The Eighteenth Century England The Rise of Bourgeois: The Rise of English Novel

The Eighteenth Century England

The Rise of Bourgeois: The Rise of English Novel

A: The Eighteenth Century England

After the restoration of the kingdom in 1660, British society was under the firm authority of the monarchy and aristocracy. People had experienced the commonwealth duration that impacted a kind of transformation in their approach towards different domains of their life either mentally or practically. They were in a perplexed and complex situation. Contradictory political condition resulted in the form of social hierarchy and an aggression for status quo.

However, Britain was also being transformed by the Industrial Revolution after 1688. There was pursuit of luxuries and materialistic well being in the society. Capitalism drastically changed the face of society and this transformation diverted the business and pastimes of the populace.

In response to this paradoxical situation, a nation ruled by the old elite but dominated by business and trade, authors experimented socially mixed combinations of tragedy, comedy, the epic, pastoral, and satire. These classical genres generally failed to resolve the contradictions of the social hierarchy. Moreover, these genres could not reflect the emerging realities of that versatile commercial society and a broader, more socially mixed audience. That dissatisfaction emerged and polished a new genre, fiction with purely English source as W. Long says, “We have a certain pride in regarding it as England’s original contribution to the world of letters.” (p. 338). To understand this evolving interrelationship between social change and literary form, we will discuss different considerable elements in this paper.

B: The Rise of Bourgeois

The political disturbance between 1642 and 1660 had a profound and lasting impact on how writers and readers perceived the nation’s social hierarchy. The creation of a republic in 1649 not only eliminated the king but also temporarily raised a level of the middling sort, including minor domestic traders, shopkeepers, and common army officers. It emerged positions of unique power and influence. This system eliminated the House of Lords and subjected the royalist nobility and gentry to abstraction, severe fines, and the ruinous exploitation of their land. That ultimately gave rise to the bourgeois, the middle class. The main aspects in this regard are as following:

1. Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution can be said, paved the path to the rise of the middle-class and it also created a demand for people’s desire for reading subjects related to their everyday experiences. It caused a drastic change in the social set up and mind set of the society bringing in a bulk of wealth, luxuries and materialistic supplements. Thus that mind set demanded focus as well as importance that gave rise to another class in the society named bourgeois.

2. Belief in Social Hierarchy

Writers and readers of the eighteenth century were shaped by their daily experience of a culture dominated by an almost unquestioned belief in social hierarchy. Our understanding of this hierarchy, and its literary impact has however been hindered by theoretical obstacles and historical simplifications. A now long line of scholars has argued that the conception of “social class” is highly misleading when applied to a culture that conceived of itself through gradations of “status” or “rank.”1 The rising economic power of the so-called middle class or bourgeoisie, itself a deeply divided and complex grouping, did not translate into a grab for power, or even a disrespect for traditional ideas of political authority.

3. Power in the Hands of Commercial Ranks

Moreover, from the Restoration onwards, successful authors tended to write for a distinctly plebeian group of City-based booksellers who regarded literature as a trade and who sometimes became very rich from the “business of books”. Especially following the Glorious Revolution in 1688, writers often subjected the traditional elite to scathing satire, contrasting the decadence and greed of the present aristocracy with traditional ideals of genteel honor and virtue. Nevertheless, writers equally denigrated the avarice and vulgarity of the rising financial elite and seldom suggested that the commercial ranks should take power. Literary representations of the old and new elite, inherited and newly made wealth, are generally characterized by a controlled tension rather than confrontation, generating a series of higher values of morality and national interest while implicitly underwriting the legitimacy of the traditional social hierarchy. In this way, literature played an arguably significant role in mediating the social and political tensions that exploded into revolution in France

.C: The Rise of English Novel

The literature of the 17th century flourished under the patronage of the upper classes. The 18th century in England’s social history is characterized by the rise of the middle class. Because of tremendous growth in trade and commerce, the England merchant class was becoming wealthy and wanted to get focus this newly rich class wanted to excel in the field of literature also. This class was neglected by the high-born writers and their tastes and aspirations were expressed by the novelists of the time. The Novel was, in fact, the product of middle class. With the rise of middle class, hence, the rise of the novel was quite natural.

1. Rise of Middle Class

The England’s merchant class was becoming wealthy and this newly rich class wanted to capture attention by others. This class was neglected by the high-born writers and their tastes and aspirations were expressed by the novelists of the time. The Novel was, in fact, the product of middle class for middle class as expressed by Thrall et al. “… the English novel as an instrument portraying a middle-class society.” (p. 322). With the rise of middle class, hence, the rise of the novel was quite natural. The novel, therefore, developed as a piece of prose fiction that presented characters in real-life events and situations. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones are some of early English novels. The novel is realistic prose fiction in such a way that it can demonstrate its relation to real life.

2. Invention of Printing Press

Printing was another crucial factor that contributed to the rise of the English novel. The modern novel was the child of the printing press, which alone can produce the vast numbers of copies needed to satisfy literate publication up rise that they can afford.

3. Growth of Newspapers and Magazines

In the 18th century, the appearance of newspapers and magazines attracted a large number of readers from the middle class. These new readers had little interest in the romances and the tragedies which had interested the upper class. Thus need for new type of literature rose that would express the new ideas of the 18th century and this new type of literature was none but novel.

