In search of time gained

Qdx7nub6gaxoqe77m493The Editors at n+1:

THE CULTURAL CONSEQUENCES of a world in which labor is saved, and at the same time displaced and enlarged, have been registered since the dawn of what we could call modernity. One of these cultural consequences was the novel, which was born out of an acceleration society and now appears to be suffering from its success. In the 18th century, what precipitated the “rise of the novel” was consumption: unlike other types of literature that asked for slower reading, novels began to be purchased and read at great speed. Demand produced supply. The enormous titles of earlier 18th-century novels (The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c., Who Was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent) dwindled to single words (Emma), and the books themselves dealt with a small number of protagonists.

Most of these new novels were despised by cultural critics for their speedy delivery of cheap sensations, barely earned shocks, and maudlin sentimental ideas. Samuel Johnson: “They are the entertainments of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions, not fixed principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account.”

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