Joe Snader


While colonial and postcolonial issues have generated much recent literary scholarship on the nineteenth and twentieth-century novel, the relationship between empire and the earlier development of the English novel has not received the attention it deserves. This is particularly surprising when we consider the enormous expansion of British power during the eighteenth century and the period's wealth of novels commenting or focusing on alien lands. Nevertheless, recent studies of the generic predecessors of the English novel, even as they revise, extend, and complicate Ian Watt's seminal formulation of the novel's origins, still tend to downplay empire in their emphasis on English domesticity, English class formation, empirical epistemology, and an implicitly English psychological interiority. Although students of eighteenth-century literature have begun to explore issues of empire in increasing depth, they have generally explored the relationship between the novel and British colonial expansion by reading individual texts, especially Omonoko and Robinson Crusoe. The candidacy of these texts for the position of "first novel" has contributed to broadly theorized but insufficiently illustrated claims about British imperialism and the origins of the English novel, particularly in terms of a connection between the discursive strategies of empire and the novel's reliance on a voice of realistic, factual, or empirical authority. If we shift our attention, however, from individual texts to generic patterns, we can find much more concrete and extensive connections between the early novel and colonialist strategies of discursive domination.