Eighteenth-century periodicals and the Romantic rise of the novel.
--Title of a novel, 1794 Real life can always be dismissed, it seems; fiction has to be dealt with.
--Review of the film Menace II Society, 1993(1)
Haunting our efforts to understand the "rise" of the novel is one of the stranger twists of literary history: the moment the novel actually did rise--rise literally in quantitative terms--is the moment that we have paid it relatively little attention. The problem is not an inability to count, or a failure to connect genre to history, but rather the power of the connections that already do count. Our associations are firmly fixed: once we rise novelistically past Fielding, Richardson, and Sterne, and the 1780s and 1790s come into view, critical attention shifts to the supposedly lyrical advent of Romanticism. But those were precisely the decades when the novel took off, with publication reaching. in James Raven's words, "unprecedented levels in the late 1780s."(2) Growth until that point in the century had been slow and erratic. From an annual rate of only about four to twenty new titles through the first four decades, and remaining--despite Fielding's and Richardson's popularity--within a range of roughly twenty to forty for the next three, new novel production peaked briefly near sixty in 1770 before a steep decline to well below forty during the latter half of that decade. Within the next seven years, however, the output jumped--more than doubled--to close to ninety, and continued to increase sharply into the next century.
That rise was not, of course, against the grain; Raven's figures clearly show a parallel surge in the overall ESTC publication totals. We need not look far for possible causes; population was following a similar curve, and, following Raven, we can add: "the expansion of the country distribution network, increased institutional demand, and new productivity based on financial and organizational innovation" (p. 35). The question is not, then, how the novel bucked or solely initiated a trend, but how it joined and
furthered it--how it participated, that is, in what Raymond Williams has called the" naturaliz[ation]" of writing. For Williams, the "history of writing" has spanned the last two hundred years, from the moment that the modern configuration of writing, print, and silent reading first became natural, to "the new cultural period we have ... entered" in the late twentieth century in which "print and silent reading are again only one of several cultural forms, only one even of the forms of writing."'
The quotations that head this essay bracket that history, calling attention to this scenario of change as a matter of continuity and discontinuity. What is continuous is the power of the "or" in Godwin's title: how "Things As They Are" can almost silently give way to the fictitious "Adventures" of an individual character. What both fascinated and puzzled even hostile contemporary reviewers was Godwin's presentation of that individuality: "We are somewhat at a loss how to introduce our readers to an acquaintance with this singular narrative. Of incident it presents little, of character and situation much." The quantitative rise of characters who convey "strong feeling" arising from the author's "depth of reflection on ... society"(4) signals the proliferation and valorization of fiction, and of the novel-of-character as an effective form for it.
"Things" are still becoming fiction today in works like Menace H Society, which, as the reviewer points out, also subordinates "incident" to "feeling": "You can only absorb its emotional content. The story is relatively simple, to the point of being nonexistent." What is discontinuous, of course, is the form--film rather than novel--but even that discontinuity evokes other continuities. Just as Godwin's novel is not only writing, but a thematizing of it--in particular, writing's efficacy in producing and sustaining a character worth vindicating(5)--so this movie offers itself up as the stuff of character: although the characters in this startling debut by the 21-year-old twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes may be sociopathic," reports the reviewer, "the truly disturbing thing is, so is the movie."
My point in emphasizing this mix of continuity and discontinuity is that if Raymond Williams is right about our now entering a "new cultural period," we have more reason--not less--to turn to periods past: knowing how we arrived at the present point of departure may point to where we may be going next.(6) If, for example, the shift from novel to film, from written word to electronic media, furthers the phenomenon that sociologists are now calling "aliteracy"--being able to read and write but choosing not to--then we might want to examine the historical moment in which the choice to use those skills was made. Caleb the character wants to read and write; in fact, he becomes a character by doing so. Caleb the book is, in important ways, a product of similar longings in its author and audience. As such, it participated in the jump in production and consumption that signalled the quantitative rise of the novel. How, at that moment, did prose fiction become so desirable, and how did the novel become the form of that desire?
This essay seeks to establish some of the conditions of possibility for that specific historical event: the seemingly natural surge of desire for novelistic fiction. The conceptual space for such an effort has been opened by recent work on the novel and on Romanticism. At the 1993 conference of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, for example, a session that spilled into the hotel corridors featured papers that located the English novel in America and in captivity narratives, linked it back to prose fiction from the classical past, and detailed how conflations of genre, gender, and nation produced a novel that was originally English and always on the rise. When, in the ensuing discussion, a member of the audience commented that the cumulative effect of this work was to remake the novel into something that it simply had not been before, heads nodded vigorously throughout the room.(7) A similar moment of consensus--in a sense, a shared acknowledgment of disciplinary change--occurred a few months later at the first annual conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism. As more and more papers were given, more and more participants began talking about how relatively little time was being spent on the six standard male poets, with attention focusing instead on other authors, other genders, and other genres.
