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indexOlaf Simons/ Anton Kirchhofer, a The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 : Market Observations
 
 

1. Defining novels

1.1 Discussions, not definitions, marked the field
1.2 The complete market of prose fiction: poetical in the centre, historical on the fringes
1.2.1 The left hand side: sold as romantic inventions, read as true histories
1.2.2 The right hand side: sold as true histories, risking to be read as romantic inventions
1.2.3 The central production: traditonal fictions
1.3 High and low
1.4 Defining novels - an activity with problematic traditions
line  

 

3.1
Heroical Romances:
Fénelon's Telemachus (1699)
1
Sold as romantic inventions, read as true histories of public affairs:
 
Manley's New Atalantis (1709)
2
Sold as romantic inventions, read as true histories of private affairs:
 
Menantes' Satyrischer Roman (1706)
3.2
Classical "Novels" from Cervantes' Novelas Exemplares (1613) to M. de LaFayettes's Princess of Cleves (1678)
4
Sold as true private history, risking to be read as romantic invention:
 
DeFoe's Robinson Cruose (1719)
5
Sold as true public history, risking to be read as romantic invention:
 
La Guerre d'Espagne (1707)
3.3
Satirical/Comic Romances: Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605)

 

1.1
Discussions, not definitions, marked the field
 

The present bibliography of The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 (complete for the English and German markets, 1710-1720) may well appear odd and incoherent. Is Homer's Iliad an English early 18th-century novel? Can one list John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress - a religious allegory - on one page with the Princess of Cleves - simply because both, first published in 1678,link might be considered as prose ficton? And is "Prose fiction" actually the secret link between all these titles? Cervantes Don Quixotelink or Fénelon's Telemachuslink are listed here in their versified English versions. Verse has crept into this bibliography and fiction does not seem to be the common denominator: Constantin de Renneville really existed and actually suffered an eleven years' imprisonment in the Bastille under what he called the French Inquisition (1715).link

 
 

The list is then strangely open to titles one might be inclined to exclude from any bibliography of the novel 1670-1730, and yet it is suprisingly short - with a mere 20 to 30 of such titles appearing in major languages like English or German in regular years like 1710, 1711 or 1712.

The age of Boileau might have been keen on defining all the poetical genres - the discussions did, however, not at all lead to nice and handy definitions. Neither, we may humbly add, did our own discussions lead to what Ian Watt promised in 1957: clearer and undisputed definitions. The problem is probably fundamental: defintions are generally not at all designed to bring clarity - they are designed to create discussions in which case the fundamental choice will be whether we divide the field along the lines of 21st-century discussions or along the lines of the discussions which the early 18th century preferred.

If we choose this latter option we will have to treat novels and romances as a field within the larger field of histories - as "feigned" and "curious" histories, to be more precise. The field had a poetical centre, but it had also two established methods of transgressing its boundaries: one could either offer fictions which smelled of true histories - Delarivier Manley's Atalantislink did that. Or one offered - as did Robinson Crusoelink - true histories which smelled of fiction. The market of "feigned" or "curious" histories thus included:

See: 2.2 The market of printed materials: quantitieslink

 
  1. The field we classify today under the heading of the ancient "novella": To the early 18th-century audience, however, Boccaccio's Decamerone, Cervantes' Novelas Exemplares or the Arabian Nigths were "novels" in the modern sense – "novels" as opposed to the medieval "romance".

  2. The ancient genres of the heroic epic and the satire, wherever they came into the compass of the "belles lettres": Huet had discussed Homer and Petronius as fathers of the later romances. Fénelon's Telemaque (1699/1700) rivalled on the early 18th-century market Homer's Iliad (translated into modern French by Madame Dacier) – John Ozell's translations into English blank-verse meant that the ancient Greek and the modern French author circulated in similar editions.

  3. Religious allegories, to the extent in which they would have been dismissed, by readers with a more critical attitude, as "romances", fictions – the official Roman Catholic report of the vera icon appeared in English in 1716, again translated by Ozell, as The Most Celebrated Popish Ecclesiastical Romance.link

  4. All dubious histories which ran the risk of being discredited as "sheer romances".

What defined the field was not a string of clear-cut definitions, but discussions whether certain texts were or were not "romance", fiction.

