Technologies of the Novel: Quantitative Data and the Evolution of Literary Systems
In a study based on the systematic sampling of nearly 2,000 French and English novels written between 1601 and 1830, Nicholas Paige (French) asks how, precisely, the novel evolved. Instead of simply “rising” (as scholars have traditionally described its appearance as a genre), the novel is, in Paige’s view, a system in constant flux, made up of artifacts — formally distinct novel types — that themselves rise, only to inevitably fall.
Paige argues that these artifacts are technologies, each with traceable origins, each needing time for adoption and also for abandonment. Like technological waves in more physical domains, the rises and falls of novelistic technologies don't happen automatically: writers invent and adopt literary artifacts for many diverse reasons. Looking not at individual works but at the novel as a patterned system, Technologies of the Novel (Cambridge, 2020) presents a new way of understanding the history and evolution of art forms.
Paige is joined by Dorothy Hale (English). After a brief discussion, they respond to questions from the audience.