This essay now turns to that otherness so that it can follow the novel into its Romantic rise. Each of the next two sections will link a changing function of authorship to the gendered workings of a genre--the genre that mixes with the novel throughout the eighteenth century. In the various forms of the periodical, I argue, these new workings of authorship fostered new kinds of audiences--desiring readers who proved crucial to the quantitative rise of prose fiction.(8) The final section will return to Godwin as an exemplar of that desire, both in his priming and gendering of character and author, and in his critical evaluations of history and romance. The argumentative twists and turns of his essay on those genres finally point, I conclude, to the formation of a field into which the novel could rise: Literature.
Author-Before-Work: The Flow of Capital
Living at a historical moment--the last decade of the twentieth century--in which so much seems to be falling--interest rates and economies, walls and governments, university budgets and Classics departments, junior colleagues and MLA job listings--the turn to eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain seems strangely like a U-turn. Back then and there, everything appeared to rise: capitalism and the middle class, nationalism and imperialism, population and literacy, the novel and the author. Or did they? With my claim for a Romantic rise of the novel, it appears as if I have only added to the list. My purpose in specifying that particular quantitative event, however, is to provide a perspective from which we can reconsider some of these other narratives. Although most of them have largely maintained their momentum in recent scholarship, some inquiries have managed to touch the brakes, questioning either the uniformity of a particular "rise" or the implications of writing up change in that manner.
Anthony J. Little, for example, in a book entitled Deceleration in the Eighteenth-Century British Economy, argues that far from there being sustained, let alone accelerated, economic growth during the early eighteenth century, the second quarter (1720s to 50s) actually witnessed "stagnation."(9) So marked was this "pause" (p. 10), that "pamphleteers writing in the 1740s," as Phillis Deane has observed, used estimates
made half a century or more before, to illustrate their assessments of the
current economic situation. So little evidence did they see for economic
growth that they were prepared to adopt calculations made in the 1670s
or the 1690s to reflect the conditions of the 1740s. Population, prices and
productivity could, they judged, fluctuate upwards as readily as downwards
and there was no reason to expect them to go in one direction
rather than the other.(10) What little economic expansion there may have been "was along traditional lines with little or no movement towards" the two central elements of an industrialized economy: the "factory system and mass consumption." The transition towards the latter clement
was hindered by the failure to reduce costs through innovation, by the
check to population growth, and the rise in transport costs. The very
slow improvement in the infrastructure of the economy despite the
increase in commerce is an outstanding feature of the second quarter of
the eighteenth century. (Little, p. 101) That quarter, despite some higher real incomes and low agricultural prices, was also characterized by reduced profitability as supply outstripped demand for a wide range of products and wares. In the face of such low profits "and expected low rates of return on long-term investment ... low and falling interest rates were largely ineffective in stimulating capital expenditure." The result, concludes Little in a most memorable phrase, was a period of profitless prosperity" (pp. 100-101).
That phrase should be etched on George Bush's political tombstone--a president done in by a combination of ineffectively lowered interest rates, an unimproved infrastructure, failure to reduce costs through innovation, inadequate long-term investment, and low profit levels. My point is not, of course, that we're in the same economic situation, but that--engaged outside of traditional assumptions about what rose and what's falling--the two situations can, in certain ways, speak to each other. What I have in mind are historical connections between Authorship and economic change. On the one hand, the construction of the Author in Britain coincides with the end of the eighteenth-century deceleration I've just described; on the other, its deconstruction--as exemplified by the post-Foucauldian efforts of many theorists--coincides with the advent of the present period of profitless prosperity. What's at stake in both cases, I will argue, is the efficacy of the forms of professional behavior that Authorship has, until now, so efficiently naturalized.
