Huet’s Treatise on the Origin of Novels

Pierre Daniel Huet in his Traitté de l’origine des Romans (Treatise on the Origin of Novels) defends the genre in a manner similar to Austen’s:

I don’t, for all this, pretend to condemn the Reading of them. The Best Things in the World are attended with their Inconveniencies; Romances too may have much worse than Ignorance. I know what they are accused for: They exhaust our Devotion, and inspire us with Irregular Passions, and corrupt our Manner. All this may be, and sometimes does happen. But what can’t Evil and Degenerated Minds make an Ill Use of? Weak Souls are contagious to themselves, and make Poyson of every Thing. Histories must be forbidden, which relate so many Pernicious Examples; and the Fable must undergo the same Fate; for there Crimes are authorised by the Practice of the Gods. […]
Little Regard was had to Sobriety of manners, in most Part of the Greek and Old French Romances, by Reason of the Vice of the Times in which they were composed. […] But the Modern Romances (I speak of the Good ones) are so far from this Fault, that you’ll scarce find an Expression, or Word, which may shock Chaste Ears, or one single Action which may give Offence to Modesty.
If any one object; That Love is treated of in a Manner so Soft and Insinuating, that the Bait of this Dangerous Passion invades too easily the Tender Hearts; I answer, That it is so far from being Dangerous, that it is in some Respects Necessary, that the Young People of the World should be acquainted with it; that they may stop their Ears to that which is Criminal, and be better fortified against its Artifices; and know their Conduct, in that which has an Honest and Sacred End. This is so true, that Experience lays before us, that such as are least acquainted with Love, are the most unguarded to its As|<145>saults, that the most Ignorant are soonest decoyed. Add to this that Nothing so much refines and polishes Wit; Nothing conduces so much to the Forming and Advancing it to the Approbation of the World, as the Reading of Romances. These are the Dumb Tutors, which succeed those of the College, and teach us how to Live and Speak by a more Persuasive and Instructive method than theirs […]. [p.145]

The English translation by Stephen Lewis was published in 1715.

sm-plusPosted by Sylwia

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