Sunday, 5 December 2021

Sunil Runs Off with ‘Champak’ 😍

05 December 1994 | HSC Days 

This day | 27 years ago...

#memoriesfromdiaries 💛

Alarm Clock

Today, I woke up sharp at 4 am to the chiming of the good old analogue alarm clock – and then, started studying in right earnest for my Chemistry Practical Exam that was scheduled for us for the day!

Table Lamp

The first thing we usually did, on waking up, was to turn off the alarm clock and then to turn on the table lamp – those gooseneck lamps of yore - and start reading by the focused rays of the table lamp’s yellowy lights of yore!

These table lamps were a real blessing to us back then, since they didn’t disturb the deep darkness of the dormitory and the sleep of fellow hostellers as well!

Competition for the Day’s Newspaper

Since our cubicle was given just one copy of the day’s Newspaper – ‘The Hindu’, there was a gentle competition of sorts - between Sai Kumar and me - on who would get to read the newspaper first! Today he got it!


Today’s News Headlines

‘DSP, 2 Others Abducted by Veerappan Gang?’ – When Sai read out this news headline, there were some innocuous guffaws all around! (how naïve of us, back then!)

T. N. Seshan cancels ‘Madras’ visit on Sunday’. – Yes, back then, it was called Madras!

Skip School Assembly

School Assembly was a weekly ritual that happened every Monday. 

However, hostellers usually gave a dignified slip to the General Assembly, since we already have our routine morning roll calls and Assemblies early in the morn, each and every morn!

Today, when General Assembly was happening, Raymond and myself, we were busy completing our Physics Records, and yes! finally we had managed to submit them as well!

Caught Studying for Chemistry Practicals during Math Period

Today we had our Chemistry Practical exam, and so we were quietly studying for the same, during our Math period, when Math master caught us ‘red-handed!’

He then asked us to leave the class and asked us to stand outside for the remaining duration of the class!

Two Boys Awarded Zero for Copying!

Two of our classmates were awarded a ‘zero’ for copying during Chemistry practical exam. (by Manikavachagam Master)

Words Disrespecting Elders

During our English class, a Tamil pundit came and gave us renditions of songs with morals and values.

One such song was ‘Ye, perisu’ (a disrespectful way of addressing elders), through which he called out the younger generation’s lack of regard and respect for their elders.

Zoology Class – I Feel Sleepy and Master’s Response!

Mr. Soundarrajan, our Zoology master was also a renowned body builder.

Since I had a good lunch at the hostel mess, felt a bit drowsy during Zoology class, and so keeping my head on the table, face down, I was gently trying to enter la la land, when there was a huge knock on the desk – a knock that startled me out of my stupor to such great lengths!

But Mr. Soundarrajan wasn’t harsh on us anytime!

He said – quite gently – patting me on the back, not to sleep during class hours.

Physics – Darshan interrupts Master

Physics master never allows interruptions of any sort. Our class monitor Darshan was a very mischievous guy.

Knowing full well that Master doesn’t like noises of any sort, especially when he is on lecture mode, he deliberately moved the bench with his legs, thus distracting and disturbing our Physics Master (Nedunchezhian Master).

Physics ‘Imposition’ for Two Boys!

Two boys were asked to write down the entire lesson as imposition for failing to bring the Physics Class work and Text book.

Had Math Class – ‘Boring!’

Math classes were boring for many of us, especially when they were in the last hour or on the penultimate hours.

Per chance it was our Math master’s lullaby-like voice that put us on ‘bore mode’? Well, we ain’t and can’t say that now! Sat near my bestie Sunil during Math class.

Besties - the Best Bet for a Boring Hour!

Well, whenever we sat near friends during a class, it meant we were bored stiff and so we were longing for means and ways to have some little fun and sweet distractions with friends. Hence it was, that I hopped a little, jumped a little, inching my way towards Sunil my bestie during this particular hour for our own little quota of entertainment!

