The Rise of the Novel
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The Rise of the Novel

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  282 ratings  ·  24 reviews
"The Rise of the Novel is Ian Watt's classic description of the interworkings of social conditions, changing attitudes, and literary practices during the period when the novel emerged as the dominant literary form of the individualist era. Erudite, yet gracefully written and often amusing, Watt's study examines the nature of the novel audience, the role of the book trade,...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published 1957 by University of California Press
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This is Dale Spender talking about this book: ‘He devotes three hundred pages to male novelists and restricts his assessment of females to a single sentence: ‘‘The majority of eighteenth century novels were actually written by women.’’

This is the jacket blurb for Watt's book:

"The Rise of the Novel is Ian Watt's classic description of the interworkings of social conditions, changing attitudes, and literary practices during the period when the novel emerged as the dominant literary form of the in...more
The rise of the novel, according to Ian Watt, coincides with the arrival of philosophical realism, or more specifically the naïve realism generally associated with British empiricism. In the empirical-realist philosophy of John Locke, for instance, the notion of innate ideas (a priori, foundational knowledge) is cast aside in favour of an inductive method and knowledge founded exclusively on experience. This development, Watt explains, slowly filtered into the new economic and largely Puritan mi...more
Justin Evans
In some senses, I guess this book is out of date. Watt deals with the most influential early English novelists, while taking care to show that they probably weren't 'Novelists' as we think of them today. He's not interested in expanding the canon, or arguing that less influential writers are better than his chosen three (Defoe, Richardson and Fielding). He doesn't focus on gender, or race, or class. He doesn't try to uncover inconsistencies within the novels he writes about. There's no political...more


A seminal work in its field (and probably the bane of many a Lit undergraduate), Watt's comprehensive study deserves acclaim even if not all of his notions have held up over time. Through the lenses of Defoe, Richardson and Fielding's novels, Watt explores the social and intellectual milieu of 18th century Britain and how the books penned by these authors might be seen to reflect this, and likewise to what extent their innovative approaches to literature might be considered a product o...more
Some reasons for my ug-ness.

1. Anyone which makes some random comparison to D. W. Griffith's skill in moviemaking (when it doesn't really have that much to do with the subject at hand) to show off your knowledge just shows you're a racist.

2. I hate books which assume everything ends and begins with England and dead white men and ignores the rest of the world and the other genders.
This book is surprisingly readable. I was a bit frustrated that he set out to argue why Richardson is a more influential writer than Fielding, but he's made me a convert. I still prefer Fielding, but his points are well-argued with clear examples. I wish he'd chosen to write more on Sterne as his thoughts there were fascinating and, as a big Austen fan, I of course loved his assertion that she was the first author to bring the different types of realism of Fielding and Richardson together into a...more
A seminal (rather than ovular) text in the study of the origins of the novel. Watt ties the origins to boys and the emergence of what he calls formal realism. This linking lets him focus on Defoe as a slightly inept progenitor whose economic individualism allows him to write in almost granular detail about the lives of his protagonists, insofar as those lives are connected to material goods. So the big hits here are Crusoe and, especially, Moll Flanders. It is when Watt turns to Richardson, espe...more
A very compelling take on the history of the novel, both readable and sophisticated, if a bit dated. It's not just for scholars, which is probably why its lost some of its once daring critical lustre.

Watt sees the prime feature of the early novel (he begins it in the 18th Century, as opposed to those who date it back to DON QUIXOTE) as formal realism, and that this is an epistemological shift from the earlier allegories and romances. Its clear his sympathies lie with Defoe and Richardson, partic...more
I think Watt is unfairly maligned. Sure, he didn't pay enough attention to women novelists. Sure, some of his theses are overstated. But, seriously, 50+ years after this was written, it is STILL inspiring and thought provoking. Watt is a towering grandfather of the field on novel studies, and the fact that we're still chasing down his hypotheses speaks to the power of this book. It is damn thought provoking, and I find myself wondering and thinking about the ways that he has constructed the rise...more
finally finished this. main claim: lowest common denominator of the novel is its formal realism. this is what separates the novel from other literature (tragedy, comedy, poetry) : its emphasis on the ordinary. defoe, richardson, and fielding, as early progenitors of the novel, all have very different methods of reflecting the world, but they are not necessarily opposing methods, as all are realist approaches. as such, they can be seen as early exemplars/models of the variants of realism that hav...more
Zachary Hudson
I read this book on the recommendation of a history professor to use in a paper I wrote on the effect of novels on society. Ian Watt brought some interested points to the table, but failed to satisfy all the possibilities of novel's emergence and impact.
The language is generally clear, but instead of making his points clear-cut he alludes to further expansions developed later in the text that end up leaving the reader slightly dismayed at a lack of coherency. By spreading out his arguments, Watt...more
First of all, this book is definitely out-dated; it's a little sexist and Robinson Crusoe's desire for only a male slave as company just demands a queer reading, I think. That said, I thought the analysis of the circumstances leading to the rise of the novel was interesting, and the historical perspective is still relevant (though actual statistics not so much). I was less convinced by Watt's readings of the novels of Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding, buuuuuut I haven't read a single novel by any...more
Terrific introduction to the early novels, very readable ...
Very interesting stuff. Even if one disagrees with some of Watt's conclusions, the text is still quite valuable for its readable and brisk delivery of historical information and neat readings of three authors who, for all their importance, probably aren't on the top of anyone's 'to-read' list.
Pater Edmund
A really brilliantly insightful and balanced analysis of the modern novel and its connection to modern individualism--both economic/social and philosophical. Watts is obviously highly influenced by Max Weber; he is I suppose a materialist of sorts, but not aggressively reductionist.
Jul 01, 2008 Julie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-in-library
For a class on The English Novel. I don't know that I'll be reading this all the way through. Only a short part of it is assigned for the class, and I may dip through the rest of it now and again. These lit crit/theory/history books are interesting to me, but they're also very slow going.
Super useful for those who are not experts in 18th century lit, chock full of interesting social/historical information, and downright compelling in an old-school way.
Defoe is miserly.
Richardson is sentimental.
Fielding is rakish.
Sterne combined Richardson & Fielding.
Defoe reads like a deposition.
How the novel as genre came into being in western literature.
a very helpful reference for the rise of the novel
Kyle Muntz
maybe closer to 2 stars, i don't know
Dense and dry, but quite interesting.
Steven Chang
Steven Chang marked it as to-read
Apr 13, 2014
Bethany Johnsen
Bethany Johnsen is currently reading it
Apr 07, 2014
Anastasia Larn
Anastasia Larn is currently reading it
Apr 03, 2014
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