigion, 1705), p.[xviii-ixx]. Die entdeckte geheime Histoire von der Königin Sahra (Haag: H. Petkio, 1712), **6/7.



The Secret History, of Queen Zarah was translated into French in The Hague - the old French treatise got translated back into French, from whence it found its German version in 1712. The text had become the object of the Dutch market which for the moment coordinated Europe's intellectual exchange.

The same market had turned the novel over the past three decades into the favourite medium of the chronique scandaleuse as the novel offered the perfect pretence to scandal: Everything extraordinary deserved to be noted, if only it gave instructive examples of how things could fare. The authors did not relate the indecent incidents they published to scandalise those that were involved in them. Freely they exchanged all the real names for "romantick" ones. But they could expect the audience to reverse the slight modifications and to find out who was who. Readers who lived too far away to join the game would still be delighted to hear what had happened somewhere else. The Mercure Galante offered his choice of short histories in steady supply. Sober historians left their paths to include a couple of "curious" histories to entertain their readers for a moment where they felt their accounts got all too dry. Short pieces flooded the market produced anonymously and making the novel famous throughout Europe.

At the turn into the 18th century the novel took the next decisive step - it became a medium of private use. The great authors of European scandal had set the example by using fiction to modify their private reputations publicly. The Aulnoy had done so, Delarivier Manley had followed her, integrating her own dubious past in the sequence of scandalous revelations with which she bothered the British and soon after that the European audience. "Young Ladies" and "Gentlemen" in London followed the examples, and students in Germany did so. In unisoon they remarked was that this kind of participation had become easy. A group of young upper class ladies and gentlemen enjoying a week in Epsom reflected the development in The Entertainments of Gallantry in 1712:link The "romance" was dead. "thank Reason, we have Disabus'd our Senses, and such fatiguing bombast Volumes have given place to more entertaining Novels, and Histories of Gallantry" one of the speakers claimed - only to be interrupted:

Which are not at all preferable to Romances, interrupted a Gentleman, omitting some few, you find'em so flat, and void of Entertainment, that they require much Leisure and more Patience to read 'em out. Never was Mankind more pester'd with ill Productions than in the present Age. Every one must write, 'tis a Disease every Wittling is infected with, and the itching Desire to see their Names in print, is so raging, that they are well contented to proclaim themselves ridiculous, if the World is but well satisfy'd of their being Authors. Here's one just come to Town; another that yet carries about him the Marks of Discipline; talks Dutch, French or English, but void of Learning, and unexperienc'd in Books well worded; yet this Fellow, nothing will serve him but writing a Book: Well; he begins by translating some unfortunate Author, [...] into English: With this design he selects some doting Author, that has before doz'd over the same Subject; and dictates his Periods after his Example, 'till having only chang'd some of the Words, and those too for the worst [...]. Another resigning himself to his extravagant fancy, and unbounded Imagination, sets himself to penning some ridiculous Adventures, which he has the Confidence to call Novels. Now pray tell me, ought not this to be regulated? And in respect to good Sense, ought we not to have a Comptroller General of Wit, as well as a Justice of Peace?

The novel flourished as criticism had hardly touched it. It flourished as the genre anyone could enter - and that was an advantage in itself:

Stop your Career Sir, interrupted a Lady, your Enthusiasm has transported you a little too far; if the Books you seem so inveterate against, chance not to please you, prithee don't read 'em, no one obliges you. All Men's Tastes are not so delicately Nice as yours; many read for pleasure only, and are less solicitous for the Useful than the Agreeable. Histories of Gallantry are very Proper to relax the Mind; and the very worst have something in 'em diverting. I think instead of railing thus at our Modern productions, you ought to give those Persons Thanks, who wear themselves out for our Entertainment: The very Number of Authors is agreeable, and advantageous; [...]. If some new Author has the ill Fortune to displease, be not however too hasty in condemning him; Time may produce, even for him something more accomplish'd. The first Flight is never a Masterpiece [...]. Never discourage a young Author by despising his first Works, nor make him despair, utterly throw away his Pen; but on the contrary animate him by small Commendations, which may in the end prove so many Spurs to Perfection.

Entertainments of Gallantry (London: J. Morphew, 1712),

The group of story-tellers and listeners proved the point with the decision to become authors themselves. All it needed was someone to pen down their discourses and to publish them anonymously - they would all be authors the very next moment - an note of euphoria ends the Entertainments.

Those who stood outside remained more sceptical. The novel focussed on surpising intrigues - and served best with instruction how to deceive friends and parents in the pursuit of one's private hapiness. Young female readers handled their private affairs with the cate subtle politicians used in their intrigues:

Her Business will then be to spread her Nets, lay her Toils to catch some Body, who will more fatally ensnare her; and when she has once wound her self into an Amour, those Authors and subtle Casuists for all difficult Cases that may occur in it, will instruct her in the necessary Artifices of deluding Parents and Friends, and put her Ruin perfectly in her own Power.

