"New Texts in Receptive Minds": The Cross-Pollination of Genres in the Long Eighteenth-Century

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Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 6.1 (2006) 125-129 Books...are made to a significant extent out of other books.... Texts fermenting with other texts do indeed give rise to new texts in receptive minds" (202). So Jocelyn Harris reminded readers at the end of "Richardson: Original or Learned Genius?" In Lyric Generations, G. Gabrielle Starr extends this argument to include not only canonical novelists such as Samuel Richardson or Henry Fielding, but also Eliza Haywood, Thomas Percy, and other eighteenth-century readers of the novel and lyric poetry. This argument, on the surface, is no more than common sense. After all, without previous books or texts, there would be no literature, literary studies, or literary field, and writers would start from a blank slate. Scholars such as J. Paul Hunter, Lennard Davis, Robert Mayer, and Michael McKeon have examined the extent to which non-fictional texts (news, autobiographies, conduct manuals, even history), print, and epistemology have shaped the novel as a genre. Ros Ballester, Catherine Gallagher, and others have explored the genre's indebtedness to amatory fiction while William Warner has depicted the emerging novel as "early modern print entertainment" (xiii). Furthermore, as Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction has convincingly indicated, novels do not merely infect "weaker," more susceptible readers with [End Page 125] what Mikhail Bakhtin calls "Bovaryism" (852), or the attempt to emulate fictional characters; they affect the culture as a whole through the act of defining desire, sexuality, femininity, and masculinity. If writing has the power to "[situate] the individual within the poles of nature and culture, self and society, sex and sexuality," as Armstrong has argued in her outline of Michel Foucault's theory of discursivity (13), it is also worth exploring how imaginative writing itself had been situated within the poles of the novel and lyric poetry during the long eighteenth-century, and how this unstable situation then created the writing that in turn situated the individual. Starr does just this, responding to histories of the novel that, exemplified by Ian Watt's The Rise of the English Novel and, later, influenced by Mikhail Bakhtin, have emphasized the genre's mimetic qualities and its reliance on formal realism at the expense of what she calls its chiastic elements. Her stipulative definition of "chiasmus" positions the term as "an alternative to the idea of mimesis" and acknowledges readers' awareness that they are entering "spaces of imagining" (Starr 107). It is important to recognize, though, that this is a figurative definition used to refute positioning of the novel as a genre that privileged "the impression of fidelity to experience" (Watt 13) over its honoring of literary conventions, especially those originating in other genres. This definition also enables Starr to draw on critical works by Carol Barash, Donna Landry, and Marshall Brown for insights on poets and poetry that are relevant to her comprehensive and complex argument. To begin mapping eighteenth-century writing's position between the poles of lyric and novel, Starr quickly points out that one must resist the constraint of remaining within one genre (1–2). Authors such as Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, and Charlotte Smith explored multiple forms, and, as Starr suggests in a footnote to her chapter on Behn, Haywood, and Pope, a scholar's concentration on one genre provides an incomplete understanding of an author's work (219n). This is especially so when the demands of the marketplace have led the author to cross generic boundaries as was the case with Behn, Haywood, and Smith. Contemporaneous readers read across genres in a way that challenged later hierarchies of genres and valuation of cultural capital. As Starr's first chapter demonstrates, readers' familiarity with the Book of Job and the earlier poetry of George Herbert, surviving as hymns, would have informed...

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