Little by little; or, the history of the early novel, now.
Well, then, what is to be done? Those of us who care about the early novel in English need a current record of its history, especially since the structure of our old system of understandings (linear, evolutionary, centered on "major" authors and a few additional representative figures) has recently been dismantled by a successful-but necessarily piecemeal-critical revisionism. The kind of history that is wanted now must incorporate not just facts, difficult enough in themselves to handle because they have multiplied almost exponentially, but an application of theory that can lead to meaningful renderings of those facts. A few years ago, in The Columbia History of the British Novel (1994), John Richetti found a new way to tell the whole story of English fiction that indeed may be the best way for our time. With help from several assistant editors, he gathered up essays from more than three dozen contributors, each treating a different writer, group of writers, or topic from any one of a great variety of approaches, and all of them together covering virtually the entire range of novelistic practice in Britain from the earliest period all the way to the postmodernists. I remarked in reviewing this work (Eighteenth-Century Fiction [October 1995]) that it involved "a bold conception, revisionist in form as well as substance," "breathtaking" in its sweep and invaluable for its "density-the sheer number of novelists treated in detail-and its consistent, if varied, insight into relations among texts, writers, and contexts" (pp. 74, 75). That Richetti's book has made its mark on our understanding of the literary history of the novel-and of how that history might be written now-is indicated by the frequency with which it is cited in the essays collected in this special number of Studies in the Novel. Now, it strikes me that in imagining and then producing this special number, Alex Pettit has done for eighteenth-century British fiction something like what Richetti did for the larger subject of his very big book: he has assembled the wisdom of a group of scholar-critics who have fresh things to say about a variety of topics and whose contributions, despite their miscellaneity (and despite some gaps-there is nothing on Frances Burney or the Gothic, while Smollett and Sterne are only mentioned in passing a couple of times), add up to an overview of their subject that is almost as broad as it is interesting.
As essay-gatherer, Pettit obiously aimed for less in both scale and scope than did Richetti in the eighteenth-century portion of his work. He is not to be faulted for that; the aim was appropriate, as there was no need to duplicate what the Columbia History had already done in rewriting the story of early fiction, and there was no comparable compulsion to be exhaustive. It is possible, of course, that Pettit did not intend his project as an exercise in literary history; the arrangement of the essays in more or less chronological order may have been a mere matter of convenience. But in truth I do not really know what he intended, because I never asked. The omission was deliberate, as I wanted to come at the essays, individually and collectively, with an eye only to what they seemed to me to be, whatever the agenda of their editor. And what they are, I want to say now categorically, is literary history of a most valuable kind-always sharply focussed on writers and works but uniformly successful in arriving at synthesizing judgments concerning issues of wide contextual significance. If few of the essayists directly assess the "place" of the writer or writers they discuss in what (since Ian Watt) we have been accustomed to calling the "rise" of the early novel, together they add greatly to our understanding of how the form came to be what it was by the time Scott and Austen began their careers with an already rich inheritance to inspire and guide them.
All the essays originated (or so it seems) in individual responses to' specific works, yet most-though not all-of them may be sorted into groups by shared topics or approaches. These essays I want to take up in the groups to which they belong. As I see it, there are two primary topics of common interest: the "indeterminacy" of narrative, and "curiosity" as a thematic concern that virtually dictated principles of characterization in certain novels. Kevin Cope, Paula McDowell, Sandra Sherman, and Murray Brown pursue the former of these topics, in varying ways of course, while Cynthia Wall, Kathryn King, and Barbara Benedict focus upon the latter. It is interesting, but not surprising, that seven independently conceived and written essays should have grouped themselves in this way-interesting because of what such an accidental convergence reveals about the power of "hot" topics and approaches to drive criticism; not surprising because this is the way it has always been. But there is nothing slavish or merely trendy here, and in any case the topics are defined loosely enough to prevent narrowness and rigidity; critical principles can be flexible when applied by confident and knowing people who are unencumbered by dogma. The three remaining essays, by Albert Rivero (on history, fiction, and the matter of origins), Hans Turley (on the conventions of female fiction), and Janine Barchas (on the material embodiment of texts), belong to no group, though in every case their range of critical concern is of sufficient breadth to lead toward questions that might be asked about many writers and works besides those they discuss.