The Ladies Library [...] by a Lady. Published by Mr. Steele, 2 (London: J. Tonson, 1714), p.44-46.

The cities which had the misfortune to have such young novelists finding the press felt pestered with an unprecedented production of urban scandal - a Leipzig merchant complained in an argument he had with some students boasting of the new production:

[...] if only I think of these Books, which are most certainly not written by great scholars, whose dignity would not permit such trifles, but which can also not have been written by anyone without learning, which have hence to be written by students! I am not speaking of the Politische Bratenwender ["Political Roasting Spit"] the Der Politische Leyermann ["Political Organ-Grinder"], the Politische Feuermäuer-Kehrer ["Political Chimney-Sweeper"]link etc. but of those little things called romances which abound with nasty, ridiculous histories and speeches bragging of adventures and comedies of love. [...] Only recently a merchant related a bunch of little histories of such simplicity and grossness of certain women when he was interrupted by a student asking him who invented such stuff. The merchant, however, replied: "no one but you gentlemen create these curious histories; as only among you there exist heads idle and voluptuous enough to conceive such stories [...]. One has only to look at the imprints, though often enough there are no publishers mentioned there, to guess that a city with a famous university produces them. The stories reveal these cities even if they carefully avoid mentioning their names. Just as titles like the Student's Confectionery offer all kinds of frivolous speeches, jests, snide, and follies to be used in society; these novels teach the young with evil thoughts desires and wishes uncleanness, lust and whore-mongering. Some are so terrible that they can inflame a heart most chaste, all of them will throw a less stable reader into a turbulence. A certain monthly journal defended the poor romances as one might improve one's style by reading them [...]. Yet maybe Gratian's Criticalink or Barclay's Argenis served such purposes but not these things which are full of half true and half invented love stories [...] to be read out of curiosity and lust.

George Ernst Reinwalds Academien- und Studenten-Spiegel (Berlin: J. A. Rüdiger, 1720),

The novel had by 1720 taken a long way from the acclaimed alternative to the romance to the low scandalous production the Dutch international market had brought about. A reform seemed necessary and those who called for it, looked back on models of the last century - Barclay and Gracian and the didactic political satires of the 1680s were in the Merchant's memory as productions of lost merits. Gundling had complained about the "half true and half fictitious production" which had swept the The merchant repeated the complaint with his words spoken against the "half true and half invented love stories" the young student authors brought forward. A return to fundametally fictitous works seemed to be a remedy, yet the market hardly allowed a return into a presumably golden age to be found in the past.

Accademischer Frauenzimmer-Spiegel (1718).
  A young lady, leaving Halle, at the custom house referring to the child she drags along in its cradle: "goods belonging Students ar exempted!" - one of the numerous scandalous novels written by German students in the early 18th  
The rise of the "new romance" - from Fénelon and DeFoe into the 19th century

Jane Barker showed a surprising courage when she brought out her Exiliuslink as "a New Romance" in 1715. The use of the term "romance" on title pages was - when it came to new books - restricted to the satirical: Scarron's Roman Comique could safely appear in English as the author's Comical The official catholic report on Veronica's veil was translated into English by John Ozell as The Most Celebrated Popish Ecclesiastical Romance (London, J. Roberts, 1716).link The romance was dead. Classics like Helidors Adventures of Theagenes and Chariclialink could appear as "romances". Living authors avoided the reference to the genre which had lost its credit with the Amadis, and publishers who failed to realise that the "romance" was dead were punished by the market. In 1707 Borough and Baker had dared to sell Le Maire's La Prazimène as a "romance". The result was that the title pages had to be changed for new ones promising at least two novels - and this was the fate Curll suffered with Jane Barker's "New Romance": The Work did not sell. Curll sold the remaining copies in 1719 under a new titelpage offering 9 novelslink (including the author's autobiographical novel first published in 1713).

The term "romance" was doomed to leave the stage. A "new romance" had to risk the term "novel" in English. It remains interesting that the antiquated term was chosen at all to create a new beginning. In her preface Jane Barker pleaded for the rennaisance of the romance calling for heroic virtues rather than the portrayal of cleverly handled intrigues. The conflict between the generations had to be eliminated, parental wisdom had to win over a production which taught the young deception. Jane Barker did not fail to equip her "new romance" with the tradition it needed: her version of the history to be written led from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (to be read in Dryden's version) to Fénelon's Telemachus - proving that the new epic would ultimately succeed the producton of novels, tales and little histories which had risen in the wake of Boccacio, Chaucer, Machiavelli and Cervantes.

Fénelon's Telemaque was the outstanding work of fiction even literary critics could openly praise. The learned author had not written the scandalous political roman à clef the world had expected. The author had rather written a prose epic full of political lessons to instruct future kings with undisputable reason. English critics were careful neither to speak of a "romance" nor of a "novel". The work could otherwise rival the verse epics Homer and Vergil had written. The book offered, nontheless, most of the delights a romance could offer: journeys, adventures in countries far away and ages of the most distant past. The young hero did not search a princess but his father - a virtuous decision. The goddess Athena was with him posing virtuously as the senior guide Mentor, which was just as virtuous. Even the older generation could praise this piece of prose fiction.

