Rise of English Novel in 18th Century: Reasons and Factors

Types of Novel

There are two main classes of fictional prose:

  1. Tale or Romance: It depends on the incident and adventure for its chief interest.
  2. Novel: It depends more on the display of character and motive. The novel is more complicated than the tale.

The English novel took birth in the 16th and 17th centuries and reached a great height in the Age of Pope and Dr Johnson.

The group of the first four novelists of the Augustan Age or Neo-classical age: Richardson, Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne, in whose hands Novel blossomed, are called the four wheels of the novel.

Factors Responsible

The following are the reasons for the rise of the novel in 18th century England.

Rise of Middle Class

The literature of the 17th century flourished under the patronage of the upper classes. The 18th century in England social history is characterized by the rise of the middle class.

Because of tremendous growth in trade and commerce, the England merchant class was becoming wealthy and this newly rich class wanted to excel in the field of literature also.

This class was neglected by the high-born writers and their tastes and aspirations were expressed by the novelists of the time. The Novel was, in fact, the product of the middle class. With the rise of the middle class, hence, the rise of the novel was quite natural.

Newspapers & Magazines

In the 18th century, the appearance of newspapers and magazines attracted a large number of readers from the middle class. These new readers had little interest in the romances and the tragedies which had interested the upper class.

Thus need for a new type of literature rose that would express the new ideas of the 18th century and this new type of literature was none but novel.

Rise of Realism

The 18th-century literature was characterized by the spirit of realism and romantic features like enthusiasm, passion, imaginations, etc. declined in this period.

Reason, intellect, correctness, satirical spirit, etc. were the main characteristics of 18th-century literature. The English novel had all these characteristics.

Role of Women

In the 18th century, women of upper classes and the middle classes could partake in a few activities of men. Although they could not engage themselves in administration, politics, hunting, drinking, etc. hence, in their leisure time, they used to read novels.

Decline of Drama

The decline of drama also contributed to the rise of the novel in the 18th century. In the 18th century, drama lost the fame that it had in the Elizabethan Age.

It did not remain an influential literary form. Hence some others had to take its place and its place was filled by the English novel after 1740 A.D. Thus the decline of drama led to the rise of the English novel.

Further Reading

  1. Play Quiz on 18th Century Fiction
  2. Questions-Answers on 18th Century Fiction