See: 3 The rise of the novel a 17th century achievementlink

1.2
The complete market of prose fiction:
poetical in the centre, historical on the fringes
 
Man solte auch wohl allhier einige berühmte Männer anführen, die sich die Mühe genommen, die Anzahl der Romanen zu vermehren, und einem vernünftigen Leser demonstriren, zu welcher Gattung der so übel beschriene Amadis, die berühmte Argenis des Barclaji, die beliebte Banise des Herrn Zieglers, der Wunder-volle Hercules und Herculiscus, der in allen Stücken vollkommene Arminius des Herrn Lohen Steins, Sorels offenhertziger Francion, die unvergleichliche Aramena und Octavia eines erläuchten Anonymi, die gesammten Wercke des Herrn Talanders, die abentheuerliche Erfindungen des Jean Rebhu, die galanten Romanen Mons. Menantes, Imperiali, und wie sie alle heissen mögen, gezehlet werden könten.

Die glückliche und unglückliche Liebe [...] von Selamintes (1711), fol. )(7v.link

Solten alle und jede Begebenheiten meines Lebens zusammen gedruckt werden, so würde man ein solches Buch mehr für einen Roman, als für eine wahrhaffte Historie halten. Es ist so voller Avantüren, daß es auch die Geschichte der Riesen, Mißgeburten, verwünschten Schlösser und aller Amadis Ritter übertreffen solte.

Die Religion eines Ivristen [...] aus dem Englischen übersetzt (1720), p.22.

[...] und sind wir gewiß, es werde ein Leser, der sich sonst an blossen Romanen vergnügt, an dem deutschen Amadis weit mehr Belieben finden, als an dieser entdeckten Historie der Königin Sahra.

Review of the French edition of The Secret History of Queen Zarah (1712), in Deutsche Acta Eruditorum, 7 (1712), p.579-80.

I shall not undertake to [...] examine whether Amadis de Gaul were originally from Spain, Flanders, or France; and whether the Romance of Tiel Ulespiegel be a Translation from the German; or in what Language the Romance of the Seven Wise Men of Greece was first written [...]. It shall suffice if I tell you, that all these Works which Ignorance has given Birth to, carried along with them the Marks of their Original, and were no other than a Complication of Fictions, grossly cast together in the greatest Confusion, and infinitely short of the Excellent Degree of Art and Elegance, to which the French Nation is now arrived in Romances.

The History of Romances [...] Written in Latin by Huetius; Made English by Stephen Lewis (1715), p.136-38.

With those Thoughts they begun their Journey, not unlike AMADIS, or DON GALOR, after they had been dubb'd Knights, in quest of Adventures, whether amorous or warlike, and Inchantments. Nor were they less worthy than those two Brothers: For tho' they were not much used to splintering Giants in twain, hamstringing harness'd Palfreys; and carrying behind them (On Horseback) fair Damsels, without saying any thing to them: They had, however, skill at Cards and Dice, in which the other two were meer Ignoramuses.
      They arrived at Turin, were kindly entertain'd and received with Distinction at Court. How could it be otherwise? Since they were young and handsome; had Wit at command; and spent high. What Country is there in the World where a Man does not shine with such Advantages? Turin being, at that time, the Seat of Love and Gallantry, two Foreigners like our Adventurers, who were sworn Enemies to Melancholy and Dullness, could not but please the Court-Ladies.

Memoirs of the Life of Count de Grammont [...] translated from the French by Mr. Boyer (London: J. Round/ W. Taylor/ J. Brown/ W. Lewis/ J. Graves, 1714), p.32-33.link


 

The early 18th century market of novels thus had peculiar form: it had a centre to be avoided – and a massive production on the fringes which was beginning to present much greater problems than the old centre ever had. The centre to be avoided was occupied by the disatrous Amadis with its knights in quest of adventures (whether amorous or warlike), with enchanted castles and virgins imprisoned therein, heroes splitting giants in twain, hamstringing harness'd palfreys, and carrying behind them (on horseback) fair damsels. Don Quixote had lost his mind reading the multivolume Amadis and Cervantes had shown the alternative: one had to write "novels", short exemplary histories in the tradition of Boccaccio, Chaucer and Machiavelli.

