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Om författaren

Ian Watt was Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of English at Stanford University.

Verk av Ian Watt

Essays on Conrad (2000) 13 exemplar
Have you ever seen a Kiwi (2005) 2 exemplar

Associerade verk

Välborne herr Tristram Shandy : hans liv och meningar (1759) — Redaktör, vissa utgåvor7,657 exemplar
Lord Jim [Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.] (1996) — Bidragsgivare — 154 exemplar
Language and Social Context: Selected Readings (1972) — Bidragsgivare — 149 exemplar
The Ambassadors [Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.] (1963) — Bidragsgivare — 138 exemplar
Studies in Bibliography (Vol. 12) — Bidragsgivare — 2 exemplar


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novel associated with middle-class and women as readers
ritaer | 7 andra recensioner | Jun 5, 2021 |
This book sets out Watt's arguments in support of his belief that a new literary form, "the novel," different from any earlier kind of European prose fiction, was developed in early 18th-century England by Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Obviously, you can always twist the definition of "the novel" far enough to make this kind of statement true for whatever time, place and group of writers you choose, but Watt makes a good case for the uniqueness of the circumstances in which his three pioneers were writing, both in view of the development of philosophical and religious ideas that informed their ways of looking at characters and society and in view of the economic and social conditions that created a demand for the sort of books they were writing. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter to most of us that he thinks earlier works such as [Don Quixote] or [Simplicissimus] should not formally count as "novels"; what's interesting is why Watt considers Defoe, Richardson and Fielding are special, and that is something he develops in considerable and rewarding detail.

Watt is an obvious product of F R Leavis's Cambridge, and this book was published in the late fifties when Leavis was still very influential. You can see his footprints all over the place, notably in Watt's emphasis on the moral obligations of the novelist and his reluctance to enjoy Fielding's comedy, but Watt's insistence on tying literature to social and economic history seems to be an assertion of independence. Leavis, of course, didn't really approve of prose fiction before Jane Austen anyway, so he must have been horrified at the whole idea of this book.

Defoe and Richardson clearly appeal to Watt because they are pragmatic businessmen, happy to ignore the literary formulas dictated by high culture in creating the sort of entertaining books their audiences actually want to read, and he's a little dismissive of Fielding's attempts to make his comic prose fiction look as though it belongs within the tradition of the classical epic. He sees Defoe as a pioneer of the (capitalist) model of the novel as a description of the individual's struggle for fortune and security against the world, whilst Richardson counts as the pioneer of detailed psychological analysis of personality and relationships, and Fielding is more focussed on the mechanism of society as a whole. All three essential elements in the future development of the form.

It's interesting that, whilst Watt argues for a clear primacy for English writers in the period from about 1700-1740, after that the he sees the initiative moving across the Channel, with an apotheosis in the work of Stendhal and Balzac and a late flourish in Joyce's Ulysses. The only writers from England he really pays attention to after 1740 are Sterne, Jane Austen, and George Eliot.
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1 rösta
thorold | 7 andra recensioner | Apr 14, 2021 |
Published in 1957 Watt's book became the go-to book for many English literature students. Considered a little naive and outdated today perhaps, but it was still being used enthusiastically after it was published in a Pelican edition in 1972 if my copy is anything to go by: there are copious passages underlined some notes and evidence of at least three different students. The book is subtitled: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding and Watt analyses [Robinson Crusoe] (1719) [Pamela or Virtue Rewarded] (1740) and [Clarissa or the History of a Young Lady] (1747) by Samuel Richardson and finally The History of Tom Jones a foundling (1749) by Fielding to demonstrate why he thought these books were the start of novel writing and making an almost clean break from previous fictional writing.

He asks himself the following questions: What, exactly distinguishes the novel from all earlier forms of narrative fiction? and How does social change influence the evolution of literary form?. He starts by stating that realism is the defining characteristic which differentiates the work of early 18th century novelists from previous fiction and goes on to change the label a little by referring to formal realism, which he says is the:

"particularisation of time, place, and person: to a natural and lifelike sequence of action; and to the creation of a literary style which gives the most exact verbal and rhythmical equivalent possible to the object described."

He briefly refers to previous fictional writing such as Romances and Courtly love, Italian Renaissance short stories, Rogue literature and points out how much of this referred back to classical literature: where style was as important as content and authors took their plots from mythology, history, legend, or previous literature. Early fiction was rarely set in a time or place where the plot could logically progress; coincidences, the wheel of fortune or disguises were used to move the story along; characters were not fleshed out their actions did not follow from previous experiences and finally there was no attempt to come to terms with inner lives or their psychological profile. Watt claims that Robinson Crusoe was the first book length fictional writing that would qualify under his definition of novel writing.

Watt covers the changing social conditions that laid the groundwork for a new kind of fiction writing in his chapter: "The Reading Public and the Rise of the Novel" and then launches into an analysis of Robinson Crusoe pointing out how different this was from previous fiction. He claims Defoe was the first writer who visualised the whole of his narrative as though it occurred in an actual physical environment and he came up with an original storyline that owed very little to previous fictional writing and was independent of literary conventions. Defoe's ideas on rational economic individualism and his naked capitalism which drives much of his hero Robinson Crusoe' actions does not escape criticism and Watt doesn't believe that Defoe managed to reveal much of Crusoe's inner life. Watt claims that Samuel Richardson's two epistolatory novels come the closest to his definition of formal realism and that his characters reveal more of their inner lives. Watt's close reading of passages from Pamela and Clarissa are enough to encourage me to read these two doorstops: editions of Clarissa run to 1,500 pages.

There is a short final chapter: Realism and the Later Tradition (described as a note) which mentions other writers of English novels that Watt feels enhanced the tradition of the novel. In Watt's opinion the novel reached its apogee with James Joyce's [Ulysses]. I found Watts criticism lively and thought provoking especially on Robinson Crusoe which I have read and his reasons for claiming it as the first in the genre of novel writing. His thoughts are clear and these studies do not get bogged down in academia. I will enjoy re-reading this when I get to reading Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding.
5 stars.
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3 rösta
baswood | 7 andra recensioner | Sep 21, 2020 |


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