1 October 2017 Susannah

The 18th Century – When the English Novel Began

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

I am fascinated by the 18thC. It was bawdy, raucous and rough – the age of Hogarth and Fielding. Yet it was also the Age of Enlightenment, when ‘Reason’ and ‘Civilisation’ became all important. And it was the century that saw the start of the English novel. (The image above is from Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe which is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre.)

Those who enjoyed my recent course at the Art Gallery of NSW on ‘The First Best-Sellers’ might like a reading list – of books I recommended during the course, but also other books about the era, its novelists and the early attempts to write a novel.

I’d love to hear your opinions on 18thC writers and early novels. Do you find it as fascinating as I do? Which of these books have you read, or can you recommend any others? Tell me by leaving a comment.

Happy reading!


   Catharine and Other Writings (the juvenilia) by Jane Austen
   Evelina by Fanny Burney
   Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland
   Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
   Castle Rackrent and The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth
   History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
   The Adventures of David Simple by Sarah Fielding
   The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
   The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox
   The Monk by Matthew Lewis
   The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
   Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded By Samuel Richardson
   The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett
   The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
   Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
   The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole


   Samuel Johnson: A Biography by Peter Martin
   Fanny Burney: A Biography by Claire Harman
   Dr Johnson’s Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World by Henry Hitchings
   Laurence Sterne: A Life by Ian Campbell Ross
   Boswell’s Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr Johnson by Adam Sisman
   Daniel Defoe: The Life and Surprising Adventures by Richard West

Other Reading

   Liber Amoris by William Hazlitt
   The Covent Garden Ladies: Pimp General Jack & the Extraordinary Story of Harris’s List by Hallie Rubenhold
   Mothers of the Novel by Dale Spender
   A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.

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Featured image credit- Image taken from page 146 of ‘The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe … With one hundred and twenty original illustrations by Walter Paget’, public domain, The British Library, https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/
Body image credit-
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Comments (2)

  1. Margaret Debenham

    Oh dear, I’m afraid my score would bring the comment “Could do better”. Of those novels on your list, I have read Jane Austen’s Juvenilia (wickedly hilarious), Tom Jones (and Joseph Andrews), The Vicar of Wakefield, Humphrey Clinker (and Peregrine Pickle), Tristram Shandy and Gulliver’s Travels. I haven’t read Evelina, but have read Burney’s Cecilia. My reading of Defoe has been limited to Moll Flanders (I haven’t seen the movie) and The Journal of the Plague Year. Biographies – I have read Peter Martin’s biography of Boswell, but not of Johnson (the Johnson biography I have – by Walter Jackson Bate – dates from 1978, so an update is obviously required; and I have of course read Boswell’s biography, no update needed there). None of the others. Of the Other Reading, only Mary Wollstonecraft. So I must indeed try to “do better”, with your list as a guide. And then there are the Claire Tomalin biographies you have listed elsewhere…..Too many books, too little time!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Margaret, I think you are being too hard on yourself. It seems to me you have done far more 18thC reading than most people have managed. Do read the Peter Martin biography of Johnson.
      I do agree about too many books and not enough time!!!

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