Lecture: First novel written in English: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an English literature class. Professor: Now, last class we were talking about the beginnings of a novel as a distinct genre. Today, we're going to look at a book that some scholars have argued is the first English novel, but in my mind, one can't really say this or that book was the first novel written in English. So much depends on how you define the word novel, right? And the popularity of the book we're going to discuss today, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, certainly doesn't depend on that criterion. Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719 when Defoe was nearly 60-years-old. It tells the story of a man who against the wishes of his parents chooses a life at sea. He experiences a series of shipwrecks and other disasters and eventually winds up spending many years alone on an island. Now, when this book was written, the form of the novel was still taking shape. And Daniel Defoe was in many ways responsible for the shape the novel eventually did take. Defoe was first and foremost a journalist. He was not a part of upper class society who depended on selling his writing in order to make a living. He knew that the more books or pamphlets he could sale, whether it was a political essay or a travelogue, the more money he would be able to earn. So many of the topics he wrote about were somewhat sensationalized. In other words, he was drawn to stories that were interesting, more adventurous, more appealing to his readers and thus more sellable. Now, even though the public loved wild tales, at the same time they disapproved of stories they considered invented. Defoe had to give them something that seemed true. And the novel Robinson Crusoe, it was printed without using Defoe's name so it appeared as if it was written by the character, Robinson Crusoe. Looking back on this, it makes me mad. Novels are works of fiction. The characters aren't real. They don't exist. But remember this is the beginning of the novel. People's expectations were very different in the 1700s. Along with embellishing his stories, he also centered them around ordinary people. He had a sympathetic connection to his subjects and often wrote about working man and women, wanderers, and adventurers. This is significant at that time because well, these traits of society hadn't been literary protagonist before. But most scholars, whether or not they considered Defoe the author of the first English novel, will agree that Defoe's most significant contribution to the novel was his use of first person narrative. Previously, characters had been described almost exclusively to the third person narrative. That is the omnipresent narrator described the actions, the thoughts, the interactions between characters as a sort of all-seeing eye. So, Defoe then changed all that because he was so used to writing in his own voice through his earlier works as a journalist. He shifted that narrative voice over to his protagonist so that his main character was in fact, telling the story. Because of this, you get a real ingenious feel to the characters and we can experience the inner life of his most famous character Robinson Crusoe. Through Defoe's use of first person, we understand that Robinson Crusoe is highly enterprising. He knows his very success and his very survival depends on his determination. What more than that, we experience Crusoe's thought processes through the prose itself where inside his viewpoint belongs a journey and his struggle to survive. It's a powerful new technical innovation and it changed the course of the novel. So, this technique along with the dramatic subject matter helped make Robinson Crusoe one of the most successful books of the eighteenth century. In fact, it might have been too popular, according to Defoe's critics who were numerous. See, Defoe's style, the sensationalism, caused many of his peers and his successors to view his work as, well, as lacking in respectability. He made the novel so accessible to the general public, that, well, compared to other types of literature, the novel came to be seen as sort of second rate. The fact is the later novelists put a lot of effort into reintroducing formality in the novel. Later in this course, we'll look at some novels in the late 1700s that may seem dull and stupid and in part at least, that's in response, an excessive response, to Defoe's style.