One of the principal ways that Ian Watt set the terms for exploring the appearance and growing importance of the novel in England in the long eighteenth century was to argue that the novel was made possible by a great shift in the socio-cultural field of early modem Britain, a shift Watt described as an alteration in "the centre of gravity of the reading public sufficient ... to place the middle class as a whole in a dominating position for the first time." Watt's argument was not new, and it has, in one sense or another, been repeated in much of the scholarship on the novel in the years since he published his study. As early as 1860, a writer in Fraser's Magazine argued that Samuel Richardson's Pamela was aimed at "the class to which its heroine belonged," and Ernest A. Baker, in his History of the English Novel, pointed out that Thomas Deloney (like Daniel Defoe after him) "knew the people whom he portrayed [weavers and clothiers] ... had shared their lot, and was, in fact, writing for them to read." Recently, J. Paul Hunter, examining Watt's "'triple rise' thesis," accepted the latter's "fundamental assumptions about literary origins" and set out to demonstrate "that the newly literate took their needs and desires to other reading materials before there were novels to address them."
"Did You Say Middle Class? The Question of Taste and the Rise of the Novel,"
2, Article 10.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol12/iss2/10