In The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600 – 1800, Moore concentrates on the macro and explores the evolution of an amorphous artform using a constellation of lesser known works.
How important was it to maintain your own distinct voice when tackling such a broad topic?
I decided at the beginning it would be more fun—fun for me, and I hope fun for the reader—to write this in a casual, personal manner rather than in the formal, impersonal tone of an academic treatise. The style is the same I would use in an e-mail to a bookish acquaintance: informative, but with the occasional aside or wisecrack. It’s the same tone I’ve always admired in New Journalists like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, and more recently in David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction. Although both volumes of The Novel deal with pre-1800 works, it is essentially a defense of contemporary avant-garde fiction, which is my specialty. I wanted to show that such fiction is not an aberration that started with Ulysses in 1922, as some conservative critics complain, but has always existed, if you look beyond the canonized classics. I wanted to establish a continuum between early and modern innovative fiction, and so drew modern parallels whenever I could.
You confine your history to a specific period, but the book is also divided by region and language. How do these formal choices reflect your understanding of the novel's development?
For the second volume, I deliberately started with Spanish fiction because Don Quixote exerted a profound influence on the development of the European novel from 1600 onwards. And I deliberately postponed the chapter on the British novel—it doesn’t begin until page 541—to underscore the fact that, far from being the birthplace of the novel, as traditionally believed, England was one of the last places to produce any major novels. And before I get to the English, I have a chapter on Asian novelists, who were way ahead of their European counterparts in many ways.
As the “modern novel” coalesces, there seems to be a lot of mutual influence across languages. Which relationships, or specific moments, feel most pivotal from our current vantage?
There was an incredible amount of cross-fertilization between 1600 and 1800. The earliest German novelists were influenced by the French, the French were inspired by the Spanish, and the early English novelists were heavily influenced by both the Spanish and French. Later in the 18th century, the English began influencing the French, Germans, and even the Russians. On the other side of the world, the Chinese influenced Koreans and the Japanese, Arabs influenced the Indians, and so forth. After Don Quixote, the biggest influences in Europe were probably the Spanish picaresque novel and Richardson’s epistolary novels, while in China it was the four great Ming novels I discussed in my previous volume.
Many of the books covered are labeled as deserving modern rehabilitation, or retranslation. Is there any single novel where the neglect has gotten to particularly egregious levels?
The single most influential novel in European literature is Heliodorus’s Ethiopian Story, a terrific Greek novel from the 3rd or 4th century, which few people other than specialists read. It’s never been included in the Penguin or Oxford classics (though it’s available in a few translations). But if I could see one novel in a modern, faithful translation, it would be Antoine Furetière’s Bourgeois Romance (1666). It’s an experimental novel that pre-dates Tristram Shandy by a century and reads like something a small avant-garde press would publish nowadays.