indexTable of Contents Previous Next
Olaf Simons/ Anton Kirchhofer, a The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 : Market Observations

4. Towards literature: aspects of the market reform

4.1 Pros and cons: "romances", "comical romances", "novels" and "classics"
4.2 As the secondary discourse entered the game
  The Ladies Library, vol. 1 (London, 1714).  
A female reader portrayed in the Ladies Library (1714). Love letters are strewn all over the floor. The folio book occupying the lady's interst is definitely not a novel. The author had recommended the reading of histories as an alternative to the detrimental production.


Pros and cons: "romances", "comical romances", "novels" and "classics"

Scholars following Ian Watt's version of "the rise of the novel" pleaded for "realism" as DeFoe's great innovation. The claim is fundametally problematic. Neither can we say that a development towards greater realism took place, nor was Robinson Crusoe actually perceived as a work of realism.

Robinson Crusoe was perceived as a dubious book - apparently the author wanted to be real, a man in his eighties, looking back on his most extraordinary life, having suffered more than most heroes of romances would suffer. The title page smelled of a work rivalling the famous Don Quixote and the younger Telemaque, rather than of a piece of modern history. Crusoe's publisher did not seem to trust his author entirely. The author himself claimed - in his ensuing prefaces - to be real and "allegorical" at the same time - as real as Jesus Christ and Don Quixote. The rivaling publisher Cox who had dared to print an abridged version,link protested against Tailor's threats to sue him with a threat of his own: he would make the whole "Don Quixotism" behind this book known to the world. Charles Gildon revealed a number of logical inconsistencies to prove that the whole report was nothing but a romance,link to get into the position in which he could attack DeFoe, the man who invented it all, for not having invented it to a better end. The title appeared serialised in one of the London newspapers and the city was searching Crusoe as some people claimed to have actually seen him in London bragging of his adventures.

Robinson Crusoe was, to be precise, in 1719 and 1720 a work of the fourth column of our pattern,link a book sold as true private history, risking to be read as romantic invention. Any attempt to say that this is, scientifically, not true as Robinson Crusoe scientifically is a work of fiction - one of poetical realism to be precise, has its own position in the strife which developed, is already part of the development with which we, the representatives of the secondary discourse dealing with literature, focussed on fictions, allowing and encouraging the authors of fictions to deal with real life.

Seen in a historical perspective the early 18th century went much farther than "poetical realism" allowed by spreading fictions into real life itself and by discussing them as true histories and - still more important - by allowing real life to actually enter the realm of fictions. We might praise in hindsight DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe for its realism. This realism falls, however, short off the contact with reality authors like Delarivier Manley, the Madam DuNoyer or Courtilz de Sandras risked leaving us works we still cannot properly locate between fact and fiction. Robinson Crusoe was among all the histories of the four outer columns of our pattern a work of relatively definite fictionality, a work of little of that realism authors of novels had dared over the past decades.

The 18th and 19th century history of prose fiction did not lead towards fictions moving into reality. It lead towards the invention of "literature" becoming now the realm of poesy and "fiction" - a realm which found its new internal battlefield between advocates of solely fictitious works promoting "art for arts sake" and advocates claiming that "literature", fiction, could also meddle with reality. Robinson Crusoe became an early ancestor for the latter party to refer to.

Writing a history of the book market we might attempt to give clearer definitions of the traditions of prose fiction which claimed to have won over the old fashoned romance at the beginning of the 18th century. Each of these traditions offered its own advantages over the infamous production, it offered its own mode of presentation and its own interesting problems - "interesting" in the verbal sense of appealing to the interested public.

"Romances" were by definition full of improbable and unbelievable adventures after the fashion of the Amadis. Historicaly they were founded on the traditions of the ancient and medieval epic. They presented heroes of greatest virtues, passing through chains of tests before they would finally reach happiness. The authors of romances stood above their stories as the poets of ancient epics had done. If they acted rather like historians they still showed a readiness to praise their protagonists like authors of panegyric histories would do. Distances in time and place heightened this set of positions: romances would favourably be situated in a world of ancient empires and fairy tale kingdoms. The presentation aimed at the beautiful performance, at grandiour in language, at poetry in prose. The interesting problems were massive: Who could identify with overvirtuous heroes? What happened to the alleged beauties of endless descriptions if the taste of the audience changed? The chances the genre offered were equally tremendous. The author who succeeded in writin a good romance would raise models of virtue and set fashions of style in prose. The discourse about romances was at the beginning of the 18th century already turning into a historical discourse. The romance was dead, even if a production of "new romances" was discussed. The aestehics of the romance were to become the essence of the aesthetics of the "baroque" as the 19th century was to define the past age.

