The British book trade evolved into a fully modern industry during this period. Its modernity was signalled by more effective copyright laws, clearer divisions of labour and responsibility, and the emergence of publishing as a distinctive branch of the trade. The period saw a significant increase in the publication of fiction as a purely commercial phenomenon. Publishers, booksellers, the owners of circulating libraries, and authors all benefited from this. New and more standardized formats developed, including the ‘three-decker’ and the one-volume cheap reprint, which were to characterize much of the nineteenth-century fiction industry, and at the same time the old practice of serial publication was revived from the early 1830s onwards in several forms. Fiction publishing was a business—and by the end of the period it was a commercially significant business.
This essay explores the development of the Evangelical novel in the early years of the nineteenth century. Drawing primarily on the novels of Barbara Hofland, Hannah More, and Mary Brunton, as well as the Cheap Repository Tracts, the essay identifies key characteristics of the Evangelical novel and proposes a theoretical framework for analysing it as homiletic and didactic fiction. The essay positions the Evangelical novel within the religious and social context of the late eighteenth century, as well as within the history of the novel, where its generic connections to individualism and realism are examined.
This article explores how changing ideas about time and time-telling had a powerful and lasting impact upon the literature of the long eighteenth century (i.e., c. 1660–c. 1830). After a brief overview of the dominant technological, scientific, and philosophical preoccupations, the discussion concentrates on influential recent critical studies of topics such as the relationship between clock time and narrative structure in the novels of Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, the appearance of poetical subgenres directly inspired by mechanical timepieces, and the characteristic skepticism of certain Romantic authors toward the alleged merits of temporal rationalization. Although most of these studies have focused on how the (quasi-)isochronicity of pocket watches and pendulum clocks directly influenced particular literary forms, structures, and themes, this article concludes by arguing that the relationship between literature and time was (in fact) partially reciprocal, and that the former therefore sometimes profoundly altered contemporaneous attitudes toward the practical business of time-telling.
This essay considers the way in which various types of fiction were projected at their original readers, primarily through the title pages, but also through reviews and circulating-library catalogues. Increasing use was made of ‘Novel’, ‘Romance’, and ‘Tale’ as main descriptors, with Novel gradually gaining prominence in the later eighteenth century, Romance enjoying a moment of popularity round the turn of the century, and Tale or Tales achieving ascendancy by the 1820s. Additional components in titles, such as the Sentimental, Gothic, and Historical, helped communicate different subgeneric types of fiction. Eventually, a three-tiered system stretched from ‘common’ circulating fiction to novels of reputation, the latter signalled by the use of the larger octavo format and through the development of distinct author identities (even when published anonymously). The Magnum Opus collected edition of Scott’s novels made him a classic in his time, finally establishing the novel as a fully established genre.
The satirical fiction of the period 1770–1832 continues earlier trends, though the development of other modes of fiction and the fiction-marketing apparatus meant that satirical narratives were less central than they had been earlier in the eighteenth century. Satirical novels ran contrary to the tendency towards more plausible, more ‘novelistic’ fiction. Many novels used parody as a technique, often to attack literary trends, often to attack contemporary doctrines. Much satire was inspired, directly or indirectly, by the debates in Britain that followed the French Revolution. The most significant author of satirical novels, Thomas Love Peacock, used methods that were unlike those used by almost any other novelist. His fiction displays both memorable wit and a range of complex narrative techniques.
Though less popular and esteemed in her own time than better known novelists like Maria Edgeworth and Walter Scott, Jane Austen now occupies an exalted place in literary history, in part for inventing nineteenth-century British ‘realist’ fiction. Such fictions seem to represent ‘real life’; she found narrative techniques to give the effect of the real. One of the most important of these techniques has been called ‘free indirect speech’: loosely, a narrator’s third-person, supposedly detached voice ventriloquizes the language and thus the perspective of one of the characters. Austen’s experiments with this device, particularly in Emma, have a history; she had foremothers. Analysis of examples from Austen’s and Edgeworth’s works demonstrate that the use of free indirect speech came to Austen in part through Edgeworth’s experiments in Tales of Fashionable Life. Elaborated and extended by Austen in her novels, the device constitutes Austen’s lasting formal contribution to the realist novel.