‘Frutang’ Time

Evening’s refreshment time was something that everyone of us – hostellers - longed for.

So the moment Math class was over, Sunil and I, we rushed to the evening canteen to quench our thirst with the good ol’ Frutang - using up our canteen coupons!

Well, the Frutang was a refreshingly yummy mango drink that was served chilled, and hence students always made a beeline for this particular mango drink!

Did Math Problems

After Frutang time, we both finished working on our Math problems ahead of time, since the evenings and the nights were reserved for ‘all play and no work’ in the hostel!

Sunil Beats Me for tearing his Letter

Sunil usually hands over his letters to me to read them aloud to him. And today was no exception. But since I couldn’t open it properly, he beat me at the back! So I didn’t read the letter for him, and went to my cubicle and started doing my homework! He later came and apologized.  

For more diary reads on Sunil, you may want to read them HERE

Sunil Runs Off with ‘Champak’

Bed times were for Champak or Tinkle or Tintin! Today I decided on Champak, and sharp at ten, on bed, here I was, lost in my own world, reading Champak, enjoying every word and every line of every page, quite happily, when all of a sudden, Sunil came and plucking off the Champak from my hands, he ran off merrily to his cubicle, shouting, ‘Good Night, see you!’.

Annoyed to the core, I got out of my regal recline, and tail-gating him straight to his cubicle, got my Champak back from him!

Well, you see, nights back then, [on student-mode], were incomplete to the core without our quota of Champaks and Tinkles! 

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

'Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us...' 💙

Pale Blue Dot | Carl Sagan 💛

[Remembering a legend on his birthday today!]

Yes! He’s taught us some real, life-lessons - that are above and beyond the ‘earthy!’

14 February 1990!

A memorable day for humankind for any many reasons!

At Carl Sagan’s suggestion, one of earth’s most memorable images was taken by Voyager 1.

Well, as we all know, NASA launched the Voyager spacecraft (Voyager 1 & 2) way back in the year 1977, to probe the outer reaches of our solar system!

And interestingly, even today, the Voyager sincerely and meticulously continues to probe on and on and on!

Coming back,

As the invincible Voyager spacecraft was departing our planet veering towards the other pockets of our solar system, it stopped and turned around!

Yes!

For that one last look!

For that one last look of its home!

Its home sweet home!

Its home-planet, our earth!

And that ‘one last look’ had its fair share of lubtub moments as well!

That’s because Voyager was cruising at a distance of almost four billion miles away, whizzing past our solar system at such breakneck speed, and its cameras were slowly shutting down!

So there was just one last chance!

To Candy Handsen (who helped in meticulously planning out on this historic photo shot), this was a kinda ‘now or never’ moment!

And just thirty-four minutes after capturing its home planet Earth, Voyager’s cameras turned off – forever!

The Pale Blue Dot 🔵
And this image proved that great inspiration for Carl Sagan to write his book titled, Pale Blue Dot!

A book that sure needs to be on the ‘must-read’ list of all of us human beings on this lovely planet, I guess! 

Without divulging much from the cream and the content of this must-read book, let me give some real memorable lines as takeaways –

Here goes Carl Sagan –

But tell me, who are they, these wanderers . . .?

- RAINER MARIA RILKE, “THE FIFTH ELEGY” (1923)

Begins Carl Sagan’s favourite quote to his awe-inspiring book titled, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, that’s got us all fascinated for close to three decades now!

One is spontaneously reminded of Bill Bryson and Desmond Morris while scouring through those plain, simple and lucid words and sentences, coming from such a great planetary scientist cum cosmologist cum astronomer cum astrophysicist - words devoid of any ‘scientific’ jargon – that make this book such a highly engaging read!

Sample the opening lines –

We were wanderers from the beginning. We knew every stand of tree for a hundred miles. When the fruits or nuts were ripe, we were there. We followed the herds in their annual migrations...

Working together, we protected our children from the lions and the hyenas. We taught them the skills they would need...

