Watching a movie (and particularly the ‘film of the book’) rather than reading a novel was once widely regarded by university English departments as a soft option, a kind of mental slumming. Eighteenth-century gentlemen, at least, might have had similar reservations about reading anything as trivial as a novel rather than a more mentally exacting philosophical treatise, or culturally significant essay in natural history. Their choice was perhaps made simpler, however, by the fact that most current scientific knowledge was still comprehensible to the layman, while fiction did not yet have such literary heavyweights as Proust or late James. Today, the same English departments may be teaching cultural theory or women’s studies and will certainly no longer be questioning the legitimacy of different narrative media. Urban graffiti, if politically correct, may rate higher than an ideologically reactionary epic. Similarly, the children (and above all the grandchildren) of those eighteenth-century gentlemen probably possessed handsome bound sets of the same lowly novels, as fiction became increasingly respectable and institutionalized.


Eighteenth Century English Department Woman Writer Modern Reader Introductory Essay 
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  1. 1.
    Among recent criticism, these issues are a recurrent concern of Homer Brown’s Institutions of the English Novel from Defoe to Scott (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. More specific are William Warner’s essay, ‘The Elevation of the Novel in England: Hegemony and Literary History’, in Richard Kroll (ed.), The English Novel: 1700 to Fielding (London: Longman, 1998), pp. 49–69;Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (London: Chatto and Windus, 1948).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    The studies in question are Robert Adams Day, Told in Letters: Epistolary Fiction before Richardson (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1966);Google Scholar
  5. Ros Ballaster, Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684–1740 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992);Google Scholar
  6. Ronald Paulson, Satire and the Novel in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Frank Kermode, The Classic: Literary Images of Permanence and Change (London: Harvard University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Robert D. Mayo, The English Novel in the Magazines, 1740–1815 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    The classic account of these early collections is Michael Sadleir’s XIX Century Fiction: A Bibliographical Record based on His Own Collection, 2 vols (London: Constable, 1951).Google Scholar

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© John Skinner 2001

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