Authors, of course, unlike the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries, have never joined in a formal association to police their status or govern their market. Instead, writing was professionalized only when it came to be accompanied by the alternative forms of institutional self-control that we know collectively as "criticism." Through the proliferation during the first half of the century of periodicals and reviews, and the spread during the second half of the philosophical discourse that became "aesthetics," a market of readerly domains was constituted and matched hierarchically to levels of writerly expertise: culture was tastefully divided into high and low as serious writing and reading was marked off from mere entertainment and--what eighteenth-century writers called-"Castle-building"(11) or, less kindly, novels as "killer drugs."(12)
The historical sequence I am trying to elaborate here--criticism as an enabling condition of Authorial professionalism, and, as I will argue next, professionalism as an enabling condition of economic growth--makes sense only when we open our "rise" narratives to the phenomenon of deceleration--a phenomenon that was particularly evident in the business of print. By the 1720s, all of the technological elements necessary to an acceleration in that business appeared to be in place: Britain had opened its first type foundry in 1720, the output of British paper had increased fourfold during the previous decade, and the booksellers were ready with their presses and their shops. But, for the next quarter century, precisely the opposite happened. Demand for paper dropped precipitously, leaving many paper-makers bankrupt and turning many of the mills back to their original uses as fulling- and corn-mills (Little, pp. 73-74). During roughly the same period, the number of London booksellers dropped by more than half-from one hundred fifty-one to seventy-two between 1735 and 1763. The number of titles printed also fell significantly, from, says Alvin Kernan in Samuel Johnson and the Impact of Print, "8,836 in the decade ending 1710 to 7,605 in the decade ending 1750"--a drop of over 1200 titles.(13)
For Kernan, these figures suggest a strange conjuncture: the "crucial beginnings and central years" of the writing life of the hero of his rise-of-print tale-Johnson in the "1730s through the 1760s"--in fact "corresponded to a period of depression in the book business." Acknowledging "no obvious explanation" for this challenge to "our traditional assumption ... that growth was continuous," Kernan nevertheless reinvokes the "long-range" upward "trend": "the numbers, therefore, while telling us something extremely interesting about the ups and downs of the book publishing business during that time," do, "in the end," insists Kernan, support the rise-of-print thesis (p. 62).
Since Kernan declines the opportunity to tell us what is interesting about the falling numbers, I'll take a stab at it. The book business, like many other sectors of the decelerating British economy in the second quarter, suffered not only from such external factors as an apparent demographic downturn (Little, p. 54), but also, to use Little's words, from internal "impediments to growth or bottlenecks" (p. 10). The result was "profitless prosperity" not "depression," not a collapse of economic activity but--to sustain the metaphor--a failure to induce the flow of capital. This distinction is crucial, for it helps us to see that it was the activity that prospered even during the contraction that helped to produce the means of reversing it.
That activity was the prospering of the periodical press and the product of its critical efforts was new forms of professional behavior embodied in the Author. The second quarter deceleration, in other words, embraced precisely the decades ('20s through '40s) that saw the proliferation of the periodical project that Addison's and Steele's efforts had helped to initiate. That project began with a maneuver that highlights its constitutive role in the history of the Author. Although today we tend to think of periodical work as less author-centered than so-and-so's latest Book, that work, in fact, first prospered by highlighting the writer, rather than--as with many of the contemporaneous fictional forms--the tale or subject matter. Volume I of The Spectator began with Addison describing his own life and character.
How powerful and habitual that maneuver became for writers and readers by the end of the century's first quarter is particularly clear in Eliza Haywood's The Female Spectator (1744). The critical function of such periodicals surfaces immediately in the introduction to Book 1: since "it is very much by the Choice we make of Subjects for our Entertainment, that the refined Taste distinguishes itself from the vulgar and more gross," the problem with the particular "Amusement" called "Reading" is how "to single out," from what is "perpetually issuing from the Press," the works that "promise to be most conducive" to the best "Ends." The solution presented by Haywood is naturalized as desire: "I, for my own part, love to get as well acquainted as I can with an Author, before I run the risque of losing my Time in perusing his Work" (emphasis mine). Confident that "most people are of this way of thinking," Haywood initiates her periodical venture "in imitation of my learned Brother of ever precious Memory"--Addison--by giving "some Account of what I am."(14)
This type of periodical, in other words, in performing its critical task of naturalizing socio-economic difference as "refine[ments]" of "Taste," established a practice that proved crucial to the formation of modern literary institutions: Author "before" Work. We engage the latter through the former; in Foucault's terms, the Author "serves as a means of classification."(15) In serving us in this manner, however, it also serves us up--arranges us, pigeonholes us--in historically- and politically-specific ways; the classification of Author is part of a classificatory system in which differences of various kinds take on a variety of different functions.
Gender, for example, is centered in The Female Spectator not only by the title, but also by its habitual opening; in having to turn to an "Account" of the Author, the writing makes known the identity of the writer and therefore the gender--Haywood turns immediately to the issue of her own "Beauty" and my Sex." Writing--as a practice that historically was already gendered--made the category of a "writer's identity" an unavoidably gendered category. As long as few people could write and read and little was printed, that category was a relatively uncontested site. But once Anne Finch became, in her words, an intruder on the rights of men," and Mary Astell proposed to parcel out the "prerogatives" of literacy,(16) power over the growing power of writing became an issue, and the gender of the author became, potentially, a powerful unknown.
