Novel horizons analyses how narrative prose fiction developed during the English Restoration. It argues that following the reopening of the theatres in 1660, generic changes within dramatic texts occasioned an intense debate within prologues and introductions. This discussion about the poetics of a genre was echoed in the paratextual material of prose fictions: in trans¬lators’ introductions, authorial prefaces, and other accompanying material. In the absence of an official poetics that defined prose fiction, paratexts ful¬filled this function and informed readers about the changing features of the budding genre. This study traces the piecemeal development of these generic boundaries and describes the generic competence of readers through the detailed analysis of paratexts and actual narrative prose fictions. Rather than trying to canonize individual Restoration novels, Novel horizons covers the surviving textual material widely, focusing on narrative prose fictions published between 1660 and 1710. Drawing on genre theories by Jacques Derrida and M.M. Bakhtin, the study follows an approach to genre that sees a textual corpus as an archive that projects into the future, thereby enabling later readers and writers to experiment with forms and themes. In addition to tracing the paratextual poetics of Restoration fiction, a substantial section of this book covers the state of the art of fiction-writing during the period. It discusses aspects such as character development, narrative point of view, and questions of fictionality and realism in order to describe how these features were first used in popular fiction at the time.
This chapter offers a historical survey of criticism of the form of the novel, going back to seventeenth-century debates. It shows how questions of canonicity determine most critical approaches and how the debate about the novel as a genre has developed from a fringe interest to a highly-specialized sub-discipline of literary studies. It points to the Restoration as a historical moment that, in these critical debates, is frequently ignored.
This chapter offers a historical survey of genre criticism that addresses the debate during antiquity, the early modern age, and twentieth-century developments. The tension between Romanticist notions of individuality and structuralist concerns over form are made visible. The chapter closes by pointing to reader response theories as an area that productively shaped thinking about genre. A closing section derives from Bakthin and Derrida a temporal approach to genre criticism that sees in textual corpora or archives anticipatory elements of future genre developments.
This chapter provides the historical and cultural background for a discussion of Restoration literature. It argues that the manifold political and technological changes also impacted the way in which literature was produced and consumed. Literature as a medium was increasingly aimed at particular audiences, and in this development, generic expectations were redesigned and even created, at times subverting the supposed distinction between high and low culture. Through analyses of journalistic publications by Dunton and Motteux, the chapter demonstrates that different reading strategies for narrative prose fiction existed during the Restoration.
In this chapter, the reopening of theatres in 1660 is taken as a turning-point in the history of drama. Through analyses of numerous prefaces and other forms of paratextual readerly addresses, the chapter shows that dramatic forms were in a state of generic flux at the time. Various examples demonstrate that drama and narrative prose fiction influenced each other, and that the differences between these genres were explicitly discussed in the unofficial poetologies that accompanied theatrical works. Audiences and readers were clearly includes in the process of genre-formation.
Building on the previous chapter, the debate here turns to paratextual poetics in narrative prose fiction during the English Restoration. While mostly drawing on a broad selection of texts published between 1660 and 1710, the chapter also includes a section that discusses paratexts of major prose fictions from earlier periods, including works like Amadis of Gaul and Don Quixote. Restoration paratexts emphasised the difference between the form of the novel and the romance; between courtly and more pedestrian forms of entertainment; and between moralistic and more hedonistic forms of consumption. While Congreve’s preface to Incognita covers much of this territory, it was by no means a text of singular quality or conceptual depth. Individual sections of this chapter address the manner in which paratexts and works like Aphra Behn’s Love Letters address and define their readers and/or dedicatees; how the importance of readerly and/or critical judgment is stressed and simultaneously seen as always necessarily non-final; and the importance of situation narrative prose fiction at a specific location within the debate about invention and representation. The body of the reader is described as a contentious location that authors both evoke and resist; and this porous border is also demonstrated as existing between paratexts and the works they accompany.
Turning from paratextual poetics to actual prose fictions, this chapter discusses how English Restoration writers experimented with narrative form. It shows that various elements of what, in the eighteenth century, will come to define the novel as a new genre were already in use in the late seventeenth century. Taking issues with the supposedly ahistorical nature of narrative theory and its terminology, the chapters shows that many narratological concepts are built on a (high)modernist version of the novel, which, for instance, clearly differentiates between authors and narrators, a distinction only vaguely drawn in the early modern age, when many works were still performed aloud rather than silently read.
Continuing the textual analyses from the previous section, this chapter focuses on the portrayal of characters in Restoration fiction. It shows that far from including exclusively flat characters, various works experimented with fully-rounded and developing characters that reveal an almost enlightened sense of individuality. Many works also continued in the more predictable mode of Renaissance romances, with courtly types fulfilling their predestined roles. Direct speech, letters and versions of the interior monologue are all used to provide readers with a clear sense of individual characters
This concluding chapter discusses the role played by realism in English Restoration fiction, written at a time when journalistic news about British and continental affairs created in readers a growing need for more or less truthful representations of reality. Writers increasingly addressed this need also in fictional texts, which accordingly added more realistic descriptions or openly related to real-world events through coded references. At the same time, various meta-fictional moments signal to the readers that they are reading fictions, suggesting that readers were well aware that realism was only ever a second-degree reality, even for early modern audiences. The chapter again points to the body of the reader as a site where presence is created, for instance when books include songs to be sung aloud.