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Looking at this bibliography is, I think, particularly useful for novels of this time period because titles of novels in the late 18th century told so much about the novel itself. Looking at the titles of contemporary novels wouldn’t be much help in understanding trends; we could observe patterns in the titles themselves, perhaps, but not in the content of the novels. (Besides maybe The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. That fits right in. How about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; or, The History of a Fat Nerd’s Futile Loves; A Virtuous History Intended to Instruct in Morality and Provide Amusement to the Fair-Sex; Necessary to be Had in All Households.) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? What? 10:04? Huh? These titles only make sense to someone who has read the novel. But the titles alone of these early novels tell us a lot about what they tried to accomplish.
One fairly obvious but interesting thing to note is that we are beginning to see the word “novel” in many of these titles. The novel as a form has been established in a way it hadn’t been in the early part of the century, and novels are now self-aware. They continue to define the genre, but it’s now deliberate, a kind of self-definition rather than experimentation. The influence of Pamela is painfully clear in most of these titles. They usually begin with a short title—Modern Seduction or The Unfortunate Union—followed by a long explanation of that title, one that generally lets the reader know what to expect—Modern Seduction, or Innocence Betrayed: Consisting of Several Histories of the Principal Magdalens, Received into that Charity Since its Establishment. Very Proper to be Read by All Young Persons; as They Exhibit a Faithful Picture of Those Arts Most Fatal to Youth and Innocence; and of Those Miseries that are the Never-Failing Consequences of a Departure from Virtue. By the Author of Lady Louisa Stroud or, The Unfortunate Union: or, the Test of Virtue. A Story Founded on Facts, and Calculated to Promote the Cause of Virtue in Younger Minds. Written by a Lady. We see in these titles continuations of trends we’ve seen in many earlier titles: an insistence on the text’s faithfulness to truth, an assurance that the text promotes virtuous morals, etc. One interesting trend that we haven’t seen is the emphasis that some texts were “Written by a Lady.” I suppose this stems from the idea that ladies are the best models for young women; who better to teach virtue than a lady?
Of course, not everyone was convinced by the titles. A review of The Unfortunate Union read, “There is something so exceedingly disgusting in the exhibition of characters, which have no tints of elegance or virtue… there is something so extremely painful, in seeing such characters employed in harassing, tormenting, and defaming an innocent and gentle spirit—that it is surprising such representations should be thought capable of affording entertainment, or calculated to promote the cause of virtue in young minds.” Pretty harsh, to say the least—and all the criticism is centered around the novel’s inability to teach virtue. By contrast, Evelina’s reviews are glowing—and it’s interesting that the same reviewer writes a lot about Burney’s impressive command of the language, not just the novel’s moral strengths.
There are a few titles I was not able to find on ECCO, including Modern Seduction, or Innocence Betrayed and Isabella: or, the Rewards of Good Nature and The Generous Sister. A Novel. In a Series of Letters. By Mrs. Cartwright. In Two Volumes. This could be my fault, but if not, I wonder why it’s happening. Eventually I settled on Friendship in a Nunnery; or, the American Fugitive in addition to Misplaced Confidence; or, Friendship Betrayed and John Buncle, Junior, Gentleman, and The Unfortunate Union: or, the Test of Virtue. Easily the most interesting title page of these selections belongs to John Buncle, Junior, Gentleman. Much sparser than the others, this title page also includes a patterned image on the front, which stands in stark contrast to the pure text of all the other title pages. John Buncle was published in Dublin while the rest were published in London, so perhaps that could have something to do with it. The differences don’t end there. John Buncle also includes a table of contents on the second page, something that all the other novels I looked at lack. This table includes such humorous (to us) labels as “Sentimental Writing,” “Talkative Woman,” and “Self-Importance.” This page also has a patterned image on it. A broader look at the differences between Dublin- and London-published works would be fascinating and would perhaps reveal more overarching trends in the publishing world.
I set my date of publication parameters to 1719 (when Robinson Crusoe was published) to 1800. Looking at the tile visualization of the term clusters, the prominence of religion really stands out. Words like “church,” “parish,” “sect,” “religion,” “Christian,” and “principles” are all among the most commonly used in titles, subjects, and beginnings of novels. Inspired by Pamela, I looked up the term frequency for “virtue” over the course of this time period; the graph shows a steady increase in the use of the word, from 824 documents in 1720 to 2816 in 1800. Though the 1740 publication of Pamela doesn’t spark a sharp increase as I had hoped, it is part of a trend of more and more frequent use of the word (though I suppose it’s possible that this is simply due to more novels being published, and not a higher percentage of novels being concerned with virtue—this seems to be a potential problem with Artemis).