While my plan is not to consider the essays in the order of their appearance, I do want to begin with Rivero's. It appears first presumably because it is a study of Aphra Behn's Love-Letters between a Noble-Man and His Sister (1684-87), the earliest work to be treated in the entire collection. But it might just as well have been placed first because of its larger concern with the blending of fact and fiction in this novel, with Behn's version of a practice that would-in several ways, and to varying degrees-become a defining formal characteristic for all novels, but most especially for all eighteenth-century novels. Love-Letters fictionalizes a widely known incident from very recent history, the scandalous elopement of Lady Henrietta Berkeley with Ford Lord Grey, her brother-in-law and an adherent of the would-be usurper Monmouth; its method is to remain essentially faithful to the facts of that incident while also allegorizing them in a hot-blooded romance narrative that is simultaneously an extended reflection upon Behn's own representation of history and even upon the destiny of the nation itself. The work was long neglected, says Rivero, because it fell outside the boundaries of such "totalizing" accounts of the early history of the novel as those of Watt and Michael McKeon. But, he observes further, the recent attempt to recuperate it as the prototype work of "amatory fiction" (in the phrase favored by such feminist critics as Ros Ballaster and Judith Kegan Gardiner), while it certainly helps to place Behn's achievement at the head of a female tradition further developed by her successors Delariviere Manley and Eliza Haywood, unintentionally diminishes and marginalizes it by separating it from any broader tradition that would include the works of the dominant male novelists of the next two or three generations. This is a shrewd observation, valuable as a corrective to the well-intentioned but partly misguided feminist designation of the work.
Rivero's major point, however, is that in Love-Letters Behn conducted a successful experiment that transcended narrow definitions of genre or type--it is not enough to ask whether she was writing erotic fiction, or a disguised political narrative, or some amalgam of the two; what she actually produced was a narrative that is more than the sum of its generic parts, one that explores "the complex transactions between fact and fiction, between history and allegorical representation, between storytelling and political power" (p. 136). If he is correct in this assessment, and he most certainly is, then Love-Lettersa hugely popular work in its own time and after-was crucial to the emergence of abiding ideas of the novel as an imaginative rendering of reality (political, social, domestic). At the very least it illustrates those ideas in formation, and thus has much to tell us about the many novels after it that experimented with the same relations-Manley's New Atalantis, Roxana, the scandalous tales of Haywood, Tom Jones, Humphry Clinker, Caleb Williams. If Humphry Clinker-that amazingly eclectic mixture of forms, and of fiction and factuality-is a novel, why deny the same designation to Love-Letters, as Watt and McKeon did by failing even to mention it? But this is finally not an especially useful question; the novel, as generic type, has always been so protean as to defy anybody's attempt to define it, or to say categorically which works qualify and which do not. More to the point is what Rivero shows us in his essay: that novelists since the beginning have been preoccupied with the task of interpreting real experience for their readers, wondering about meaning and shaping understanding. What Rivero has written ultimately concerns much more than a single work. He transcends his particular topic, as Behn transcended hers.
If relations between fiction and history were an abiding concern among early novelists, it seems almost inevitable that-given the necessary fluidity of those relations-a second and almost equally pervasive concern should have been the indeterminacy of narrative itself. That is, if the writing of history was an act of interpretation, subject to the whims, biases, and linguistic limitations of the historian, then it only followed that the writing of fiction was, in its function as an imaginative rendering of felt experience, equally-perhaps more-susceptible to those same whims, biases, and limitations. Not all early novelists acknowledged that this was so, if they even understood that it was; but a good many both understood and acknowledged the suspect nature of what they were doing-directly (in the case of, say, Fielding) or indirectly (for example, Defoe). There is something of a paradox here: in an age so professedly confident about the power of rational inquiry and the reliability of informed judgment, there was a parallel sense of uncertainty about the human capacity to know anything well, much less to render truth accurately. For a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with diehard commonplaces about "The Age of Reason," "The Enlightenment," and "Neoclassicism," literary history and criticism have been slow to catch on to this paradox. But of late-increasingly during the last couple of decades-its pervasivehess has been recognized, with the result that old ways of reading canonical works are being reassessed, modified, and in some instances displaced. (Such revisionism has hardly been an issue for noncanonical works-women's fiction, for example-because they have only begun to be read again and thus have never been subject to the old critical certainties.) "Indeterminacy," as I suggested earlier, has become a hot topic among those who study early fiction.