And then he proceeds, in like fashion, in such lucid prose,  

In the last few decades, the United States and the former Soviet Union have accomplished something stunning and historic - the close-up examination of all those points of light, from Mercury to Saturn, that moved our ancestors to wonder and to science.

Since the advent of successful interplanetary flight in 1962, our machines have flown by, orbited, or landed on more than seventy new worlds.

We have wandered among the wanderers.

During the Viking robotic mission, beginning in July 1976, in a certain sense I spent a year on Mars.

I examined the boulders and sand dunes, the sky red even at high noon, the ancient river valleys, the soaring volcanic mountains, the fierce wind erosion, the laminated polar terrain, the two dark potato-shaped moons.

But there was no life - not a cricket or a blade of grass, or even, so far as we can tell for sure, a microbe.

These worlds have not been graced, as ours has, by life.

Life is a comparative rarity.

You can survey dozens of worlds and find that on only one of them does life arise and evolve and persist.

In our time weve crossed the Solar System and sent four ships to the stars.

Neptune lies a million times farther from Earth than New York City is from the banks of the Bug.

But there are no distant relatives, no humans, and apparently no life waiting for us on those other worlds.

No letters conveyed by recent émigrés help us to understand the new land - only digital data transmitted at the speed of light by unfeeling, precise robot emissaries.

They tell us that these new worlds are not much like home.

But we continue to search for inhabitants.

We cant help it.

Life looks for life.

Then he clearly outlines the purpose of the book in such simple terms.

Says Sagan, Carl Sagan -

Thats what this book is about: other worlds, what awaits us on them, what they tell us about ourselves, and - given the urgent problems our species now faces - whether it makes sense to go. Should we solve those problems first? Or are they a reason for going?

Pale Blue Dot is about a new recognition…

says Sagan!

Some lovely excerpts from Chapter 1, titled, ‘You are HERE’

The spacecraft was a long way from home, beyond the orbit of the outermost planet and high above the ecliptic plane.

The ship was speeding away from the Sun at 40,000 miles per hour. But in early February of 1990, it was overtaken by an urgent message from Earth.

Obediently, it turned its cameras back toward the now-distant planets.

Slewing its scan platform from one spot in the sky to another, it snapped 60 pictures and stored them in digital form on its tape recorder.

Then, slowly, in March, April, and May, it radioed the data back to Earth.

Each image was composed of 640,000 individual picture elements (“pixels”), like the dots in a newspaper wire-photo or a pointillist painting.

And yet there is no sign of humans in this picture, not our reworking of the Earths surface, not our machines, not ourselves:

We are too small and our statecraft is too feeble to be seen by a spacecraft between the Earth and the Moon.

From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalism is nowhere in evidence.

On the scale of worlds - to say nothing of stars or galaxies - humans are inconsequential, a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.

It seemed to me that another picture of the Earth, this one taken from a hundred thousand times farther away, might help in the continuing process of revealing to ourselves our true circumstance and condition.

It had been well understood by the scientists and philosophers of classical antiquity that the Earth was a mere point in a vast encompassing Cosmos, but no one had ever seen it as such. Here was our first chance!

Look again at that dot.

Thats here. Thats home. Thats us.

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, ever king and peasant, every young couple in love, every moth and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every “saint and sinner” in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Think of the endless visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbour life.

There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.

Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home weve ever known!

says Sagan, Carl Sagan!

How true!

And well, in this context, me thought it would be so apt and meet to quote a line from Ms. Vinisha Umashankar, who hogged the limelight and made us all proud, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, this past Wednesday.

In the context of Climate Change - that needs immediate corrective measures and urgent attention from all nations across the world - she said, 

I’m not just a girl from India. I’m a girl from Earth and I’m proud to be so.

From the Sagan saga above, this lovely little line makes much-o-much sense! ain’t it?

Earthlings!

