"The history of literature," says Hettner, "is the history of ideas and of their scientific and artistic forms." 1 A particular taste dominates at a particular time and this taste gains embodiment and shape. Every age gets the art it deserves, and every age must accept the art it gets. The most popular form of literature to-day is the novel, and into this mould the creations of imagination are most frequently poured now. Novel is as important today as poetry was in those eighteenth century days or as drama was in the days of Shakespeare. II Its influence is so great that the present age in literature is described as the' Age of the Novel:
The novel is one of the highest forms of literary art and is practically a modern art. Sir J. Herschel considers it one of the most powerful engines of civilisation ever invented. "It has been not only the expression of the actions of a people; it has been the expression of the emotion of an age," says Francis Hovey Stoddard.' And above all, the novel has become "a school of manners, a forum of debate, a picture of history and a pocket theatre."
The novel is perhaps the most elastic and adaptable form that the literary artist has discovered. For the past century the novel has dominated all other literary forms, absorbing into itself qualities of many of them. Goethe spoke of it as a hybrid of drama and epic poetry. As a matter of fact, "it has supplanted two great forms of literature-the epic and the romance; it has surpassed three great forms of literature the drama, the lyric poetry the essay." And thus the novel is often described as ' an epic in prose' or as I a pocket theatre' or as ' a fictional biography.' The novelist has also vast scope to express his opinions. 'Whatever his bias-moral, introspective satirical, realistic, historical, philosophical or psychological-he can impose it upon the story which is the basis of his novel,' with a proviso in mind that his first duty is to tell a tale and not to preach a sermon:
Story is the fundamental aspect of the novel. Story-telling was one of the earliest human activities in all centres of civilization. It is a favourite pattern in literature and' whether long or short, fact or fiction, in verse or prose, it is found useful in every stage of man's development from the primitive tribe to the most advanced civilizations of today. No other form provides so much entertainment or creates so much illusion.'
Story-writing accords more freedom than any other sort of writing. The writer is freer in length and time. "Freedom and delight I-these are the birth-right of the story," claims Elizabeth Clark."
Another remarkable feature of story is that it is the most widely distributed form of literature. Of the epic, ballad, anecdote, romance and drama, the novel is a late growth and is a special form of story-telling. Thus, at one end it touches the ancient heroic legend and on the other the modern novel.
Though story is the basis of all novels, "the history of the novel shows an increase in complexity, and a growing dissatisfaction with the story merely as a story." The novelist is not only telling a story, but also gives a portrait of character, a picture of social background, etc.,
Most of the story.telllng in old literature was in verse, while the novel is entirely a prose work. • Prose gave the possibilities of width and background with which verse cannot compete' and in these two ways, the novelist distinguishes his art from that of a story-teller,
Fiction and Novel
Today, the predominance of fiction is so great that books are generally classified into two categories ‘Fiction' and’ Non- Fiction.' "Fiction is a word with wider meaning. It includes not only the novel and the prose romance but also narrative poetry; in a strict etymological sense it includes drama." 11 [bough fiction has a wider meaning, the influence of the novel has reduced its meaning substantially to denote generally a novel,
The word 'novel' is derived from the Latin adjective "novellus,' deminutive of 'nous,' meaning 'new.' Thus when applied to fiction, it means a new tale or story. The English word novel.' stemming from the Italian' novella,' 'suggests a new kind of anecdotal narrative that claims to be both recent and true.'
Novel is a product of the eighteenth century. Henry warren describes the rise of novel thus; "The bright star of drama was rapidly slipping down the heavens and a new star was looked for. By providing a form of art which was at once amusing and edifying, popular in every sense of the word, easy, and very much in key with the mood of the moment, Richardson discovered the star."
Sir Philip Sidney's 'Arcadia' (1590), Lyly's ‘Euphhes’ (1578), Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' (1678), and Defoe's • Robinson Crusoe' (1718) are some of the landmarks in the history of English fiction.
The conditions prevailing 10 the eighteenth century had also been favourable without which the three geniuses in a single generation, Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, could not have created the new form." The following changes in society paved the way for the novel: Democracy and abolition of privileges, humanitarian reforms, return to nature movement, eductional reform and the glorification of feeling."
Meanwhile a new reading public had been preparing in numbers sufficient to encourage a democratic literary form," The technological perfection of printing also promised them for more number of copies.
Samuel Richardson's' Pamela' which appeared in January 1741 is considered to be the first novel, Simultaneously, Fielding established another characteristic type of English fiction, the satiric novel of manners, and he also prided himself upon the discovery of "a new province of writing."
Francis Hovey Stoddard, in 'The Evolution of the English Novel,' points out how "the novel has pushed its way, against a prejudice, without a helper, without the attraction of great subject, and against our first notion of fitness of treatment; it has pushed itself forward into an assertion of a great principle."
The definition of a novel:
“The novel, the most protean of literary forms, is the least amenable to formal definition." 19 It is perhaps the broadest and least confined of all literary forms. The variety of subject-matter, the flexibility of action, time and length obstruct the way of defining a novel.
Fielding described it as “a comic epic in prose." "A novel" declares the Oxford Dictionary; "is a fictitious prose narrative of sufficient length to fill one or more volumes, portraying characters and actions representative of real life in continuous plot." "Novel, a work of prose fiction relating an affair of some magnitude and grounded upon character and observation," so runs the definition of Chamber's En. cyclopaedia. Clara Reeve defines it as a "picture of real life and manners, and of the times in which it is written." Ernest A. Baker has defined it as an "interpretation of human life by means of fictitious narrative in prose."'• According to Katherine Lever, "a novel is the form of prose narrative of considerable length involving the reader in an imagined real world which is new because it has been created by the author." U Though these definitions throw some light upon the various aspects of the novel, each of them seems to be inadequate. The definitions of Fielding and Clara Reeve are narrow, while the definitions of Oxford Dictionary and Chamber's Encyclopaedia are broad. The definitions of Ernest A. Baker and Katherine Lever seem to fulfil the need but they also have not completely given the meaning of a novel. In viewing all, it seems that "there is less difficulty in defining 'the novel' than in fitting novels to an acceptable general definition." That is why Edwin Muir in 'Structure of the Novel' says, "The only thing which can tell us about the novel is the novel."
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