The essays in this collection by McDowell, Sherman, Cope, and Brown are, then, very timely. I find their readings of the texts they discuss both original and provocative. In her essay on Jonathan Wild, McDowell reacts strongly to what she describes as the critical dismissal of this strange book by (among others) Robert Alter, J. Paul Hunter, Sheldon Sacks, and John Richetti, arguing that they are wrong to fault it just because of a "radical generic instability" that makes it "difficult to categorize and even to describe" (p. 211). It is indeed, McDowell says, its instability-the unresolved tensions between competing ideologies of form (satire, biography, novel), and also of class and politics-that qualifies the work not as a failure but as "a unique kind of success" (p. 226). As a "satire of high corruption and a critique of low movement" (p. 213), Jonathan Wild stages most of its conflict at the level of language, employing a remarkable variety of styles and idioms-juxtaposed, nearly always in conflict, and competing for ascendancy. The narrator is an unwitting chameleon, an ironist who seems not to know it. Wild, on the other hand, is a rhetorician, supremely skillful at the art of verbal manipulation; his perverse appropriation of an exalted style for base purposes causes deep uncertainty about the reliability of language as a marker of class and moral character, an uncertainty that challenges language-based authority (including writerly authority) with an effect leading ultimately to the alert reader's realization that the indeterminacy of words and styles is actually Fielding's primary subject. This is a very astute reading of Jonathan Wild. Some will wish to quibble with it, but the care with which McDowell evaluates the actual texture of the work, taking it exactly as it is, makes her case for its "success" a very strong one.
Sandra Sherman's reading of Tom Jones as an equally "tricky text" (p. 232) likewise takes the work as it actually is, and while Sherman sometimes seems only to travel old critical ground, she makes an exceedingly important point about what she describes as Fielding's "contract" with his reader (p. 234). If Tom Jones is a texture of contingencies, or a complex of ironies, as criticism-at least since Eleanor Hutchens, writing in 1965-has repeatedly emphasized, it balances the uncertainties it generates with an assurance-the "contract"- that they will finally dissolve, and that it will therefore be worth the reader's while to keep going from chapter to chapter, book to book. What Sherman means, though she does not quite put it this way, is that Tom Jones develops an internal paradox: irony, and the teasing secrecy (as well as the tricks of language) practiced by the narrator as he witholds information about the intricate plot of the narrative, directly addresses the inevitability of epistemological confusion (how can we know anything for sure if all we have to go on is appearances?); but the continual affirmation of writerly authority promises the removal of doubt and an end to all uncertainty. The way to knowledge, then, is through the experience of indeterminacy. As Sherman observes (p. 234), Fielding's narrator knows what his characters and the reader do not know, but he persuades the reader to accept that what he or she does not know is in fact known, and will be revealed. This point is not an especially new one, but by revisiting such an accepted critical idea about Tom Jones in the way that she does-her emphasis on the idea of the "contract" ("Tom Jones is a little polity" [p. 234])-Sherman forces a reconsideration of Fielding's ingenious strategy for compelling submission to his ultimate authority.