4. Rise of Realism

The 17th century literature was characterized by the spirit of realism and romantic features like enthusiasm, passion, imagination etc. All these characters declined in 18th century. The spirits of reason, intellect, correctness, satirizing etc were the main characteristics in this period. So were the main aspects of English novel of the age. This force of intellect, reasoning and satirizing provided readers with a perfect piece of entertainment along with touching the feelings of readers deeply as Boyd declares a novel as, “A perfect freedom from every degree of immoral tendency, together with the power of deeply interesting the feelings of the reader.” (p.143).

5. Individualism

The social and intellectual currents of the age were linked for creating something new and different. Those who carried out the action became individualized, they were interpreted in and all their complexity and the social pressure on them were minutely detailed. When people wanted to hear stories of those who are not too different from themselves, in a community recognizably a kin to their own, then the novel was born. The Rise of Individualism was also very significant in the emergence of the English novel. Ian Watt sees a typical of the novel that it includes individualization of characters and the detailed presentation of the environment. The novel is more associated with the town rather than to the village, and in some points, they are alike, for example, both involve huge numbers of people leading interdependent lives, influencing and relying upon one another.

6. Educated Women

In the 18th century, women of upper classes and the middle classes could partake in a few activities of men. Although they could not engage themselves in administration, politics, hunting, drinking etc. hence, in their leisure time, they used to read novels.

The eighteenth-century great novels are semi anti-romance, or it was the first time that the novel emerged and distributed widely and largely among its readers; reading public. Moreover, with the increase of the literacy, the demand on the reading material increased rapidly, among well-to- do women, who were novel readers of the time.

Thus, theatre was not such feasible form of entertainment but novel was due to its large audience and its spread all over the land in country-houses. In other words, middle was such an important factor behind the growth of the novel as a new form of art.

Women readers were considered as a crucial factor in providing readership. A better education for women was coincided with a period of a greater leisure for women in middle and upper ranks. The greater leisure for women left a time space, which needed to be filled in. Men were also educated and had an intension to see beyond the narrow local interests and profession to an inspired motivation. Both men and women were receptive to literary forms, which would open up to them recent and real worlds outside their own world.

7. Availability of Writers

Understanding the role of the literary artist in this complex and changing situation raises even more formidable problems. As noted by Raymond Williams, the period after 1680 showed a marked change in the social origins of authors, with more deriving from the middle ranks and fewer from the aristocracy and upper-gentry (1961: 234). Swift, Gay, Haywood, Richardson, Johnson, and Goldsmith came from very modest backgrounds while other writers such as Pope, Fielding, and Burney claimed roughly genteel status without great wealth or an automatic claim to recognition.

8. Market Opportunities

A market economy was the third factor. The sociology of the novel is based very much upon a market relationship between author and reader, mediated through publications, in contrast to earlier methods of financing publication or supporting authors such as Patronage, or subscription. A market economy increases the relative freedom and isolation of the writer and decreases his immediate dependence upon particular individuals, groups or interests.

9. Prohibition on Theatre

The decline of drama also contributed to the rise of the novel in the 18th century. In the 18th century, drama lost its fame that it had in the Elizabethan Age. It did not remain an influential literary form. Hence some other had to take its place and its place was filled by the English novel after 1740 A.D. Thus the decline of drama led to the rise of the English novel. The Licensing Act of 1737 imposed a stifling political censorship on the English theatre. It was a great age of prose. (p. 313) Thrall et al.

D: Conclusion

The success of the novel, on the other hand, owed less to its promotion of “middle-class” values, which had not yet taken a distinctive form, than to its inherent flexibility and ability to mediate a complex and changing social order. The implicit argument of this essay has been that “social class” counts very much in the examination of literature between 1660 and 1800, despite the decline of Marxist criticism. A renewed form of literary criticism sensitive to issues of social hierarchy cannot, however, rely on the old concept of “class conflict” between an old aristocracy and a rising bourgeoisie. Rather, eighteenth-century society generally sought stability by maintaining old political structures in the face of economic change and in fearful memory of social upheaval during the Civil War and Interregnum. Literary evolution during this era was highly sensitive to these changes but also to the desire for stability. Harmonizing these opposite forces was not, however, easily accommodated within existing literary genres. Although the eighteenth century was an era of extraordinary experimentation within the traditional genres of drama and poetry, these older models increasingly receded in the face of the commercial tide of the novel. The novel was in turn distinguished less by its “middle-class” attitudes than by its inherent flexibility to explore society without rules dictated by the inherent laws of genre. Generally conservative from its outset, disagreeing about the nature of elite authority rather than its preeminence, the novel seemed uniquely positioned to harmonize rather than exacerbate social difference.


1. Thrall, W. F., Hibbard, A., and Holman, C. H. eds.,(1960), A Handbook to Literature.

Odyssey Press:New York.

2. Alexander, M., (2000), A History of English Literature, Palgrave Foundation: New


3. Long, W. J., (1912), English Literature: Its History and Its Significance for the Life of

the English SpeakingWorld, Ginn and Co.: Boston.

4. Boyd, J.R., (1845), Elements of Rhetoric and Literary Criticism, with copious

practical exercises and examples. For The Use of Common Schools and Academies. Including also A Succinct History of the English language, and of British and American Literature from the Earliest to the Present Times. Harper: New York.





Source by Tanzeela Faiz

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