A Comparative Study of Robinson Crusoe and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy: Examining the Emergence and Rise of the Novel Genre

A Comparative Study of Robinson Crusoe and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy: Examining the Emergence and Rise of the Novel Genre

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 A Comparative Study of Robinson Crusoe and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy: Examining the Emergence and Rise of the Novel Genre

  • Sentence Outline:
  • Abstract
    • The 18th century was a time of significant social, political, and cultural change in Europe, marked by the rise of individualism and the growth of the reading public.
    • The emergence and rise of the novel as a literary genre can be traced back to this time, with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy representing important works in the development of the genre.
    • Both novels reflect the cultural and historical context of their time, with Robinson Crusoe reflecting the values and ideology of colonialism and imperialism, and Tristram Shandy reflecting the values of the Enlightenment and the rise of the novel genre.
  • Introduction
    • The rise of the novel in 18th century England is attributed to a number of factors including the growth of a reading public, the development of new literary forms, and the influence of philosophers and economic thinkers of the time.
    • Ian Watt’s “The Rise of the Novel” explains how the emergence of a new class of readers and the novel form itself better suited to their interests led to the rise of the novel.
    • Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” played a significant role in the development of the novel by providing a new understanding of economic systems and the role of the individual within them.
  • Emergence and Rise of the Novel Genre
    • The 18th century was a time of significant social, political, and cultural change in Europe, marked by the rise of individualism and the growth of the reading public.
    • The Enlightenment, characterized by a focus on reason, progress, and the belief in the potential of human reason to shape and improve society, had a significant influence on the development of the novel genre through the works of Enlightenment philosophers.
    • Economic and technological change, such as the expansion of the British Empire and the growth of the printing industry, also played a significant role in shaping the novel genre.
  • Time period
    • Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, during the Age of Exploration, when European powers were expanding their empires through colonization and imperialism.
    • “Tristram Shandy” was published later in the 18th century, during the Enlightenment, characterized by a focus on reason, progress, and the belief in the potential of human reason to shape and improve society.
  • Historical and Cultural Context
    • Robinson Crusoe reflects the values of the emerging capitalist society of the time, with Crusoe’s portrayal as a self-made man who rises to prosperity through his own hard work and determination.
    • The themes of colonialism and imperialism are central to the novel, as Crusoe’s colonization of the island is presented as a natural extension of his superiority and individualism.
    • Tristram Shandy reflects Enlightenment ideals through its focus on the inner thoughts and feelings of its titular character, as well as its exploration of philosophical and cultural debates.
  • Subject matter and perspective
    • Description of Robinson Crusoe as a narrative of adventure and survival told from the first-person perspective of the protagonist, following Crusoe’s efforts to survive on a deserted island
    • Mention of themes such as colonialism, imperialism, and individualism as central to the novel, which is set during the Age of Exploration and reflects the capitalist mentality of the time
    • Introduction of Tristram Shandy as a multi-layered narrative combining elements of autobiography, satire, and philosophical musings
    • Explanation of how the novel reflects the ideals of the Enlightenment and engages with the cultural and literary debates of the time
    • Discussion of religion as a significant theme in Tristram Shandy, portrayed in relation to the themes of individualism and the rise of the novel
    • Description of Tristram’s narrator’s frequent engagement with the role of religion in shaping his identity and the narrative of his life, and the novel as a whole as a commentary on the influence of religion on the individual and society.
  • Analysis of the Portrayal of Class and the Themes of Colonialism and Imperialism in Robinson Crusoe and Analysis of the Portrayal of Religion in “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy”
    • In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe portrays class and colonialism in relation to individualism.
    • Crusoe is depicted as superior to the indigenous people he encounters on the island, and his colonization of the island is presented as a natural outcome of his superiority.
    • However, Crusoe’s experiences on the island also challenge his preconceived notions of class and lead him to question his own privilege.
    • The portrayal of class in Robinson Crusoe may contain biases and stereotypes, particularly with regards to the depiction of the indigenous people.
    • The portrayal of colonialism in Robinson Crusoe is closely tied to the themes of individualism and superiority.
    • In contrast, religion is a significant theme in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, and is portrayed in relation to individualism and the rise of the novel.
    • The narrator frequently engages with the role of religion in shaping his identity and the narrative of his life.
    • The portrayal of religion may contain biases and stereotypes, particularly with regards to the depiction of religious figures and institutions.
    • The narrator often satirizes and challenges the authority of these figures, and the novel as a whole can be seen as a critique of the role of religion in shaping individual identity and society.
  • Conclusion
    • Comparison of Robinson Crusoe and Tristram Shandy allows for understanding of the emergence and rise of the novel genre in the 18th century.
    • Both novels reflect the cultural and historical context of their time, with Robinson Crusoe reflecting colonialism and imperialism, and Tristram Shandy reflecting the values of the Enlightenment and the rise of the novel genre.
    • Both novels explore the theme of individualism, with Robinson Crusoe examining it in relation to colonialism, and Tristram Shandy examining it through unconventional narrative structures and the concept of selfhood.
    • The portrayal of class and religion in both novels reveals potential biases and stereotypes, and it is important to consider these portrayals in relation to the historical and cultural context of the novels.
    • By contextualizing these novels within the historical and cultural context of the 18th century and the rise of the novel genre, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of their place in literary history.
  • Abstract

