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

5. Where the early 18th century market still flourishes: trivial literature

5.1 Not literature
5.2 The great market division leading to the high market of literature and the low market of trivial literature
5.3 Looking back on a successful and productive development


Not literature

Literary historians who faced the wider early 18th century market returned with the impression that this was a market of astonishing triviality. John J. Richetti ended his Popular Fiction before Richardson. Narrative Patterns 1700-1739 (Oxford, 1969) with an an epilogue on why one should not pass a second look on this market:

We search in vain [...] for the pleasures of Style in popular Works as these. The hysterical romantic fustian of Mrs. Manley, Mrs. Haywood, and other lady novelists is clearly unreadable; the edifying purposes of Mrs. Rowe and Mrs. Aubin improve neither the prose nor the coherence of the popular novella. Defoe's chronicles of travellers and criminals are written in a lucid and attractive demotic, and his rendering of lower-class psychology is compellingly real and justly celebrated as a new direction in prose fiction. But Defoe's narratives are often garrulous and disjointed by modern standards of narrative coherence; his imitators are merely diffuse or incoherent without any of his saving realism. (p.262)

Herbert Singer had returned as frustrated from his search for German titles of the period, remarking that he had hoped to discover some great authors who had simply got lost. He had found, however romances which hardly deserved the term "literature". "Ästhetische Qualitäten, Überraschendes und Charakteristisches, Erhabenes und Ergreifendes haben wir vergeblich gesucht." - aesthetic qualities, suprising sujets, things with a character of their own, great or moving books we searched in vain" (Herbert Singer, Der deutsche Roman zwischen Barock und Rokoko (Köln/ Graz, 1963), p.2 ff.)

Feminist research of the 1970s and 1980s was in a better position being able to detect a subversive courage in the scandalous writings women contributed to this market. Here and there the judgement was passed with our modern perspectives in mind. One might feel as uneasy about Delarivier Manley serving as a "proto-feminist" or as an early author of "trivial literature". Her contemporaries had other categories at hand to see her in one and the same production with a host of other contemporary authors, male and female.

The early 18th century had its own market of low productions, and Delarivier Manley and C. F. Hunold, alias Menantes, ranked among the authors had nothing to do with that low market. They set fashions and with the most elegant prose to be read. And yet their works most closely resemble modern trivial literature.

The great market division leading to the high market of literature and the low market of trivial literature

The moment we - those who talk and write about literature as literary historians and literary critics - entered the game and demanded a better production of novels to be written, we created the bad market to be ignored by us. The move essentially de-scandalised the early 18th century market.

Literary critics might have dreamt of ending the whole unworthy production - it flourished instead. Authors who wanted to write like Courtilz de Sandras, Delarivier Manley, or Menantes could continue to do so as long as readers wanted to read such works - they only had to accept, that their works would not play a greater role in the public discourses now ensuing. The result was the de-scadalisation of the developing field of trivial literature. It served to make money but not as a field on which one could become a public figure. Notoriety and fame were granted by the secondary discourses. Eccetric artists began to crowd the field of the prestigeous literary production. Their scandals were, however, no longer the sacandals Manley and Menantes had produced - they threatened the essence of art - a controlled and disputable scandal.

The development which turned prose fiction into a field of literary merits can be described as a special focus on the pattern presented The realm of high literature was created by the secondary discourses focussing on the central production - this excluded works of the outer four categories - we developed, however, the concept of "poetical realism" to allow selected works of these categories to play a new role in our dscussions - provided we could discuss them now as works of a new art. Had DeFoe's contemporaries seen the realm of fictions spreading out into the realm of histories our new perspective served us with a contrary realisation: Works like Robinson Crusoe had brought reality into the field of fiction we investigated.

The central column of the pattern - organised in Defoe's time according to poetological premises between high heroical and low satirical genres - had to find a new flexible organisation: Each language had produced literature and each period had shaped this production - an arrangement which now allowed the integration of new works regardless of their poetological foundation.

