May 22, 2007

Masters of the English Novel, Richard Burton

Burton writes about his favorite novelists as though they were everyone's favorite novelists. This isn't very useful if you haven't read the works in question -- Sterne, Richardson, Scott, just down to Trollope and Stevenson. By modern standards, I don't think it's criticism at all; there is authorial intent and there's hardly any theory.

However, SF&F fans might enjoy his discussion of how Romance, in the old sense of the fantastic, the heroic, the otherworldly, was displaced by its much younger sibling Realism. He doesn't dislike Realism, but -- as is not at all surprising, in Richard Burton -- his heart is clearly with Romance.

The Novel seems to have been the special literary instrument in the eighteenth century for the propagation of altruism; here lies its deepest significance. It was a baptism which promised great things for the lusty young form.
We are now ready for a fair working definition of the modern Novel. It means a study of contemporary society with an implied sympathetic interest, and, it may be added, with special reference to love as a motor force, simply because love it is which binds together human beings in their social relations.
This aim sets off the Novel in contrast with past fiction which exhibits a free admixture of myth and marvel, of creatures human, demi-human and supernatural, with all time or no time for the enactment of its events. The modern story puts its note of emphasis upon character that is contemporary and average; and thus makes a democratic appeal against that older appeal which, dealing with exceptional personages--kings, leaders, allegorical abstractions--is naturally aristocratic.

Project Gutenberg etext #12736: Masters of the English Novel

So wrote clew in History (19th c.).
And thus wrote others:
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