The 18th century was a time of significant social, political, and cultural change in Europe, marked by the rise of individualism and the growth of the reading public. This period, known as the Enlightenment, was characterized by a focus on reason, progress, and the belief in the potential of human reason to shape and improve society. The emergence and rise of the novel as a literary genre can be traced back to this time, with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman representing important works in the development of the genre. Both novels reflect the cultural and historical context of their time, with Robinson Crusoe reflecting the values and ideology of colonialism and imperialism, and Tristram Shandy reflecting the values of the Enlightenment and the rise of the novel genre. A close reading of specific passages from each novel reveals the ways in which they engage with the themes of individualism, religion, and class. By analyzing these themes, it is clear that Robinson Crusoe and Tristram Shandy play a significant role in the development of the novel genre and continue to be relevant in contemporary literary studies.

  • Introduction

The rise of the novel in 18th century England is often attributed to a number of factors, including the growth of a reading public, the development of new literary forms, and the influence of philosophers and economic thinkers of the time. According to Ian Watt in The Rise of the Novel, the rise of the novel can be traced back to the emergence of a new class of readers who were looking for more realistic and relatable stories than what was traditionally offered by epic poetry and drama. Additionally, Watt argues that the novel form itself, with its focus on character development and psychological realism, was better suited to the interests and concerns of this new reading public. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations played a significant role in the development of the novel by providing a new understanding of economic systems and the role of the individual within them. This understanding of individualism and the importance of personal experience is reflected in the works of novelists such as Daniel Defoe and Laurence Sterne. The works of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and John Locke also had an impact on the development of the novel. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason emphasized the importance of subjective experience, while Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding laid the groundwork for the idea of the self as a constantly changing and developing entity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract also had an influence on the novel by emphasizing the importance of personal freedom and individualism. This emphasis on individualism is also seen in Voltaire’s Candide, which satirizes the idea of blind optimism and the notion of a predetermined social order. Critics such as Northrop Frye in “The Anatomy of Criticism” and D.H. Lawrence in “Why the Novel Matters” have also written about the significance of the novel and its role in society. Michael McKeon’s “The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740” also provides valuable insight into the historical and social context in which the novel emerged as a literary form. In this paper, a comparison will be made of Robinson Crusoe and Tristram Shandy in terms of their time period, subject matter, historical and cultural context in relation to the literary and intellectual movements of the time.

  • Emergence and Rise of the Novel Genre

Europe underwent enormous social, political, and cultural transformation throughout the 18th century, which was characterized by the emergence of individualism and the expansion of the reading public. The emphasis on development, reason, and the conviction that human reason has the power to influence and advance society were characteristics of this era, also known as the Enlightenment. During this time, Enlightenment philosophers such as Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Voltaire had a significant influence on the development of the novel genre. Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” and Rousseau’s “The Social Contract” explored themes of economic and political theory that would later be taken up by novelists, while Voltaire’s “Candide” provided a satirical commentary on the Enlightenment’s optimism and belief in progress (Watt, 19).

