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Histories (history of literature)

Related: literature - 1700s

"Histories," "lives," "memoirs," "voyages," "travels" and "adventures."

The English novel's beginnings were not entirely prestigious. Due to the public's disapproval of "invented" stories, Daniel Defoe, Tobias Smollett, Henry and Sarah Fielding and their contemporaries labeled their fictions as "histories," "lives," "memoirs," "voyages," "travels" and "adventures." A number of these works were indeed based upon truth, but so greatly embellished that the appeal was the same as that of total imagination.

In addition, the inept efforts of Grub Street literary hacks and talented, but starving, artists lent credence to the proposal that prose fiction was dangerous and frivolous. These people wrote rapidly and badly, yet they achieved real popularity, expanding the early audience for fiction. Eventually, with the rise of major British writers and with the influx of the higher quality (and better written) French and Spanish prose, the novel gained acceptance as an art form. --http://www.gale.com/servlet/ItemDetailServlet?region=9&imprint=000&titleCode=PSM85&type=4&id=N270 [Nov 2005]

Histories (history of the novel)

Early 18th century novels and romances were still not considered part the world of learning, hence, not of part of literature; they were market goods. If you opened the term catalogues it was mostly situated in the—predominantly political—field of "histories" with some romances like Cervantes Don Quixote translated into verse becoming poetical. The integration of prose fiction into the market of histories appeared under the following scheme:

for image, see Wikipedia entry

The centre of the market was held by fictions which claimed to be fictions and which were read as such. They comprised a high production of romances and, at the bottom end, an opposing production of satirical romances. In the centre, the novel had grown, with stories that were neither heroic nor predominantly satirical, yet mostly realistic, short and stimulating with their examples of human actions to be discussed.

The central production had two wings: On the left hand, one had books which claimed to be romances, but which threatened to be anything but fictitious. Delarivier Manley wrote the most famous of them, her New Atalantis, full of stories the author claimed to have invented. The censors were helpless: Manley had hawked stories discrediting the ruling Whigs, yet should they ask the Whigs to prove that all these stories actually happened on British soil rather than on the fairy tale island Atalantis? This was what they had to do if they wanted to sue the author. Delarivier Manley escaped the interrogations unscathed and continued her libellous work with three more volumes of the same ilk. Private stories appeared on the same market, creating a different genre of personal love and public battles over lost reputations.

On the other hand one had a market of titles which claimed to be strictly non-fictional—Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe became the most important of them. The genre-identification: "Sold as true private history, risking to be read as romantic invention" opened the preface:

IF ever the Story of any Man's Adventures in the World were worth making Publick, and were acceptable when Publish'd, the Editor of this Account thinks this will be so. The Wonders of this Man's Life exceed all that (he thinks) is to be found extant; the Life of one Man being scarce capable of a greater Variety. The Story is told with Modesty, with Seriousness, and with a religious Application of Events to the Uses to which wise Men always apply them (viz.) to the Instruction of others by this Example, and to justify and honor the Wisdom of Providence in all the Variety of Circumstances, let them happen how they will. The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it: And however thinks, because all such things are dispatch'd, that the Improvement of it, as well as the Diversion, as to the Instruction of the Reader, will be the same; and as such he thinks, without farther Compliment to the World, he does them a great Service in the Publication.

A production of histories of similar verisimilitude dove into the overtly political. Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (1644-1712) became the most important author in this field with his first version of d'Artagnan's story, told again more than a century later by Alexandre Dumas the elder. Witty, and a distant precursor of Ian Fleming's fictional James Bond, is another book allegedly by his hand: La Guerre d'Espagne (1707) the story of a disillusioned French spy, who gave insight into French politics—and into his own love affairs, with little intrigues he managed wherever he had to do his jobs. Fact and fiction were mixed in all these titles, to the point that one could no longer tell where the author had invented and where he had simply betrayed secrets. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histories_%28history_of_the_novel%29 [Nov 2005]

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