In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eighteenth-Century Novel

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Early Responses and Criticism
  • General Overviews
  • Essay Collections
  • Formative Influences
  • Generic Intersections
  • Form and Narrative Technique
  • Historical Contexts
  • Women’s Writing
  • Sexuality and Gender
  • Book History and Materiality
  • Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics

British and Irish Literature Eighteenth-Century Novel
Louise Curran
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0190


The “18th-century novel” used to refer to works primarily by Defoe, Fielding, Richardson, and Sterne, but it has long since expanded to include notable women writers such as Burney, Sarah Fielding, Haywood, Lennox, and Manley. The 18th-century novel also encompasses a broad range of subgenres, such as the picaresque, memoir fiction, the epistolary novel, autobiography, criminal narratives, and it-narratives. Whereas older studies of the novel often took a teleological approach, looking for specific places of origin (often posed as a binary choice between realism or romance), more recent studies happily accept its hybrid nature as a form that refashions materials from a variety of other places and traditions. Since the 1970s and the rise of theory, the 18th-century novel has provoked debate about a whole range of subjects to do with the novel as genre, including (though not limited to) gender, disability, race, politics, book history, and media cultures. Recent studies have often emphasized the untidiness of its literary boundaries and analyzed the devices of character, plot, setting, etc., as developed in this fiction, alongside the fictional strategies of other forms of contemporary entertainment, such as dramatic writing. Another emerging trend is revisionist: The reframing of Anglocentric stories of the novel to take account of its transnational, transatlantic, and global connections. Whole bibliographies could be written, and indeed do exist, to guide those interested in the novel of sensibility, the domestic novel, the Gothic novel, and so on. Due to space limitations, this bibliography is necessarily highly selective and does not include works primarily on one single author or exclusively on one dominant trend, mode, or genre (most notably, the Gothic or sentimental novel). It confines itself to British and Irish fiction and does not include scholarship on the American novel during the period, though it does point toward new(ish) interest in the global eighteenth century. This bibliography also does not cover translation or classical reception. It mostly gives space to studies that broadly range from the early eighteenth century to the 1780s and which cover the novel’s development in general and not particular writers (unless otherwise stated and justified). Though it includes a few seminal works that document what has now come to be known as “the rise of the novel,” scholars and students who are interested in that history of criticism should look at Nick Seager’s excellent Oxford Bibliographies article “The Rise of the Novel in Britain, 1660–1780” (as well as Seager 2012, cited under General Overviews), and Tom Keymer’s section on this in his article “Samuel Richardson.” In addition, other bibliographies relevant to this field currently available in the Oxford Bibliographies series include: “The Epistolary Novel,” “Letters and Letter Writing,” “Daniel Defoe,” “Henry Fielding,” and “Laurence Sterne.”

Reference Works and Bibliographies

Many bibliographies that were once standard have now been superseded by the major online databases due to being incomplete and highly selective. The reference works listed below remain useful sources of historical bibliography and contextual information. The introduction to Raven and Forster 2000 offers a good guide to the commercialization of reading in the period that, alongside an earlier work, Raven 1987, covers a wide range of materials from 1750 to 1799. Letellier 2002 documents the crucial early period of prose fiction from 1700 to the publication of Richardson’s Pamela in 1740, allowing readers to explore the principal concerns of this fiction and its relation to other genres at the time. Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber 2006 is a detailed bibliography and an indispensable resource for Irish literature research. Todd 1985 is a still useful compendium of early British women writers.

  • Letellier, Robert, ed. The English Novel, 1700–1740: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood Press, 2002.

    This bibliography is divided into two parts. The first lists miscellaneous works (bibliographies, anthologies, general studies) related to the period 1700–1740. The second part is focuses on individual authors and specific works of fiction, providing a selected chronological shortlist of prose fiction in English during these years. Useful for its broad range of critical apparatus, including its indices of scholars and themes.

  • Loeber, Rolf, and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, eds., with Anne M. Burnham. Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650–1900. Dublin: Four Courts, 2006.

    Arranged alphabetically, the main text is a bibliography of Irish fiction (including details of author and publisher and different editions) supplemented with commentaries and information on locating the relevant sources. An essential guide, which expands the canon of this fiction from works strictly related to Ireland via geographical or authorial connection to those that are interested in Irish matters in a more discursive sense. Contains helpful indexes.

  • Raven, James, ed. British Fiction 1750–1770: A Chronological Check-List of Prose Fiction Printed in Britain and Ireland. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987.

    A chronological bibliography of prose fiction of the latter half of the eighteenth century, with an authoritative introduction. A wealth of useful information and statistics contained in this volume.

  • Raven, James, and Antonia Forster, eds. The English Novel 1770–1829: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles. Vol. 1, 1770–1799. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Lists British fiction published between 1770 and 1799 in chronological order. Entries include bibliographic details and locations of surviving copies. The introduction offers a detailed survey of novel history, with publication statistics, information about authorship, publishers and printers, and translations.

  • Todd, Janet, ed. A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers: 1660–1800. London: Methuen, 1985.

    A correction to accounts of literary history that placed the beginnings of the professional women writer with Austen, listing a host of women writers making money from fiction long before her and influencing her in the process. Much more work on recovering 18th-century women writers has followed in its wake, yet this is still a sound introductory guide.

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