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Introduction: From Passions to Language

  • Rebecca Tierney-Hynes
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Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)

Abstract

This passage from the preface to William Congreve’s 1692 novella, Incognita, was very often used about 30 years ago to talk about an incipient distinction between novel and romance.2 After Michael McKeon’s magisterial Origins of the English Novel, we tend to understand it instead as exemplary of what McKeon explains as the dialectical relationship of romance and the novel.3 But in fact Congreve’s story about reading tells us far less about how we might identify and distinguish these amorphous genres than it does about what people in the late seventeenth century thought about what happens to us when we read.4 Romance, according to Congreve, ‘elevate[s] and surprise[s] the Reader’ and then brings him down to earth with a thud. Comedy and the novel have neither the same high, nor the same hangover. In other words, these are both less extreme and less absorbing genres. Despite the fact that the novel ‘Come[s] near us’, it still allows us critical distance. We can be ‘warn’d’ and ‘made asham’d’ by comedy’s depiction of vice, Congreve says elsewhere, because we can also reflect while we experience it.5 It is this reflective capacity, this critical distance, that Congreve is attempting to assign to the novel by comparing it with comedy. In contrast, the ‘lofty Language’ and the ‘impossible Performances’ of romance seem to prevent reflection and ‘transport[]’ the reader out of familiarity and into ‘wonder’.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century Literary Practice Figurative Language Early Eighteenth Century Automatic Imitation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    William Congreve, Incognita (1692; rpt Menston: Scolar, 1971), Preface.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for example, Maximillian E. Novak, ‘Congreve’s “Incognita” and the Art of the Novella’, Criticism 11 (1969): 329–42.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    William Congreve, Amendments of Mr. Collier’s False and Imperfect Citations (1698; rpt New York and London: Garland, 1972), 8.Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    See Frances Ferguson, Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation (New York and London: Routledge, 1992).Google Scholar
  5. 21.
    Rei Terada, Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the ‘Death of the Subject’ (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2001)Google Scholar
  6. 24.
    Deidre Lynch, The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (University of Chicago Press, 1998); Dror Wahrman, The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975), III.vii.4: 472.Google Scholar
  8. 30.
    Nancy Selleck, The Interpersonal Idiom in Shakespeare, Donne, and Early Modern Culture (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 35.
    Rosalind Ballaster, Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), 47.Google Scholar
  10. 40.
    Giorgio Agamben, ‘Eros at the Mirror’, in Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture, trans. Ronald L. Martinez (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  11. 51.
    See, for an important history of this shift in definitions of the imagination, James Engell, The Creative Imagination: Enlightenment to Romanticism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 52.
    John Dryden, Annus Mirabilis, in The Works of John Dryden, vol. 1: Poems 1649–1680, ed. Edward Niles Hooker and H.T. Swedenberg, Jr. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956), 53.Google Scholar
  13. 63.
    Delarivier Manley, New Atalantis, ed. Rosalind Ballaster (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), 35.Google Scholar
  14. 75.
    Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding(London: Hogarth, 1957), 173.Google Scholar

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© Rebecca Tierney-Hynes 2012

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  • Rebecca Tierney-Hynes

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