This article concerns the early career of William Lane as a fiction publisher, before his adoption of the Minerva brand in 1792. It reveals that Lane played an active role in promoting Irish-authored fiction to London readers, and contributed to the endurance of a popular yet neglected form of mid-eighteenth-century comic fiction. In the 1780s, Lane published many Irish novelists; also notable among his novels were several ‘ramble novels’, or bluff comedies of masculine travel in the style of Fielding and Smollett. It was only later that his press became known for Gothic and historical fiction and associated with the female reader. The article charts the popularity of ramble fiction in the 1780s and its treatment by reviewers and anthologists. It then closely examines one Irish ramble novel published by Lane in order to demonstrate the significance of the form to the history of Irish fiction and its capacity to accommodate serious political themes. The Minor, or the History of George O’Nial (1786) engages with the campaigns against the Penal Laws, which restricted the freedoms of Catholics and Dissenters. It was written in the midst of the first repeals of certain of these laws, and calls for more far-reaching reforms. Through a narrative centred on Irish characters, the novel advocates for Ireland’s disempowered Catholic inhabitants. Continue reading
Joe Lines lives in Xi’an, China, where he teaches English on dual-degree programmes run by Chang’an University and University College, Dublin. His articles have appeared in Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies and Eighteenth-Century Ireland. He is the author of a chapter on the novel and criminal biography in the collection Irish Literature in Transition, 1700–1780, edited by Moyra Haslett (CUP, 2020). His first monograph, The Rogue Narrative and Irish Fiction, 1660–1790, will be published by Syracuse University Press in November 2020.