How It’s Made: Fiction Novels edition

Today was the first day of Term 2 and it was a bit of a rocky start. Not only do I have to re-adjust my sleeping schedule, but the transit was having problems this morning and I spent a good 40 minutes with my face squashed into plexiglass during my commute because it was so packed on the skytrain. Always the best way to start a morning after a 2.5 week long break, right?

I’ve updated my course schedule slightly since I last spoke about it; I’m taking RUSS 412: The Literature of Dostoevsky (which is technically a fourth year Russian course but it’s taught in English and has no pre-requisites so YAY FOR ME) instead of LING 433. I’ve yet to meet the prof for RUSS 412 (as well as LING 201, which also takes place on T/Th), but I’m sure they’ll be quite good (fingers crossed; I’ve never had a bad prof per se – only profs which I didn’t enjoy the teaching style of but were nevertheless good profs).

Today I met the profs for my prose fiction (ENGL 227) and French (112) courses. My French prof looks a little like Dick Van Dyke. I have yet to formulate an opinion about him.

However, I’m so far mostly intrigued by my English prof, who started the class off by telling us about how before the 18th century, most books (specifically, novels) were about etiquette and how to approach different situations (ex. a serious romance, a familial dispute, etc.). Their validity was based on factual correctness and truth. However, Samuel Richardson, a printer in his time and the “father of the modern novel”, decided to write an etiquette book using a made up story rather than something he had experienced himself in order to convey his moral. This, of course, gave way to the rise of fiction, or stories based on accounts that cannot be factually backed up.

Initially, fiction was quite unpopular because people doubted their validity: why should I follow this moral if the account is false? Nobody wants to take advice from some loser on a flight of fancy after all. But the thing is that the moral of the story is relatively true, and the events that occur in the text are also relatively true (I suppose they could have theoretically happened to someone or other in another parallel universe); the only reason, then, to not buy these fiction books was due to their lack of factual correctness.

Therefore, novelists were implored by their publishers to adapt the titles of their stories to reflect this societal need for factual correctness. When first published, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was titled “The History and Adventure of Lemuel Gulliver” (or something along the lines, I can’t exactly remember but it definitely had the words ‘history’ and ‘adventure’ in it) in order to lend it some credibility to make it sell via the word ‘history’. We can see the same types of title styles applied to Jane Austen (Mansfield Park) and Charles Dickens (Bleak House, and later on, introducing a more abstract concept, Great Expectations).

Fiction became popular as more and more of these stories arose and novelists started to introduce drama and interesting characters and unreliable narrators into the mix as the development of the fiction novel progressed.

He spoke about more which has unfortunately escaped me but relates to the texts we’ll be reading, but at the end, my prof told us that it wasn’t enough to simply read books, but to experience them as the writer intended them to be experienced by their characters.

I thought about the process of myself being a (fan)fiction writer and crafting experiences for people, and I couldn’t help but to agree with everything my prof said; indeed, I try to write in such a way that gets people to think about themselves and I try to have an overarching message that goes out to all the readers. I wouldn’t consider myself anywhere close to being an actual writer obviously, but for what it’s worth, I can identify with the whole “etiquette/experience” bit.

Now that I think about it, maybe it’s just the literature nerd in me that got super excited and found this little tidbit of information super interesting (I’m not actually sure if I’m intrigued by my prof or the story he told us, but he seemed pretty cool anyway because he said he’d dress up like Dracula when it comes time to read it). I just thought I’d share that with you as a “welcome back to the world of suffering in Academia” 🙂 At any rate, it’s always nice to know how things were made (or, in this case, how they…came to be?).

Best of luck to everybody starting a new term today! I hope all of you learn something useful (or at least something you can use if you’re ever a contestant on a trivia show someday) in your endeavours (like how the fiction novel was created – you can thank me when you’ve got yourself a nice sum on Jeopardy).


Featured Image: Sense and Sensibility by cwasteson.

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Self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades. Intersectional feminist. Educator/linguist in training. Fashionista, food-lover, and fairly poor hand-eye coordination.

2 thoughts on “How It’s Made: Fiction Novels edition

  1. Seems like your English Prof is an interesting fellow. Gah! I wish I was in that class. I didn’t know 18th century novels were about etiquette. We’ve come a long way, I wonder how they would of taken 50 Shades of Grey.

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    1. Haha, well I’ll (hopefully) periodically update this blog with all of my learnings so you can indulge in those if/when you have time in the coming weeks! I feel like 18th century readers would have found 50 Shades too scandalous and banned it honestly LOL. Thanks for the comment!!

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