The title had left the realm of novels which sold their examples under the ubiquituous "[...] or [...]" title formula the Novelas Exemplares had spread. Authors like Aphra Behn had offered the formula over and over again with "The History of Oroonoko; Or the Royal-Slave", "The Fair Jilt; Or Prince Tarquin", "Agnes de Castro; Or, the Force of generous Love", "The Nun; Or, the Perjured Beauty". Congreve had entered the game with "Incognita: or, Love and Duty Reconcil'd" in 1692. The students in Leipzig and "Young Ladies" and their male competitors who dived into private scandal in London had welcomed the "novel" with: "The Tell-Tale; or The Invisible Witness",link "The Carnival of Love or Cupid Under His Numerous Masks",link "The Generous Rivals, or, Love Triumphant"link or "Love unmasked or A Portrait of Several Virtuous and Criminal Lovers".link

The alternative "romance" title avoiding the term "romance" had to offer "Adventures" - it is enlightening to place Fénelon's "new romance" next to the work 20th century critics hailed as the modern novel - Robinson Crusoe. DeFoes publisher presented the dubious travelogue straight forward as an attempt to rival the very romance which alone seemed able to beat the recent production of "novels":


Fénelons Telemaque stood close to Robinson Crusoe - the satirical counterpart stood even closer with the The Life And Notable Adventures, of that Renown'd Knight Don Quixote de la Mancha merrily translated into Hudibrastick Verse by Edward Ward in The aim was not a romance taking a quiet place next to the decent product Fénelon had offered but a romance offering ten times the excitement not with simply "notable" adventures but with "strange surprising" adventures. Cheap titles dared such vociferous proclamations. Crusoe dared the same as a sailor from York. He was a man wearing a beard and standing alone, where the son of Ulysses had been a weakling at the hand of a tender goddess. His adventures rivalled any to be found in the best romances: the man was shipwrecked, caught by pirates, enslaved and he had to survive on a lonely island. The cheap Famous and Pleasant History of Parismus, the Valiant and Renowned Prince of Bohemia first published in 1599 and still advertising whatever a romance could advertise had the best of Crusoe's adventures in stock: with "the great Dangers" the heroe "passed in the Island of Rocks, and his strange Adventures in the Desolate Island. Crusoe missed the love stories the Bohemian prince enjoyed with his "Beautiful Laurana"link, yet he returned into the heartland of the romance with all the adventures he suffered not to gain a princess but simply to survive.

Fénelon's Telemaque had immediately become inimitatable. The return to works of epic dimensions, full of adventures came not as Jane Barker proposed as a return to Greek and Roman sujets but with the modern heroes rivalling the most "romantick" heroes of the past.

Crusoe's critics did not speak of a "novel" but of a "romance" to note that this book was full of improbable inventions - fictitious from the first to the last line. It took Robinson Crusoe nearly a century to become the outstanding first modern novel. Modern criticism produced a history of the novel in which Robinson Crusoe stood at the beginning - it produced with that a history in which the original novel did not have a further function. Robinson Crusoe became the "novel" which defeated the French baroque romances - endless works of princes searching their lost princesses and undergoing the most incredible adventures, where Crusoe dared the new: the real world. If the early eighteenth century had produced "novels" before Robinson Crusoe and if these novels claimed to have defeated the old romances, if contemporaries even read Crusoe as "romance", invention, rather than a novel - this was mainly due to their completely unacceptable use of words. The fathers of the modern novel did not know what they were talking of when they spoke of "novels" and "romances". Ian Watt had cleared the ground before he proved why Robinson Crusoe became the first modern novel:

For this investigation our first need is a working definition of the characteristics of the novel — a definition sufficiently narrow to exclude previous types of narrative and yet broad enough to apply to whatever is usually put in the novel category. The novelists do not help us very much here. It is true that both Richardson and Fielding saw themselves as founders of a new kind of writing, and that both viewed their work involving a break with the oldfashioned romances; but neither they nor their contemporaries provide us with the kind of characterisation of the new genre that we need; indeed they did not even canonise the changed nature of their fiction by a change in nomenclature — our usage of the term 'novel' was not fully established until the end of the eighteenth century.

Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel. Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding (London, 1957), p.9-10.

The history of the rise of the novel remained a story to be told, but it changed its sujet. The new sujet happily excluded the "novel" Robinson Crusoe actually replaced - till feminist research began to rediscover this novel in the 1970s and 1980s as a genre which had granted female authors a unique freedom to join the production of prose fiction.

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  1. Cf. John L., Jr. Sutton, "The Source of Mrs. Manley's Preface to Queen Zarah", Modern Philology: A Journal Devoted to Research in Medieval and Modern Literature, 82.2 (1984), p.167-172.