The English novel which was destined to live, in fact out live all other forms of literature, whether poetry or drama, and shine even today on the horizon of English literature as a bright star, actually rose and greatly developed in the 18th century. The novel despite the presence of great poetical works and the best periodical essays stands out in this century not only as the most popular but also the most enduring medium.
To examine critically the sudden rise of the novel in this age it is important to understand the social background and circumstances which helped to make it the most thriving literary form of the 18th century. The biggest and the most important factor which moulded the shape of this century and helped immensely in the breakup with the restoration age was the rise of the middle classes.
With the unprecedented rise in trade and commerce many small businessmen were rapidly entering the ranks of the wealthy, aristocratic, English society and with an enormous rise in their number, were also being accepted in the circles of the genteel English society. .
The face of the society during that era was rapidly changing. London at this time became the sole hub of not only all artistic and cultural activities but also all political and commercial ones. Coffee houses sprang up as the meeting grounds of the rich, the famous, the powerful and the enlightened. Money became the supreme driving force as was only natural due to the rise of traders and merchants. Journalism raised its head for the first time and the periodical essay actually played a constructive role by improving the reading habits of the masses and by educating them in issues like morality, religion, culture, history and mannerisms.
Political unrest too took apart as always in shaping the face of this century. Although these unrests were nothing as compared to the past turmoils the English nation had faced yet they succeeded n leaving an ineradicable mark on the otherwise calm surface of the society.