صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

CHAPTER XI
THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL

I. INTRODUCTION

The Novel and the Drama.—As the drama was the characteristic and natural form of literature in the Elizabethan age, so the novel has been the prevailing type in the last two centuries. For this change many reasons may be assigned. In the first place, the novel allows the author greater freedom in handling his story. Instead of relying solely on the words and acts of his characters, as in the drama, the novelist can deal with their thoughts also; and instead of leaving these characters to explain themselves, he can give his own comment upon their lives. Thus the novel in some ways lends itself more easily than the drama to the presentation of the complicated problems and characters of modern life. Moreover, in the diffusion of English-speaking people over the world, the public which is interested in literature has become too widely scattered to be dependent in large measure upon the theatre. The magazine and the circulating library have come to occupy the place which for the Elizabethan was filled by the stage. This latter fact in itself is sufficient, though other reasons may be given, to explain the predominance of the novel in modern literature.

Early Fiction.—For the beginning of the modern novel we must go back to the stories of the Middle Ages. These were in general of two kinds, adapted to two audiences, the nobles and the people. Of the first class were the romances clustering about such heroes as Charlemagne and King Arthur, and dealing with knightly adventure, mystical religious experience, and courtly love. These were told first in verse, later in prose. Being written for an aristocratic class, the romances of chivalry presented a highly idealized view of life, in which strength and virtue were exaggerated. The fiction of the common people was decidedly more in the spirit of actual life, or, as we should say, realistic. For them, the stories of the knightly epics were in part retold, often in a spirit of burlesque. Sometimes the vices and follies of men were represented in short tales; the hypocrisy of the clergy, for example, being a favorite subject. Many tales were brought into Europe from the Orient, and others grew up about popular characters. Such stories as these abounded in Italy, where they were called novelle, from which word comes the term novel.

2 Of J

Although the novel drew its name from Italy, it first attained something like its modern form in Spain. There the spirit of burlesque aroused by the contrast between the ideals of chivalry and the affairs of actual life, led to the production of stories known as picaresque romances. In these the hero is a rascal (picaro = rogue) who wanders from place to place, finding all manner of adventures, amusing and scandalous; he is not, like the knight-errant, bent upon finding the Holy Grail, nor upon rescuing injured princesses, but is intent merely upon satisfying his personal wants. The typical Italian novella and the Spanish rogue story resembled each other in their realism, in the faithfulness with which they reproduced the motives of actual men and the manners of actual life. They are the source of the realistic novel of to-day, while what we call the romance looks back to the epic of chivalry for its origin. Both Italian and Spanish stories were translated into English in large numbers during the Renaissance.

In the seventeenth century Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is the best example of fiction written for the Puritan middle class. In the eighteenth century the demand of that class for reading matter which should deal with actual life, in a way productive both of amusement and profit, resulted in the stories of Daniel Defoe.

II. DANIEL DEFOE (1659-1731)

Defoe's Life.—Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1659. His father was a butcher, and by religion a Dissenter. He intended his son for the ministry, but Daniel preferred to go into trade, which he followed for some years with fortunes varying from prosperity to bankruptcy. He became interested in politics, and held various minor offices under William III. One of his early political writings showed his native talent for fiction. The Tory party believed in punishing persons who did not attend the services of the English Church. Defoe, pretending to write as a Tory, put forth a pamphlet called The Shortest Way with Dissenters, in which he advised treatment so severe that people generally were disgusted with the policy of persecution. Although Defoe concealed his real personality, the trick was discovered; he was arrested and sentenced to exposure in the pillory and a long imprisonment. While in prison he edited the Review, one of the earliest English newspapers. He was released to become a servant of the government which had imprisoned him, and was employed almost until the close of his life by both parties as a secret agent, perhaps as a spy.

