Annie’s Annotated Bibliography

Mckeon, Michael. “Watt’s Rise of the Novel within the Tradition of the Rise of the Novel.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 12, no. 2, 253–276. Project Muse. 12/12.2-3.mckeon.html.

McKeon situates Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel within other prominent theorists who have tried to capture, linguistically, what a “novel” is and how it began. He points out both similarities and differences between the theories of Georg Lukács, José Ortega y Gasset, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Watt. One similarity I glean from his comparisons is that all theorists speak about a kind of break from work that pre-supposes a collective understanding—for instance, a break from some kind of agreed-upon “types” as we’ve discussed in class—and a shift instead to something that “purports to be an authentic account of the actual experiences of individuals” (Watt qtd. by McKeon 270).  

Because I was particularly interested in Watt’s arguments about how Clarissa differs from other works of its time, I have been looking into other sources about the history of the novel form. This source is helping to familiarize me with early theories of the novel and how more recent studies labeled “narrative theory” or “narratology” differ from the style and focus of those early theories.

Seidel, Michael. “The Man Who Came to Dinner: Ian Watt and the Theory of Formal Realism.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 12 no. 2, 193–212. Project Muse. century _fiction/v0 12/12.2-3.seidel.html.

Seidel points out that many criticisms have been made against Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel, and that many of them are true: Watt doesn’t show a clear understanding of the deep variance of the novel form, fails “to acknowledge the existence of realist fiction much earlier and in other places than England,” and his use of the term “novel” is problematic, among other criticisms (120-21). But, ultimately, this article argues we should still value Rise of the Novel’s contribution to literary criticism, and that the major thing it gets right is that realism (and Seidel defines realism essentially the same as Watt does) dominated English narratives of the early 18th century, and that this domination didn’t exist previously. Seidel differentiates between impulses of realism and realism that dominates a narrative.

I looked at this source because I have been curious to know if there is much debate about what classifies as the first “novel.” This source helped me get glimpses of that debate. I gather that Seidel agrees with Watt that the 18th century brought us a dominance of literary realism in general through, among other things, a plethora of narratives like Clarissa that are dominated by realism, but didn’t necessarily bring us realism.  


One thought on “Annie’s Annotated Bibliography”

  1. Thanks for this, Annie. Both of these turn on interpretations of Watt’s theory of “formal realism” and its role in the 18c English novel. Was it a complete break from earlier genres that focused on more collectively conceived characters , plots, and understandings (McKeon)? And was this break a matter of realism moving from one of several narrative and representational modes to a dominant one in the early 18c novel (Seidel)? To answer these questions, we’d need to spend a bit more time reading more examples of early novels and then comparing some of the theories that have arisen to sort and order them, including Watt’s.

    I think even in the limited comparison of Fantomina/Reform’d Coquet to Clarissa we see something of this contrast between an “amatory fiction” with lots of type-characters and more or less conventional psychologies and actions, and the far more individualized, realistic, novelistic universe of Clarissa. So where might you locate the break or contrast, and what’s at stake in such a change in representational mode?


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