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Psychological novel

Related: psychology - novel - realism in literature - stream of consciousness

Titles: Don Quixote (1605) - Le Rouge et le Noir (1831) - Madame Bovary (1857) - Gustave Flaubert - Jude the Obscure (1895) - Thomas Hardy -

As biology and psychology advanced, it became clear that human beings could no longer be shown simply as heroes and villains. The study of human character demanded the examination of motives and causes rather than the making of moral judgments. To find the cause of action meant probing into the secrets of individual psychology. --http://www.britannica.com/ebi/article-200356 [Dec 2005]

At the time Stendhal wrote The Red and the Black, the prose in novels included dialogue or omniscient descriptions, but Stendhal's great contribution was to spend much of the novel inside the characters' heads, describing their feelings and emotions and even their inner conversations. As a result of this book, Stendhal is considered the inventor of the psychological novel. [Jun 2006]


A psychological novel, also called psychological realism, is a work of prose fiction which places more than the usual amount of emphasis on interior characterization, and on the motives, circumstances, an internal action which springs from, and develops, external action. The psychological novel is not content to state what happens but goes on to explain the why and the wherefore of this action. In this type of writing character and characterization are more than usually important.

The origins of the psychological novel can be traced as far back as Giovanni Boccaccio's 1344 La Fiammetta; that is before the term psychology was coined.

Another avant la lettre example is Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes .

The first rise of the psychological novel as a genre is said to have started with the sentimental novel of which Samuel Richardson's Pamela is a prime example.

In French literature, Stendhal's The Red and the Black is often called an early psychological novel. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_novel [Jun 2006]

George Meredith (1828-1909)

George Meredith (1828-1909) was one of the first to apply psychological methods to the analysis of his characters. For the average reader the brilliance of such novels as 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel' (1859) and 'The Egoist' (1879) is obscured by the absence of plot and the subtleties of the language. Meredith was also a poet of merit, and his essay on comedy and the comic spirit is a masterly interpretation of the function of comedy in literature.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) brought to fiction a philosophical attitude that resulted from the new science. He believed that the more science studies the universe the less evidence is found for an intelligent guiding force behind it. If there is just chance meaningless blind force in the universe, what hope is there for mankind? In a series of great novels, from 'The Return of the Native' (1878) to 'Jude the Obscure' (1895), Hardy sought to show how futile and senseless is man's struggle against the forces of natural environment, social convention, and biological heritage. (See also Hardy.)

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) entered into the scientific controversies of his day. Holding that evolution is the result of the creative will rather than of chance selection, Butler wrote a novel about the relations of parents to children 'The Way of All Flesh' (1903). The point of the story, made with irony, is that the family restrains the free development of the child.

Charles Reade (1814-84)

Charles Reade (1814-84) was, like Dickens, an ardent critic of the social abuses of his day. His most famous novel, 'The Cloister and the Hearth' (1861), however, is a historical romance with a 15th-century setting. Filled with exciting incidents, intrigue, and witchcraft, it is based on the birth and boyhood of the Dutch scholar Erasmus.

George Gissing (1857-1903)

George Gissing (1857-1903) was greatly influenced by Dickens. His hatred of the degrading effects of poverty is reflected in many of his novels. Gissing's most successful book was 'The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft' (1903), the imaginary journal of a retired writer who lives in happy solitude in the country amid his beloved books (as Gissing always wished that he could do). --http://members.fortunecity.com/huggie/waver/millstone.htm [Dec 2005]

Le Rouge et le Noir (1830) - Stendhal

Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) is a novel by Stendhal, published in 1831. The title has been translated into English variously as Scarlet and Black, Red and Black, and The Red and the Black. It is a melodramatic novel set in 1830s France relating a young man's hypocritical rise to power, influence and wealth and subsequent fall. With this book Stendhal has been said to have practically invented the psychological novel.

The story is told mostly through detailed descriptions of the characters states of mind, an unusual technique at the time this novel was written. Few events pass in which we are not treated to a bird's-eye view of the mental state of all participants.

The title of the novel has never been satisfactorily explained. One explanation is that red and black are the contrasting colours of the army uniform of the times, and the robes of priests, respectively.

A "writer's writer" Stendhal is known more in literary circles than in the public at large. Many writers have acknowledged his influence on their work and used his technique of detailed psychological description in their own stories. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_and_the_Black [Mar 2005]

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