What I'm suggesting, quite simply, is that one consequence of Author before work--a consequence so obvious that we never see it--is that we want to find out whether the writer is male or female and we do. The Author function enacts an institutionalized form of "outing." Once identified, the gendered writer, as an object of knowledge, becomes subject to power--power that, through Authorial professionalism and its enabling forms of critical behavior, reproduced established gender hierarchy into the "age of print and industrial capitalism" (Kernan, p. 284). Only now, as we begin to recover the enormous range and number of texts written by eighteenth-century women, but excluded from Literature, is the scope and efficiency of that reproduction becoming clear. There's little need to look for male conspiracies forbidding writing and publishing by women. Women, despite many obstacles, did both, for professional power was and is relentlessly affirmative. Its "Yes!", however, configures and delimits as it affirms and elicits, replicating hierarchical differences even as it assures ongoing production.
In performing this dual role, Authorship helped to facilitate and control the flow between print production and knowledge consumption. It became, that is, a means of accelerating economic growth at mid century by virtue of its participation in both of the productive processes that characterize capitalism. On the one hand, the Author performs the function of labor, producing actual commodities--in this case, books. On the other, it performs the function of capital, facilitating the appropriation of surplus value by relocating it ideologically within the individual and then, in the manner I've just described, conforming that individuality to established hierarchical difference.
Reader-As-Author: The Flow of Conversation
The Author put before the work did not need, of course, to be a representation of the actual writer; from the moment early in the periodical project that Steele assumed the guise of Bickerstaff, the eidolon became a standard and very successful practice. The drawing power of any "real" individual was secondary to the power of an Author--any Author--as the reader's point of connection to a text. In fact, as Robert Mayo has shown, ventures into the burgeoning magazine field of the 1760s by writers of reputation, such as Tobias Smollett and Charlotte Lennox, met with little success.(17) Their names, that is, did not ensure a successful negotiation of a central problem of print: what David Kaufer and Kathleen Carley call "communication at a distance." Calling into question theories of communication that "start with the supposition that individuals are already engaged in transactions with texts" (emphasis mine), they focus on the ways in which contact--over the spatial, temporal, and social distances opened by print--is initially established (pp. 12-13).
In the eighteenth century, that negotiation was conducted in terms of the distinction between public and private and the notion of "conversation." Habermas's concept of the public sphere is useful in understanding the pervasiveness of that distinction across the genres, from title pages through prefaces and into the works themselves. What is crucial to his argument, but often overlooked, is that he describes not a single public/private binary, but a double one--a doubleness that he presents as historically constituted. The eighteenth century, he argues, inherited a "fundamental" distinction between the state, as the sphere of public authority, and society, as the private realm, and then differentiated the latter into a political and cultural public sphere versus the privacy of the family and civil society. "Included in the private realm," Habermas explains rather cryptically, "was the authentic |public sphere,' for it was a public sphere constituted by private people."(18) His meaning becomes clearer, as does writing's role in that differentiation, when we read Anne Dutton's defense of "PRINTING any Thing written by a Woman," 1743:
communicating ones Mind in Print, is as private, with respect to
particular Persons, as if one did it particularly unto every one by himself
in ones own House. There is only this Difference: The one is communicating
ones Mind by Speech, in ones own private House: The other is
doing it by Writing, in the private house of another Person. Both are still
private.(19) Print, in Dutton's reading, overwrites the category of public-as-state, by instituting, within the private realm of society, a new kind of publicness--one that is accessed and thus produced in private terms.
In this mode of access, print's "distance" does dislocate, requiring movement from house to house; however, that dislocation is precisely what recuperates both the private--in enabling one-to-one speech acts--and a new kind of public--in the reproducibility and dispersal of those acts. "Conversation" became a crucial term in the eighteenth century for describing not just the private individual exchanges, nor the public ones generated out of their multiplicity, but the flow across those newly reconstituted fields. That flow of conversation was seen as so crucial to the health of both the private and public--to the growth of individuals and of nations--that it was often cast in terms we associate with the flow of capital it facilitated. Hume, for example, fixed on "conversation" as a key term, using it, as Graham Burchell points out, "to describe the form ideally taken by the 'commerce' of ... [the political culture] of opinion, the appropriate cultural form of exchanges between individuals of the 'middling rank' immersed in 'common life.'"(20)
With such high individual, social, and commercial stakes, writers vied generically to produce the kind of writing most suitable to the demands of conversation. Here is William Wordsworth's bid in 1798:
The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments.
They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the
language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is
adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.(21) The two terms of this experiment that have drawn relatively little critical attention--"conversation" and "poetic"--are precisely the ones that pin down its historicity. Faced with the quantitative rise of what he called "frantic novels" (Prose, p. 128), Wordsworth offered up his new kind of verse as the genre that can carry on conversation. He thus ended up in competition with writers in other genres, such as Jane Austen, who, as Robert Kiely points out, sought to adapt to the novel her sense of "polite conversation."(22)
In 1797, the Edinburgh Magazine published an entire issue "On Conversation." Its admonition to young women not to shine in conversation,(23) like Wordsworth's turn to "class" and Dutton's defense of writing by a "woman," demonstrated how conversation in print was always an occasion for reproducing, and possibly altering, hierarchical differences. As the genre that had initiated and sustained conversation throughout the eighteenth century, however, the periodical was particularly well suited to that task. It had from its start engaged women and issues of gender, both through periodicals written by and for women, such as Records of Love or Weekly Amusements for the Fair Sex (1710), and through Addison's and Steele's decisions to, in Swift's words, "fair-sex" it in the Spectator and the Tatler.(24) It also helped to articulate class, as well as gender differences, by inducing what was then a multiplicity of middle orders into an increasingly univocal conversation.
