Literature

First Words: Three Centuries of an English-Language Wonder

This year marks the 300th anniversary of that hand-sized wonder, the English novel. All was triggered when a London printer of Pater-Noster Row, behind St Paul’s Cathedral, took a risk on a book-length fictional tale set entirely in prose. Penned by the journalist Daniel Defoe and marketed by a bookseller friend in Fleet Street, this inventive narrative found a keen readership during 1719. Several other working writers followed Defoe’s lead, their efforts being referred to around the city’s coffee-houses as the nouvelle or “new thing”. There was an eventual rumpus, dubbed the “Battle of the Books”. The literati of Georgian…

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