Sequel - History - Sequels of The Novel

Sequels of The Novel

The origin of the sequel as we think of it today developed from the novella and romance traditions in a slow process that culminated towards the end of the 17th century (see: novel).

The substantial shift towards a rapidly growing print culture and the rise of the market system by the early 18th-century meant that an author’s merit and livelihood became increasingly linked to the number of copies of a work he or she could sell. This shift to a text-based to an author-centered reading culture led to the “professionalization” of the author— that is, the development of a “sense of identity based on a marketable skill and on supplying to a defined public a specialized service it was demanding.” In one sense, then, sequels became a means to profit further from previous work that had already obtained some measure of commercial success. As the establishment of a readership became increasingly important to the economic viability of authorship, sequels offered a means to establish a recurring economic outlet.

In addition to economic profit, the sequel was also used as a method to strengthen an author’s claim to his literary property. With weak copyright laws and unscrupulous booksellers willing to sell whatever they could, in some cases the only way to prove ownership of a text was to produce another like it. Sequels in this sense are rather limited in scope, as the authors are focused on producing “more of the same” to defend their “literary paternity.” As is true throughout history, sequels to novels provided an opportunity for authors to interact with a readership. This becomes especially important in the economy of the 18th century novel, in which an author needed to draw readers back with the promise of more of what they liked from the original in order to maintain readership. With sequels, therefore, came the implicit division of readers by authors into the categories of “desirable” and “undesirable”—that is, those that interpret the text in a way unsanctioned by the author. Only after having achieved a significant reader base would an author was free to alienate or ignore the “undesirable” readers.

This concept of “undesirable” readers extends to unofficial sequels with the 18th century novel. While in certain historical contexts unofficial sequels were actually the norm (for an example, see Arthurian literature), with the emphasis on the author function that arises in conjunction with the novel many authors began to see these kinds of unauthorized extensions as being in direct conflict with authorial authority. With Don Quixote (an early novel, perhaps better classified as a satirical romance), for example, Cervantes disapproved of Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda’s use of his characters in “Second Volume of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,” an unauthorized sequel. In response, he very firmly kills the protagonist at the end of the Second Part to discourage any more such creative liberties. Another example is Samuel Richardson, an 18th-century author that responded particularly strongly against the appropriation of his material by unauthorized third parties. Richardson was extremely vocal in his disapproval of the way the protagonist of his novel ‘’Pamela’’ was repeatedly incorporated into unauthorized sequels featuring particularly lewd plots. The most famous of these is Henry Fielding’s parody, entitled “Shamela.”

In To Renew Their Former Acquaintance: Print, Gender, and Some Eighteenth Century Sequels Betty Schellenburg theorizes that whereas for male writers in the 18th century sequels often served as “models of paternity and property,” for women writers these models were more likely to be seen as transgressive. Instead, the recurring readership created by sequels allowed female writers to function within the model of “familiar acquaintances reunited to enjoy the mutual pleasures of conversation,” and for their writing to be an “activity within a private, non-economic sphere.” Ironically, of course, it was through this created perception that women writers were able to break into the economic sphere and “enhance their professional status” through authorship.

Dissociated from the motives of profit and therefore unrestrained by the need for continuity felt by male writers, Schellenburg argues that female-authored sequel fiction tended to have a much broader scope. Women writers showed an “innovative freedom” that male writers rejected in order to “protect their patrimony.” For example, Sarah Fielding's Adventures of David Simple and its sequels Familiar Letters between the Principal Characters in David Simple and David Simple, Volume the Last are extremely innovative and cover almost the entire range of popular narrative styles of the 18th century.

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