In both cases, the key inducement was the Author. As we have seen, not only was the Author put before the work as a point of contact; periodicals also gave it a more or less fictive voice to make conversational contact desirable. Whether tattling to female readers, or, for the benefit of those seeking improvement, assuming a "courtly and deferential air associated with the genteel tradition" (Mayo, p. 322), the Author-Editors were always, to some extent, a fiction, as were their "correspondents." For actual readers, then, conversation with periodicals was about how to converse. Such self-reflexivity was, of course, a part of every genre's effort to close the communicative distance of print. The periodical, however, malleable because accessible both in terms of frequency and price, became an important site for literary and social change. Its self-reflexivity altered its audience, itself, and the forms with which it mixed: the centering of the Author as a desirable fiction early in the century, led, by its end, to the centering of fiction as that which was desirable.
Haywood's Female Spectator encapsulates, in two years (1744-1746) near the end of the quarter of "profitless prosperity," some of the most significant changes. Initially a single-essay periodical, as were many of the imitators of Addison and Steele during the first half of the century, its centered Author quickly induced flows of both conversation and capital. A volume reprint was issued in 1745, to be followed by six more editions over the next twenty-six years. After only the first four numbers, Haywood expanded into what was then becoming an increasingly popular form of the periodical, the miscellany. This changed the function of fiction in the Female Spectator in two ways. First, it extended the fiction of Author-in-conversation by presenting the new miscellaneous pieces as letters from correspondents, although, as Deborah and John Sitter point out, "it is likely" they are Haywood's own. Second, some of those pieces are themselves fiction, including tales as long as twenty pages with titles such as "The Lady's Revenge" (Sullivan, pp. 120-21).
These changes in periodical form and in its fictions had been accelerating since Edward Cave founded the highly successful Gentleman's Magazine in 1731. But, unlike Haywood, Cave and his imitators did not expand from the single-essay format into the miscellany by presenting more of their own, or any single Author's work, under different guises; rather, Cave saw the "magazine" as just that, a "storehouse" of material primarily first printed elsewhere. He did maintain, however, as Walter Graham observes, the Authorial fiction in the form of an editor conversing, in genteel fashion, with a society of readers. The combination of that pose and more material proved so successful that it quickly became subject to parody, as in John Hill's British Magazine, and increasingly extreme forms of imitation. The Magazine of Magazines appeared in 1750, followed by the Grand Magazine of Magazines in 1758.(25)
As the limits of condensation, summary, and reprinting were tested at mid-century, a new form of production that provided much-needed original material arose: readers who had, in a sense, been "fiction-ed" into conversations with Authors became real authors themselves. In Robert Mayo's words:
The handful of learned correspondents and poetasters who addressed
letters and verses to Mr. Sylvanus Urban in the 1730's and 1740's
became three decades later a legion of eager volunteers, overwhelming
grateful magazine publishers with mountains of verses, essays, and
sketches, biographical articles, sermons, allegories, news items and
extracts from books and other magazines, drawings, musical compositions,
recipes and specifics, maxims riddles, rebuses, charades, acrostics,
short stories, and novels. (p. 306)
This flow of conversation from readers-as-authors induced the flow of capital, for this was the appropriation of surplus value in its purest form: almost all of this material was provided (and could be reprinted) for free. New periodicals could thus be launched and sustained with very little capital, making them a primary engine for the take-off in overall publication levels in the final decades of the century.(26)
The changes in fiction's role in the periodical that we saw on a small scale in Haywood were magnified enormously by this new kind of productivity--magnified in ways that ensured fiction's participation in the take-off. The extension of the Authorial fiction to readers not only increased the number of authors; it also confirmed them as readers desiring, at the very least, to read the kind of material that they themselves wrote or that appeared in the periodicals for which they wrote. To the extent that these readers fiction-ed themselves into the fictional guise of the Author, whatever kind they wrote was at least partly an experience in fiction, making it an increasingly natural category for their growing reading habit. But in the stricter formal sense of fiction as tales, romances, and particulary novels, we can also point to an extraordinary increase. Like the Female Spectator, more and more periodicals included more and more fiction during the second half of the century; Mayo claims that "fiction of some sort was found in four hundred and seventy different periodicals published between 1740 and 1815" (p. 2). He catalogues from that material 1,375 works of novel (12,000+ words) and novelette (5,000-12,000) length.
