Article Title

The Rise of I


Philip Stewart


That the novel was invented in England sometime around 1720 is one of the sturdiest facts in Anglo-American literary history, and no one did more to propagate it than Ian Watt in The Rise of the Novel (1957). Although this proposition never made much sense to anyone working in any of Europe's other literatures, there could hardly be a better example of a reigning paradigm, or a better proof that a "fact" is less a natural phenomenon bound to come to light than a human construct. Although Watt's version of the "rise" has been complemented and qualified by several other histories of the early English novel which variously modify his fundamental premise, few English scholars seem to have noticed that it can be seriously questioned. Basically, Watt helped reinforce a wall around an aspect of English literary history so resistant that, while its novel can be contextualized, either within its confines or diachronically, it still does not dialogue much with anything beyond the Channel; the English novel can more plausibly be linked to ancient Greek and Roman "novels" than to anything going on in Europe in 1700.