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Prefaces to Fiction   By:

Book cover

First Page:

The Augustan Reprint Society


Georges de Scudéry, Preface to Ibrahim (1674)

Mary De la Riviere Manley, Preface to The Secret History of Queen Zarah (1705)

Jean Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens, The Jewish Spy (1744), Letter 35

William Warburton, Preface to Volumes III and IV (1748) of Richardson's Clarissa

Samuel Derrick, Preface to d'Argens's Memoirs of The Count Du Beauval (1754)

With an Introduction by

Benjamin Boyce

Publication Number 32

Los Angeles William Andrews Clark Memorial Library University of California 1952


H. RICHARD ARCHER, Clark Memorial Library RICHARD C. BOYS, University of Michigan JOHN LOFTIS, University of California, Los Angeles


W. EARL BRITTON, University of Michigan


EMMETT L. AVERY, State College of Washington BENJAMIN BOYCE, Duke University LOUIS I. BREDVOLD, University of Michigan CLEANTH BROOKS, Yale University JAMES L. CLIFFORD, Columbia University ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, University of Chicago EDWARD NILES HOOKER, University of California, Los Angeles LOUIS A. LANDA, Princeton University SAMUEL H. MONK, University of Minnesota ERNEST MOSSNER, University of Texas JAMES SUTHERLAND, University College, London H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., University of California, Los Angeles


The development of the English novel is one of the triumphs of the eighteenth century. Criticism of prose fiction during that period, however, is less impressive, being neither strikingly original nor profound nor usually more than fragmentary. Because the early statements of theory were mostly very brief and are now obscurely buried in rare books, one may come upon the well conceived "program" of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones with some surprise. But if one looks in the right places one will realize that mid eighteenth century notions about prose fiction had a substantial background in earlier writing. And as in the case of other branches of literary theory in the Augustan period, the original expression of the organized doctrine was French. In Georges de Scudéry's preface to Ibrahim (1641)[1] and in a conversation on the art of inventing a "Fable" in Book VIII (1656) of his sister Madeleine's Clélie are to be found the grounds of criticism in prose fiction; practically all the principles are here which eighteenth century theorists adopted, or seemed to adopt, or from which they developed, often by the simple process of contradiction, their new principles.

That many of the ideas in the preface to Ibrahim were not new even in 1641 becomes plain if one reads the discussions of romance written by Giraldi Cinthio and Tasso.[2] The particular way in which Mlle. de Scudéry attempted to carry out those ideas in her later, more subjective works she obligingly set forth in Clélie in the passage already alluded to. There it is explained that a well contrived romance "is not only handsomer than the truth, but withal, more probable;" that "impossible things, and such as are low and common, must almost equally be avoided;" that each person in the story must always act according to his own "temper;" that "the nature of the passions ought necessarily to be understood, and what they work in the hearts of those who are possess'd with them." He who attempts an "ingenious Fable" must have great accomplishments wit, fancy, judgment, memory; "an universal knowledge of the World, of the Interest of Princes, and the humors of Nations," and of both closet policy and the art of war; familiarity with "politeness of conversation, the art of ingenious raillery, and that of making innocent Satyrs; nor must he be ignorant of that of composing of Verses, writing Letters, and making Orations." The "secrets of all hearts" must be his and "how to take away plainness and driness from Morality."[3]

The assumption that the new prose fiction could be judged, as the Scudérys professed to judge their work, first of all by reference to the rules of heroic poetry is frequent in the next century in the unlikely Mrs... Continue reading book >>

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