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Chapter 8: Novels, Society and History
The novel is a modern form of literature. It is born from print, a mechanical invention. We cannot think of the novel without the printed book. In ancient times, as you have seen (Chapter 7), manuscripts were handwritten. These circulated among very few people. In contrast, because of being printed, novels were widely read and became popular very quickly.
At this time big cities like London were growing rapidly and becoming connected to small towns and rural areas through print and improved communications. Novels produced a number of common interests among their scattered and varied readers. As readers were drawn into the story and identified with the lives of fictitious characters, they could think about issues such as the relationship between love and marriage, the proper conduct for men and women, and so on. The novel first took firm root in England and France.
Novels began to be written from the seventeenth century, but they really flowered from the eighteenth century. New groups of lower-middle-class people such as shopkeepers and clerks, along with the traditional aristocratic and gentlemanly classes in England and France now formed the new readership for novels.
As the readership grew and the market for books expanded, the earnings of authors increased. This freed them from financial dependence on the patronage of aristocrats and gave them the independence to experiment with different literary styles.
Henry Fielding, a novelist of the early eighteenth century, claimed he was ‘the founder of a new province of writing’ where he could make his own laws. The novel allowed flexibility in the form of writing. Walter Scott remembered and collected popular Scottish ballads which he used in his historical novels about the wars between Scottish clans. The epistolary novel, on the other hand, used the private and personal form of letters to tell its story.
Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, written in the eighteenth century, told much of its story through an exchange of letters between two lovers. These letters tell the reader of the hidden conflicts in the heroine’s mind. For a long time, the publishing market excluded the poor. Initially, novels did not come cheap. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) was issued in six volumes priced at three shillings each – which was more than what a laborer earned in a week.
But soon, people had easier access to books with the introduction of circulating libraries in 1740. Technological improvements in printing brought down the price of books and innovations in marketing led to expanded sales. In France, publishers found that they could make super profits by hiring out novels by the hour. The novel was one of the first mass-produced items to be sold. There were several reasons for its popularity.
The worlds created by novels were absorbing and believable, and seemingly real. While reading novels, the reader was transported to another person’s world, and began looking at life as it was experienced by the characters of the novel. Besides, novels allowed individuals the pleasure of reading in private, as well as the joy of publicly reading or discussing stories with friends or relatives.
In rural areas people would collect to hear one of them reading a novel aloud, often becoming deeply involved in the lives of the characters. Apparently, a group at Slough in England were very pleased to hear that Pamela, the heroine of Richardson’s popular novel, had got married in their village.
They rushed out to the parish church and began to ring the church bells! In 1836 a notable event took place when Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers was serialized in a magazine. Magazines were attractive since they were illustrated and cheap. Serialization allowed readers to relish the suspense, discuss the characters of a novel and live for weeks with their stories – like viewers of television soaps today
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NCERT Solutions Class 11 Social Science Chapter 8 Novels, Society and History
Explain the following:
a) Social changes in Britain which led to an increase in women readers
b) What actions of Robinson Crusoe make us see him as a typical coloniser.
c) After 1740, the readership of novels began to include poorer people.
d) Novelists in colonial India wrote for a political cause.
a) The most interesting aspect of the novel was the involvement of women. The middle classes become more prosperous in the 18th century. Women had leisure time to read as well as write novels. Novels began exploring the world of women. Many novels were about domestic life – a theme which women were able to identify with. Women drew upon their own experiences, wrote about family life and earned public
b) Robinson Crusoe, the hero, is an adventurer and slave trader. He is shipwrecked on an island. He treats colored people not as human beings equal to him, but as inferior creatures. He rescues a ‘native’ and makes him his slave. He arrogantly names the slave Friday, without consulting him.
c) The printing technology improved by 1740. This brought down the cost of books. There were innovations in marketing also. Books were sold in crossroads and travelers were able to buy them. Circulating libraries were started by enterprising businessmen. All this led to poorer people being able to read books
d) In colonial India, novelists were anxious about society. They were disturbed about colonial rule and the way the Indians were treated by the British. Colonial rulers regarded the contemporary culture of India as inferior. Indian novelists tried to produce a sense of national belonging and cultural equality with their colonial masters, through their writings.
Outline the changes in technology and society which led to an increase in readers of the novel in eighteenth-century Europe.
The novel is a modern form of literature. The invention of printing made this form of literature possible. In ancient times manuscripts were handwritten and circulated among very few people. With the advent of printing novels were widely read and became popular very quickly.
Novels produced a number of common interests among the fast-growing population of the cities in western countries.
The readers were drawn into the story and identified themselves with the lives of fictitious characters in the novels.
In the beginning, novels were costly and the poor could not afford to by it. When circulating libraries started in 1740, the poor had access to novels.
Serialization created a sense of suspense, and the readers discussed the characters of a novel for weeks.
The most interesting aspect of the novel was the involvement of women. The middle classes become more prosperous in the 18th century. Women had leisure time to read as well as write novels.
Novels began exploring the world of women.
Many novels were about domestic life – a theme which women were able to identify with. Women drew upon their own experiences, wrote about family life and earned public recognition.
Technological improvements in printing also brought down the price of books. Publishers used a different method to sell their books. Their marketing strategies led to expanded sales. In France, publishers hired out novels by the hour and made huge profits.
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