Or in other words,

Planetariats!

image courtesy: bbcdotcom & linkedindotcom (Ms.Vinisha)

Saturday, 30 October 2021

'The Partition of Indian Women' - Book Release

 Book Release

Cordially inviting you for the

International launch of

The Partition of Indian Women

by

Carole Rozzonelli, Alessandro Monti & Jaydeep Sarangi

 This volume is published and printed thanks to the financial support from PASSAGES XX-XXI, Université Lumière Lyon 2, France.

Available via Amazon online stores -

https://www.amazon.in/Partition-Indian-Women-Carole-Rozzonelli/dp/B08ZJ3LWX6

The volume is a study concerning the condition of Indian women. It is an unusual mix of reflective articles, poems and an interview which attempt to present Indian women from a variety of experiences and perspectives, based on Indian cinema and literature (fiction and poetry).

SCHEDULE

7th November, 2021, 5 PM Indian Time

Welcome speech by Prof. Carole Rozzonelli (Editor)

Speech by Prof. Alessandro Monti (Editor)

Remarks by the publisher: Sudarshan, K.

Invited Speakers

Speech by Prof. Malashri Lal, former Professor of English, University of Delhi

Speech by Prof. Shyamala A. Narayan, former Professor of English, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

Speech by Prof. Samuel Rufus, Madras Christian College, Chennai

Vote of thanks by Prof. Jaydeep Sarangi (Editor)

Coordinator: Prof. Aditi Rudra

Link to join the event:   meet.google.com/nhn-azyy-mgy

Friday, 29 October 2021

‘The Reading Public and the Rise of the Novel’

‘The Reading Public and the Rise of the Novel

By Ian Watt

[Abridged & Summarised Version]

Introduction

Ian Watt (1917-1999) was Professor of English at Stanford University. This book titled The Rise of the Novel, began as a study of the relation between the growth of the reading public and the emergence of the novel in eighteenth-century England. And eventually, in the year 1947, it took shape as a Fellowship Dissertation for St. John’s College, Cambridge.

To Watt, ‘The whole question of the historical, institutional and social context of literature is very widely ignored, to the great detriment not only of much scholarly and critical writing, but of the general understanding of literature at every educational level.’

Rejecting the view that the work of art is an autonomous object, Watt insists that an artist cannot be perceived separately from the social and moral conventions of their time. Watt then proceeds to relate the growth of the novel’s form to changes in the intellectual and social milieu of the eighteenth century.

Defoe, Richardson and Fielding & the ‘New Climate’ of Social & Moral Conditions

Defoe, Richardson and Fielding were no doubt affected by the changes in the reading public of their time; but their works are surely more profoundly conditioned by the new climate of social and moral experience which they and their eighteenth-century readers shared.

DRF – Founders of a New Kind of Writing – A Break with the Old-fashioned Romances

It is true that both Richardson and Fielding saw themselves as ‘founders of a new kind of writing’, and that both viewed their work as involving a break with the old-fashioned romances.

Realism - The idiosyncratic features of the new form

With the help of their larger perspective the historians of the novel have been able to do much more to determine the idiosyncratic features of the new form.

Briefly, they have seen 'realism' as the defining characteristic which differentiates the work of the early eighteenth-century novelists from previous fiction.

The main critical associations of the term 'realism' are with the French school of Realists.

'Réalisme' was apparently first used as an aesthetic description in 1835 to denote the 'vérité humaine' (human truth) of Rembrandt; it was later consecrated as a specifically literary term by the foundation in 1856 of Réalisme, a journal edited by Duranty.

Was There a Remarkable Popular Interest in Reading?

Many eighteenth-century observers thought that their age was one of remarkable and increasing popular interest in reading.

On the other hand, it is probable that although the reading public was large by comparison with previous periods, it was still very far from the mass reading public of today. Burke estimated it at 80,000 in the nineties.

80,000 Out of a Population of 60,00,000 People

By one estimate, that of 43,800 copies sold weekly in 1704, implies less than one newspaper buyer per hundred persons per week.

