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"The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and of the time in which it is written. The Romance, in lofty and elevated language, describes what never happened nor is likely to happen." --Clara Reeve, The Progress of Romance, 1785

"The modern novel is born with Richardson, Fielding, Rousseau and Prévost. It then procedes to the The Monk and Ann Radcliffe" --Marquis de Sade, 1800.

"And what are you reading, Miss --?" "Oh! it is only a novel!" … or, in short, only some work in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.-- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818)

It can be argued that all novels, no matter how "literary", also fall within the bounds of one or more genres. Thus Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a romance; Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is a psychological thriller; and James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a coming-of-age story. These novels would usually be stocked in the general or possibly the classics section of a bookstore. Indeed, many works now regarded as literary classics were originally written as genre novels. [Apr 2006]

Voyeurism is not just one of the primary tools of cinema, but of written fiction too. [Dec 2005]

By era: 1600s novel - 1700s novel - 1800s novel - 1900s novel

Related: fiction - epistolary novel - gothic novel - literature - modern novel - narrative - photonovel - postmodern novel - prose - psychological novel

Anthologies: novels that have been considered the greatest ever - Anthologie de l'Humour Noir (1940) - The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988) - The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction (2005) - 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006) -

Connoisseurs: Georg Lukács - Richard Hoggart - Michael McKeon - Ian Watt - Colin Wilson

Preceded by: Romance (literary genre)


A novel (from French nouvelle, "new") is an extended fictional narrative in prose. Down into the 18th century, the word referred specifically to short fictions of love and intrigue as opposed to romances—epic-length works about love and adventures. Having become one of the major literary genres over the past 200 years the novel is today the object of discussions demanding artistic merits, a specific literary style and a deeper meaning than a true story of the same content could claim to have. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel [Sept 2005]

NOVEL (from novellus, diminutive of Lat. novus, new; through the Italian novella), the name given in literature to a study of manners, founded on an observation of contemporary or recent life, in which the characters, the incidents and the intrigue are imaginary, and, therefore, new to the reader, but are founded on lines running parallel with those of actual history. --1911 version of EB via http://8.1911encyclopedia.org/N/NO/NOVEL.htm [Nov 2005]

A fictitious prose narrative or tale of considerable length (now usually one long enough to fill one or more volumes), in which characters and actions representative of the real life of past or present times are portrayed in a plot of more or less complexity. --OED via 1967 edition of EB

The 1967 EB goes on to split into parts this definition:

Novel/Romance: Unstable Words

One meaning of the English word novel has remained stable: novel can still signify what is new due to its "novelty". When it comes to fiction, though, the meaning of the term has changed over time:

The meaning of the term romance changed within the same complex process, becoming the word for a love story whether in life or fiction. Other meanings include the musicologist's genre "Romance" of a short and amiable piece, or Romance languages for the languages derived from Latin (French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, and so forth). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel#Novel.2FRomance:_Unstable_Words [Nov 2005]


A novel consists simply of a long story written in prose; yet it developed comparatively recently. Icelandic prose sagas dating from about the 11th century bridge the gap between traditional national verse epics and the modern psychological novel. In mainland Europe, the Spaniard Cervantes wrote perhaps the first influential novel: Don Quixote, published in 1600. Earlier collections of tales, such as Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, have comparable forms and would probably classify as novels if written today. Earlier works written in Asia resemble even more strongly the novel as we now think of it — for example, works such as the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Japanese Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki. Compare too The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Early novels in Europe did not, at the time, count as significant literature, perhaps because "mere" prose writing seemed easy and unimportant. It has become clear, however, that prose writing can provide aesthetic pleasure without adhering to poetic forms. Additionally, the freedom authors gain in not having to concern themselves with verse structure translates often into a more complex plot or into one richer in precise detail than one typically finds even in narrative poetry. This freedom also allows an author to experiment with many different literary styles — including poetry — in the scope of a single novel. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literature#Prose_fiction [Dec 2004]

The novel's beginnings were not entirely prestigious

The English novel's beginnings were not entirely prestigious. Due to the public's disapproval of "invented" stories, Daniel Defoe, Tobias Smollett, Henry and Sarah Fielding and their contemporaries labeled their fictions as "histories," "lives," "memoirs," "voyages," "travels" and "adventures." A number of these works were indeed based upon truth, but so greatly embellished that the appeal was the same as that of total imagination.