In a refreshingly eccentric and provocative discussion of Robinson Crusoe, Kevin Cope systematically deconstructs familiar versions of the meaning, structure, generic origins, and form of Defoe's work. It is, he says, neither comical children's story (as it has been understood in the realm of popular culture) nor (as academic critics have variously argued) redemption narrative, "adventures" and "travels," political allegory, or economic manifesto. Instead, it is all those things simultaneously, and more: an "indeterminacy machine" (to borrow the key phrase from Cope's title), an experiment with instability of language and form-"one word keeps leading to another" (p. 157). Robinson Crusoe is not just a novel, but a pluralism of "novels," an "array of alternatives," a "kaleidoscope of stories, some written, some possible" (p. 158). Defoe's narrative is always one step ahead of any defining interpretation, and it is finally altogether open-ended-hence the two sequels to the original first part, with the teasing possibility of more to follow. As protean as its author, Crusoe is so infinitely adaptable to audiences, and to the variety of critical ideologies that have been brought to bear upon it over the years, as to make a mockery of all attempts to reduce it as an appeal to any particular set of reader expectations or as an exercise in any particular narrative form. If one accepts Cope's argument, then the comparative neglect of the work during the last couple of decades becomes explainable as a kind of exhaustion caused by confusion. His way to revive interest in it-and it seems to me a right way-is to begin seeing it as both more and less than what we have always variously understood it to be, and to begin reading it anew both as an "expression of the multiplicity and contingency of eighteenth- century life" and as a "meta-fictional unveiling of the many alternatives" (p. 161) to the limiting idea of the novel. Is Crusoe a novel or not? Much ink has been spilled over this question. But it is an irrelevant question, says Cope. I believe him, and his way does indeed seem to be a new path toward assessment of the genre(s) of Defoe's work, and of its multiple meanings.
Murray Brown finds an almost equal multiplicity of narrative possibilities in Clarissa, but an ending that is absolutely closed instead of open. The options for closure in the work tease the reader while simultaneously defeating all desire for any resolution other than the one Richardson saw as necessary--generically (Clarissa is a prose tragedy) or morally (the heroine is a Christian martyr and saint). This is not exactly what Brown says about the matter of Richardson's artistic choice in bringing his vast story to a conclusion, but it follows naturally from what he does say: Belford could have acted to save Clarissa, perhaps even marrying her (if Lovelace had not so completely deceived him for so long); Clarissa could have married Lovelace (if she had not known that a decision to do so would be a bad one); Clarissa could have lived instead of dying (if Richardson had been willing to trivialize her violation and compromise his artistic integrity by writing a "happy" ending). The tension Richardson develops in the novel is between possibility and inevitability; the former introduces contingency, the latter certainty. The point Brown makes about this is a fine one. In Clarissa, rather like Tom Jones (as read by Sherman), it is the author posing as "editor" who assures that the work will end as it should-though (and this is unlike Tom Jones) the ending will not be what readers want. Here is indeterminacy with a new twist. But Richardson eases the reader's acceptance of it by pitting himself as author, not against the reader's desire, but against the generic, linguistic, and epistemological perversions of his villain, in the process simultaneously checking the influence of the traditions of popular art from which he has drawn him. By allowing Lovelace to think of himself delusionally as a hero of (variously) romance and drama, Richardson gives him license to generate narratives at will, and to believe that he can control them. But he cannot control them. And so, as Brown shrewedly observes, he becomes himself the victim of just the kind of indeterminacy he had hoped to create for others by his deceptions. He is, without knowing it, actually a pawn in the hands of a superior author (Richardson) who commands the entire text-not just Lovelace's own narrative, but all the others as well: "unaware that he is contained by what he creates or that he is ultimately bound to participate in that larger text over which he has little control" (p. 256), he is at last utterly displaced. If Clarissa is exalted into near-saintliness by her death, Lovelace is reduced to nothing by his. In approaching Clarissa as he does, Brown makes us see in a new way just how Richardson understood the relations between author and authority; and--though he makes no such claim-he also shows that, in acknowledging like Defoe the "multiplicity and contingency of eighteenth-century life" (to borrow Kevin Cope's words about Robinson Crusoe), Richardson meant to affirm the supremacy of a vision of order grounded in a traditional system of belief.
What the essays by McDowell, Sherman, Cope, and Brown provide is a fine set of varied models for a particular approach to criticism. Because the indeterminacy of narratives is a response to the circumstantial indeterminacy that produced them, the approach also can help move us toward a fuller awareness of relations between texts and contexts. It involves a different kind of exercise from that undertaken by Rivero in his study of Behn's LoveLetters, but the two are closely connected and potentially of equal value. There is indeed so much promise in both that I am sorry there was not enough space in this collection for similar exercises with other novels- Tristram Shandy especially, but also Humphry Clinker, Burney's Evelina and Cecelia, maybe Lewis's The Monk, Charlotte Smith's The Old Manor House, Mary Hays's Memoirs of Emma Courtney, or Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story. The list could go on.
