Perceptions of the 18th Century Novel in Ian Watt’s Book, The Rise of The Novel
The eighteenth century novel was one that changed the way novels were written in many different ways. In reading Ian Watt's book, "The Rise of The Novel," quite a few things were brought to my attention concerning the eighteenth century novel; not only in how it was written and what went into it, but how readers perceived it. This essay will look into Ian Watt's perceptions on the eighteenth century novel and how it changed from previous literature.
Coming out of the Renaissance and Jacobean ages, the novel was characterized by "realism", with the term "novel" not really being used until the end of the eighteenth century. This realism was not defined like we would define realism today (defined by Webster as an interest or concern for the actual or real), but instead is grounded in the position that "truth can be discovered by the individual through his senses." (12) Instead of conforming to traditional practice (such as the classical and renaissance epic based on history and fables), the novel focused more on the individual where "the pursuit of truth is conceived of as a wholly individual matter, logically independent of the tradition of past thought." (13) By rejecting traditional plots the novel distinguished itself out from any other previous form of literature, making individual experience the replacement for collective tradition.
Many other things apart from plot were changed for the novel to fully show this new take on reality. Now the plot was acted out by "particular people in particular circumstances" (15) rather than, as in the past, by general people against a pre-determined background by appropriate literary convention. The novelist now "indicates his intention of presenting a character as a particular individual by naming him in exactly the same way as particular individuals are named in ordinary life." (18) Previously, historical names and type names were used rather than names that would establish the characters as individual entities. With the novel, the characters were named using both given and surname so as to suggest them as particular individuals, breaking traditional form but adding to the reality of the character. Personal identity, where "the individual was in touch with his own continuing identity through memory of his past actions." (21 ) was also important in that it individualized characters using the background of a particular time and place. The novel, unlike past literature, now used past experience as the cause of present action, insisting on time whereas in mediaeval and renaissance literature the action...