Film Theory: Ian Watt–Rise of the Novel

Ian Watt: Rise of the Novel

The Rise of the Novel (1957) by Ian Watt, Professor of English at Stanford University, proved to be an influential work.

For Watt, the novel’s ‘novelty’ was its ‘formal realism,’ the idea ‘that the novel is a full and authentic report of human experience.’

His paradigmatic instances are Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding.

Watt argued that the novel’s concern with realistically described relations between ordinary individuals, ran parallel to the more general development of philosophical realism, middle-class economic individualism and Puritan individualism.

He claimed that the form addressed the interests and capacities of the new middle-class reading public and the new book trade evolving in response to them.

As tradesmen themselves, Defoe and Richardson had only to ‘consult their own standards’ to know that their work would appeal to a large audience.