"Satirical Romances" were poetologically the antipodes of heroical romances. They taught through ridiculous heroes no serious reader would like to follow. Historically were of a mixed origin reaching back into the rogue stories of cheats, pranks and criminals folklore propagated. The action again offered in a series of adventures, yet the heroe would survive with luck and cleverness rather than the right and ultimate justice a hero of a true romance could rely on. The sujets were mostly recent - it was the more ridiculous if a Rozelli had to live in the late 17th century through adventures of a romantic hero suffered in ancient Assyria. The position of the author changed. He would either present all the misfortunes his hero suffered with a straight face or allow his hero to write himself - relying on the audience to understand that this hero was less of a hero tan he claimed to be. The genre had its inherent problems with its unability to offer the reading pleasures the act of identification and the perusal of magnificent language could offer. Alternatives were risked by German authors with special satirical novels in which the ridiculous heroes would be confronted with galant heroes - comanding over the successful mode of behaviour they could act as the natural winners; by English authors with stories of criminals, sailors, prostitutes and weird eccentrics; by authors all over Europe with a production of satirical heroes who would always be the heroes of another nation: One could laugh safely in Britain about the "German rogue" Tiel Eulespiegle,link or about the "French Rogue", Monsieur Ragoue de The German would laugh about the "Spaniard", Francisco Sambelle,link who was against all his protestations actually a German product, and the French had produced the "beau Polonais",link "L'Infortuné Napolitain", Seigneur Rozelli,link and the "Spaniard" Pedrille del None of these heroes could seriously claim to be a model, nor could he threaten the self perception of readers of the author's nation.

"Novels" taught neither through heroes to emulate nor through anti-heroes whose follies one had to despise but through examples of how actions could develope. The reader did not receive a series of adventures but a plot, an intrigue, a plan with an ensuing story of how the heroes succeeded or failed. A surprising result regularly gave the most important lessons. Romances taught heroism, novels taught prudence and cleverness in the handling of one's affairs. The plots could be historical, but one learned more from events which had - allegedly - just happened around the corner. The heroes could be great and virtuos or mean and common. Heroes of a position the reader would be in were again most suited to teach useful lessons. The endings could be unhappy and even morally dubious - the audience would have to take care of what lessons it drew from the results. The lessons novels could give varied extraordinarily: One might learn how dangerous jealousy could be, how noble a black slave could act, how false women commonly were, how stupid the girls of a certain city were, and so on, and so on. The novel would offer a quasi poetical performance in language - it focus solely on the plot and its message. Its justification shifted from one of traditions and poetics to the act of the story telling itself: The traditional presentation was given with the circle of listeners who would entertain each other with stories they would tell to make certain points - they would interrupt each other if anyone forgot to tell his story straight aiming at making the promised point. If romances and satirical romances drew their legitimation from outside, novels made the discourse about the justification of the present story the ntegral part of story telling itself. If the novel was not told in a group of fictitious listeners the author could present his example with the title formula "[...] or [...]"" or with a short preface stating why this story had to be told. The inherent problem the novel presented was its own moral flexibility - the worst accidents were told in novels with curiosity - allegedly only to give examples of how things could go. The medium was open to scandal and offered its own justification from story to story - a dangerous power create all possible excuses for the story telling itself.

A Select Collection of Novels in six volumes written by the most Celebrated Authors in several Languages [...] all new translated from the Originals by several eminent hands (London: W. Mears/ J. Broterton/ W. Meadows/ W. Chetwood/ J. Lacy, 1722).

"Classics of literature": The great historical winner in the battle over legitimation was neither the old fashioned romance nor its satirical counterpart, nor the "novel" Cervantes had propoesd - but the work sold as "literature", the "classic", a work finding its legitimation in a flexible discourse outside and if necessary inside the volume through prefaces and notes offering the justification wherever it might get lost. The classic in literature could be a romance written by Heliodor - one would read the ancient romance not to escape into a dream world but to learn more about the history of prose fiction. The classic in literature could just as well be a "novel" - the Arabian nights were produced as a classic of Arabian literature at the beginning of the 18th century; the edition of the Select Collection of Novels - in 1720 in four, in 1722 in six volumes - was a landmark event in the canonisation of the novel, showing the tradition the new genre had leading from Machiavelli and Cervantes to The Princess of Cleves and the French novels of the late 17th Modern authors could attempt to write classics. Fénelon's Telemaque had become the classic of the new century within three years. Delarivier Manley's Atalantis was sold in 1720 as a modern classic, the author herself had left her anonymity gradually with the publication of her autobiographical Adventures of Rivellalink and begun to act the person of a serious writer rivaling the famous Madame Dacier in France. Those who followed Delarivier Manley were eager to become cassical authors at the spot: Eliza Haywood posed with her name from the second volume of her first novel onwards. Editions of her collected works followed after a few years, not as in Aphra Behn's case, after her death. The classic of literature found a changing and flexible discours about its justification with every new edition - scholars would discuss the reasons why one should read this particular novel. It is an altogether different problem that even fame in literature is not stable - a fruitful problem allowing all interest groups to intervene at any give moment with proposals to change the canon and to start entirely different dscussions of literature, to allow an appreciation of entirely different texts - the game our secondary discourse, spreading from the universities into the newspapers sections, tv-programmes and school lessons dealing with literature, remains to be involved in.

