Serious Extravagance: Romance Writing in Seventeenth-Century England
Although little recognized as such, the 17th century was a period of great energy and experimentation in British prose fiction, particularly romance. After a brief review of the criticism that has shaped our understanding of romance in the last few decades, this article considers some of the particular problems and tensions defining prose romance in its last great heyday, the Civil War and early Restoration period. French and English romance writers attributed to romance the capacity to be a more flexible and persuasive mode of historical writing than history itself, a storehouse of ‘examples’ both fictional and historical with which readers could devise a course through uncharted political and ethical terrain. At the same time, at this historical crisis point British writers conceded and sometimes took refuge in romance’s tendency (even as roman a` clef) to work against figuration, resisting closure and interpretation.