Aphra Behn and the Changing Perspectives on Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel

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Aphra Behn and the Changing Perspectives on Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel

Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel (1957) remains one of the most influential texts in the study of the English novel. However, an increasingly strong case for a revision of both the work itself and the discourse it personifies has been gradually building over the past twenty years. While the initial stages of, first, feminist and, later, post colonial perspectives may have sought only to insert marginalised texts into the existing literary discourse, their long term ramifications are obliging a wider analysis of how we approach the English novel and the manner in which we link it to its surrounding culture. Its exploration reveals the methods with which we trace our histories, what we choose to include and exclude the positions from which we do so. A key to the structure of this discourse lies in the critical fortunes of Aphra Behn, from her feminist ‘rediscovery’ in the early eighties, through the post colonial informed revisions of the early nineties, and into the rising push for the redefinition of literary history. The complications that have surrounded her indicate the merits and failures of the study of the novel, providing avenues for the development of the discourse as a whole.

In approaching such issues one will invariably need to begin with Ian Watt. David Blewett claims that The Rise of the Novel casts a shadow “so long that general studies of the early novel are still written in its shade” (p.141). Its central “realization that the novel’s rise has long been a defining feature of the modern world” (Carnochan, p.184) seems to remain largely unchallenged. On similar terms Michael Seidal argues that ‘Watt’s greater contribution remains his ...

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...t American Novel: Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko” Nineteenth-Century Fiction v38 n4 (1984) 384‑414.

Todd, Janet, “Behn’s Fiction and the Restoration Letter” Eighteenth-Century Fiction v12 n2-3 (2000) 391–416.

——, The Secret Life of Aphra Behn (London: Andre’ Deutsch, 1996).

Warner, William B, Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading In Britain, 1684–1750 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998).

——, “Staging Readers Reading” Eighteenth-Century Fiction v12 n2‑3 (2000) 391–416.

Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (London: Chatto and Windus, 1957).

Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own (1929; rpt, Triad/Panther Books: Frogmore, 1977).

Wyrick, Laura, “Facing up to the Other: Race and Ethics in Levinas and Behn” Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation v40 i3 (1999) 206‑220.

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