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A novel is a long or extended work of fiction written in prose, usually in the form of a story. It is longer and more complex than a short story or novella (ie. 40,000+ words), and it is not bound by the restrictions of plays and poetry.

The word "novel" is from the Italian word novella which means "new". A person who writes novels is known as a novelist.


Qualities of the novel

Most novels have the following qualities, but in each case there are exceptions:

  • Intended as entertainment (but The Education of Cyrus by Xenophon is didactic).
  • The subject matter is wholly fictional (but Moby-Dick by Herman Melville has digressions into fact).
  • The subject matter is realistic (but many have surreal or fantastic elements, from Satyricon onwards).
  • The subject matter is human beings, their actions and relations (perhaps in disguise, for example as animals, as in George Orwell's Animal Farm).
  • There are a small number of central characters (but 253 by Geoff Ryman has many characters none of whom is central).
  • A single plot links the events and characters.
  • The main character or characters have evolved and grown by the end of the novel (according to Anthony Burgess, when discussing his dissatisfaction with the film adaption of A Clockwork Orange; but in The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker the timescale is too short for evolution or growth to occur).

Novels are sometimes contrasted with romances. Romantic fiction tends to be fantastic, to be set in a mythical ancient time, and to have shallower characters than novels. Don Quixote can be read as a parody of the popular romances of chivalry.

History of the novel

Classical period

In ancient Greece and Rome, these were earliest extant novels (some people would call them precursors of the novel):

Oriental works

From the Orient, there were important early novels, such as:

Medieval and Renaissance

Early medieval novels included:

In the Renaissance, there was an important European trend towards fantastic fiction :

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:

18th century

The 18th century is considered by most scholars of the English novel to have been the century of the novel's invention or "rise."

At the beginning of the century, [[Alain-Ren� Lesage]], Gil Blas (French, 1715).

Women (and it was mostly women) began writing novels of sexual scandal and intrigue. Scholars have argued that these were inspired by and sometimes based on French sources. Oftentimes the novels were thinly veiled political attacks on the various ruling parties. These works are now usually categorized under the term "amatory fiction." Eliza Haywood was perhaps the most notorious writer of these types of novels, with works as Love in Excess (English, 1719).

Around 1740, England's taste for scandal decreased and a desire to reform morals and manners took hold. Samuel Richardson's Pamela (English, 1740) is often seen as the first novel to embody this new social trend. In it he claimed that he would "instruct" and at the same time "entertain." Richardson's novel began an eighteenth-century tradition of the epistolary novel, that is, a novel written as a series of letters. Contemporary readers were treated to what they identified as a new level of "realism" in literature in Pamela; some scholars have argued that the novel inauguarated the psychological novel because it focused on the psyche of one character (although it seems didactic to us today).

At the same time, the larger "social" novel also appeared. Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (English, 1749) is the first major example of this type of novel in which a central character is used to comment on the major social issues of the day and to explain the social and political networks of society. So, rather than understand Tom in the same depth that we do Pamela, we understand Tom in relation to his surroundings. Fielding claimed that he was inventing "a new species of writing" in his novel, the "comic-epic in prose." Interestingly, he did not see himself as a novel writer.

In some ways, the "novel of sentiment" or "sensibility" joined these two traditions together. It both focused on the psyche of one particular character and showed that character in relation to his/her society. It generally depicted a naive young country girl forced to confront the evils of the city; an excellent example of this genre is Frances Burney, Evelina (English, 1778).

Finally, at the end of the century, the Gothic novel arose in response to several eighteenth-century strands of thought, most notably, sensibility and rationalism, as well as political events such as the American and French Revolutions. The Gothic, dominated in contemporary opinion by the author Ann Radcliffe, tended to depict innocent, overly sentimental young women who were imprisoned (usually in a castle) and manipulated by both dark villains and, at times, spirits: The Mysteries of Udolpho (English, 1794).

(Jane Austen, oftentimes considered the bridge between the eighteenth-century novel and the nineteenth-century novel, wrote a hilarious spoof of the Gothic entitled Northanger Abbey.)

  • Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Ballaster, Ros. Seductive Forms: Women's Amatory Fiction from 1684-1740. Oxford: Clarendson Press, 1992.
  • Hunter, J.P. Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction. New York: Norton and Co., 1990.
  • McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel: 1600-1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.

19th century

The 19th century was the great century of the novel. The major authors were French, English, Russian, and American:

20th century

In the first decade of the 20th Century, modernism emerged:

From 1960 to 1967, the Latin America novel boom took place:

From the late Victorian period to the present, science fiction and fantasy novels and romances have been popular.

See also

Novel is also the name of a commune of the Haute-Savoie [[d�partement]] in France.

da:Roman de:Roman eo:Romano fr:Roman nl:Roman ja:小説 fi:Romaani sv:Roman th:วรรณกรรม zh-cn:小说

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