There is no single source of the novel as a literary genre, nor is there any single ideology which is most appropriate to it. Narrative techniques and devices associated with the novel are present in earlier epics, romances, novella collections, travel accounts, fables, miscellanies, jest books, lives of saints, and chronicles, just as most ideological perspectives have at one time or another found expression in the novel. Nevertheless, novel-writing has tended to develop in different places, when similar socio-cultural concerns were beginning to surface; in particular, it can often be identified with an emergent belief that individuals constitute a primary locus of meaning and value in the world. During the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries in Europe and shortly after the second world war in Africa, this idea stood in strong opposition to one of the major tenets of traditional belief: that individuals are only important in terms of their positions within a larger social and genealogical matrix. In Europe a growing interest in the individual's responsibility for self-definition can be correlated with the evolution of a middle-class ideology to sanction the social status of people whose talents and ambitions had enabled them to acquire wealth and, as a consequence, to desire a higher position than one they had inherited by birth. In Africa, a similar ideology was disseminated by the European colonizers who, even before the twentieth century, had thoroughly assimilated it themselves. Early novels written in both places do not necessarily espouse the intrusive ideology; in fact, many of them explicitly condemn it. Yet even they were defining their stance in opposition to the new individualism. In other words, the emergence of a middle class ideology provoked a need to clarify the nature and role of individual experience in a social context, and the novel offered writers a particularly congenial way of responding to this need.
"Middle Class Ideology and the Autonomous Self: The Emergence of the Novel in Europe and Africa,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 15:
3, Article 2.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol15/iss3/2