- The guy typically credited with inventing what we know as the modern novel was Miguel De Cervantes with his cumbersome 800-plus page book, "Don Quixote."
But what if I told you that the real antecedent for the modern novel was created by ladies?
(lively music) Before the rise of what would become the modern novel, there was amatory fiction.
Amatory fiction was a genre of fiction that became popular in Britain in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
As its name implies, amatory fiction is preoccupied with sexual love and romance.
Most of its works were short stories.
It was dominated by women, and women were the ones responsible for sharing and promoting their own work.
There are quite a few ladies we could discuss, but today we are going to focus on the big three, the literary lady squad that was dubbed The Fair Triumvirate of Wit, made up of Eliza Haywood, Delarivier Manley, and Aphra Behn.
Clara Reeve, an English gothic novelist, wrote about the history of prose fiction in the "Progress of Romance" and mentions with some shade, "The French and Spanish Romance, and the writing of Mrs. Behn, Mrs. Manley, and Mrs.
So even as early as the 18th century, as people were documenting who was crafting the trajectory of the written word, women were very much being noted.
What makes amatory fiction so interesting and probably why it's been forgotten to the sands of time was that these were stories about women, by women, that explored their sexuality, their pleasures, and the limits of autonomy they were allowed to have in their lives before the puritanical era of the Victorian prudes and just general haters came along.
In the typical ruined woman lady plot, young innocent woman ends up meeting a handsome, probably dark-haired man who never smiles and only ever grins or smirks.
She is seduced and later on deceived by said dark-haired man and ends up ruined for having sex outside of wedlock, reinforcing the notion that a woman's value is based around her virginity and purity, and it can be taken from her.
Then she had to throw herself off a cliff, because now she has nothing to offer the world.
Well, amatory fiction asks, but what if she just liked the sex and didn't die some of the time?
Amatory fiction was considered immoral by the standards of the day because it allowed women to have scandalous love affairs without being punished, because women are not allowed to feel pleasure without consequences.
The contemporary dismissal is part of the reason why these stories and the authors involved in them were not given their due credit for the rise of the novel.
So much so that later 18th century female writers like Frances Burney really wanted to distance themselves from the raunchy concept of female authorship.
They weren't like other female writers.
See, they were cool writers who wrote hyper realistic stories about women on the cusp of being rich if they could just marry wealthy, relatable everyday content.
In "'Novel,' 'Romance,' and Popular Fiction in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century" by Dieter Schulz, Schulz argues that the works of the three big people you might have heard of, Daniel Defoe, author of "Robinson Crusoe," Samuel Richardson, author of "Clarissa," and Henry Fielding, author of "Tom Jones," should be viewed as a reaction against the kind of romanticized novel or novella produced by writers such as Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood, rather than as an alternative to the tradition of high romance presented by the heroic romances of the 17th century.
Daniel Defoe with his 1722 novel "Moll Flanders" made sure to set up his stories as private histories that were telling a more realistic weighty story and were not idle, AKA no fun hot girl summer here.
Even back then, male critics were very glad to dismiss the concept of a happily ever after as fluff.
All three members of the wit squad were widely read and Haywood's "Love in Excess" was, after "Gulliver's Travels" and "Robinson Crusoe," one of the most popular works of fiction of the era.
Yet, we still read these other two works, mostly abridge, but still.
So it's 1792 and Mary Wollstonecraft has just published "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," and the dudes are super salty.
Male critics already think that women who have succeeded in literature only did so because men gave them permission to do so.
As Jane Spencer explains: The public reception of Wollstoncraft's "The Right of Woman" plainly demonstrates that women writers had been accepted only on condition that they remained within a limited, feminine sphere and did not disturb men's dominance of the real world outside it.
"Women we have often placed near the throne of literature," wrote the critical reviewer of Wollstonecraft's work, "But if they seize it, forgetful of our fondness, we can hurl them from it."
Yikes, and the way most women worked this power play was by working satire and political commentary into their works.
What were some of these saucy stories about?
Well, let's see.
One of Aphra Behn's most scandalous novels was "The History of the Nun or The Fair Vow-breaker."
This Behn novel is about a young woman named Isabella who was the daughter of a count who was sent to a nunnery when her mother dies.
She ends up falling in love with this guy named Henualt, breaks her vows as a nun, and commits some petty thievery which gets her husband disowned.
So he eventually joins the Army and is eventually presumed dead.
So she ends up marrying a rich dude named Villenoys who was in love with her from way back when.
However, Henualt ends up coming back and Isabella smothers him to death and disposes of the body because she's afraid of being shamed for committing bigamy.
Um, murder is worse.
Isabella has such a good reputation, however.
She almost gets away with it but ends up confessing and is executed.
Before she is put to death, however, she gives an impassioned speech that makes everyone go, "You know, she is a pretty cool lady.
Sucks she has to die."