The workings of the Author function in periodicals--both Author-before-Work and Reader-as-Author--thus contributed to the proliferation of print and to making fiction, particularly the novel, an apparently desirable part of that proliferation. Raven's figures juxtaposed with Mayo's illuminate two important aspects of the growth of that desire. First, although the initial increases in magazine novels in the early and mid 1760s and early 1770s correspond with some growth in new novel titles, the most striking rise--not surprisingly, given the availability of texts and the likelihood of profit--was in reprints. In fact, the gap between the number of new titles and total novel production widens during those decades. Second, after 1775, Raven's new title numbers, in his words, show "striking similarities" (pp. 34,40) to Mayo's magazine counts, their mutual strong growth both closing the gap I have just described and confirming the advent of a two-tier market--one in which the popularity of one product supports, rather than cannibalizes, the sales of the other.
Mayo attributes a "slacken[ing]" of the magazine figures after 1792 to "the gradual concentration of this activity in fewer, more widely circulated magazines, which placed more emphasis upon originals, and upon stories of greater length" (p. 648). However, as Jon Klancher has argued, the early 1790s also brought other changes to the periodical market:
Eighteenth-century journals had organized English audiences by forming
the "reading habit," but after 1790 that habit became the scene of a
cultural struggle demanding a new mental map of the complex public
and its textual desires, a new way to organize audiences according to
their ideological dispositions, their social distances, and the paradoxically
intense pressure of their proximity as audiences.(27)
Klancher is careful to acknowledge that the eighteenth century is also complex, its "public sphere" "qualified" and "dualistic" in its efforts to engage specific readerships within the "|widening circle'" of an "ideally transparent language." However, he argues, "in the 1790s, when such a sphere could no longer be assumed, writers renounced the |widening circle' and everything it implied" (p. 26).
That renunciation, of course, could have been no more univocal than the circle it denied. Different writers did it in different ways for different purposes, resulting in some of the audiences (middle-class, mass, radical, institutional) that Klancher productively pursues (p. 4). As an act of writing, it was also done--or, perhaps, not done--in particular places, that is, genres; and, as a change, it needs to be engaged, as I suggested earlier, as a matter of continuity as well as discontinuity. Where, in writing, did the "habit" and its "desires" go? Where and how was the circle refigured, perhaps on a different scale? What about the genre that was rising, quantitatively, at the moment that the audience of its close ally--the periodical--appeared to fracture? I am not suggesting that another sphere--one embracing all of the politically--and socio-economically-diverse audiences of the newly "complex" public--coalesced around the novel. But I do want to point toward the need to investigate how generically-configured audiences can overlay not only each other, but audiences configured along other lines as well.
The periodicals themselves, despite--actually, because--of their diversification, evidence the increasing consolidation of the novel's cultural power. At the moment of audience remapping, as loan Williams points out, not only were the established journals reviewing fiction more frequently, but new journals arose for which "novel-reviewing was an important activity" (p. 22). The two Williams singles out were both very much the products of Britain's end-of-century "cultural struggle." Joseph Johnson's Analytical Review was one of the most important forums for liberals and dissenters during the 1790s until Johnson's arrest for sedition in 1798. The British Critic, on the other hand, was initially funded by Secret Service money from William Pitt.(28) Both periodicals joined not only with each other, but--across political lines of another kind--joined with the many new entries for women, in attending to the novel. In fact, so well was the conversation flowing, that, in one of the new titles, the novel attended them: in 1791, William Lane founded the Novelist, or Amusing Companion.(29)
Reader-Author-Character: The Flow of Literature
It was in the context of this rise not only in the number of novels, but also in the attention paid to them, that Godwin could slip so quickly and easily into fiction. Three years later, in fact, he explicitly cast the move from "things" to "character" as a generic issue. His essay "Of History and Romance," in which he uses "romance" interchangeably with "novel,"(30) argues that the best type of history, even social history, requires "knowledge of the individual" (p. 363). However, since a historian can not possibly "know any man's character," he is inferior to the "writer of romance," who, "we should naturally suppose," can "understand the character which is the creature of his own fancy." The romance writer is thus the "writer of real history," for "true history consists in a delineation of consistent, human character" (pp. 371-72).
Notice that the author is put before the genre; by emphasizing not that romance is better than history, but that the "writer" of romance is the best historian, Godwin is able to distance himself from the genre's bad reputation-in a sense, he is not so much writing romance as writing better history. But genre is not the only problem here, for Godwin blames that reputation on the need to supply romances for "women and boys." Critics have made the mistake, he argues, of judging romance according to the "speculations of trade"--judging it, that is, as if every romance must count in the weighing; instead, he writes, we should do it the way "literature" does it for "poetry": throw out the "scum and surcharge" first. What is also being thrown out, in a sense, is the genre's connection to the gender with which it was linked throughout the eighteenth century: the women whose "continual" need had elicited the scum (p. 369). Real romance can then be written--romance that is really history--history that treats "the development of great genius, or the exhibition of bold and masculine virtues" (p. 364).
