The Haunted Study: Social History of the English Novel, 1876-1914

Philip Horne writes:

Anthony Trollope once proposed to write ‘a history of English prose fiction’, but ‘broke down in the task, because I could not endure the labour in addition to the other labours of my life’ – for ‘it would be necessary to read an infinity of novels.’ Such a wholesale reading of fiction takes on for many of us, as for Trollope, ‘a terrible aspect’. It doesn’t apparently, though, for Gilbert Phelps, John Sutherland and Peter Keating, surveyors and encyclopedists of the form who in their respective fields have laboured with energetic exhaustiveness and not broken down. Each of these books feels as if it takes in an infinity of novels, and each deserves the gratitude of those who, if they could not have endured the labour involved in the production, will find their understandings helpfully, often excitingly enlarged. Coverage on this ambitious scale carries an implicit rebuke to the specialist in the corner, or at least a reminder that a reframing of the wide angles can also refresh our views.

(LRB 14 September 1989)