But I will not add to it here. Instead, I will move on now to the second group of essays I mentioned earlier, those treating "curiosity" as a thematic concern. If indeterminacy-as a philosophical and narrative premise-is all about the difficulty of knowing or understanding, curiosity-as a habit of mind and of active practice-is all about the need or desire to know and understand whether it is possible to do so or not. For the protagonists in many novels of the eighteenth century, curiosity becomes a compulsion; much more than a habit or practice, it determines character and energizes the quest for identity as a moral agent in a vexing world. Both Kathryn King and Barbara Benedict make precisely this point, noting also that curiosity was considered a particularly female attribute-though it was by no means thought to be so exclusively, as Cynthia Wall's fine discussion of H. F. in Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year makes very clear.
King's essay, while it focusses on a single work by Eliza Haywood (and, until recently, a very obscure one), makes a broad argument about curiosity as both a principle of characterization and as an actual explanation of the voyeuristic appeal of the novel as a form. Haywood's Spy upon the Conjuror (1724), says King, features a heroine driven by inquisitiveness, as her other heroines are driven by passion and desire. Not precisely erotic, Justicia's desire is still insatiable, and it runs her into trouble because any kind of intense desire is forbidden to women. But that is not the point King wishes to make--there would be nothing original in such a point anyway. Instead, she sees Haywood's Spy much more interestingly as a commentary upon fictionmaking itself (because the novel is always a kind of spying into private lives and private places), upon the audience for popular fiction and its "guilty pleasures" (p. 179), and upon the authors who write novels, including Haywood herself. The work is thus self-reflexive, and because its very subject matter is spying, or curiosity, it actually illustrates a "genre-in- the-making looking at itself" (p. 180), while curiosity is inevitably linked with "the transgressire tendencies of early narrative" (p. 187). Quite apart from her astute reading of Haywood's novel, which I shall not attempt to detail here, King shows us how alert the prolific Haywood was to what drove the market for fiction in the early century; and she uses the Spy successfully toward definition of a paradigm (so we might call it, though she does not) of fictionmaking and fiction-reading that explains the popularity of a variety of early fictional forms, but especially the secret history, the letter novel, memoirs, and lives. Readers, curious themselves, delighted in stories of questing after knowledge and experience, and they sought intimacy in the secrets of private characters; they thrilled to forbidden desire as expression of a particularly powerful kind of curiosity. And so curiosity, for novelists, was by no means just a matter of philosophical orientation in an age of empiricism; nor was it just a matter of the conduct of characters- though it was certainly both. As King makes clear, it was absolutely central to fundamental questions of genre and of audience.
Benedict's closely related essay treats a greater range of works, but by essentially restricting itself (as the title implies) to amatory fiction as a particular expression of a particular kind of curiosity (female), it arrives at conclusions that are less sweeping and also separate from, but usefully complementary to, King's. Like King, Benedict believes that Behn, Manley, and Haywood created a space for "spying" in the novel, but she makes the important additional point that they did so by knowingly exploiting the "contemporary endorsement of inquiry in the New Science" (p. 194) to open up the new subject matters of sensation and desire, especially sexual desire. To their way of thinking, says Benedict shrewdly, all desire was for personal gratification-the "desire to find something out, curiosity, and the desire to be aroused" (pp. 194-95); and the differences between the two kinds of desire were a matter more of degree than of kind. Benedict makes another crucial point: that popular empiricism, justifying curiosity and desire and thus seeming to sanction a quest for power, "infused the novels of the early eighteenth century" as a "social and political threat" (p. 200)- particularly, but by no means exclusively, in amatory fiction. Desire and curiosity, she might have added, entered the novel by way of writers like Haywood and led to the "fear of fiction" that continued through the rest of the century. Haywood's Love in Excess (1719-20), Benedict rightly says, was a source of immediate anxiety because it was an enormously popular work that defined inquiry, or curiosity, as "strictly the quest for sexual knowledge" (p. 203). By contrast, Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year openly acknowledged the danger of unrestrained inquiry of any kind, placing H. F. between a Lockean mode of dispassionate observation of the effects of the plague on the one side, a mode representing tight control over the impulse to curiosity, and on the other side an appetite for undesirable or even forbidden knowledge (of corpses, the sensations of disease and suffering) that is in direct need of such control. By concluding her essay with a comparison between the two contemporaneous works from Haywood and Defoe, Benedict effectively illustrates the looming power of curiosity as a determinant of novelistic exploration into increasingly wide arenas of human experience, together with the tensions such exploration would generate-the later restrictions upon the representation of female experience, for example, and the censorious responses to such works as Tristram Shandy and The Monk, not to mention the earlier works of Haywood herself.
