The novel today is considered one of the most important art forms in the English language. This is because it affects grand aspects of the language, and is now considered an integral part of art. However, the rise of the English novel occurred primarily in the 18th century; this does not mean that there was no form of novel before this time, it only means that there was an increased release of novels and novelists during this period.
The rise of the English novel was affected by a number of factors; one of the most significant is the medieval romance, and the courtly tales of Italy and France. Translations from classical Greek materials also gave to the rise of the English novel.
The 18th century marked the period where novels were distributed on a large scale, and a certain level of demand arose among English readers. This demand is also due to people’s desire for reading about everyday events, events which went on to shape the lives and actions of fictional characters. Some of the earliest novels include Robinson Crusoe and Tom Jones which were respectively written by Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding.
Also, the theater as an art form was not available to every member of the population. But the novel was; this was because it could reach a larger audience, even those who could not afford a ticket into a theater. It is also important to note that during this period, drama had begun to decline in England. The growth of the novel can also be attributed to the need of individuals to create something new, something different. The social and intellectual circle longed for something completely new, yet individualized. Also, the people wanted stories that mirrored their own lives, stories which had a recognizable nature to theirs, and this need birthed the novel.
Furthermore, the rise of the middle class in the 18th century have a direct effect on the rise of novels. David Daiches, a historian said, the novel “was in a large measure the product of the middle class, appealing to middle-class ideals and sensibilities, a patterning of imagined events set against a clearly realized social background and taking its view of what was significant in human behavior from agreed public attitudes.”
Another factor responsible is the popularity of newspapers in the 17th century, and the growth of periodicals. For example, the novel, Pamela by Samuel Richardson was originally intended as a series of letters, but instead, it was made into a novel. The newspapers helped the reading culture among the lower class.
The democratic movement that gripped England after the Glorious Revolution of 1689 could also be regarded to as one of the factors that gave a rise to the novel in the 18th century. This is because the democratic system emphasized on the stories of commoners, who were the subjects in many of the novels written during this period. The novels of Richardson, Sterne, Smollet, and Fielding center around the life of commoners, rather than that of the ruling class.
Conclusively, the rise of realism in the 18th century also affected the growth of the novel. Factors such as reason, intellect, and satirical spirit were all adopted into the novel form, and were principal subjects in the realist’s movement.
The English novel has grown to be one of the most popular art forms today, selling millions of copies in several countries across the world. None of these would have been possible if the founding fathers haven’t seized the time period — 18th century — to create the English novel.