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Congreve's Incognita: Romance, Novel, Drama? Kristiaan p. Aercke William Congreve's only novel, Incognita; or: Love & Duty Reconcil 'd (1692), is often mentioned in studies that undertake to trace the origins of the English novel.1 The action or "contrivance"2 of Incognita involves several days and nights of confusion in the carnivalesque setting of Renaissance Florence and the ultimate union of the young aris1 The titles of studies that incorporate Incognita are often indicative of the way criticism considers it primarily as an anticipation of eighteenth-century fiction. Incognita has been discussed by John Richetti, Popular Fiction before Richardson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969); by Maximillian Novak, "Fiction and Society in the Early 18th Century," in H.T. Swedenberg, ed., England in the Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 51-70; by Frederick Karl, A Reader's Guide to the Eighteenth-Century English Novel (originally, The Adversary Literature) (New York: Noonday Press, 1974); by Walter Reed, An Exemplary History of the Novel: The Quixotic versus the Picaresque (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1981); by Brian Corman, "Congreve, Fielding, and the Rise of Some Novels," in Shirley S. Kenny, ed., British Theatre and the Other Arts, 1660-1800 (Washington: Folger Shakespeare Library; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1984), pp. 25770 ; by Paul Salzman, English Prose Fiction 1558-1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985); and by Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987). One of the few recent major studies on the apparently inexhaustible topic of "the origins of the English novel" that does not even mention Incognita is Lennard Davis, Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983); but then, Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957) did not refer to Congreve's novel either. Helga Drougge's dissertation The Significance of Congreve's "Incognita" (Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 1976) is a book-length study devoted exclusively to the novel. Article-length studies of note are E.S. De Beer, "Congreve's Incognita, the Source of Its Setting, with a Note on Wilson's Belphegor," Review of English Studies 8 (1932), 74-77; Maximillian Novak, "Congreve's Incognita and the Art of the Novella," Criticism 11 (1969), 329^12; and Aubrey Williams, An Approach to Congreve (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 91-106. 2 See Congreve's "preface" to Incognita in The Complete Works ofWilliam Congreve, 4 vols, ed. Montague Summers (London: Nonesuch Press, 1923), I, 111-12. References are to this edition. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 2, Number 4, July 1990 294 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION tocrats, Aurelian and Hippolito, with the belles, Incognita-Juliana and Leonora. Congreve's preface has attracted more critical attention than the novel itself. Some critics have even called this document "the critical locus classicus in English"3 for the crucially important end of the seventeenth century, when novelists were striving to replace "improbable ," "marvellous" romances with more consistently authenticated and psychologically developed fiction.4 Students of the early modern novel are likely to be introduced to Congreve's text in fragmented quotations from the preface, which Ernest Baker had good reason in 1929 to call "oft quoted":5 Romances ... elevate and surprize the Reader into a giddy Delight, which leaves him flat upon the Ground whenever he gives of ... . Novels are of a more familiar nature; Come near us, and represent to us Intrigues in practice, delight us with Accidents and odd Events, but not such as are wholly unusual or unpresidented .... Romances give more ofWonder, Novels more Delight .... Since all Traditions must indisputably give place to the Drama, and since there is no possibility of giving that life to the Writing or Repetition of a Story which it has in the Action, I resolved in another beauty to imitate Dramatick Writing, namely, in the Design, Contexture and Result of the Plot. I have not observed it before in a Novel, (preface to Incognita) The main reason for scholarly interest in the preface was Congreve's separation of "romance" and "novel," which critics interpreted as a convenient transitional distinction between...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 293-308
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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