A Journal of the Plague Year is Cynthia Wall's only subject. It is admittedly something of a stretch to place her essay with those by King and Benedict as a study in curiosity as a motivating obsession, for her approach is through cultural history in an examination of the significance of London streets-their desolation after the Great Fire of 1666 (one year after the plague of which Defoe wrote), and the consequent loss of their topographical meaning and thus of their function as "signposts" (p. 166) for the orientation of experience. Yet, the obsession of the culture with rebuilding the streets was a quest for a reconstructed order. The prolonged anxiety about that new order, and about the new spaces it defined, is Wall's real concern; it is the concern reflected in the Journal, she says, as H. F. walks the streets of the pre-Fire city (themselves the site of desolation caused by disease), seeking after and actually finding in them traces of an old order that breaks out fully at last, when the suffering he witnesses with such intensity comes to an end and people are released from the prisons of their houses to make the streets a communal place again (p. 173). Wall's argument that the Journal imaginatively recreates the burned city, "orienting the new spaces" of rebuilt London "by the remembrance of the old" (p. 166), is an astute one. By its emphasis on the "unreliability" of the post-Fire street names and shop signs it highlights the indeterminacy that Defoe always saw in the contemporary world; by its suggestion that H. F. is an inquirer after stability in the context of the "newly perceived fluidity of the changed and changing city" (p. 174) it points toward curiosity-the quest for elusive knowledge-as a primary motivation for him. This essay, then, actually bridges the two major groups in this collection, revealing how the approaches they represent can be made to intersect- and, because Wall follows the methods of the cultural historian, how they can be informed by yet other approaches.
What I miss in this group of essays treating curiosity is something on Godwin's Caleb Williams, a late-century exploration of its effects on character and probably the most important-certainly the most deliberate and powerful-such exploration of all. Other works, also omitted from consideration, come to mind-Tristram Shandy again, and Humphry Clinker, and The Monk. It would not be hard to think of others. But I do not mean to fault either the essayists or the editor for these omissions; indeed, it is a tribute to what they have done that they have made me want more.
Let me turn now to the remaining two essays, Hans Turley's discussion of Mary Hearne and Janine Barchas's study of frontispieces as important features of the material embodiment of early novelistic texts. Though his subject is a little-known writer who produced only two works of fiction (The Lovers Week  and its sequel The Female Deserters ), Turley manages to be expansive about the conventions of "both the scandalous and didactic traditions of early eighteenth-century fiction by women writers" (p. 139). This is because he so thoroughly explores Hearne's departures from those conventions-which makes his essay interesting as, among other things, a companion piece to the differently oriented studies by King and Benedict. If female desire typically leads to punishment, exile, death, or a sudden transformation in works like Manley's New Atalantis and Haywood's Fantomina, in Hearne's narratives it leads (or appears to lead) to a completely subversive ending that allows the heroine the prospect of enjoying the free expression of her sexuality without social constraints. Both of her heroines reject the economy of marriage, adapt to the consequences of their actions, and live to tell their stories in the first person, through letters. Hearne's glorification of the "possibilities of romantic love and women's sexual desire" (p. 139) is not entirely without alloy, however, as Turley rightly cautions. Amaryllis, the heroine of The Lovers Week, is put at risk by the decision she makes to become and remain the mistress of Philander, who seduces her into an elopement, while he is untouched by scandal. Hearne thus engages a paradox, even in her defiance of social convention and of the practices of her female contemporaries Manley (to whom The Lovers Week is dedicated) and Haywood; for she acknowledges a reality of "ambivalent female independence against unambivalent male freedom" (p. 140). She is not so subversive after all.