Cervantes had himself presented the Novelas Exemplares; the market, however, was soon corrupted with a new production of scandalous histories, which were mostly "half true and half fictitious". The famous German journalist Nicolaus Hieronymus Gundling touched on this reality in 1702 in his controversy with Gotthard Heideggers Mythoscopia Romantica published in 1698:

[...] ja ich kan nicht läugnen, daß die Amours secrets, histoires secrettes eine so grosse Finsterniß über die wahrhafftige Historien unserer Zeit gezogen haben, daß man kaum unterscheiden kann, was wahr oder falsch, gewiß oder ungewiß seye. Allein dieses sind keine rechten Romanen, sondern halb wahre und halb erdichtete Umbstände: also daß zu wünschen wäre, die Urheber derselben schrieben entweder einen puren Roman; oder eine pure Historie; worunter ich die kleinen Piecen von Don Juan d'Austria, von der Königin Elisabeth etc. nicht aber die Reise der Madame d'Aulnoy rechne welche mehr als zu gewiß ist, und so wohl mit andern Erzehlungen, als der Erfahrung selbsten übereinkommet. [...] I cannot deny, that the amours secrets and histoires secrettes have so much clouded the realm of true histories in our age, that one can hardly tell the true from the false, the certain from the uncertain. Yet these are not romances or novels in the strict sense, but present circumstances half true and half invented: so that one might wish their authors had either written pure romances, or pure histories. I am speaking of those little pieces on Don Juan d'Austria or Queen Elizabeth etc. not of the Travels of Madame d'Aunoy, which are all too certain to be disputed, and whose truth is proven by other accounts as well as by experience itself.

N. H. Gundling, "Gespräch über Gotthard Heideggers Mythoscopia Romantica", Neue Unterredungen 3. Monat (1702), p.268.

 

"Half true and half fictitious", the novel stretched out into the realm of histories: Novels promising to be a piece of fiction but threatening to offer real histories, defined the field of the roman à clef. At the other end of the spectrum, allegedly true histories which threatened to be full of inventions, if not outright lies, were equally dubious. And both offered to their readers and authors the same possibilities: to claim, whenever it was convenient, that they had not believed a word they hade written or read in this publication.

Either side of this spectrum was subdivided, by authors and publishers, according to whether public or private history was at stake. Each of these subdivisions had its own rationale for justifying publication: Public history needed to be published wherever it offered insight into current affairs. Private histories required much better arguments – and allowed the much wittier play of justifications ranging from the openly scandalous through the traditionally satirical to the peculiarly religious.

The title pages and prefaces usually stated the categories of the pattern presented abovelink within the first sentences.

 
1.2.1
The left hand side: sold as romantic inventions, read as true histories
 

The island of Atalantis was, of course, already located in a dubious realm. The edition followed, so we learn, an Italian text which had gone through three editions before it was translated into French, from where it was now translated into English. The market abounded with titles that were thus European in scope. "Secret Histories of several Persons of Quality of Both Sexes" - promised unpleasant revelations, yet who would be interested in such revelations, if they only embarassed the politicians of a fabulous island after the manner of a "Varronian satire" as the translator declared? Delarivier Manley's protestations that it was perfectly safe to publish the text, since it would not hurt any British politicians shifted the focus from the distant island to the British isles. Everything was different if the book actually revealed the wrongdoings of politician at home. The Atalantis was immediately read as a roman à clef and keys were soon available to decode the unpleasant who was who. The book was most definitely an open attack levelled against the ruling Whigs.

The title-page named the publisher and he referred the official interrogators to Delarivier Manley. The author, however, pretended to have written a purely fictitious work – a "romance". This account put the Duke of Marlborough and his party into a tricky situation. No one read the work as fiction. Should they open a libel case against Delariver Manley - and in doing so supply evidence that the book was not invented at all, that it was a mean and scandalous libel made on the Whigs? The party officials ultimately decided to leave things undecided rather than to blemish their own reputations with unpleasant evidence of their past deeds - and they could feel relatively safe with this decision as the author herself had promised not to attack their reputations openly, but stick to her public claim that she had only written a piece of fiction. Reputations mattered.

 

Text: D. Manley's Atalantis reviewed by the Deutsche Acta Erudiorum.link

 

Things were both similar and different where private scandal was at stake. A party like the Whigs could hardly kill a notorious author. Private individuals could, however, privately challenge other private individuals and fight duels, if necessary, to save their reputations. Christian Friedrich Hunold experienced this after the publication of his Satyrischer Roman in 1706. His friend and publisher, Benjamin Wedel, later revealed the famous "Menantes'" private motives for the publication: the author acted in his novel in two persons: As Selander he had paved the way to justify his liaison with one of the Hamburg opera celebrities, as Tyrsates he had attacked another opera singer as the city's prostitute. Additional scandalous stories from Halle and Leipzig garnished the allegations. The novel sold well in all three cities, and ended disastrously for the author who had underestimated the amount of private protection the second lady enjoyed. Her protectors forced him to leave Hamburg. In 1710 he published a second version of his notorious book with a publisher located outside the city gates, eliminating the dangerous report and changing his own story to justify his bourgeouis marriage in Halle. The audience was still enjoined to read both books as fiction, "Roman". Whoever dared to see real persons behind the novel's characters acted, said Menantes, against his will.