The flow of conversation is being rechanneled here, as hierarchical differences are being reproduced within a new context. This essay of Godwin's points to the way in which the Romantic rise of the novel was not only quantitative, but qualitative as well: literature, previously a term for all writing, once put into opposition to "trade," became a newly restricted category. The restrictions apply to gender, genre, and even writing itself, as is evident in the apparently strange twist with which Godwin ends his essay. After going to such great lengths to establish the superiority of the romance writer, he suddenly announces in the penultimate paragraph that "to write romance is a task too great for the powers of man." The reason is that, even though the character he exhibits is his own "creature," the romance writer "does not understand the character he exhibits," and is thus "continually straining at a foresight to which his faculties are incompetent." He cannot, that is, plumb the depths of his own fiction, a claim that seems bizarre until we remember what the new category of literature came to demand of a successful character in a novel; a character that can be fully sounded, by writer or reader, would not be "round" enough. The very best writing, in a sense because it is the best writing, can never fully capture a character that, in Godwin's words, always "increases and assimilates." The price of the novel's Romantic rise into literature, as it was for the lyric poetry of Wordsworth's "something evenmore about to be," was to always finally admit its subordination to the subject it constructs. That central concern of eighteenth-century periodical conversation--whether the self would be changed by this new power of writing--became a celebration of writing undone by a self.
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT STONY BROOK
(1) John Anderson, "A Brutal and Bleak L.A. Story," Newsday, 26 May 1993, p. 63. (2) See Raven, Judging New Wealth: Popular Publishing and Responses to Commerce in England 1750-1800 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 31-41. Raven emphasizes that reclaiming the dimensions of this growth in the book trade is a task still embarrassed by the unevenness of late eighteenth-century bibliographical evidence and research" (p. 33), but his compilations of new ESTC data, his own research, and other recent bibliographic efforts provide us with our most comprehensive and reliable picture of print production during this period. Two particularly important advantages of his work for my argument are: 1) his data set is far more inclusive than those offered even just a few years earlier (p. 37), and 2) his classifications differentiate among new titles, editions and reprints, and magazine fiction. See, also, British Fiction, 1750-1770: A Chronological Check-List of Prose Fiction Printed in Britain and Ireland (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1987). (3) Raymond Williams, Writing in Society (London: Verso, 1981), pp. 1-7. (4) The Analytical Review, 21 (February 1795) reprinted in loan Williams, ed., Novel and Romance 1700-1800 A Documentary Record (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970), p. 396. (5) For useful discussions of the thematizing of writing in Caleb Williams, see Jacqueline Miller, "The Imperfect Tale: Articulation, Rhetoric, and Self in Caleb Williams," Criticism 20 (1978): 366-82, and Jerrold E. Hogle, "The Texture of Self in Godwin's Things as They Are," Boundary 2 7:2 (1979): 261-8 1. John P. Zomchick makes use of their work to connect the problem of writing the self to "juridical techniques" in Family and the law in eighteenth-century fiction: the public conscience in the private sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 177-92. B. J. Tysdahl, in William Godwin as Novelist (London: Athlone, 1981), pp. 28-76, and Pamela Clemit, in The Godwinian Novel: The Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 70-102, focus on the different effects of different kinds of writing in their generic analyses of Caleb. (6) David S. Kaufer and Kathleen M. Carley also stress the importance of seeing change as a mixture of continuity and discontinuity:
Stories of the dominance of new media are simple and elegant but they
often leave embarrassing holes, (e.g. that newer media often increase
the contexts of use for the older media). Writing did not squelch
speaking but created new contexts for speech; print created new
contexts for writing; electronic communication proliferated the contexts
for paper and printing.