"Fantomina or Love in a Maze" by Eliza Haywood is about this nameless highbrow woman who ends up having a dalliance with a man after a night at the theater.
The man, called Beauplaisir, ends up getting bored and doing the 1725 version of ghosting.
In response, the protagonist dawns three different disguises to keep seducing Beauplaisir until they both end up getting bored with each other.
The story ends with our protagonist eventually getting pregnant and being forced by her mother to confess all this to Beauplaisir.
Beauplaisir offers her marriage and her response is "No."
So our heroine gets sent off to a French nunnery.
Meanwhile, Beauplaisir has to deal with the fact that he is very, very, very gullible.
Kathleen Lubey, in "Eliza Haywood's Amatory Aesthetic," writes: Haywood chooses amatory content not only as a call to a sexually attuned audience but as a mode of immersing her readers in states of extreme aesthetic engagement that acquaint them with human experience with an intensity no other material can.
Far from being a degraded form of sensationalist writing, amatory fiction contains the most instructive potential for eliciting readers' affect and calling their attention to the implications of that affect.
These stories all have different endings, but all of them show a woman struggling in a system that very much wants them to be passive actors in their own story.
They seek love, romance, sex and adventure.
Each of these texts is on the heroine's side, and even if they were forced to have nonradical endings at times, the fact that it gives voice to these desires is radical.
English scholar Toni O'Shaughnessy Bowers explains: Behn, Manley, Haywood, and their peers were writing for women increasingly cut off from the world outside the domestic circle.
That world was, they knew, full of traps laid especially for them.
Even the smallest error could result in permanent social alienation.
Under these circumstances, amatory fiction provided Augustan women with a sense of involvement in the outside world, which, for all its dangers and disappointments, had great advantages over restrictive domesticity while allowing them to maintain a safe distance from it.
Even marriage in these books is treated as something a woman has to want rather than a reward for good behavior as it is in Samuel Richardson's "Pamela" or "The History of Sir Charles Grandison."
In 1753, Mary Wortley Montagu remarked, "Richardson is so eager for the multiplication of marriages.
I suppose he is some parish curate whose chief profit depends on weddings and christenings.
For those who are not aware, that is a soft drag.
It is not a read.
But these women weren't just writing lust tales for the sake of it.
Enter woman was heavy political satire and "The New Atalantis," an influential political satire by Delarivier Manley, which have the goddesses, Justice and Virtue, on Earth witnessing all kinds of human nastiness, such as orgies, seduction and assault, just terrible.
Well, it mocks several members of the wig party, including Sarah Churchill, who was then a favorite of the queen.
In fact, the scandal and public fever around Manley's writing was particularly impactful in damaging the relationship between Sarah Churchill and Queen Anne.
Although they decided not to include that in the "Favourite" for some reason.
Manley ended up being arrested, but she was adamant that the figures in the book were totally fictional, you guys, and eventually the charges were dropped.
So it couldn't be liable, so there.
Professor of English, Catherine Gallagher, explains of Manley's work: The allegorical style favored by Manley, for example, involved telling scandalous stories about recognizable real persons with the name and some circumstances altered.
The stories were given distant historical, exotic, or mythical settings and were often interspersed with stories lacking apparent referents.
What Manley gained from the allegorical necessity of altering and therefore inventing circumstances was a representational density that enabled especially effective libel.
Manley's talent was for crafting the invented circumstances into what we would now call a novelistically satisfying story, one read for its own sake as well as for its scandalous referentiality.
So if these women were so impactful and interesting to the point where they ruined semi-gay royal relationships, why aren't they more well known?
Well, it was because they were raunchy.
Other female authors of the time didn't want to be associated with The Fair Triumvirate who were also called prostitutes of the pen.
William Warner an English essayist wrote: "The incorporation of the novel of amorous intrigue within the elevated novel of the 1740s, in, for example, "Pamela," "Joseph Andrews," "Clarissa," and "Tom Jones," is one of the means by which old pleasures are disowned and forgotten.
In their novels of the 1740s, Richardson and Fielding promote this forgetting, first by defacing the novel of amorous intrigue and then by providing their own novels as replacements for novels they characterize as degraded and immoral.
These new novels overwrite, by disavowing but appropriating, tossing out but recycling the novels they spurn.
It wasn't until early feminists and other female authors like Virginia Woolf rediscovered them that history started giving these ladies their due.
The works of these women are being studied more but due to the racy subject matter, most people only ever hear of these women in college or graduate school.
Despite the work they did to help develop what we now know of the English novel, they are still underloved and underappreciated, much like Amy Adams at the Oscars.
When we talk about female authorship, we can always pull out the big guns, your Brontes, Austens, Alcotts, Woolfs, but that is just such a small cafeteria table.
When the reality is that there was a whole school of female writers who not only wrote but did it well enough to set the standard.
To quote Virginia Woolf, "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."