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Broadcaster: BBC 4
Year: 2011
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/68772

Review by: Luna Ferraraccio

This programme focuses on the birth of the British novel as its main subject. Henry Hitchings discovers how and when the genre of the novel was born and its literary and social consequences. If today novels and fiction are easily accessible, during the 18th century they were seen as “a dangerous and subversive enterprise”. In fact, they were ideal ways to criticise, challenge and point out the problems in the society under an apparently harmless disguise.

Various aspects of the literary history are covered in this documentary. The main novelists discussed in the footage are Henry Fielding along with Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne and Fanny Burney. A section of the documentary is dedicated to each author, one after the other while Hitchings revisits the locations dear or important to the writers, the places that inspired them to write the books that are called classics today. Through the programme, the work of the five novelists is analysed and commented on by fellow modern authors.

Investigating this precise period of time and the emergence of a new genre is particularly important since it was at that moment that the bases of our modern literary genres such as horror, political thriller and gendered genres such as “chick-lit” had their antecedents.

The document is impressive for it is slightly longer than an hour, it is however rich and complete. The different sections which consider the different authors follow one another but are still clearly separated, so if the footage as a whole is too long, one can decide to just watch the part that is of one’s interest. The documentary could be use as a source for further research for a project or an essay. The variety of speakers gives more balance to the footage and allows the viewers to process the information with a grain of salt.