Impact of Science & Technology on the Development of English Novel

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Impact of Science and Technology in the Development of English Novels

by – Prashant Maurya, Vol. III, Issue. XXXII, September 2017



Science and Technology have played an important role in raising the standard of human life. In fact, Science and Technology are involved in the day to day lives of human beings, making it more comfortable and advance. Development, in any form, is closely associated with the advancement of Science and Technology, whether it be the case of human beings or anything else. Similarly, the form in which we see Literature today was not the same say some five hundred years back. Literature primarily was oral and the little which was available in writing was in the form of the manuscript. It is only after the invention of the printing press that we have printed literature and now a day has come that we are carrying the literature in our mobile phones. It is because of Science and Technology. The purpose of this paper is to have a look at the role played by Science and Technology in the development of Novels, which is a major form (genre) of Literature.

 Key Words:  Novel, Science Fiction, Industrial Revolution, Middle Class, Science and Technology

Introduction: The Novel is thought to have its roots in the medieval romances but the novel, as a fully fledged literary genre, came into existence during the eighteenth century, a time when Richardson and Fielding started writing novels. The rise of the novel is related to the rise of middle class in England. The Industrial Revolution, it can be said, paved the way for the rise of middle class that resulted in the growth of reading public. The Novel then came to cater to the demands of people’s desire for reading subjects dealing with the everyday experiences of human life. The Novel became popular very soon leaving behind newspapers and periodical essays, as it presented characters in real life events and situations.

                                            Science and Technology played an important role in the development of the novel. The invention of the printing press and its arrival in England, which was due to scientific and technological development, contributed the most to the rise of English Novels. Printing press came to England in 1476, a time when the novel as a genre was not into existence. But soon as the printing of reading materials started, England saw an immense rise in the reading public, though access to reading materials was not in reach of everybody because of its high production costs. At the dawn of Industrial Revolution, the mechanics of printing press changed and printing press with a capacity to produce more pages per hour came, which in a way was crucial in the production of the novels, as novels usually run into hundreds of pages. The new mechanism in the printing press doubled the output. Books became very cheap now the rising middle class reading public could afford the novels and the novel as a new genre, in its full form, came into existence.

                                           Scientific and Technological development in England dates back to the 15th century during the time of Renaissance when English people had started exploring each and every field of human knowledge. Advances in the geographical exploration led to the invention of ships and discovery of many inhabitant lands and this advancement in science became the subject matter of early English Novels. For e.g. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, published in 1719, was a novel about the sea voyage of Robinson. Similarly, Gulliver’s Travels, written in 1726 by Jonathan Swift, depicted the adventurous sea journeys of Lemuel Gulliver to different lands.

                      Due to advancement in technology Industrial Revolution came. People started migrating from villages to cities in search of jobs and a better life. London became the most populated cities of those times. The Industrial Revolution led to problems like migration, slum, child labour, exploitation etc. And these evils are vividly painted by the contemporary novelists like Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell in their novels. Further advancement came when Darwin published his On the Origin of Species in 1859. Science dismantled the position of human’s faith in religion and we see the direct influence of this in the subject matter of the novels of Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hardy which primarily deals in the disillusionment of humans. Later on, Sigmund Freud came up with his new approaches in human psychology this was also the manifestation of scientific advancement. Then after the novels produced, chiefly probe into the minds of the protagonist and focuses on the layers of human psychology. Novelists started giving significance to individuals and individual viewpoint. For e.g. the novels of James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf.

                Scientific and technological developments became one of the popular subject matters in the novel writing of those times and hence Science Fiction as a subgenre of the Novel emerged. We have an example of an early 19th century published novel, Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley which was the story of a creature that was the product of the scientific experiment. Further with the dawn of new technologies, such as electricity, the new forms of transportations, writers like H. G. Wells wrote novels which had descriptions of all those new innovations which were happening those times. Because of technological advances, there was a tremendous increase in science fiction; novels dealing with the subject matter of space exploration, life on other planets, nuclear warfare etc. Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four are the few best examples. The advent of television and nonstop demand for T.V. materials has also resulted in the dramatized versions of Novels. Now, most of the novels are made into movies.

        The Novel has remained a witness to various social and scientific changes always and these changes are pictured in the novels of respective ages. In today’s 21st century world, Science and Technology have not only changed the concept of the traditional novel but also the reading habits of people. Reading habit has changed due to the emergence of online novels, eBooks, blogs etc. Nowadays people prefer small short length novels that can be read in one sitting over the traditional novels which used to run into hundreds of pages. Now the internet is also helping people to write novels. There are plenty of online novel writing courses available on the internet. For e.g. Stanford University has started an online course in Novel Writing which provides people with a structured environment in which they can write a novel.

                     Online novels are now written, published and read and this can be seen as a further development of the genre novel. Though printed books would rapidly decline, as the authority of the book has been threatened by the emergence of eBooks which is a result of technological development, but it can also be seen as a new transformation to the genre novel. Hence we can say that Science and Technology have greatly impacted the development of the novel.

Introduction to the Author: 

Prashant Maurya is a PhD Research Scholar at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Roorkee, Uttarakhand – 247667.


Suggested Reading:

Albert, Edward. History of English Literature. New Delhi: OUP, 1979.

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