Page:Moll Flanders (1906 edition).djvu/11

This page has been validated.



Different landmarks are assigned by different authorities as the starting-point of the modern English novel. Most critics would fix the Pillars of Hercules at Fielding and Richardson. Pamela and Fielding's burlesque of Pamela, Joseph Andrews, were undoubtedly pioneer works of the utmost significance. Yet they were, on the other hand, much less representative than Tom Jones; and there is a good deal to be said for conceding the honour unreservedly to Fielding, as he sums himself up in that masterpiece. Tom Jones stands to this day the most catholic type of the multiform literary species that was to be the ruling estate in English letters for the next two centuries, if not longer. Furthermore, in Tom Jones, Fielding, after the manner of innovators, said a good deal for himself, several of his prologues to the successive books being in the style of the aesthetic manifestos of Gautier, Maupassant and Zola. An able critic of other men's work as well as of his own, and with no false modesty, he was decidedly on the side of those who regard his fiction, not only as great in itself, but as epoch-making in the history of literature. Other authorities, again, would go very far back in our literary annals, to the germs of various forms of prose fiction in Elizabethan times; or farther still, to the earliest examples in the language, the narratives that were paraphrased or adapted from the metrical romances of the middle ages.

It simplifies the question to ask, what is meant by the modern novel. Of course, when we distinguish it from all antecedent fiction in prose, we are alluding to its predominant characteristic, Realism, the portraiture of life as it is. This accepted, there seems good reason for fixing the point of departure at Defoe. There had been, it is true, a strain of indubitable Realism in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the Life and Death of Mr. Badman; but the Bedford revivalist is hardly to be counted among the novel-writers. Defoe's stories, however, go with perfect propriety on the same shelf with Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy; and his Realism is of that extreme and peculiarly modern kind denominated Naturalism.

It would be tempting to distinguish between Realism and Naturalism in some such manner as this—Realism is the portrayal of real life exactly as it appears; Naturalism implies a special study of the forces that react upon human nature and its devel-