10.24.2007

No Novel Here.

Others who are smarter and better read will be better able to answer the following question:

Why hasn't Sofia Western read Pamela? or Clarissa?

And this question, too:

Why hasn't Clarissa read Pamela?

Maybe even this question:

Why hasn't Arabella read either?

Or this question:

Why hasn't Miss Betsy Thoughtless read any of 'em?

You might say that just because they don't mention them doesn't mean they haven't read them. I might respond that given their effect on the genre and their involvement in a very presentist discourse about the education and entertainment of young women, they're conspicuously absent. The novel as it came to prominence during the 1740s and 50s seems to be missing from the novels of the 1740s and 50s.

I am the first to admit that I haven't read nearly enough to make this assessment with any certainty. I can say that in what I have read, there seems to be no diegetic cross-referencing--no acknowledgment by characters or narrators of the presence of those novels that were trying to do away with the pernicious novels of Behn, Manley, and Haywood (in her 1720s incarnation). It occurs to me that Charlotte Lennox, whose The Female Quixote is specifically and explicitly about what should and should not be read, might have mentioned a contemporary title or two by name. Samuel Johnson thought highly of Lennox; he likewise thought highly of Richardson. Why not plug the latter or offer Clarissa up as an acceptable substitute for all those ridiculous romances buckling the shelves and warping the minds of anyone who comes into contact with them?

The novel, for all its formal realism and pretensions to representing a world sans fairies and dragons, seems to have left itself out of the world it purports to depict. Does anyone out there know offhand when Tom Jones or Clarissa shows up in the library or hands of another character in a novel?

I suppose that each of the novels I have mentioned here set out to redefine the genre, and would therefore not be served by giving free press to a competitor. Perhaps it's simply a function of sustainable fictiveness--it always makes me slightly uncomfortable when characters on TV talk about shows that they watch (I just saw a rerun of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is accused of watching Melrose Place and is caught out by a polygraph test). There's something very disconcerting about hearing that theme music within the text of another program. (That's right, I said text. Cut me some slack.)

Maybe it's about elevating the novel in the hierarchy of genres. Novelists are happy to talk about old novels, and they quote freely from plays, poems, sermons, essays, and so on. Interestingly enough, though, even when they do make a reference, it's rarely to a contemporary piece. Pope gets quoted a lot, of course, but by 1749 (Tom Jones) he'd been dead for a few years and in any case most of what gets quoted is from poetry he wrote before 1730. Milton makes his contributions. Dryden was quite popular with Haywood; so was Edmund Waller. All men, and all well and truly dead by 1750. It's possible that the unattributed snippets are contemporary, and there's at least one occasion in MBT when Haywood interpolates a ballad fresh from the street, but the fact that they're given no attribution by the narrator or editor suggests that wherever they came from (unless composed by the author), the weren't thought enough of to find their own ways to fame and fortune.

In any case, I wonder if there's something there about the novel being self-contained, whereas all else is contained by the novel. That'd put it on top as a function of its ability to yoke the rest to its purpose.

Still doesn't really explain why Sofia hasn't read Clarissa.

5 comments:

waltermonkey said...

I was just thinking about this today - how, on The Office, they mention Tina Fey. By extension, in their universe, 30 Rock exists. So what's the mysterious fourth show in the NBC Thursday night lineup, plugging the hole they themselves should occupy?

Perhaps it's still Seinfeld.

Scriblerus said...

You just blew my mind. The Office is at the nexus of the universe.

Xopo said...

Super-mega interesting question. I used to look out for who read what when I was reading for orals. Then, as usual, my short attention span kicked in and I forgot I was ever interested in that. So, you rekindled an old flame. I am not sure but maybe Sofia hasn't read *Clarissa* because Fielding wanted so hard to believe he was writing better than Richardson. An interesting example that could perhaps sustain this is that in *Tom Jones* when Fielding brings in an excerpt from one of La Fontaine's fables (a translation into English) he also manages to completely ignore Richardson's translation of the fables, published just a few years before (I think, but don't quote me on this)Fielding wrote TJ. Instead he resorted to a much older translation dating back to 1687 or something. There are interesting examples of circulating libraries and the characters who use them in Burney's *Evelina* which you might find useful. I don't remember them reading any Richardson but it may be helpful to see if they were reading novels. In *Camilla,* Burney has a learned heroine, Eugenia, who is tutored by an Oxford scholar. She never reads any novels, all Greek and Roman stuff. At the end of the novel, however, she begins her memoirs. Another key evasion of the novel for autobiography, no less.
I find this question fascinating and I look forward to see what you find. I'll look out for any interesting examples that may come up. You've made me think: it-narratives do reference each other in their prefaces or introductory chapters, although very seldom, but they do demonstrate some awareness of what is out there.

Scriblerus said...

Someone called my attention to a remark made about Sir Charles Grandison in a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, but that's a bit far off in terms of time and place. I'm guessing that Crusoe and Gulliver will have been referenced a lot, but I haven't managed to find anything specific.

Apparently one of the characters in Sir Charles Grandison (which also incorporates a lot of features from plays) starts writing a novel within the novel--I haven't managed to find out what becomes of it, yet. SGC clearly out-encyclopedias Clarissa, though, that much is clear.

Marina said...

There's a moment argh, when is it - in Austen, when she defends the novel - ooh, "Northanger Abbey". She mentions young girls laying aside "Belinda" in shame, because it's only a novel - (Maria Edgeworth's quite batty novel, have I ranted to you about how great it is?). But then, of course, this is much later, and the voracious readers in "Northanger Abbey" namecheck lots of novels.
Clarissa is too priggish to do anything so immoral as waste her time reading novels. I wonder if Fielding didn't want Sophia to be so drippy as to have wasted a month on "Clarissa"?
What Charlotte Lennox was playing at, having Arabella be ignorant of her contemporary heroines, I have *no* idea.

This is a very interesting post. I shall have to think more on it.