Defoe continued to write for newspapers, and as an enterprising journalist he published the lives of various people of interest to the public: of Peter the Great for one; of Jonathan Wild, a notorious criminal and thief-taker, for another; of Captain Avery, a famous pirate, for a third. His life brought him into contact with all sorts of adventurers; being gifted with curiosity and a retentive memory, he listened to their stories and afterward wrote them out. When his material failed he drew upon his imagination; but he realized that he was writing for people who demanded fact, who perhaps thought it wrong to read fiction, and accordingly he tried to give every appearance of reality to his narratives.

"Robinson Crusoe."—While working on the border line between biography and fiction, Defoe was attracted by the story of a sailor, Alexander Selkirk, who had been wrecked on an island in the Pacific, and had remained there for many years. This story suggested The Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, which was published in 1719. The book proved immensely popular. Defoe added a sequel, The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and many imitations appeared in England and throughout Europe.

In Robinson Cru oe Defoe shows what a contemporary described as "the little art he is so truly master of, of forging a story and imposing it on the world for truth." The secret of his success lies in his skill in taking the point of view of his hero. Defoe throws himself completely into the situation of Crusoe, wrecked on the island. He foresees the dangers incident to such a situation, takes measures of precaution against them, indulges the natural hope of escape, and makes the wonderfully human mistake of building a boat too heavy for him to launch. He is absorbed in the trivial events of a solitary existence; he is filled with satisfaction at his miniature conquest of nature, and with horror at the frightful discovery of the human footprint in the sand. In fact, so utterly did Defoe merge himself in Crusoe that, when his work was finished, he came to see in the struggles of the York mariner an allegory of his own toilsome and dangerous experience of life.

Robinson Crusoe is one of the great stories of the world, and one of those most typical of the English race. As Bun- yan's Pilgrim represents the spiritual, so does Crusoe the practical element in the English character. Crusoe is indeed a man of piety, but his religious experience lacks warmth. His real significance is as a model of the virtues which make civilization possible,—courage, patience, ingenuity, prudence. Bunyan and Defoe were both Puritans, and the difference between them serves to show how far the spiritual tide had ebbed in a generation. Bunyan is concerned with the winning of heaven; Defoe, with the problem of staying in the present world and living successfully in it.

"The Journal of the Plague Year."—The success of Robinson Crusoe led Defoe to put out a number of minor novels, founded upon the lives of various adventurers. The only one of Defoe's fictions, however, which ranks with Robinson Crusoe is The Journal of the Plague Year, published in 1722. The Great Plague visited London in 1665, and Defoe as a boy must have heard many of the experiences of survivors. A historian would have endeavored to base his account directly upon these various authorities, but Defoe, as a story-teller, presents all the facts which he has gathered as the experiences of a single imaginary character,—a citizen of London who, when the tide of pestilence rose high, shut himself and his family in his house, having provisioned it as if to stand a siege, and from this point of safety viewed the events of that dreadful time. As in Crusoe, Defoe throws himself entirely into the situation of his character, making us hear with his ears the rumble of the carts, the call "Bring out your dead," the blasphemous railing of the men in the tavern, and the cry of "Death, Death, Death!" from the window in Token House Yard; making us believe on his authority every gruesome anecdote, in which the misery, terror, or madness of the time expressed itself. Indeed, the personality of this character, the plain, careful, God-fearing citizen, comes to be to the reader the ultimate reality in the book. We believe in the actual horrors of the plague because we believe in the truth of this imaginary spectator of them.

One very important element of the modern novel is lacking in Defoe's stories—that is, plot. The first great example of a work of fiction guided throughout its course by a single motive, a story in which all the incidents serve to bring about a certain result, was Pamela, by Samuel Richardson.

III. SAMUEL RICHARDSON (1689-1761)

"Pamela."—Richardson was a London printer, already over fifty years old when an accident discovered to him his power as a writer of fiction. A publishing firm asked him to write a series of letters which should serve as models for people in the lower walks of life. In order to add interest to this "complete letter-writer," Richardson hit upon the plan of making it the correspondence of a young serving-girl who writes to her parents, telling the story of her temptation by her master, and of her resistance. In the end the evil- hearted master reforms and marries Pamela, thus justifying

« السابقةمتابعة »