End of a Century
“Good” novelists of the period disparaged what Maria Edgeworth called “common novels”; and while the sense of her phrase is vague, it probably applied less to the Gothics than to inept imitations of the “greats” of the mid-eighteenth century. There was no dearth of fiction between the last of Tobias Smollett’s novels and the first of Jane Austen’s; for the spread of literacy had increased the demand for books, but upon a regrettably lower level of taste. In spite of the low quality of the product, fiction in the latter half of the eighteenth century showed both technical development and diversification; and that was not wholly due to the example of the more accomplished writers of the period. There were many writers who either for their command of the form of the novel, or for what they contributed to the flow of ideas in their time, must interest the serious student.