Rapid Success of Circulating Libraries

The extent to which economic factors retarded the expansion of the reading public, and especially that for the novel, is suggested by the rapid success of the non-proprietary or circulating libraries, as they were called after 1742 when the term was invented.

A few such libraries are recorded earlier, especially after 1725, but the rapid spread of the movement came after 1740, when the first circulating library was established in London, to be followed by at least seven others within a decade.

Most circulating libraries stocked all types of literature, but novels were widely regarded as their main attraction: and there can be little doubt that they led to the most notable increase in the reading public for fiction which occurred during the century. They certainly provoked the greatest volume of contemporary comment about the spread of reading to the lower orders.

The High Price of Books

It is likely, therefore, that until 1740 a substantial marginal section of the reading public was held back from a full participation in the literary scene by the high price of books; and further, that this marginal section was largely composed of potential novel readers, many of them women.

The distribution of leisure in the period supports and amplifies the picture already given of the composition of the reading public; and it also supplies the best evidence available to explain the increasing part in it played by women readers.

Addison is an early spokesman of a new trend. He wrote in the Guardian (1713):

'There are some reasons why learning is more adapted to the female world than to the male. As in the first place, because they have more spare time on their hands, and lead a more sedentary life…. There is another reason why those especially who are women of quality, should apply themselves to letters, namely, because their husbands are generally strangers to them.

'Poetry is a pretty thing enough for our wives and daughters; but not for us'

For the most part quite unashamed strangers, if we can judge by Goldsmith's busy man of affairs, Mr. Lofty, in The Good Natur'd Man (1768), who proclaims that 'poetry is a pretty thing enough for our wives and daughters; but not for us'.

Women of the upper and middle classes

Women of the upper and middle classes could partake in few of the activities of their menfolk, whether of business or pleasure. It was not usual for them to engage in politics, business or the administration of their estates, while the main masculine leisure pursuits such as hunting and drinking were also barred. Such women, therefore, had a great deal of leisure, and this leisure was often occupied by omnivorous reading.

Well-to-do women & Feminine Leisure

Many of the less well-to-do women also had much more leisure than previously. B. L. de Muralt had already found in 1694 that 'even among the common people the husbands seldom make their wives work'; and another foreign visitor to England, César de Saussure, observed in 1727 that tradesmen's wives were 'rather lazy, and few do any needlework'.

Feminine Leisure & Economic Change

These reports reflect the great increase in feminine leisure which had been made possible by an important economic change.

The old household duties of spinning and weaving, making bread, beer, candles and soap, and many others, were no longer necessary, since most necessities were now manufactured and could be bought at shops and markets.

Other Difficulties to Reading – Little Privacy

For those few who might have liked to read there were other difficulties besides lack of leisure and the cost of books.

The Window tax – Not Enough Light

There was little privacy, as, in London especially, housing was appallingly overcrowded; and there was often not enough light to read by, even by day. The window tax imposed at the end of the seventeenth century had reduced windows to a minimum, and those that remained were usually deepset, and covered with horn, paper or green glass.

Candles – A Luxury

At night lighting was a serious problem, since candles, even farthing dips, were considered a luxury. Richardson was proud of the fact that as an apprentice he bought them for himself, but others could not, or were not allowed to. James Lackington, for example, was forbidden to have light in his room by his employer, a baker, and claims to have read by the light of the moon!

Greatest single category of books – Religious Books

By far the greatest single category of books published in the eighteenth century, as in previous centuries, was that composed of religious works.

An average of over two hundred such works was published annually throughout the century.

The Pilgrim's Progress - although little noted by polite authors, and then usually with derision - went through one hundred and sixty editions by 1792; while at least ten devotional manuals had sales of over thirty editions during the eighteenth century, and many other religious and didactic works were equally popular!

These enormous sales, however, do not refute the view that eighteenth-century readers had increasingly secular tastes. To begin with, the number of religious publications does not seem to have increased in proportion either to the growth of the population or to the sales of other types of reading matter.