The ‘popular novel’ was variously defined and understood in the period 1790 to 1820, but the Minerva Press was and has been seen, usually negatively, as its major purveyor. Recent research has substantially corrected and complicated this view, and indicated the varieties of novels and of their popularity and uses during that time. In the onset of modernization and its attendant changes, conflicts, and crises, various kinds of novels, perhaps more than other literary forms, helped their various kinds of readers to understand, negotiate, and learn how to manage both modernization and the anxieties of an age of revolutions. In that process, the novel itself underwent revolutionary change and diversification to become the dominant and mainstream form still used today.
William Godwin was a leading radical political philosopher, novelist, and social thinker of the British Enlightenment. He was the author of Political Justice, a founding text of philosophical anarchism, and of the novel Caleb Williams. He was committed to the Dissenting belief in the duty of ceaseless inquiry and revisited the same preoccupations throughout his writing life. His work is full of ambiguities and contradictions. Critical tropes surface periodically in Godwin criticism, motivated by the search for consistency. The best critical studies take an encompassing view and place his writings in relation to the changing politics of his own times. Criticism now extends over his entire body of writings. Growth areas include his politics, pedagogical writings, historiographical writings, plays, and his diary and letters. To immerse oneself in Godwin’s wide-ranging body of texts can still be an expression of dissent from “things as they are.”
This essay charts the fortunes of a specific genre, the epistolary novel, which delivers plot and character exclusively through letters whether from a single correspondent, a couple, or many. In the shadow of Richardson’s dominance, there are successive attempts to innovate and experiment both of personality (presenting new kinds of voice and main protagonist) and geography (sending letter-writers to parts of the globe ‘new’ to English readers). It opens with the healthy flourishing of letter fiction from 1769 to 1780 and the twin traditions of domestic (Elizabeth Griffith, Frances Burney) and picaresque (Tobias Smollett). The epistolary mode is next experimented with in the 1790s to describe and define both revolutionary turmoil and colonial experience by authors such as Charlotte Smith, Eliza Fenwick, Phoebe Gibbes, and Charlotte Lennox. The early decades of the eighteenth century see the troubled departure from and live burial of epistolary exchange in the novels of Edgeworth, Owenson, and Scott.
This chapter describes the rise of the illustrated English novel. Eighteenth-century novels were cheap; illustrations expensive. Illustrated novels typically were not first editions, though some of the best known (Robinson Crusoe, Sir Launcelot Greaves) anomalously were. Looking at novels from roughly twenty years apart, one can see a number of changes from the increased presence of native engravers and designers to the burgeoning of illustrated volumes with the overthrow of perpetual copyright in 1774 (making possible the novel series of James Harrison and others), as well as shifting technologies leading from copperplates to the use of steel engravings in the nineteenth century. Important illustrators of novels included Pine and Clark, Hayman and Gravelot, Hogarth, Thomas Stothard, Thomas Rowlandson, Blake, and George Cruikshank.
W. A. Speck
This essay deals with the perceived emergence of a three-class social structure in the period. Between the aristocracy and the working class contemporaries observed the growth of a middle class especially in the rapidly expanding towns where urbanization gave rise to an urban bourgeoisie. These developments also affected the role of women in society, though the thesis that they created ‘separate spheres’ has been exaggerated. The creation of a bourgeois ideology of respectability was assisted by the Evangelical Revival. Increasing industrialization, though not as revolutionary as was once thought, affected the relative standards of living of the different classes. It also had an impact on the birth rate and relations between the sexes.
This article examines the effects of the unprecedented number of prosecutions for political opinion in the 1790s and afterward on romantic period literature. The chief instrument for these prosecutions was the law on libel. This legal framework placed a premium on various forms of metaphor, irony, and allegory, which the Crown had to construe as concrete libels in any prosecution. Many trials became major public events, a visible part of the period’s print culture, widely reported in newspapers and eagerly consumed by the public in a variety of media. The courtroom provided a theater of radical opinion in which defendants could publicize their views and mock the authority of the state. The pressure exerted on writers by the law on libel also conditioned a more general anxiety and may even have influenced developing ideas of the autonomy of the aesthetic.