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An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Fiction.

Paul Salzman's excellent new anthology will revolutionize the way the fiction of the seventeenth century is taught in the universities. For long considered a dull period in fiction between the Elizabethan romance and the 'rise of the novel' in the eighteenth century, it has recently been reassessed in a number of studies, including Salzman's own useful English Prose Fiction 1558-1700. However, few of the key texts are readily available, and this anthology will reveal to non-specialists a period of prodigally inventive experimentation in a whole range of modes. One might be tempted to divide the texts loosely into those that are backward-looking--Lady Mary Wroth's Urania, generously represented by the whole of the first book, which is solidly based on her uncle Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, or Percy Herbert's romance The Princess Cloria, represented by a shorter extract--and those that are forward--looking Don Tomazo, perhaps by the protagonist and real-life criminal Thomas Dangerfield, representing a genre of criminal autobiography which exerted a crucial influence on Defoe and the eighteenth-century novel, or Congreve's lively Incognita, whose relaxed and ironically self-conscious narrator sometimes sounds as if he could have given pointers to Fielding (both these texts appear in their entirety). However, this is a false distinction, since even those texts which use traditional forms use them for new purposes, and Mary Wroth's romance is notable for its rejigging of the form to allow women more active and central roles than are traditionally available, while The Princess Cloria is an intensely political work which tells the story of the English Civil War under cover of the trappings of chivalric romance.

This anthology is generous in almost every respect--large, relatively inexpensive, with a useful introduction and bibliography (though the notes could, perhaps, have been fuller). It's a gift to those interested in women writers of the period, including as it does not only Urania but also one of Aphra Behn's stories and The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, a kind of protofeminist philosophical Utopia. As in all anthologies, the reader may experience one or two minor disappointments: it seems a pity to represent the spiritual biography by a small extract from Bunyan's The Life and Death of Mr Badman, which is otherwise readily available, and The Unfortunate Happy Lady is neither the best nor the most characteristic text by which to represent the achievement and influence of Aphra Behn (and, indeed, if Salzman had chosen to represent her by one of the fictions she published during her lifetime rather than this slight posthumous work, it would have emphasized her real originality rather than, as this does, presenting her as by implication a follower of Congreve). But these are minor cavils and this volume should be welcomed by all readers with an interest in the seventeenth century.

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Author:Pearson, Jacqueline
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:464
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