Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Creation of the Novel

Luckily or shrewdly Cervantes had created a new form, which other authors could elaborate and embellish—a maquette for versions of the human comedy. Not only had he created a novel, he had created the Western novel… While Copernicus shifted our focus outward from the earth to the sun, Cervantes shifted our focus from the outer world inward to man.
The “novel,” from Italian novella (little new thing), though a modern successor to the epic and the romance, would not attract by its reciting of the traditional and the familiar. Instead, it aimed at surprise, suspense, and the unexpected. The novelist would play God on the landscape of his own creation.
From Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators, Pages 306-7.
I often find myself picking up historical or intellectual surveys like Boorstin’s The Creators. Maybe I’m impatient and just like to cover a lot of ground when I read. Since Boorstin devotes about a chapter each to great figures like Cervantes and Milton, works like his are best for gaining a broad overview of a field like Western literature.
It’s interesting to note here, in particular, that what we know as the novel, and perhaps many other forms of prose fiction related to it, are descended from Cervantes’ original innovation. Maybe I’m mature enough to get around to reading Don Quixote. Someone once told me that you ought to read Don Quixote three times: once as a young person, once in middle age, and finally in old age. New meanings emerge with each reading. It’s worth a try I suppose.