The Early Novel. An unsigned review of The History of the English Novel, vol 2: The Elizabethan Age and After, by Ernest A. Baker; and John Lyly and the Italian Renaissance, by Violet M. Jeffery
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[ 691 The Early Novel1 An unsigned review of The History of the English Novel, vol 2: The Elizabethan Age and After, by Ernest A. Baker London: Witherby, 1929. Pp. 303. John Lyly and the Italian Renaissance, by Violet M. Jeffery Paris: Champion, 1929. Pp. 147. The Times Literary Supplement, 1434 (25 July 1929) 589 Professor Baker’s book succeeds in fulfilling two functions: by itself, it summarizes usefully all the information about the forms of fiction in Elizabethan times; and it also takes its place as one volume in his history of the novel of which several volumes remain to be written.2 It covers, we believe, the most difficult period of the history of the novel; and the task was difficult because the “novel” at that period must be a somewhat arbitrary distinction. Few of the writers of the time were solely or even primarilynovelists ;andwiththeexceptionofDeloney,theyareallmoreinteresting for their miscellaneous work than for their novels or romances.3 Dr. Baker has made the book, rightly, as comprehensive as possible; nothing is omitted which could be fitted in; and he has made a useful book of reference as well as one section of a history. Only a study of this kind can impress upon us how very slow the development of the modern novel was, how long it had to wait for the propitious moment to emerge as a distinct form of writing. As Dr. Baker says, if the Elizabethans had evolved the novel, it would have been of a very different type from that of Richardson and Fielding [15]. The needs which the novel came to satisfy were not existent; for the major needs of literature were all satisfied by the drama. Therefore the Elizabethan “novel” takes two forms: the artificial and sterile form of Sidney and Lyly;4 and the popular journalism of Deloney and the pamphleteers: it is the latter which provides the real origins. Elizabethan fiction, in Dr. Baker’s words, is “an obscure, slight, and unsatisfactory affair” [15]. He points out admirably the two chief obstacles to its being anything else: 1929 692 ] One vital need – one, however, of which no writer saw the real bearings – was the want of a suitable prose. Most of the current prose – all of it indeedthatwasemployedinworkstobereadforenjoyment–wasamuch moreartificialmodeofexpressionthanthedictionofcontemporaryverse. Denied the charms of rhyme and metre, the prose writer did not reflect that poetic licence was also disallowed; on the contrary, he tried to make upforthedeficiencybyanexhaustingstrainafterpointandepigram,trope and metaphor, and such artificial effects of assonance, alliteration, and iterating cadence as verse would have been intolerable. [13] The other reason was that Writers had the vaguest and most confused apprehension of the problem to be solved; whether the main object was the story or the moral, the incidents or the picture of life; truth, insight, life-likeness, or strangeness , ingenuity, surprise. [14] And Dr. Baker concludes that “fiction does not normally arise and flourish in times of intense creative energy,” but rather “in the quiet intervals when writers are less imaginative and more critical” [15]. Concerningtheindividualwriters–Sidney,Lyly,Greene,Lodge,Nashe, Deloney, Dekker and others, there is little new to be said; but the reader will find an accurate account, with specimens. Dr. Baker’s inclusion of the writers of “characters” may seem a little superfluous, but it is vindicated by its issue in the imaginary portraits of Addison. The inclusion of Addison remains to be vindicated by the next volume of the work.5 Our only question of Dr. Baker’s method is one which cannot be answered until these volumes appear: we wonder whether his method is to take the modern novel, the developed type, and trace the causes which led up to it, or whether he is merely chronicling the various writings which look something like the novel. We do not see how his work can be more than a chronicle unless he has made up his mind as to what a novel is. But the acuteness of some of his comments leads us to hope that he has done so. Miss Jeffery’s book is a thesis on a special subject.6 Some modern scholars have asserted that Lyly owes no direct debt to Italian authors. The common reader would suppose the contrary; and the researches of other scholars, such as Professor Schoell, show more and more the indebtedness of Elizabethan writers to Continental contemporaries.7 Miss Jeffery has not quite as clear a case as Dr. Schoell had in tracing the borrowings of [ 693 The Early...