The rise of the modern novel is described as being intertwined with the emergence of a middle-class in British society and elsewhere. This emerging middle-class became the audience that authors started to address and this shift of attention from the upper class to the middle class can be seen in many authors’ works. Both Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens address the benefits of living in a middle class society in their novels, Robinson Crusoe and Great Expectations.
In the first chapter of Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe is describing his current life allotment, being the third son of his family and therefore not having any clear expectations of grandeur. He at one point expresses to his father his discontent with his life and his desire to set sail on a ship and seek his fortune. After hearing this, Crusoe’s father becomes distraught and sets out describing all the benefits that arise from being part of the middle class. He tries to instill in Crusoe a sort of pride and gratification for his social status.
Defoe, by placing this glorification of the middle class within the first few pages of the novel is using the conversation as a device to lock in his readers. Any middle class person reading this book would take that passage as a sort of praise thereby encouraging them to read more.
Crusoe however, despite his father’s speech is still discontented with his lot in life and sets sail anyway. Yet, he is continuously met with hardships; the first being a severe storm, then enslavement in Africa and finally being washed up on a deserted island. All three of these events just strengthen Crusoe’s father’s argument that he should be content with the middle class and stop trying to fight Providence.
In Great Expectations, Pip starts off being quite content with his upper-working class social status, knowing no other way of life. However, when he meets Miss Havisham and more importantly, Estella, he realizes that there are “greater” things and is no longer content with his blacksmith apprenticeship. He continually attempts to “refine” himself, as well as Joe whom he is embarrassed of. When Pip acquires an unknown benefactor and is then given a chance to achieve the social status he has sought, he leaves Joe and Biddy with very little thought of them other than shame.
Pip’s life, however, after acquiring his money is far from happy. Firstly, he comes into debt from spending too extravagantly. Then he realizes that despite all his money he can still not be with Estella. He ends up losing everything and is almost sent to debtor’s prison, but is bailed out by Joe.
Joe represents throughout the book an ideal for the middle class, or rather the upper level working class. He is happy and satisfied with his life and leads a much more purposeful existence than any of the “gentleman” that Pip meets.
Another character that supports the glorification of the middle class is Miss Havisham. She possesses an immense amount of wealth and property and yet has not seen the sunlight in over twenty years. Her money is of no comfort to her and in fact causes her grief as it makes her suspect everyone around her of trying to take it from her.
Dickens emphasizes very clearly the happiness that can come from living a middle-class life as well as the fact that money cannot buy happiness.
For these reasons both Dickens and Defoe represent the benefits of being part of the middle class. They both write towards their projected audience, the middle class, which also supports the idea that the novel rose with the rise of the middle class.