Novel horizons

The genre making of Restoration fiction

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Gerd Bayer
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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.

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‘Gerd Bayer has written a remarkable introduction to Restoration fiction. Novel Horizons: The Genre Making of Restoration Fiction is really a novel-theory primer that revisits various theories of the novel in order to create an assessment of Restoration fiction's claims on its readers. The time it takes to get to the substance of this argument is well spent in a wide-ranging discussion of what fiction means historically and culturally. I do not remember as rich and complex an account of the fiction of the Restoration, nor has any recent novel study adorned itself with such a shimmering complex of theoretical notions. When one steps back, what appears is a persuasive account of the meaning and transformations of genre, the emergence of character in an age of individualism, and the ways in which reality could be made to conform to the page. I can imagine that this book would be useful in more than a few graduate and undergraduate classrooms. It might also reinvigorate the history and theory of a genre that can be deceptively easy to underestimate.'
George E. Haggerty, The University of California
SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Vol. 57, No. 3
Summer 2017

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