Austen & the development of the novel (Snark's post)
Posted by Erin on January 21, 1998 at 21:58:17:
This topic sprang up from a discussion on the Persuasion board about a comparative literature class that Elizabeth Rose is auditing, where they are reading Persuasion along with Faulkner, Camus, and Geothe (among others). Allegedly, many scholars view Austen as a 'link' (of sorts) between the 18thc. novel and Realism/Romanticism lit. inaugurated in the 19thc. I was curious as to how realism was defined in this context, since its a fairly uninformative term on its own, and Ken provided a well-informed response, which I think might interest many L&T denizens or general lit. fans of the era.
I was never into the scholarship, and what I know of it is 20 years out of date. But the placing of Austen as a transitional novelist between 18th century & Romanticism is, or was, a firmly centrist view. Clearly, she is the heir of a narrative tradition that had been building steam for a good century (even longer, if you date it back to the Elizabethan chapbook), but it is equally clear that she handles that tradition with considerably more ease than her predecessors: Austen, at least, has no need to struggle with writing "lies" as Fielding had, 70 years before, nor a need to disguise her work as something else, a collection of model letters, as Richardson had done even earlier. If she suspects enthusiasts, still her work is informed by a love of nature just then reaching serious proportions in the Romantic poets.
"Realism" has to be taken with a large grain of salt, as you hint above. Fielding keeps assuring us over and over again that Tom Jones is true in one sense or another: if it didn't actually happen, certainly it could have happened, and in just the way that he describes at such length and in such detail. I don't know how much of this pretense he believed in, but the problem of being "real" while writing "lies" was obviously one he felt he had to deal with, either because of his own mentation or that of his audience. He wasn't alone with this problem of how to cast fictions--there's a good many 18th century novels that purport to be the "history" or
"journal" of the main character, ie, a "realistic" story. For all I know, you can trace the problem straight back to the real romances, ie, Amadis of Gaul, or the Orlando Furioso of the 15th and 16th centuries, the other narrative tradition which Cervantes was only one of the first to rebel against.
Alas, I can take you no further. Once a complit scholar, to be sure, but a 20th century one, I'm afraid (-:
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