Novel Beginnings

The novel’s origins are (with the exception of a few earlier outliers) in the mid-eighteenth century, and, throughout the span of Modernity, the novel has established its foothold as the dominant and near-only form of literature produced. This has created within the literary canon a stark and often unhelpful historical detachment. Previous to the novel, each genre of literature had a “tradition of the past… impossible to change.” Ancient literature was developed not as a way to express subjectivity, as with the novel, but as a way to know and understand the surrounding world through story— “[t]he epic relies entirely on this tradition.” With ancient literature “it is memory, and not knowledge, that serves as the source and power for creative impulse.” The understanding of literature has significantly changed with the rise of the novel, for the Modern era’s consciousness is adamantly fixed on individuality, rationality, and scientific empiricism, the novel mirroring this epistemological phenomenon, becoming itself a form of literature concerned with “experience, knowledge and practice.” In synchrony with this notion of hyper-empirical thought, the novel is therefore also primarily concerned with “verification…plausibil[ity] [and a] requirement that… it appear understandable in itself.” The novel performs a complete about-face from ancient literature and the epic tradition, and, in this way, Modernity usurps the home wherein the epic rested its head. Yet, the novel also plays a double role regarding the crucial adaptation of literature to its era; the Good Novel–The Classic Novel–attempts to remain historically conscious whilst simultaneously meeting the pace of Modernity. “The resolution between art and science, pleasure and cognition” is Modernist Literature’s leitmotif, to say the least.