September 07, 2008

First novels featured Indians

An abridged version of the analysis in Wikipedia:

First novel in EnglishThe following works of literature have each been claimed as the first novel in English.

  • Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688)
  • Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)

  • There are multiple candidates for first novel in English partly because of ignorance of earlier works, but largely because the term novel can be defined so as to exclude earlier candidates:

  • Some critics require a novel to be wholly original and so exclude retellings like Le Morte d'Arthur.

  • Some critics require a novel to have a certain length, and so exclude Oroonoko, defining it instead as a novella.

  • Due to the influence of Ian Watt's seminal study in literary sociology, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957), Watt's candidate, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), gained wide acceptance. But with the rise of feminist criticism in the 1970s and 1980s and its concomitant rediscovery of forgotten writings by women, it is now often argued that Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688) is the “first English novel.”
    Comment:  To sum it up, the two leading candidates for the first English novel both dealt with racial issues: the clash between Western and non-Western cultures and values. They both included Indians. Nice to know the multicultural perspective was as important then as it is now--in today's movies, TV shows, books, and comic books.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

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