Novel is a modern form of literature. It is born because of print which is a mechanical invention. Novels could reach a larger audience because of print.
Novels began to be written from the seventeenth century and flowered in the eighteenth century. New groups of lower-middle-class; along with the traditional aristocratic and gentlemanly classes in England and France formed the new readership of novels.
With the growing readership, the earnings of authors increased. This made them free from financial dependence on patronage of aristocrats. They became independent to experiment with different literary styles.
Initially, novels did not come cheap and were out of reach for the poor classes. With the introduction of circulating libraries in 1740; people could get easier access to books. Apart from various innovations in printing, innovations in marketing also helped in increasing the sales and bringing down the prices. For example; the publishers in France realized that they could make high profits by hiring out novels by the hour.
The worlds created by novels were more realistic and believable. While reading a novel, the reader was transported to another person’s world. Novels allowed individuals the pleasure of reading in private. It also allowed the joy of publicly reading and discussing stories. People often got deeply involved in the lives of characters.
In 1836, Charles Dicken’s Pickwick Papers was serialized in a magazine. Magazines were cheaper and illustrated. Moreover, serialization allowed readers to relish the suspense. They could live for weeks in anticipation of the next plot of the story.
Unlike earlier forms of writing, novels were not about kings or empires rather they were about ordinary people. In the nineteenth century, Europe entered the industrial age. While industrialization created new opportunities of growth and development, it also created new problems for the workers and the city life. It was the ordinary worker, who always suffered in the mad race for profits. Many novelists created stories around the problems of ordinary people in the new cities. Charles Dickens and Emile Zola were the notable authors of this period.
The novels reflected the contemporary developments in the society. Many novelists wrote about the problems of city life. Many others wrote about the various changes witnessed in the rural life because of advent of modern technology. People were becoming more professional and the personal values were eroding at a faster pace. Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) is novel written in the rural backdrop.
The novel by Hardy has use of vernacular language which is the language spoken by common people. Use of vernacular helped Hardy in correlating with the common people who lived in that period.
During the eighteenth century, the middle class became more prosperous. Women could get more spare time which they utilised to read and write novels. That is how the novels began to explore the world of women. Many novels were about domestic life. A woman writer could write about domestic life with more authority than a male writer. Many women novelists also began to raise questions about the established norms of society. Many novels began to ask questions about hypocrisy which was prevalent in the contemporary society.
Novels for the young boys were based on heroism. The hero of such novels used to be a powerful, assertive, independent and daring person. As this was the period of expansion of colonialism, most of the novels tried to glorify colonialism. Books; like R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book (1894) became great hits. G. A. Henry’s historical adventure novels for boys were very popular at the height of the British Empire. These novels were always about young boys who witness grand historical events and get involved in some military action. Love stories for adolescent girls also became popular during this period.
During the rise of colonialism, most of the novels glorified the conquests of the Europeans. Later, in the twentieth century, some novels showed the darker side of colonial occupation. Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was one such author.
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