See Communication at a Distance: the Influence of Print on Sociocultural Organization
and Change (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993), p. 6. (7) The speakers, in the order of my description of their papers, were Nancy Armstrong, Margaret Doody, and William Warner. The audience member was John Richetti. My purpose in calling attention to these conferences is not to suggest that they effected a magical transition from "old" work to "new," but to emphasize a shared sense of accomplishments and possibilities. I do not, of course, have the space here to list the individual accomplishments in eighteenth-century studies, Romanticism, literary theory, and other disciplines, particularly sociology and anthropology, that set the stage for these conferential moments. (8) In focusing on the desire for fiction, and in turning to places like periodicals to find it, thi essay supplements chronologically, and complements conceptually, the efforts of J. Paul Hunter and John Richetti. In Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), Hunter taps an extraordinary range of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century materials to show, in part, how "all texts--at least all texts that find and create readers--construct a field in which desires and provisions compete" (p. x). Richetti, in the pioneering Popular Fiction Before Richardson: Narrative Patterns 1700-1739 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), reconsiders the rise of the novel in relationship to "popular" literature from the first four decades of the eighteenth century. (9) Anthony J. Little, Deceleration in the Eighteenth-Century British Economy (London: Croom Helm, 1976), p. 5. (10) Phyllis Deane, The First Industrial Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1967), p. 11. Cited in Little, p. 99. (11) From Charles Jenner, The Placid Man: or, Memoirs of Sir Charles Beville, 1770, reprinted in George L. Barnett, Eighteenth-Century Novelists on the Novel (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968), p. 128. (12) From the Edinburgh Review, November 1783 cited in Alison Adburgham, Women in Print: Writing Women and Women's Magazines From the Restoration to the Accession of Victoria (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1972), p. 153. (13) Alvin Kernan, Samuel Johnson and the Impact of Print (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), p. 61. (14) Eliza Haywood, The Female Spectator, vol. 1 (London: T. Gardner, 1745) reprinted in Dale Spender and Janet Todd, eds., British Women Writers: An Anthology from the Fourteenth Century to the Present (New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1989), p. 213. (15) Michel Foucault, "What Is An Author?," in Donald F. Bouchard, ed., language, counter-memory, practice: selected essays and interviews by Michel Foucault (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977), p. 123. (16) From Anne Finch, "The Introduction" (published 1713) and Mary Astell A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694), both reprinted in Katherine M. Rodgers and William McCarthy, eds., The Meridian Anthology of Early Women Writers: British Literary Women from Aphra Behn to Maria Edgeworth 1660-1800 (New York: Meridian, 1987), pp. 78, 127. (17) Robert Mayo, The English Novel in the Magazines 1740-1815 With a Catalogue of 1375 Magazine Novels and Novelettes (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1962), pp. 273-92. Smollett's difficulties with the British Magazine (1760-1763) occurred despite his reputation being in part the product of his successful launch of the Critical Review (1756). Mayo tries to attribute Smollett's problems and Lennox's to their efforts being "too elevated for the common reader's tastes and interests," but admits some puzzlement, particularly since the latter's Lady's Museum (1760-61) featured works that "were later to enjoy a considerable popularity as repertory pieces" (p. 29 1 (18) Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere; An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), p. 30. (19) Anne Dutton, A Letter To such of the Servants of Christ, who May have any Scruple about the Lawfulness of PRINTING any thing written by a Woman, 1743, reprinted in Vivien Jones, ed., Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 159. (20) Graham Burchell, "Peculiar Interests: Civil Society and Governing "The System of Natural Liberty,"' in Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, eds., The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality With Two Lectures and an Interview with Michel Foucault (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 199 1), p. 129. (21) William Wordsworth, Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads in W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, eds., The Prose Works of William Wordsworth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), Vol. 1, p. 116. Hereafter cited in the text as Prose. (22) Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1972), p. 121. (23) See Robert G. Blake, The Edinburgh Magazine in Alvin Sullivan, ed., British Literary Magazines: The Augustan Age and the Age of Johnson, 1698-1788 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1983), p. 92. (24) For information about other early women's periodicals, see Deborah Ayer Sitter's and John Sitter's essay on The Female Spectator in Sullivan, pp. 120-23, Katherine Shevelow, Women and Print Culture: The construction of Femininity in the early periodical (New York: Routledge, 1989), and Adburgham's Women in Print. (25) Walter Graham, English Literary Periodicals (New York: Octagon Books, 1966), pp. 151-71. (26) Mayo estimates that "at least half of the so-called |original' material printed in the miscellanies from about 1770-1815 was produced by industrious amateurs" (p. 306). For analysis of earlier instances of the reader-as-writer phenomenon in terms of gender, see Shevelow, pp. 58-92. (27) Jon Klancher, The Making of English Reading Audiences, 1790-1832 (Madison: The Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987), p. 20. (28) See Nathaniel Teich's essay on The Analytical Review in British Literary Magazines: The Augustan Age and the Age of Johnson, 1698-1788, pp. 11-14, and his essay on The British Critic in Alvin Sullivad, ed., British Literary Magazines: The Romantic Age, 1789-1836 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983), pp. 57-62. (29) For details on the "expansion of the market for feminine reading matter," see Adbrugham, pp. 142-76. (30) The essay is an appendix to William Godwin, Things As They Are or The Adventures of Caleb Williams, ed. Maurice Hindle (London: Penguin Books, 1988). Godwin refers to "romance or novel" on p. 368.
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|Title Annotation:||The Romantic Novel|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1994|
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