Defoe & Richardson – Combined Religious & Secular Interests in their Novels

On the other hand, many readers, especially those from the less educated strata of society, began with religious reading and passed on to wider literary interests. Defoe and Richardson are representative figures in this trend. Their forebears, and those of many of their readers, would in the seventeenth century have indulged in little but devotional reading; but they themselves combined religious and secular interests.

Defoe, of course, wrote both novels and works of piety such as his Family Instructor; while Richardson was conspicuously successful in carrying his moral and religious aims into the fashionable and predominantly secular field of fiction.

The most famous literary innovations of the century – Tatler & Spectator - Periodicals

This compromise, between the wits and the less educated, between the belles-lettres and religious instruction, is perhaps the most important trend in eighteenth century literature, and finds earlier expression in the most famous literary innovations of the century, the establishment of the Tatler in 1709 and of the Spectator in 1711.

The Spectator and the Tatler were much admired in Dissenting Academies and among other groups where most other secular literature was frowned on: and they were often the first pieces of secular literature encountered by uneducated provincial aspirants to letters.

Forming a Taste – The Role of the Periodical

The periodical essay did much in forming a taste that the novel, too, could cater for. Macaulay thought that if Addison had written a novel it would have been 'superior to any that we possess'; while T. H. Green, alluding to this, describes the Spectator as 'the first and best representative of that special style of literature - the only really popular literature of our time -which consists in talking to the public about itself. Humanity is taken as reflected in the ordinary life of men... and... copied with the most minute fidelity.'

10,000 Copies & Twenty Imitators

Dr. Johnson estimated the total circulation of the Magazine at ten thousand and stated that it had twenty imitators; while Cave himself asserted in 1741 that it was 'read as far as the English language extends, and... reprinted from several presses in Great Britain, Ireland and the Plantations'.

‘Gentleman’s’ Influence on the Novel

Two of the characteristic features of the Gentleman's Magazine - practical information about domestic life and a combination of improvement with entertainment - were later to be embodied in the novel.

But, although journalism had brought many new recruits for secular literature into the reading public, that public's taste for informative, improving, entertaining and easy reading had not as yet found an appropriate fictional form.

The Gentleman's Magazine also symbolises an important change in the organisation of the reading public.

The Spectator had been produced by the best writers of the day; it catered to middleclass taste, but by a sort of literary philanthropy.

Steele and Addison – Middle Class Way of Life

Steele and Addison were for the middle-class way of life but they were not exactly of it.

Less than a generation later, however, the Gentleman's Magazine showed a very different social orientation: it was directed by an enterprising but ill-educated journalist and bookseller, and its contributions were mainly provided by hacks and amateurs.

The Reason: The decline of literary patronage by the court and the nobility

The main reason for this prominence is clear: the decline of literary patronage by the court and the nobility had tended to create a vacuum between the author and his readers; and this vacuum had been quickly filled by the middlemen of the literary market-place, the publishers, or, as they were then usually called, the booksellers, who occupied a strategic position between author and printer, and between both of these and the public.

The Rise of the Bookseller

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the booksellers, especially those in London, had achieved a financial standing, a social prominence, and a literary importance considerably greater than that of either their forebears or of their counterparts abroad.

The Power of the Booksellers to Influence Authors & Audience

The power of the booksellers to influence authors and audience was undoubtedly very great, and it is therefore necessary to inquire whether this power was in any way connected with the rise of the novel.

‘Master Manufacturers’

Contemporary opinion was certainly much concerned with the new influence of the booksellers, and there were frequent assertions that it had had the effect of turning literature itself into a mere market commodity.

Writing as a Branch of the English Commerce

This view was expressed most succinctly by Defoe, in 1725 -

'Writing... is become a very considerable Branch of the English Commerce. The Booksellers are the Master Manufacturers or Employers. The several Writers, Authors, Copyers, Sub-writers, and all other Operators with Pen and Ink are the workmen employed by the said Master Manufacturers.'