"Young Ladies" in London offered their affairs in similar "novels". We are unfortunately less well informed about the personal motives which seem to be hidden behind the majority of their publications. Private life had discovered the novel - and troubled the public with affairs of doubtful public relevance before calls for a reform grew lowder in the second decade of the eighteenth century.

 
1.2.2
The right hand side: sold as true histories, risking to be read as romantic inventions
 

Robinson Crusoe is in many ways already part of the reaction to the dubious market of private histories disguised as "novels". A move towards personal responsibility took place. Crusoe took on such responsibility by not withholding his full name and by protesting that he had written a true history of fact without inventing a single incident. In the preface, his publisher situated the book in a specific category (no. 4 in the above scheme): private affairs were made public here, and to do so required some justification:

IF ever the Story of any Man's Adventures in the World were worth making Publick, and were acceptable when Publish'd, the Editor of this Account thinks this will be so.
     The Wonders of this Man's Life exceed all that (he thinks) is to be found extant; the Life of one Man being scarce capable of a greater Variety.
     The Story is told with Modesty, with Seriousness, and with a religious Application of Events to the Uses to which wise Men always apply them
(viz.) to the Instruction of others by this Example, and to justify and honor the Wisdom of Providence in all the Variety of Circumstances, let them happen how they will.
     The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it: And however thinks, because all such things are dispatch'd,
[1] that the Improvement of it, as well as the Diversion, as to the Instruction of the Reader, will be the same; and as such he thinks, without farther Compliment to the World, he does them a great Service in the Publication.

[D. DeFoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (London: W. Taylor, 1719), p.[iii].

The book, as the editor was at pains to point out, even though the title-page alone was enough to arouse this suspicion, smelled of fiction. The preface seems designed to dispell all doubts. But a closer look will show that it creates them wherever they do not already exist. In the prefaces to subsequent volumes, Crusoe insists that he is everything but the hero of a romance - though most certainly an allegorical person as real as Jesus Christ and Don Quixote. Charles Gildon attacked the book as sheer "romance", invention. Crusoe's publisher struck back by making an arrangement with the London Post to reprint the whole book over the next two years as precisely that: simultaneously the story of a private man's adventures worth being made publick, and a dubious piece of self protested historical truth:

 
[The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, nespaper-edition (London: Heathcot, 1719).]
 

Well into the second decade of the 18th century, the fifth and last segment of the pattern above was the most influential field in the whole market of dubious histories and novels: the field in which public history was presented in allegedly true accounts - accounts whose claim to truth was again marred by hardly believable incidents. Gundling had attacked this field and he had protected it at the same time with his protestation that certain authors like the famous Madame D'Aulnoy should escape all the fundamental criticism that other publications of this type deserved. French memoirs published in Amsterdam and The Hague dominated this field, books which no Paris bookseller could risk to print under the severe censorship of Louis XIV. The production found the European market - it sold well in Leipzig, Venice and London since the nations of the "Great Alliance" against France saw no reason to prohibit books which violated the enemy's interest. Secretly the dubious production found its way back into France. Smugglers made tenfold profits on the black markets in France with French books published abroad. A new realism pervaded the dubious production with authors who realised that they could only sell on the European market, if they developed a new style of writing: one which took into account that the audience was far away and incapable of adding the necessary local images. La Guerre d'Espagne fascinated the audience with the adventures of a defected secret French agent - the man saw Europe with all the charm James Bond displayed three centuries later. A much more drastic realism marked Constantin de Renneville's reports of his eleven years in the Bastille. Female authors offered volumes of personal letters allegedly written to close friends far away, and garnished their books with little incredible histories they had allegedly just heard of.

 
1.2.3
The central production: traditonal fictions
 

One might be tempted to speak of a crisis: critics hardly ever mentioned romances or novels with praise. The proliferating fringes of the market were downright scandalous and its centre seemed to be rotten, with the Amadis, generally referred to as the arch-romance, as the work to be avoided by all readers of taste.

