1750: Retrospect and Prospect
The “little history,” an apt term for the interspersed narratives in DonQuixote, continues to be a feature of prose romances right down into the eighteenth century; and when the novel took distinctive form, the little history found a place in some—not all—of the examples of the newer fiction. The progress of the novel from 1750 on is in an important degree the history of its slow deliverance from structural looseness. A novel in the emergent and formulative stages is almost inevitably simpler in conception, less effectively designed, and perhaps less competently written. There were no public libraries in 1750; and the novels—by any stretch of definition—which had been produced down to that time could have been carried off in a handbag. After Daniel Defoe, whose interest was in the common man, the novel moved to the upper levels of society for subject matter and social point of view.