Defoe, Richardson, Fielding and the English Novel

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Defoe, Richardson, Fielding and the English Novel The roots of the novel extend as far back as the beginning of communication and language because the novel is a compilation of various elements that have evolved over the centuries. The birth of the English novel, however, can be centered on the work of three writers of the 18th century: Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) and Henry Fielding (1707-1754). Various critics have deemed both Defoe and Richardson the father of the English novel, and Fielding is never discussed without comparison to Richardson. The choice of these three authors is not arbitrary; it is based on central elements of the novel that these authors contributed which brought the novel itself into place. Of course, Defoe, Richardson and Fielding added onto styles of the past and writing styles of the period, including moralistic instruction and picaresque stories. Using writing of the time and the literary tradition of the past, Defoe first crafted the English novel while Richardson and Fielding completed its inception. Critics disagree on a strict definition of the novel; D.H. Lawrence has remarked, "You can put anything you like in a novel" (Stevenson 2), and Wagenknecht in his Cavalcade of the English Novel has claimed the "...'novel' has never been satisfactorily defined" (xvii). Henry James had a unique perception of the novel: "A novel is a living thing, all one and continuous, like any other organism, and in proportion as it lives will it be found, I think, that in each of the parts there is something of the other parts." (Kettle 12) "Novel" comes from the Italian "novelle," which was used for sensational news stories. One collection, Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, was popularized in the 14th century (Phelps 11). The term carried over into English to form the basis of the English novels. There are certain components that a novel should contain. George Phelps has come up with a six-part basis for identifying novels: the writing must be fictitious, or in other words "not pretend to tell the truth," have a certain length, attain a unity of "plot, theme, tone, atmosphere, or vision," create an illusion of reality, be concerned with character, and be prose (Phelps 7-8). Kettle, in his An Introduction to the English Novel, argues a novel must have two elements -- a quality of life and a significant pattern (13).
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