What is a family novel? Russian literary scholars—who use the term frequently—claim that it is originally an English genre, yet in English scholarship the term has virtually disappeared. This article recovers the lost history of the family novel, tracing two separate strands: usage of the term and form/content of the novels. The genre began in England with Richardsonian domestic fiction and spread to Russia, where it evolved along different lines, shaped by the different social and political context. In England, the fate of the term turns out to be tied up with the fate of women writers in the nineteenth century, and then with the rise of feminist studies in the late twentieth that, in validating the importance of the domestic sphere, caused family novel to be superseded by domestic fiction. In Russia, by contrast, the great family novels of the nineteenth century were not associated with women or the domestic sphere, nor—as it turns out—were they considered to be family novels at the time they were written. Only in twentieth-century scholarship, as the original meaning of the term was lost, did they become family novels. In recovering the lost history of the term, this article illustrates the way later ideology and theoretical emphases that shape the language of scholarship ultimately reshape our understanding of the past.

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