J. Paul Hunter


Somewhere in the dawning light of modem science, the consciousness that led to the novel-as plot, literary form, epistemological system, and physical book--came to be. Here almost all accounts of the beginnings and origins of the novel agree, for it is hard to imagine, in pre-empirical ages, a literary species with the distinctive modem features of the novel.' But there are radical differences of opinion about sequence, influence, and cause: protestantism, empiricism, individualism, imperialism, and modernism are key terms for nearly everyone in describing the ideological and cultural contexts of the early novel, but the sequence and weight among these forces is open to doubt. The emergence of the novel is concurrent and consonant with the rise of these other values, biases, and methods, but in the sorting a new cultural and literary history may well emerge. I will not propose here a causal sequence, but I do want to indicate how one quasi-scientific goal became a feature of the culture, bridged several of the categories, and led, at least in an indirect way, to the novel. The novel's curiosity about process, its interest in how people make sense of a dense, complex, and resistant world, and its concentration on the materials and rhythms of everyday life all seem to have their roots in ways of thinking about the world that emphasize immediacy, personal observation, subjectivity of response, circumstantiality, empirical modes of thinking, and the desire to systematize. One curious popular strand of science provides part of the cultural explanation of what happened. Newton was not the only scientist to demand the muse; the demands I am interested in here are Robert Boyle's.