In addition, the inept efforts of Grub Street literary hacks and talented, but starving, artists lent credence to the proposal that prose fiction was dangerous and frivolous. These people wrote rapidly and badly, yet they achieved real popularity, expanding the early audience for fiction. Eventually, with the rise of major British writers and with the influx of the higher quality (and better written) French and Spanish prose, the novel gained acceptance as an art form. --http://www.gale.com/servlet/ItemDetailServlet?region=9&imprint=000&titleCode=PSM85&type=4&id=N270 [Nov 2005]

For most of its history it was a marginal genre

The enormous success of the novel in the nineteenth century has obscured the fact that for most of its history it was a marginal genre, little studied and frequently denounced. Even in an age such as our own, when there is no dearth of books devoted to "the novel," there is very little agreement as to what the word means. Consider three examplary titles in which the substantive "novel" is preceded by the definite article: Lukacs' Theory of the Novel (1920), Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel (1957) and Lucien Goldmann's Towards a Sociology of the Novel (1964, English tr. 1975). These are all important books that have greatly advanced our understanding of certain kinds of novels, but each in its own way dramatizes the same shortcoming: they seek to elevate one kind of novel into a definition of the novel as such (as does René Girard in another very influential book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel [1961]). They lack a field theory capable of encompassing not only the texts nominated by the others as novels, but two millennia of long prose fictions preceding the seventeenth century—the period when, according to consensus, the novel experienced its "birth." (The same view holds that the novel "rose" in the eighteenth century and "triumphed" in the nineteenth—its "death" in the twentieth century is a foregone conclusion by the same historical logic.)

A major reason why so little powerfully syncretic work has been done in the area of novels, even by those who recognize the dilemma posed by excluding pre-seventeenth-century narrative such as Scholes and Kellogg (The Nature of Narrative [1966]), is that the absolute novelty of the novel has not been adequately recognized. Bakhtin's advantage over everyone else working on novel theory is that he is able to include more texts from the past in his scheme than anyone else—and this because, paradoxically, he more than others perceives the novel as new. Not new when it is said to have "arisen," but new whenever that kind of text made its appearance, as it has done since at least the ancient Greeks, a text that merely found its most comprehensive form in Cervantes and those who have come after. In order to see what kind of text might have so radical a novelty, we shall have to rethink the basic categories of genre and style. --http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/excerpts/exbakdia.html [Nov 2005]

Candidates for the first novel

There are various different possible answers to the question "Which was the first novel ever written?" Any of the writings on this list might be the first novel, or possibly just examples of precursors of the novel form. Some of the candidates for the first novel are:

--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candidates_for_the_first_novel [Jan 2005]

Origin of the modern European novel

The picaresque novel and the famous Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) are generally considered to be the origin of the modern European novel, characterized by realism. For example: --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel#Medieval_and_Renaissance [Dec 2004]

First novel in English

These works of literature have each been claimed as the first novel in English.

These are some other early long works of fiction in prose in English:

There are multiple candidates for first novel in English partly because of ignorance of earlier works, but largely because the term novel can be defined so as to exclude earlier candidates:

The phrase "first true novel" is probably an indication that "novel" is being carefully defined so as to exclude earlier candidates than the one the writer has in mind.

Due to the influence of Ian Watt's seminal study in literary sociology, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957), Watt's candidate, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), gained wide acceptance. But with the rise of feminist criticism in the 1970s and 1980s and its concomitant rediscovery of forgotten writings by women, it is now more often argued that Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688) is the “first English novel”. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_novel_in_English [Dec 2004]

The True Story of the Novel (1996) - Margaret Anne Doody

The True Story of the Novel (1996) - Margaret Anne Doody [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

A 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, The True Story of the Novel disputes the British claim to the invention of the novel, calling it "one of the most successful literary lies." Margaret Anne Doody claims that the conventional separation of Romance and Novel was 18th-century England's approach to restricting the literary canon from anything "foreign" to their Empire. Not only did this distinction exclude the great novels of the Roman Empire--including Africa, Asia, and Europe--but it forced the novel, and therefore literature as well, into a narrowed definition of necessary "realism" that altered the way we interpret history. In redefining the Novel as a multicultural construct, Doody opens the relationship of literature and history to new connections.

From Library Journal
Doody, a novelist and the director of Vanderbilt University's comparative literature program, offers a corrective to those who find the origins of the novel in the 16th or 17th century. Challenging the distinction between novel and romance, Doody examines in depth ancient Greek and Roman prose narrative, tracing the novel's transformations through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and 18th century. She shows the continuity between the ancient novel and the modern, as well as the striking affinities between the Western novel and those of Africa, China, and Japan. Her treatment is thorough and sophisticated yet accessible to the general reader. It is also ambitious and one of the few works that can truly claim to look at world literature.?Thomas L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.

See also: literature - novel - history - truth

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