The Four Wheels of the English Novel as Regards 18th Century Augustan Age

Updated June 29, 2022

Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Lawrence Sterne, and Tobias Smollett are known to be four Wheels of English Novel. Further, Henry Fielding is also considered the father of English novel. It’s important to know why the experts are of such a view. In a first, all the four were great writers and pioneer to the novel as a genre, in the 18th century.

The history of English novel traces back to the first attempts at prose fiction in the Elizabethan Age. Later the ‘character’ writers, the French heroic romances and the novels of Mrs. Aphra Behn of the 17th century contributed to this genre. John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe also contributed to this space significantly.

However, the novel in its most acceptable sense was created and established in the middle years of the 18th century by a group of four writers, namely: Richardson, Fielding, Smollett and Sterne.. To them, you famously know as the Four Wheels of the English novel.

Regarded as the father of English novel, Henry Fielding provided a consistent plot, satirical humour, as well as well formed characterization. The early 18th century was a flowering time of the English novel. So, before we discuss the four wheels of the English novel, let us know the reasons of the growth of novels during the period.

Reasons of Novel’s Growth During 18th Century

The drama has been declined in this century. And, novel became a good method for entertainment and amusement. The 18th century witnessed the rise of the common people, democratic movements and the public libraries. The common people found novels dealings with their own life. Hence, they started supporting the novel. Moreover, the phenomenal rise of the novel was its wide scope of treatment of motifs, feelings and inner life.

Periodical Essays’ Role

The 18th century was the most suitable age for the growth of novels. This age witnessed a steep decline in the theatre. And periodical essays played an important role in bringing the novel to the fore front. The periodical essayist like Defoe, Swift, Steele and Addison introduced characters and systematic prose style which prepared ground for fictional writing.

Moreover, these essayists writing created a taste for light reading. The writing of Coverley Papers was the pioneered step towards the English novel. These essays put a complete narration of the life of Sir Roger De Coverley. It might however, promoted Richardson and Fielding to write novels like Pamela and Joseph Andrews.

Drama No longer a True Picture of the Society

The drama no longer remained popular because it failed to give the correct picture of the society. Also, the periodical Journal and Essays had already sown the seeds of novel. The essays of Addison, Steele, Swift and Defoe contributed a lot. ‘The Spectator’ by Addison and Steele is the precursor to the social and domestic novel.

Defoe’s ‘Review’ is also an important contribution in this regard, Prose, which is the most essential material for the development of the novel, was in a ripe state. Realism and romance adventure and morality had already been introduced by Defoe, Bunyan and Swift.

Expansion of Common People

The 18th century witnessed a rise common people. Following, the middle-class people consisting of traders and prosperous people came to occupy a dominant position in the society. This class emerged as a new class of readers and they have a large contribution to the growth of novel.

Even, libraries were opened in large number which gave place to the novels for the public. They took interest in reading novels and make use of the books for the entertainment. The publishers also grew tremendously during the 18th century. So, novel was easier to read and understand than other forms of literature. Hence, it became most popular during the 18th century.

The Four Wheels of the English Novel

The 18th century was a very fertile period for the development of the novel writing. There were four great writers of novel in the 18th century, known as the four wheels of English novel. They were Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Lawrence Sterne, and Tobias Smollett. The precise period of their writing was Augustan Age (Age of pope), the first half of 18th century.

Henry Fielding is considered the father of English novel. He provided a consistent plot, a well formed characterization, and satirical humour as well. The early 18th century was a flowering time of the novel. Before we discuss the four wheels of English novel and their contribution, we should try to know the reasons of the growth of novels during the period.

Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)

He chanced to find the plot of his famous novel “Pamela” while writing model letters for all occasions. His aim in writing “Pamela” was definitely moral as the novel is also known by the name ‘Virtue Rewarded’. Encouraged by the success of his first novel, he wrote his masterpiece ‘Clarissa Harlowe” which placed him on a pinnacle of glory.

Writing of both these novels has an epistolary style. In these novels, Richardson laid open the feminine heart and started the trend of psychological novel. Then followed his another epistolary novel “Sir Charles Grandison”. But this novel is hero-centric. Richardson cast a deep and lasting influence on the subsequent novelists both in England and Europe.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

He was the greatest novelist of the 18th century. He began by parodying “Pamela” for its over-insistence on morals in “Shamela”. You can find some element of ridicule in his “Joseph Andrews” too but later he came up with his comic masterpiece “tom Jones” (1749). It is the greatest picaresque novel in the history of English Literature that centres on the character of a “Picaro”. It also proved extremely daring in its defiance of conventional morality. His last remarkable novel was “Amelia”

Tobias George Smollett (1721-1771) 

Tobias George Smollett is famous for his three novels “Roderick Random”, “Peregrine Pickle” and “Humphrey Clinker”. His first notable contribution “The adventures of Roderick Random” is a picaresque novel and autobiographical in nature. But his most famous and best entertaining novel is “Humphrey Clinker” which he wrote towards the end of his life.

Laurence Sterne (1713-1768)

He is the important figure among the four wheels of English novel. Lawrence Sterne who wrote “Tristram Shandy” and “A Sentimental Journey”. He became overnight famous by writing the novel titled “Tristram Sandy”. The form of this novel is vague and capacious as a sack which is full of everything a novelist can look for.

Another famous novel is “A Sentimental Journey” based on sentimentality. Moreover, his novels have nice blend of Humour and pathos. Sterne laughs at sorrow and finds matter for pathos in a comical mishap. His characters are sentimental in nature.

The Four Wheels of the Novel in Conclusion

There are other important novelists contemporary to the four wheels, Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) is one of them. He too has significant contributions to the 18th century novels. Goldsmith has to his credit the introduction of novel on domestic life, by name “The Vicar of Wakefield”.

Hency Mackenzie (1745-1831), William Godwin (1756 – 1836), Miss Fanny Burney (1752-1840), were other notable novelists, who either wrote contemporary to the four wheels or took forward the genre of fiction. ‘Caleb Williams or Things As They Are’ by William Godwin is classic depiction of domestic and unrecorded despotism wherein, the man becomes the destroyer of man.

In all, the 18th century including Augustan age (1700- 1745) is immensely significant for evolution of Novel as a genre. The period of 18th century has also been instrumental in the production of Gothic and Oriental romances. Gothic evolved through the centuries and acquired a large audience. The scenes of these novels were laid in haunted castles and ruined and dilapidated buildings.

Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” Mrs. Anne Radcliff’s “Udalpho” , and “The Italian”, “The Monk” by M.G. Lewis and Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley are classic novels of Gothic. Precisely speaking, with the four wheels of Novel as pioneers, the genre continued evolving through 21st Century

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