Rise of the novel

Discover how the novel emerged as a new literary form in the 18th century and examine pioneering texts, from Oroonoko and Robinson Crusoe to Gulliver’s Travels and Pamela.

9 volumes of Tristram Shandy - bookbindings

The rise of the novel

Article by:
John Mullan

John Mullan explains how the novel took shape in the 18th century with the works of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne, and the ways in which the book industry both shaped and responded to the new genre.

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Robinson Crusoe: A world classic

Article by:
Michael A Seidel

Michael Seidel explains how Daniel Defoe came to write Robinson Crusoe, and why the novel and its protagonist have fascinated readers for centuries.

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An introduction to Robinson Crusoe

Article by:
Stephen Sharkey

Playwright Stephen Sharkey describes his own first encounter with Robinson Crusoe and examines how the novel was shaped by Daniel Defoe's religious dissent, imperialist beliefs and fascination with money.

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Oroonoko: Historical and political contexts

Article by:
Janet Todd

As a young woman, Aphra Behn was a spy for Charles II's government in Antwerp and probably in South America. Two decades later, she used these experiences to write Oroonoko, the story of a prince kidnapped from West Africa, enslaved and taken to a British colony in South America. Janet Todd explains how this extraordinary novella was shaped by the historical and political contexts and beliefs of Behn's time.

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An introduction to Gulliver’s Travels

Article by:
John Mullan

Jonathan Swift initially did his best to conceal the fact that he was the author of Gulliver's Travels. John Mullan explores how Swift constructed the work to operate as an elaborate game, parodying travel literature, pretending to be an autobiography and containing obviously false facts presented by a deeply unreliable narrator.

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An introduction to Evelina

Article by:
Chloe Wigston Smith

Frances Burney’s Evelina unveils the dizzying and dangerous social whirl of Georgian London, where reputations and marriages are there to be made and broken. Dr Chloe Wigston Smith investigates Burney’s critique of fashion culture and the demands it places on women, in a novel that prizes feminine resilience.

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An introduction to Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded

Article by:
Margaret Doody

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded evolved from a collection of model letters into a bestselling novel. Margaret Doody introduces Samuel Richardson's work and its exploration of gender, class, sexual harassment and marriage.

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Letters, letter-writing and epistolary novels

Letters, letter writing and epistolary novels

Article by:
Louise Curran

Louise Curran explores the real and fictional letters published in the 18th century, from the correspondence of Alexander Pope and Ignatius Sancho to Samuel Richardson's hugely popular epistolary novel Pamela and the works it inspired.

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thumbnail taken from the First edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, signed by Laurence Sterne

The ‘stuff’ of Tristram Shandy

Article by:
John Mullan

Dashes, loops, wiggles and blanks: John Mullan investigates the visual oddities of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.

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Further themes

Rise of the novel

Discover how the novel emerged as a new literary form in the 18th century and examine pioneering texts, from Oroonoko and Robinson Crusoe to Gulliver’s Travels and Pamela.

Gender and sexuality

Examine representations of gender and sexuality in Restoration and 18th-century literature including Paradise Lost and The Rape of the Lock, and explore the works of early women writers such as Aphra Behn, Frances Burney and Margaret Cavendish.

Theatre and entertainment

From Restoration comedy to The Beggar’s Opera, She Stoops to Conquer and The School for Scandal: examine key plays alongside the history and conventions of Restoration and 18th-century theatre.

Politics and religion

The Civil Wars and the Restoration of the monarchy, the Enlightenment or ‘Age of Reason’, and British colonialism: investigate the political and religious contexts of Restoration and 18th-century literature.

Georgian society

Explore the Georgian period in its social, political and historical contexts, with overviews of popular politics, the rise of consumerism and entertainment.

Travel, colonialism and slavery

From Robinson Crusoe to the anti-slavery activism of Olaudah Equiano and the letters of Ignatius Sancho: explore a range of writing produced during an age of travel, trade and colonial conquest, in which Britain vastly expanded its Empire, fuelled by its involvement in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Satire and humour

Discover how writers of the 17th and 18th centuries used satire and humour to address issues around politics and power, inequality and class, gender and marriage – as well as to entertain readers and audiences.

Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism

Explore polite culture, sensibility and sentimentalism in the 18th century, and how these concepts are reflected in the writing of the period.

Language and ideas

From Johnson’s Dictionary to letter-writing, newspapers and coffee-house culture: explore how different forms and mediums helped to develop and circulate language and ideas during the long 18th century.