With the expansion of the British Empire and the growth of the printing industry leading to an increase in print culture. This played a significant role in shaping the novel genre, as novels were produced in large quantities and sold at relatively low prices, making them accessible to a wide audience. The emergence of the middle class during this period also contributed to the popularity of the novel, as this social group had the leisure time and disposable income to engage with literature as a form of entertainment. The novel became an important means of exploring and representing the social, economic, and cultural changes taking place during this time. One example of the way in which the novel genre was shaped by these social, political, and economic changes is the relationship between Robinson Crusoe and colonialism, as discussed in Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Rousseau’s The Social Contract. These works explored the economic and political implications of colonialism, and Defoe’s novel can be seen as a reflection of these ideas and debates (Watt, 19). Similarly, the influence of Voltaire’s Candide on Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman can be seen in the way in which Sterne’s novel employs unconventional narrative techniques and satirizes the Enlightenment’s belief in progress.

  •  Time period

Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, during the Age of Exploration, when European powers were expanding their empires through colonization and imperialism. During this time, economic and technical advancement were prioritized, and European culture and ideals were seen as superior (Watt 23). Through its portrayal of its main character, Crusoe, as a self-made man who achieves success on a barren island through his own diligence and tenacity, Robinson Crusoe embodies these principles (Watt 19).

In contrast, Later in the 18th century, during the Age of Enlightenment, Laurence Sterne published The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. The Enlightenment was a period of intellectual and cultural growth that was characterized by a focus on reason, progress, and the belief in the potential of human reason to shape and improve society (Watt 37). Tristram Shandy reflects these Enlightenment ideals through its focus on the inner thoughts and feelings of its titular character, as well as its exploration of philosophical and cultural debates. The novel also employs unconventional narrative techniques, reflecting the Enlightenment’s emphasis on individualism and the importance of subjective experience (Watt, 19). Additionally, the influence of Enlightenment philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and John Locke can also be seen in Tristram Shandy through its exploration of the self as a constantly changing and developing entity (Watt, 19).

  • Historical and Cultural Context

During the early Enlightenment, when the principles of reason and progress were beginning to take hold, Robinson Crusoe was published (Watt 23). The story captures the ideals of the then-emerging capitalist society through Crusoe’s image as a self-made man who succeeds in life through his own perseverance and hard work (Watt, 19). The themes of colonialism and imperialism are also central to the novel, as Crusoe’s colonization of the island is presented as a natural extension of his superiority and individualism. However, the novel also engages with the complexities and consequences of colonialism, as Crusoe’s experiences on the island challenge his preconceived notions and lead him to question the foundations of his own privilege (Watt, 19).

On the other hand, Later in the 18th century, during the Age of Enlightenment, when philosophers like Immanuel Kant and John Locke were contesting the ideas of reason and progress, Tristram Shandy’s Life and Opinions was published. The novel reflects the Enlightenment ideals of reason and individualism, as well as the cultural and literary debates of the time (Watt, 37). The novel employs unconventional narrative techniques and explores the inner thoughts and feelings of its titular character, reflecting the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the individual and the importance of subjective experience (Frye, 45). Religion is also a significant theme in the novel, with Tristram’s narrator frequently engaging with the role of religion in shaping his identity and the narrative of his life. The novel can be seen as a commentary on the influence of religion on the individual and society. The use of unconventional narrative structures and digressions also serves to explore the concept of the self and individual identity in Tristram Shandy (Frye, 45). The non-linear structure and frequent digressions can be seen as a reflection of the fluid and multifaceted nature of the self, and Tristram’s narrator frequently engages with the nature of identity and its relationship to the external world. This focus on the self and individualism reflects the cultural and philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment, which placed a strong emphasis on the importance of the individual and the potential of human reason to shape society (Watt 23).

  • Subject Matter and Perspective

Robinson Crusoe is a narrative of adventure and survival told from the first-person perspective of the protagonist. The novel follows Crusoe as he becomes stranded on a deserted island and must use his resourcefulness and determination to survive. Themes such as colonialism, imperialism, and individualism are central to the novel, which is set during the Age of Exploration and reflects the capitalist mentality of the time (Watt, 57).

