Defining the novel as a literary concept that recognizes prose fiction's reflexive engagement with social, epistemological, and historical conditions, this critical introduction locates novel theory in the variety of ways eighteenth-century novels assert how and what they know. Form is ineluctably connected to history, we argue, and novels offer particularly sharp articulations, in excess of plot and character, of literature's capacity to generate abstract social commentaries and empirical generalizations. Drawing on major accounts of form and the novel, as well as surveying recent discussions of eighteenth-century fiction and acknowledging the normative risks of the appellation "novel," we imagine novel form as experimental, open-ended, and adaptive in its theoretical approach to material conditions of history. We preview the volume's contributions as a collection—necessarily incomplete—that demonstrates novels' affinity for identifying the construction of particular realities and imagining alternate ones.
- prose fiction
- literary theory