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  • World Literature and the Eighteenth-Century Novel: Amsterdam, Leipzig, 1701
  • Bethany Wiggin

I want to be an Englishman, but I want to understand other points of view. And I want to get rid of a merely English attitude in studies.

—George Eliot, Daniel Deronda

»Chinesischen Roman?« sagte ich. »Der muß wohl sehr fremdartig aussehen. « – »Nicht so sehr, als man glauben sollte«, sagte Goethe.

—Johann Peter Eckerman, Gespräche mit Goethe

In histories of the eighteenth-century novel, few scholars pause in Amsterdam; still fewer stop in Leipzig. After the publication in 1957 of Ian Watt’s seminal study, all scholarly routes to the novel lead instead to London. There, the novel supposedly first rose, buoyed on the pages of a mariner’s “true” story and by the news pages eager to expose its true author. The novel rose, that is, sometime after Crusoe’s big splash in 1719. So what do the places and time of my title—Amsterdam, Leipzig, and 1701—have to do with the eighteenth-century novel? Potentially quite a bit, as I argue in the following pages.

Leipzig, Amsterdam and 1701 mark locations rarely visited in either the history or the geography of the novel. Even the most internationally and linguistically robust recent English-language exploration of the genre, the two-volume collection of essays edited by Franco Moretti, fails to include them in its international itineraries. Yet, as I aim to demonstrate, this road less travelled permits a new approach to the eighteenth-century novel, one that reconsiders the genre’s canonical places and times. First, this approach helps to recall that Crusoe did not set sail in uncharted waters. Changing metaphors again, it begins to reconstruct the European field for literary fiction, including novel writing, in which Crusoe was soon to launch. No barren wasteland, the field abounded in the lovesick princesses and princes of romance; and it already teemed with tales, assured to be true, of merchants, travellers, and adventurers—not to mention adventuresses and women on the make.

Second, our critical itinerary asks us to consider why we have all but forgotten the novel’s cosmopolitan history and geography before Crusoe. This lacuna is marked by the “instrumental amnesia” that David Porter diagnoses in two recent [End Page 112] articles on new approaches to comparative literature. As Porter emphasizes, the effacement of a transnational, cosmopolitan past enabled the construction of European exceptionalism undergirded by, among other things, the concept of national literatures. Or, as Srinivas Aravamudan plainly asserts in a brilliant essay, “the artificial unity of a so-called eighteenth-century English or British novel is a nationalist and xenophobic project” (50). Stops in 1701 in Amsterdam and Leipzig amply demonstrate that the eighteenth-century novel’s geography extended well beyond London, beyond England or even Britain, to include other languages and other nations. They also demonstrate the critical benefits from moving beyond the frame of the nation. I have argued this case elsewhere; I want to use this forum to urge the extension of the novel’s geographical horizons beyond Europe and to suggest some future itineraries the study of the eighteenth-century novel might take.1 In a special issue devoted to the eighteenth-century German novel, this article runs against the grain for it argues that the space-time of the novel should no longer be shrunk to fit the nation.

In fact, the novel is often hailed as the global genre; and yet even Moretti’s most innovative work on the genre suffers a kind of nationalist hang-over, dulled by its continued reliance on models and histories conceived within national frames. Moretti’s time-space of the novel proposes that “the circle widens” beyond Europe first in the nineteenth century (Novel vi). Here, for the first time, Moretti argues, “books from the core were incessantly exported into the semiperiphery and the periphery [. . .] thus drawing those literatures into the orbit of core ones, and indeed ‘interfering’ with their autonomous development” (“Evolution” 402). But were literatures ever autonomous?2 As Porter writes, invoking the work of Enrique Dussel, “the modern age [. . .] has been always already global” (“Sinicizing” 299).3

The novel proves no exception. Prompted by Moretti’s work...


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