The Amadis attracted and bore these critical censures without being at all present on the market itself. There was not a single publisher who dared to undertake an edition of the infamous work. The whole market denied this disagreeable ancestor: The productions on the wings of the pattern only played with the conventions of the centre to actually run into real history. The central production, explicitly fictitious itself, proclaimed its triumph over the Amadis: Fénelon's Telemachus was praised as a "new romance" if not a modern epic surpassing all romances. "Novels" in the wake of Cervantes and Scarron were the second alternative the Amadis had provoked: stories which did not teach through unbelievably virtuous heroes but through the examples of accidents which might actually have happened. The third central alternative was that of the comic romance. Again Cervantes had set the example. His Don Quixote had become the poetical antipode to and the fundamental satire on all heroic romances along the lines of the Amadis. Scarron succeeded Cervantes with his Roman Comique and titles took their cues from both: satirical romances from the Neapolitan Rozellilink to Pedrille del Campolink all revitalised the much older production of rogue stories ranging from Till Eulenspiegellink to the present folk tales attributed to the most notorious criminals hanged, decapitated and broken on the wheel all over Europe.link

The crisis of the Amadis - the crisis of the old romance with all its inventions and improbabilities - fostered a market of diversification and constant reform. The History of Romances compiled by Pierre Daniel Huet provided this reformed market with a past that extended back far beyond the Amadis. The modern novel allowed readers to ask for those antiquated romances which were now surpassed by the modern novel. Classics from Heliodor's Theagenes and Chariclialink to the anonymous Till Eulenspiegellink were published with references to Huet's history. Modern authors joined the classics: Fénelon became a classic shortly after the publication of his Telemaque. The most notorious authors of political and private scandal tried to follow: Delarivier Manley and Eliza Haywood sold as cassics soon after their works first appeared. The modern novel found editions of its classics including the Princess de Cleves, Lesage's Le Diable boiteux and the novels with which Cervantes had started the development. The world's classics of literature were established and Europe discovered the rest of the world with the new field. The stories of the Arabian Nights became a major market success selling as a proof that the ancient eastern world was, as Huet had said, the cradle of all modern fiction.

 
1.3
High and low
 

Modern historians have sometimes wondered whether the lower genres of the early 18th-century market - the satirical and comic romances - actually adressed readers of the lower classes while "high" heroic performances suited the tastes of the aristocracy. This was, of course not the case. Our own market has high and low region with prestigeous literature and trivial popular fictions, yet this high/low distiction has nothing to do with the poetical distinction which made Fénelons Telemaque a "high" heroic, and Cervantes' Don Quixote a "low", comic performance.

Fénelon and Cervantes appealed to readers of education and a high social status. Comic romances with lower class heroes ridiculing the truly heroic heroes of high romances were actually praised in highest terms by scholars and literary critics as the very production expressing their own sentiments about all romances.

The early 18th century had its own market for readers of less sophisticated tastes - a market offering both: high heroic performances and low, comical jests. The adventures of the Amadis continued on the low market with works one would otherwise have to list among the titles of religious instruction, such as: The Illustrious and Renown'd History Of the Seven Famous Champions of Christendom. In three Parts. Containing their honourable Births, Victories, and noble Atchievements by Sea and Land in divers strange Countries; their Combats with Giants, Monsters; wonderful Adventures, Fortunes and Misfortunes in Desarts, Wildernesses, inchanted Castles; their Conquests of Empires, Kingdoms relieving distressed Ladies, with their faithful Loves to them; the Honours they won in Tilts and Turnaments; and Success against the Enemies of Christendom. Also with the heroick Adventures of St. George's three Sons. Together with the Manner of their untimely Deaths; and how they came to be stiled Saints and Champions of Christendom (London: T. Norris/ A. Bettesworth, 1719).

The production sold by travelling chap-men throughout Europe shared a common design with often repeated primitive woodcuts. The titles and the promises the prefaces made offered stereotypes: These were, allegedly, the best books read by readers of all tastes. Actually one read oldest texts in antiquated spellings, books that had been reprinted over the last three centuries reaching often far back into the market of medieval manuscripts.

