View on eighteenth century fictionality

In her essay, “The Rise of Fictionality,” Catherine Gallagher attempts to “retrieve novelistic fictionality for analysis” and “explain why we have difficulty keeping it at the forefront of our attention, why it incessantly slips behind other features or disappears into terms like narrative and signification.”  She suggests that the novel actually founded eighteenth century fiction and I definitely agree.

Gallagher explains that there are two forms to the novel— one that tried, “for at least two centuries, to hide its fictionality behind verisimilitude or realism, insisting on certain kinds of referentiality and even making extensive truth claims” and the other, a liberator of fictionality because eighteenth-century writers stopped trying to convince readers that their stories represented real life. According to Gallagher, “writers coaxed their readers to accept the imaginative status of their characters.” She writes that there were still restrictions upon fiction because the same novelists actually restrained and hid fictionality by barring it inside the boundaries of the credible. Therefore, “the novel, in short, is said both to have discovered and to have obscured fiction.” I agree, as we can clearly see the fiction in these novels, but back then most readers could not. At the time, art had to imitate reality, so the stories, no matter how fictitious, needed to mirror eighteenth century life or even become guidebooks.  Fantomina by Eliza Haywood is probably one of the best examples of evident fiction of the time. Fantomina, an aristocratic young woman, disguises herself more than once to manipulate Bleaupasir, who not even once notices that she’s the same woman. We can obviously notice the fiction, but readers were expected to play along and believe the story to be true. And what truly allows the novel to mirror reality and make them accept it as so is the ending— when Fantomina becomes pregnant and is sent away— because that’s exactly what would happen to promiscuous women like her at the time.

Moreover, as Gallagher claims, the eighteenth century novel transformed from a referential to a non-referential form. Non-referentiality may have started at the same time, as Fantomina was written in 1725 and had no reference to real people. The reason no readers truly noticed that is because they had been trained to read the novel as the truth. It offered fictional moments even when it showcases reality without referring to real people. Gallagher says that between the time Defoe vowed that Robinson Crusoe was a real individual in 1720 and the time Henry Fielding tirelessly insisted that his characters did not represent real people in 1742, conversations about fictionality in relation to the novel arose, laying down new rules to identify it and new methods of “nonreference.” She says, the novel discovered fiction because “of this overt and articulated understanding” and that “what Fielding had that Defoe lacked was not an excuse for fictionality but a use for it as a special way of shaping knowledge through the fabrication of particulars.” Therefore, I agree that Feilding’s disclaimer really trained eighteenth century readers to read novels as fiction.

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