The early novel was not the coming-of-age story we know today—eighteenth-century adolescent protagonists remained in a constant state of arrested development, never truly maturing.
Between the emergence of the realist novel in the early eighteenth century and the novel's subsequent alignment with self-improvement a century later lies a significant moment when novelistic characters were unlikely to mature in any meaningful way. That adolescent protagonists poised on the cusp of adulthood resisted a headlong tumble into maturity through the workings of plot reveals a curious literary and philosophical counter-tradition in the history of the novel. Stephanie Insley Hershinow's Born Yesterday shows how the archetype of the early realist novice reveals literary character tout court.
Through new readings of canonical novels by Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen, Hershinow severs the too-easy tie between novelistic form and character formation, a conflation, she argues, of Bild with Bildung. A pop-culture-infused epilogue illustrates the influence of the eighteenth-century novice, as embodied by Austen's Emma, in the 1995 film Clueless, as well as in dystopian YA works like The Hunger Games.
Drawing on bold close readings, Born Yesterday alters the landscape of literary historical eighteenth-century studies and challenges some of novel theory's most well-worn assumptions.
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