- Remapping the Rise of the European Novel SVEC 2007:10
The first round of revisions to Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Fielding and Richardson (1957) was undertaken in the 1980s by Nancy Armstrong, Lennard Davis, J. Paul Hunter, Michael McKeon, and others, perhaps not least those who brought Bakhtin to center stage in novel studies. Collectively, these scholars reformulated the canon and retheorized the rise of the English novel with an emphasis on the contours of its modernity. Given the twenty-two essays brought together by Jenny Mander, the impulse to reconsider what Watt wrought has only intensified over the last two or three decades. The most exciting feature of the new history of the novel is that its chronological and geographical borders have been pried open. Instead of locating the novel's emergence, these essays argue that the novel underwent multiple rises over time and space and that the novel form is even more flexible and varied than former arguments about its heterogeneity have suggested.
By readjusting the parameters of the genre to Europe and its empire in the period from 1550 to the early 1800s, Remapping the Rise of the European Novel treats such diverse areas as ancient and modern Greece, Spain and its American empire, Italy, Germany, and Russia, in addition to several essays on the novel in Britain and France. The essays are generally not more than twelve pages each, and only three could be characterized as case studies of a single author or novel. These brief overviews, especially those by Andrew Kahn on the Russian novel, Mónica Bolufer on the supposed second rise of the novel in Spain, Ann Hallamore Caesar's résumé of Italian scholarship on the early novel, and Roderick Beaton's assessment of the study of the Greek novel are extremely informative for those of us more familiar with the novel in English and French. Two studies by the eminent bibliographers Angus Martin and James Raven provide superb data for understanding, respectively, translation and the novel in France and the vagaries of the late eighteenth century's full recognition of the novel as a literary category in Britain. The emphasis here and elsewhere is on the bigger picture of the novel's rise, which means that few authors deeply scrutinize individual novels or engage in extended close reading. It is worth noting too that cultural structures like gender and class play a much narrower role here than in earlier scholarship on the novel, and thus John Richetti's essay on the sex/gender system in early-eighteenth-century women's fiction is a kind of outlier. The essays are divided into four sections, "Plus ultra? Time, travel and translation," "Bibliometrics, generic identity and translation," "Novel and nation," and "Popular pleasures," but there is quite a bit of overlap in these categories. Translation, for example, is a keyword in the first two sections, but then spills into every category. Likewise, the treatment of the nation-novel relationship and the novel's popularity extend beyond their sections. The rubrics may not be neat, but they also afford comparative connections that groupings of essays based on geography alone would not. More importantly, the rubrics are a sign of the novel's messiness that comes with broadening the landscape. Perhaps the keyword of this entire collection is translation, which captures not only the novel's internationalism but also its ability to morph and to bear change with continuity. The essays could be taken as a case for replacing Watt's formal realism with formal mobility. [End Page 427]
Andrew Hadfield's opening essay questions the modernity thesis, while Diana de Armas Wilson builds on that challenge by drawing out the affinities between Heliodorus, Cervantes, and Defoe. In this same vein, Nandita Das's essay on Robert Greene's cony-catching tales, B. W. Ife and R. T. C. Goodwin's work on travel narrative and the Spanish novel in the early modern period, Anne Cruz's essay on picaresque narratives predating...