Defoe did not condemn this commercialisation, but most of the spokesmen of traditional literary standards did so in emphatic terms.

Goldsmith, for example, often deplored ‘that fatal revolution whereby writing is converted to a mechanic trade; and booksellers, instead of the great, become the patrons and paymasters of men of genius’.

Fielding on the ‘Fatal Revolution’

Fielding went further, and explicitly connected this 'fatal revolution' with a disastrous decline in literary standards: he asserted that the 'paper merchants, commonly called booksellers', habitually employed 'journeymen of the trade' without 'the qualifications of any genius or learning', and suggested that their products had driven out good writing by the operation of a kind of Gresham's Law, forcing the public to 'drink cider water... because they can produce no other liquor'.

The novel was widely regarded as a typical example of the debased kind of writing by which the booksellers pandered to the reading public.

The Bookseller – Feels the Pulse of the Times

The sagacious Bookseller feels the Pulse of the Times, and according to the stroke, prescribes not to cure, but flatter the Disease: As long as the Patient continues to swallow, he continues to administer; and on the first Symptom of a Nausea, he changes the Dose. Hence the Cessation of all Political Carminatives, and the Introduction of Cantharides, in the shape of Tales, Novels, Romances, etc.

The Bookseller’s Bias for Large Works of Information

Until then, however, there is very little evidence that the booksellers played a direct part in stimulating the writing of novels; on the contrary, if we examine the works which the booksellers are known to have actively promoted, we find that their bias was primarily for large works of information such as Ephraim Chambers's Cyclopaedia ( 1728), Johnson Dictionary ( 1755) and his Lives of the Poets ( 1779-1781), and many other historical and scientific compilations, which they commissioned on a lavish scale.

From The Control of Patronage to The Laws of The Market-Place

But if the booksellers did little or nothing to promote the rise of the novel directly, there are some indications that, as an indirect result of their role in removing literature from the control of patronage and bringing it under the control of the laws of the market-place, they both assisted the development of one of the characteristic technical innovations of the new form - its copious particularity of description and explanation - and made possible the remarkable independence of Defoe and Richardson from the classical critical tradition which was an indispensable condition of their literary achievement.

The most obvious result of the application of primarily economic criteria to the production of literature was to favour prose as against verse. In Amelia (1751) Fielding's hackney author makes this connection very clear:

'A sheet is a sheet with the booksellers; and, whether it be in prose or verse, they make no difference'. Consequently, finding that rhymes 'are stubborn things', the denizen of Grub Street turns away from writing poetry for the magazines and engages in the production of novels.

Defoe's own career had long before followed this course; after using the current medium of verse satire in his early career he turned to an almost exclusive use of prose.

The Age of Authors

'The present age', Dr. Johnson wrote, 'may be styled, with great propriety, the Age of Authors; for, perhaps, there never was a time in which men of all degrees of ability, of every kind of education, of every profession and employment, were posting with ardour so general to the press'.

Then, emphasising the contrast with the past, he added: 'The province of writing was formerly left to those who, by study or appearance of study, were supposed to have gained knowledge unattainable by the busy part of mankind'.

By virtue of their multifarious contacts with printing, bookselling and journalism, Defoe and Richardson were in very direct contact with the new interests and capacities of the reading public; but it is even more important that they themselves were wholly representative of the new centre of gravity of that public.

As middle-class London tradesmen they had only to consult their own standards of form and content to be sure that what they wrote would appeal to a large audience.

The ‘Changed Composition’ of The Reading Public And its Effects

This is probably the supremely important effect of the changed composition of the reading public and the new dominance of the booksellers upon the rise of the novel; not so much that Defoe and Richardson responded to the new needs of their audience, but that they were able to express those needs from the inside much more freely than would previously have been possible.

***

 Credits are also due to -

 The Importance of Ian Watt's "The Rise of the Novel" by Daniel R. Schwarz [JSTOR]

 ‘Of Tales and Tellers: Trust - but Verify’ by John Rodden [Springer]