Authors who did not aim at being read as literature continued to write in the genres the old market offered. Book-stacks in modern train stations offer "sex and crime" (the main descendant of the first two realms), history and romance (a descendant of the central field), adventure (the fourth column), espionage and conspiracy (the fifth and last field with its remaining potential to lead its readers into doubts about the accepted reality). The genres of trivial literature still do not afford histories - our histories of literature only touch this market to state clearly what the better market had to offer. Nationality was and is irrelevant on this market. True authorship is feigned and shrouded on the trivial market as often as it had been on the general market of prose fiction before the 1730s. Readers read trivial literature and produce as little written reflections about their favourite books as readers had done with fiction around 1700.

And yet one might be careful of calling the early 18th century market of fiction the ancestor of our modern market of trivial literature. It will be most precisely located as the market right before the market-split the secondary discourse about literature brought about.



The modern production of prose fiction literary and trivial
1. Demanding Works of Literature
demand the attention of the secondary discourses
Spanish Literature
the literary genres from the earliest records to the present day
French Literature
the literary genres from the earliest records to the present day
English Literature
the literary genres from the earliest records to the present day
German Literature
the literary genres from the earliest records to the present day
by laguage and nation
the national literatures from earliest records to the present day
2. Trivial Literature
not promoted by the critical discourse
The modern roman à clef (Primary Colours)
Sex, including soft pornography for the female audience
Historical settings (the tradition of heroic romances), crime (the tradition of the 17th century novel)
Adventure, Science Fiction
Espionage, Conspiracy




Looking back on a successful and productive development

The early 18th century faced in some respects a development comparable to the development the late 20th faced with the internet turning from a medium of exchange within the scientific community to a medium of private chatrooms and commercial use.

We have little problems with theological treatises, or political anylysis produced around 1700. The style is different, the content has changed, yet we live otherwise still in a world of vibrant discourses and exchange. The surprising materials are those where private individuals enter the field. The London publisher John Dunton used his press to bother the world with his marital strife, and if he had problems with colleagues he would write against them "the pen is my sword" he announced on one of his title pages, he did in print what others did when fighting illegal duels. One had to take care of ones reputation and one did so if one attacked rumours violating one's precious reputation with other rumours - how could an activity which was perfectly accepted in public life be wrong here, where it used the printing presses? Women visited their doctors wearing masks and speaking through interpreters to save their anonymity - why should it be wrong if they wrote wearing masks? Their male competitors did the same and so one met on the market as one would have met on an ellegent festivity - the only diffrenece being that the exchange was now printed.

The mid 18th century felt less easy about all these individuals who would openly risk to become notoriously famous. The move towards a literary production leaving the sacandalous early 18th century market behind was to a great extend a move restricting the private use of fiction and poetry as low and mean - if it did not aim at anything higher, at art or the improvement of manners.

The kind of often very personal scandal Delarivier Manley and Menantes aimed at left the field of prose fiction and moved into the field of tabloids and afternoon tv-shows. The market did change.

The model we presented of how the market could change - the model of secondary discourses deciding over what kind of relevance what information should publicly receive - was an extreme success. We ordered much of our public life the way we ordered the markets of prose fiction and poetry as they had developed over the 17th century. We divided art into a prestigeous performance analysed at universities, presented at exhibitions and gaining tremendous prices on the art-market. The commercial production lives on in a wide stratification from kitsch on the lowest level to pop art and design in the higher levels of the mass market. Music finds its own stratifcation ranging from pop music to serous, classical music. Again a field of secondary discourses offers the categories. The field of journalism developed a system of levels from meanest tabloids to most prestigeous quality papers.

The market was in each of these cases allowed to move on and develop. Our efforts to restrict it by criticising it did not actually work as restrictions, they produced the high and demanding works as an alternative additional production allowing us to discuss and decide from case to case what kind of attention what kind of production might deserve.

The earlier market of fiction as it found its perfection in the decades 1670 to 1730 might afford an understanding in which we, those who discuss literature, carefuly reflect the historical role we assumed towards this production.


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