 
 

The Famous Champions of Christendom, or The Seven Wise Masters of Rome were sold by publishers specialising in cheap production. Printers in Glasgow and Newcastle joined printers in unknown German cities. Fiction, from allegory and legend to history and folk tale, was only one segment of the market. The Illustrious and Renown'd History of the Seven Famous Champions of Christendom in the 1719 edition by Norris and A. Bettesworth carries the publisher's backlist with all its variety:

History of Reynard the Fox.
_______ of Fortunatus.
_______ of the Kings and Queens of England.
Aristotle's Master-piece.
The Pleasures of Matrimony.
Cabinet of Wit.
The Wars of the Jews.
The History of the Jews.
The History of Parismus.
The Book of Knowledge.
Hart's Sermons.
Posie of Prayer.
A Token for Mariners.
Bunyan's Sighs of Hell.
Saviour's Sermons of the Mount, 1st and 2d Parts.
Dyers Works.
[...]
Whole Duty of Man.
[...]
Bunyan's barren Fig-tree.
_______ Good News.
_______ Solomon's Temple.
_______ Excellency of a broken Heart.
_______ Come and Welcome.
_______ Good News.
_______ Grace Abounding.
_______ Heavenly Foot-man.
_______ Advocateship.
Book of Palmistry
Dutch Fortune-teller, folio.
Cambridge Jests.
[...]
Guide to the Altar.
History of the seven Wise Masters.
_______ seven Wise Masters.
Lambert of Cattle.
[...]
London Spelling Book.
Mother's Blessing.
Man's Treachery to Women.
Practice of the Faithful.
Quacker's Academy.
Rochester's Poems.
Reynold's Murder.
________ Adultery.
School of Recreation.
Art of Dying.
D[o]ctrine of the Bible.
At the afore-mentioned Place, all Country Chapmen may be furnished with all Sorts of Bibles, Commonprayers, Testaments, Psalters, Primers and Horn-books; Likewise all Sorts of three Sheets Histories, Penny Histories, and Sermons; and Choice of new and old Ballads, at reasonable Rates.

 

The low market communicated with the high market especially where publishers sensed a demand for the more prestigeous and elegant titles. Abridgements were made to suit readers of restricted intellectual and financial means. The sentences, the publishers claimed, were shortened. All longwinded reflections had been omitted, the actions accentuated and everything shortened to make the editions cheaper than those the elegant audience preferred.

Later critics have sometimes supposed that the most elegant titles from Delarivier Manley's Atalantis to DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe might actually have constituted the early market of trivial literature. And most certainly the elegant market of early 18th-century prose fiction was the field which ultimately formed our modern market of trivial literature. Yet the early 18th-century equivalent to this our "low" market was to be found at the time in the production of chap-books and "Volksbücher", however low and scandalous the most elegant titles may sometimes appear in retrospect.

 
1.4
Defining novels - an activity with problematic traditions
 

We have tried here to give a short overview of the market. It had a centre with the Amadis as a romance no one wanted to read. The centre offered three alternatives: new heroical romances, novels in the tradition of the "novella", and comic romances in the tradition of rogue stories and satires. It had beyond this centre four fields stretching out into the realm of real histories, private and public.

The definition which we have provided with this pattern was vague. The pattern situates prose fiction: a realm, poetical in the centre, and embedded in the field of histories. But this does not amount to a definition. Defining novels remains a dubious practice. On the one hand, this would seem to be the thing scholars may be expected to do: define what they are speaking about. In a historical perspective, we might need to hesitate before committing to any such statement. For why should scholars deal with romances and novels in the first place? Historically, the work of defining fiction has been everything but a neutral activity. It actually defined and confined fiction to 'the centre' - we no longer speak of Robinson Crusoe or of the Atalantis as "half true and half invented". When they are discussed as "literature", both works are art and fiction. It is impossible to overstate the radical shift in status which this implies: "Poetical realism" is, we tend to believe, the great innovation Robinson Crusoe has brought to the realm of fiction. In the perspective of the early 18th century the case is entirely different: to contemporaries, it looks as though authors are employing fiction to modify true history. Any attempt to give a clear definition of fiction will be an attempt once more to limit what violated the limitations at the time - the effect of offering a definition of fiction, or of the novel, is discount the contemporary perspective on these publications and to create "literature" as the field of better fictions.

One might be on safer grounds with all definitions of "literature" and "fiction" if one understands them as integral parts of the historical discussion which eventually discovered the scandalous market of prose fiction. When it did so - in the 1730s and 1740s - it confronted this market with the severe ultimatum to either reform and become "literature" in a newly defined sense or to live on as trivial literature, unworthy of all further secondary discourse. No definition we may offer will ever be neutral. It will invariably be part of this tradition: The tradition of definitions which ended up changing the market that our definitions pretend only to describe.

 

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  1. The third edition corrected: "disputed".