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“One of the most successful literary lies,” declares Margaret Anne Doody, “is the English claim to have invented the novel…. One of the best-kept literary secrets is the existence of novels in antiquity.”
In fact, as Doody goes on to demonstrate, the Novel of the Roman Empire is a joint product of Africa, Western Asia, and Europe. It is with this argument that The True Story of the Novel devastates and reconfigures the history of the novel as we know it. Twentieth-century historians and critics defending the novel have emphasized its role as superseding something else, as a sort of legitimate usurper that deposed the Epic, a replacement of myth, or religious narrative. To say that the Age of Early Christianity was really also the Age of the Novel rumples such historical tidiness—but so it was. From the outset of her discussion, Doody rejects the conventional Anglo-Saxon distinction between Romance and Novel. This eighteenth-century distinction, she maintains,…[more]