Turley's discussion of Hearne's novels is in part an act of recovery; so skillful and original a writer, he says, deserves to be read. But in an argument far more complex than I can account for here, he also illuminates the entire scene of early novelistic practice among women, usefully extending our understanding of its variety and boldness. In Hearne's stories, he remarks with particular acuteness, "the choices that define female sexuality are fluid" (p. 140); he then gently admonishes such critics as Ros Ballaster and Nancy Armstrong for their monolithic reading of those choices as represented in women's novels. He is right to do so, and they should read him.
Barchas's study of frontispieces is not precisely about texts-their structures, centers of interest, or historical significance-but rather about the way in which texts presented themselves to their audience as material objects. There have been many historical studies of print technology and the book trade over the years, but to my knowledge there has been no systematic investigation of the kind which, so I understand, Barchas has begun with this essay. I find myself surprised that this is so, given all the recent discussion of the novel as "commodity" among critics interested in cultural materialism. The point of Barchas's study is simple and, once encountered, patently obvious (why hasn't anyone made it convincingly before?): that the technical make-up of a novel (front matter, illustrations, type, other design features) should be considered part of the narrative--or, more exactly, as a "paratext" glossing the actual words on the pages. Her real interest, then, is in meaning, and in texts placed in a context of literary history. She is surely correct to argue that frontispiece portraits, which (she says) entered the novel in the 1760s after the form had established itself (caveat: she seems not to know about earlier instances, among them the portraits prefixed to two separate authorized editions of Eliza Haywood's works in the 1720s), were the most prominent example of such paratextual glossing. The frontispiece was, after all, the first feature a reader saw when opening the leaves or pages of a narrative, and in the case of certain works especially it was a defining feature-the portrait of Hannah Snell, for example, on the first leaf of The Female Soldier (1750), with its gender ambiguities; or the portrait of a lap-dog preceding the title page of Francis Coventry's Pompey the Little (1751) and announcing the work's satiric intent. Barchas is particularly good on the multiple representations of Lemuel Gulliver appearing in the front matter of assorted early editions of Swift's work, each of them a different kind of commentary on the substance of the narrative, and each addressed to a different audience. Her essay is dense with detail like this-too dense for me to do it any justice here. I shall only add that I was especially fascinated by the accounts of Richardson's aborted effort to have Hogarth provide frontispiece portraits (of the heroine) for the second edition of Pamela, and of the subversions of the practice of frontispiece portraiture in John Kidgell's The Card (1755). What could Kidgell have meant by including a hand-colored drawing of a jack of clubs to introduce his story of a young man on the Grand Tour?
Barchas covers a lot of ground in her brief essay, and she makes me wish for speedy completion and publication of her longer study. Such a work is overdue, as I have already suggested, and it will add much to our knowledge both of early print culture and of the changing technology of printing as it figured in the emergence of the modern novel as a form with vast appeal for its audience. But then all the contributors to this collection make me wish for more than they have been able to perform. I have already hinted at some particular wishes, and I hope that my hint will be taken and will result in new studies devoted to writers and works omitted from consideration here- perhaps in yet another special number of this same journal. But I should end, not with such a hope, but with a final comment on what these ten essayists have already done. And what they have done, as I said at the outset of this response, is provide us with a valuable new take on the literary history of the early novel--partial, of necessity, but valuable nonetheless. Together they range over a wide variety of texts, locating them in context (in some cases with one another) and with the larger circumstances that brought them into being, illuminating both particular achievements and the generality of which they are a part. If what we find in these essays is an example of how the story of the novel's early development may now be most informatively and meaningfully told (little by little-work by work and writer by writer, contextualizing all along the way), and I think it is, then it is a fine example indeed. I am glad to have read the entire collection. I am sure I am not alone.
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|Title Annotation:||Making Genre: Studies in the Novel or Something Like It, 1684-1762|
|Author:||Beasley, Jerry C.|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1998|
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