Fear of fiction : the authorial response to realism in selected works by Swift, Defoe, and Richardson
If Mrs. Whitehouse produced a pornographic play, it would arouse enormous interest, mainly because of Mrs. Whitehouse’s well known views on pornography. It is an ancient fact of English Literature that two of the best known pioneers of the English realistic novel, Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson, were Puritans. And there is an almost equally ancient critical tradition which traces the easy path of Puritan literature, in combination with other cultural forces, towards the production of realistic fiction. The central argument of this thesis is that there was no such easy path. Puritan autobiography was unrealistic in its very nature, while Puritan feeling towards fiction was hostile, with realistic, or verisimilar fiction provoking most hostility because the most deceitful. Thus the writing of a realistic novel was a radical departure for the Puritan, and one that was fraught with tension. It is this tension, or fear of fiction, and its effects on work of the two Puritan novelists, and that odd Anglican Jonathan Swift, that is the subject of this thesis. Swift joins Defoe and Richardson as an author with a special relationship with Defoe, and himself closer to a fearful anti- mimetic "tradition" than the comic tradition in which he is usually placed alongside Fielding and Sterne. Selected works of the three authors reveal their struggle with the intense problems that realism created for them, and their eventual 'solutions'. Hence by the time that Dr. Johnson made his famous critical statement against the fearful potential of realism in his fourth Rambler [31 March 1750), he was actually formalising material that had been well examined in the fiction under discussion, rather than beating an original critical path in response to Fielding's supposedly 'new' verisimilar form.