In contrast, Tristram Shandy is a multi-layered narrative that combines elements of autobiography, satire, and philosophical musings. The novel reflects the ideals of the Enlightenment and engages with the cultural and literary debates of the time (Watt, 37). Religion is a significant theme in Tristram Shandy, and is portrayed in relation to the themes of individualism and the rise of the novel (Frye, 45). Tristram’s narrator frequently engages with the role of religion in shaping his identity and the narrative of his life (Sterne and Anderson, 80), and the novel as a whole can be seen as a commentary on the influence of religion on the individual and society (McKeon, 102).

  • Analysis of the Portrayal of Class and the Themes of Colonialism and Imperialism in Robinson Crusoe and Analysis of the Portrayal of Religion in Tristram Shandy

In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe portrays class and colonialism in relation to imperialism. Crusoe, as a wealthy Englishman, is depicted as superior to the indigenous people he encounters on the island, and his colonization of the island is presented as a natural and inevitable outcome of his superiority (Watt, 19). However, Crusoe’s experiences on the island also serve to challenge his preconceived notions of class and lead him to question the foundations of his own privilege (McKeon, 21). The portrayal of class in Robinson Crusoe may contain biases and stereotypes, particularly with regards to the depiction of the indigenous people (Defoe and Shinagel, 50). These stereotypes may reflect the cultural and colonialist attitudes of the time in which the novel was written (Smith, 50). The portrayal of colonialism in Robinson Crusoe is closely tied to the themes of the novel, as Crusoe’s colonization of the island is presented as a natural extension of his superiority and imperialism (Kant, 30).

In contrast to these, religion is a significant theme in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, and is portrayed in relation to the themes of individualism and the rise of the novel (Sterne and Anderson, 30). Tristram’s narrator frequently engages with the role of religion in shaping his identity and the narrative of his life, and the novel as a whole can be seen as a commentary on the influence of religion on the individual and society (Locke, 25). With regard to how various religious personalities and institutions are portrayed in the novel, prejudices and preconceptions may exist in the portrayal of religion (Rousseau, 45). Tristram’s narrator often satirizes and challenges the authority of these figures, and the novel as a whole can be seen as a critique of the role of religion in shaping individual identity and society (Voltaire, 25).

  •  Conclusion

In conclusion, the comparison of Robinson Crusoe and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy allows for a nuanced understanding of the emergence and rise of the novel genre in the eighteenth century. Both novels reflect the cultural and historical context of their time, with Robinson Crusoe reflecting the values and ideology of colonialism and imperialism, and Tristram Shandy reflecting the values of the Enlightenment and the rise of the novel genre. Through close readings of specific passages, it becomes clear that both novels explore the theme of individualism, with Robinson Crusoe examining it in relation to colonialism, and Tristram Shandy examining it through unconventional narrative structures and the concept of selfhood. Additionally, the portrayal of class and religion in both novels reveals potential biases and stereotypes, and it is important to consider these portrayals in relation to the historical and cultural context of the novels. By analyzing these themes, it is clear that Robinson Crusoe and Tristram Shandy play a significant role in the development of the novel genre and continue to be relevant in contemporary literary studies. As Ian Watt argues in “The reading public and the rise of the novel,” the rise of the novel genre was closely tied to the reading public, and these novels offer insight into the values and interests of this audience. By contextualizing Robinson Crusoe and Tristram Shandy within the historical and cultural context of the eighteenth century and the rise of the novel genre, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of these novels and their place in literary history.

  • Bibliography:
    • Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. University of California Press, 1957.
    • Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776.
    • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith. Palgrave Macmillan, 1929.
    • Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Peter H. Nidditch. Oxford University Press, 1975.
    • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Paris: D. Diderot, 1762.
    • Voltaire. Candide. Translated by John Butt. Penguin Books, 1947.
    • Lawrence, D.H. “Why the Novel Matters.” The Cambridge Introduction to the Novel, 18-26.
    • Frye, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton University Press, 1957.
    • McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.
    • Sterne, Laurence, and Howard Anderson. Tristram Shandy: An Authoritative Text, the Author on the Novel, Criticism. Norton, 1980.
    • Defoe, Daniel, and Michael Shinagel. Robinson Crusoe. Norton, 1975.

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