As the secondary discourse entered the game

The production of prose fiction began to change as the secondary discourses entered the game. The process was complex. Our modern discourse about literary texts began in France and England where the commercial market tried to justify its own production of fiction and poetry with the assitence of learned authors who contributed translations and wrote prefaces. The first history of prose fiction - Huets treatise on the Origin of Romances - sold, revealingly, not as a modern history of literature sells: independently as a piece of scholarly work, but as the preface to a novel: on and with the very market the author had dealt with.

The true secondary discourse, the serious journals reviewing "literature", i.e. scientific learning, initially hardly noticed the expertise displayed on the the newly created field of the "belles lettres", polite literature, the "galante Wissenschaften". Memoirs, novels, plays and poems were a mostly dubious production. The situation changed with the 18th century and with the discourse about "literature" becoming popular especially in Germany where it offered the best platform for ongoing public discussions. Reviewers began to write about political memoirs, poetry and novels and about the learned commentary some of these productions had found on the French and English markets. The political developments of the 1720s and 1730s inspired a search for partularly national topics to be discussed. Poetry in the vernacular languages served as such a topic within the wider field of the "belles lettres". A generation later specific journals dealt with "literature" in an entirely new sense, reviewing mainly new productions in those genres fields which were to become the "literary" genres. Lessings Briefe die Neueste Literatur betreffend stood in the late 1750s in the new tradition. The old meaning of the word remaned intact right into the nineteenth century (and in English, where one hardly needed a new national discourse to deal with fiction and poetry, right into the late 19th century). On the continent the continuous discourse about literature, had, however, changed its subjects by 1800. The sciences had become the realm of specific scientific discourses, and the general discourse about literature dealt primarily with novels, plays, and poetry:


The rise of literature

The new production to be reviewed enjoyed more popularity than literature in the old sense ever had. It allowed the discourse about literature to spread, to institutionalise and to become eventualy the very discourse whiche served in the secularised nations as a new canon of texts to be referred to. The development would have been fruitless had it not met with the appreciation of authors writing novels, plays and poems in order to be discussed and reviewed. Critics in the field of the sciences had noticed this at the beginning of the 18th century: scientific publications sold extremely well if they managed to be reviewed by the literary journals. Criticism became a marketing platform for poetry and fiction in the 18th century, a process which gained public support as it openly opposed the scandalous production of plays, novels, and poems of the preceding decades. Those pieces deserving the attention of the reviewers could regularily claim to be better than the usual production. Literature in our modern sense spread as it created real "art" (instead of employing fiction to publish scandalous libel), as it inspired important discussions (instead of simply ravishing the senses as the opera had done as the chief poetical production). The new poetry to be reviewed was written with an awareness of national traditions by authors who read the new histories of literature. Responsibility was a new factor in the game. Had the early 18th century market of novels and poetry been a market of primarily anonymous participants praising the freedom they found on this market, the new literary market was different: It invited authors to become national celebrities - and it effectively ignored all authors who continued to write under pseudonyms the massive production which was to become the new production of trivial literature unworthy to be dealt with.

Novels, plays and poetry of the late 17th and early 18th centuries had a particularily difficult position on the new market. Older maerials could be seen to have suited older aesthetics. Shakespeare became an author of the Rennaisance and a national icon as much as Goethe and Tolstoi would eventually be in German or Russain literature. One felt less easy about Delarivier Manley and Menantes who were still read in the 1740s. They still were the very authors against which the new production had been called into existence. Our histories of literature established mechanisms to skip their productions as not essential. The discourse about the modern novel following Robinson Crusoe is one of these mechanisms, the discourse about the German novel between the baroque and the enlightenment another one.

This is the one thing we will have to be careful with: our histories of literature created traditions DeFoes contemporaries would not have seen - traditions effectively marginalising the late 17th and early 18th century production. The other thing is that we will have to be carefull with all discussions we might employ in order to speak about the late 17th and early 18th century more effectively. It will be fundamentally questionable whether any of the works we will try to discuss as "literature" will stand the discussion we may offer - being simply not designed to be discussed and thus safely handled. Other uses escape our discourse. One could read novels out of an overwhelming curiosity, interested in Europe's chronique scandaleuse, eager to be entertained without any further thoughts behind that, as a source for compliments to be applied in conversations, as a production to be read and given away afterwards. Few of the copies remained and those which did often betray that they were used carelessly by their first owners. Here and there they left marginal notes betraying who was who or marking a speech to be immitated when addressing someone of the other sex. Any search for literary merits might be on our side primarily an attempt to continue the very practice the discourse about literature first introduced to shed a new light onto this market and to fundamentally disqualify it in compraison with new works written since the 1730s to address our secondary discourses with topics to be discussed.

indexTable of Contents Previous Next
indexOlaf Simons/ Anton Kirchhofer, a The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 : Market Observations