A Very Short History of the Novel

Brian Kiteley

From Pamela's first letter (to her parents) of Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Pamela (1740):

I have been scared out of my senses; for just now, as I was folding up this letter in my late lady’s dressing-room, in comes my young master! Good sirs! how was I frightened!  I went to hide the letter in my bosom; and he, seeing me tremble, said, smiling, To whom have you been writing, Pamela?—I said, in my confusion, Pray your honour forgive me!—Only to my father and mother.  He said, Well then, let me see how you are come on in your writing!  O how ashamed I was!—He took it, without saying more, and read it quite through, and then gave it me again;—and I said, Pray your honour forgive me!—Yet I know not for what: for he was always dutiful to his parents; and why should he be angry that I was so to mine?  And indeed he was not angry; for he took me by the hand, and said, You are a good girl, Pamela, to be kind to your aged father and mother.  I am not angry with you for writing such innocent matters as these: though you ought to be wary what tales you send out of a family.—Be faithful and diligent; and do as you should do, and I like you the better for this.  And then he said, Why, Pamela, you write a very pretty hand, and spell tolerably too.  I see my good mother’s care in your learning has not been thrown away upon you.  She used to say you loved reading; you may look into any of her books, to improve yourself, so you take care of them.  To be sure I did nothing but courtesy and cry, and was all in confusion, at his goodness.  Indeed he is the best of gentlemen, I think!  But I am making another long letter: So will only add to it, that I shall ever be…

The opening of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (published 1813):

     It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
     However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
     “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
     Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
     “But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
     Mr. Bennet made no answer.
     “Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
     “You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
     This was invitation enough.
     “Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
     “What is his name?”
     “Is he married or single?”
     “Oh!  Single, my dear, to be sure!  A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year.  What a fine thing for our girls!”

From Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education (1869):

     Frederic did not go to see [the Arnoux family] again; and, to take his mind off his disastrous passion, he took up the first subject which occurred to him, and decided to write a history of the Renaissance.  He heaped his desk pell-mell with humanists, philosophers, and poets; he went to the Print Room to see engravings of Marcantonio; and he tried to understand Machiavelli.  Gradually his work exerted a soothing influence on him.  He forgot his own personality by immersing it in that others—which is perhaps the only way to avoid suffering from it.
     One day, when he was quietly taking notes, the door opened and the servant announced Madame Arnoux.
     It was really she!  Alone?  No!  For she was holding little Eugene by the hand, and behind her was her maid in a white apron.  She sat down, and after giving a cough, said:
      “You haven’t been to see us for a long time.”

The opening of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929): 

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and plain to the mountains.  In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.  Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees.  The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

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