The History of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
The Romantic Period
The Victorian Period
The Post-Victorian Period
The Pre-Atomic Period
The Nuclear Age

During the 17th century, the novel came into existence after writers began drifting accross the reality line into fantasy. Unhappy with the everyday, humdrum descriptions of previous writers, they decided to do some elaborating with character and plot. Where truth had ruled supreme in the prose that existed before their time (essays, biographies, tracts, etc.), they took flights of fancy which allowed fabrication to become the order of the day. During the 17th century, the majority of novels were of a religious and moral nature. Examples of this type or genre are John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding (1666) and The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). Readers were also exposed to long sentimental stories based on heroism carried over from chivalric times. The classic example of these earlier works is Don Quixote, written by Cervantes in 1605.

The early part of the 18th century ushered in novels like those of Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Richardson. Defoe spruced up the lives of Robinson Crusoe and Captain Singleton in an attempt to doctor the truth about them and make it more interesting. Fielding created memorable characters which are embodied in Tom Jones and Amelia. Richardson's ethical dilemmas of young women concentrated on right conduct and manners. They are best exemplified in his novels Pamela and Clarissa Harlowe.

The novels of the latter part of the 18th century were divided into two separate types or genres: Sentimental novels and Gothic novels. Each sought different reactions from the reader. Sentimental novels elicited sympathy by focusing on the emotional state of very sensitive men. This type of novel is exemplified by Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield and Henry MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling. The Gothic novel sought to evoke either horror or terror. It is exemplified by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and Matthew Lewis's The Monk.

Some of the noted novelists of this period are: Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Lawrence Sterne, Fanny Burney, Oliver Goldsmith, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, John Bunyan, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Tobias George Smollett, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Mrs. Ann Radcliffe and Miguel Cervantes.