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novel, in modern literary usage, a sustained work of prose fiction a volume or more in length. It is distinguished from the short story and the fictional sketch, which are necessarily brief. Although the novel has a place in the literatures of all nations, this article concentrates on the evolution of the novel in England, France, Russia and the Soviet Union, and the United States. Nonetheless, changes in technology in the 20th cent. made the literature of different cultures widely available. The international readership claimed by such authors as Africa's Chinua Achebe, India's R. K. Narayan, Japan's Yukio Mishima, and Latin America's Jorge Luis Borges is only a small indication of the variety of novels available to an ever-widening audience.
Forerunners of the Novel
The term novel is derived from novella, Italian for a compact, realistic, often ribald prose tale popular in the Renaissance and best exemplified by the stories in Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (1348–53). The novel can, therefore, be considered a work of imagination that is grounded in reality. On the other hand, during the Middle Ages a popular literary form was the romance, a type of tale that describes the adventures, both natural and supernatural, of such figures of legend as the Trojan heroes, Alexander the Great, and King Arthur and his knights. Thus, the modern novel is rooted in two traditions, the mimetic and the fantastic, or the realistic and the romantic.
Indeed, the conflict between romantic dreams and harsh reality has been the theme of many great novels and the historical development of the novel continually reflects this dual tradition. Among the genre's precursors Petronius's Satyricon (1st cent. A.D.) presents a vivid portrait of life in Nero's Rome while satirizing the corruption there, whereas the Metamorphoses (2d cent. A.D.) of Lucius Apuleius describes the fantastic adventures of a young man who is transformed into an ass; Daphnis and Chloë (3d cent. A.D.), attributed to Longus, is a love story about a goatherd and a shepherdess, while the Thousand and One Nights (10th–11th cent.) is a collection of stories that often tell of magic or supernatural happenings; and Tale of Genji (11th cent.), by Lady Murasaki, depicts Japanese court life, whereas Amadis of Gaul (13th or 14th cent.) recounts the fabulous exploits of a knight who is a model of chivalry.
Early European Novels
The realistic and romantic tendencies converge in Cervantes's Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615), which describes the adventures of an aging country gentleman who, inspired by chivalric romances, sets out to do good in an ugly world. A brilliant, humanistic study of illusion and reality, Don Quixote is considered by many critics to be the most important single progenitor of the novel.
Of lesser magnitude but lasting influence is The Princess of Cleves (1678), by Mme de La Fayette; a forerunner of the psychological novel, it presents believable characters in conflict and criticizes shifting social and moral values. Also important is Alain René Le Sage's Gil Blas (1715–35), a picaresque [Span. picaro=rogue, knave] tale of a young man who passes rapidly from one job to another, commenting as he goes on the idiosyncrasies of his masters and on the world at large. This story, episodic and held together by a single character, became the model for a generation of English writers who first produced what has come to be recognized as the modern novel.
Several 18th-century novels, each essentially realistic, has at one time or another been designated the first novel in English. Daniel Defoe is famous for Robinson Crusoe (1719), a detailed and convincingly realistic account, based on a real event, of the successful efforts of an island castaway to survive. Also in this realistic tradition is Defoe's novel Moll Flanders (1722), which relates the picaresque adventures of a good-natured harlot and thief.
Samuel Richardson extended the influence of the form over its middle-class audience with his epistolary novels: Pamela (1740), about the rewards of virtue, and Clarissa (1747–48), about the evils of a fall from virtue. Meant to offer instruction in letter writing as well as in moral conduct, these works emphasize character rather than action. Both of these elements are present in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749). This novel was the first to present a full portrait of ordinary English life, including a none-too-perfect but likable hero. In addition, the work includes critical comments by the author on the nature of the novel.
Against the mainstream represented by the foregoing novels, with their emphasis on external reality, stands Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760–67), a rambling nine-volume novel replete with blank pages, digressions, chapters in reverse order, and unconventional punctuation. All of of these literary features combine to reveal an internal, psychological reality based on John Locke's theory of the association of ideas. The psychological reality explored by Sterne would resurface as a fictional preoccupation early in the 20th cent.
The Nineteenth Century
The English Novel
In Britain, Sir Walter Scott's Waverley (1814), about the 1745 Jacobite uprising in support of Charles Edward Stuart, inaugurated the historical novel. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1816), contemplating and satirizing life among a small group of country gentry in Regency England, initiated the highly structured and polished novel of manners. A variant with a wider scope is William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847–48), which dissects and satirizes London society.
The serialization of novels in various periodicals brought the form an ever-expanding audience. Particularly popular were the works of Charles Dickens, including Oliver Twist (1839) and David Copperfield (1850). Readers were drawn by Dickens's sympathetic, melodramatic, and humorous delineation of a world peopled with characters of all social classes, and by his condemnation of various social abuses. Further portraits of English society appear in Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire novels, which scrutinize clerical life in a small, rural town, and George Eliot's Silas Marner (1861) and Middlemarch (1871–72), which treat the lives of ordinary people in provincial towns with humanity and a strong moral sense. George Meredith's Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) and The Egoist (1879) are analytical tragicomedies set in high social circles. The conflict between man and nature is stressed in Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native (1878) and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891).
Although the great English novels of the 19th cent. were predominantly realistic, novels of fantasy and romance formed a literary undercurrent. Early in the century Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) explores a tale of horror. Later, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847) each present imaginative, passionate visions of human love. Robert Louis Stevenson revived the adventure tale and the horror story in Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). At the beginning of the 20th cent., horror and adventure were combined in the novels of Joseph Conrad, notably Lord Jim (1900) and Heart of Darkness (1902), both works achieving high levels of stylistic and psychological sophistication.
The French and Russian Novels
Major 19th-century French writers also produced novels in the romantic and realistic traditions. Romance can be found in Alexandre Dumas's Three Musketeers (1844) and Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (1844), both of which are melodramatic and swashbuckling, terrifying and poignant. Honoré de Balzac's Human Comedy (1829–47), on the other hand, is a series of novels that offer a realistic, if cynical, panorama of life in Paris and the provinces.
Stendhal mixes realism with romance in The Red and the Black (1831) and The Charterhouse of Parma (1839). Both works are psychological studies in which characters confront reality by behaving melodramatically. Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857) is perhaps the first novel in which the author was primarily concerned about his work as a literary form and consciously distances himself from his characters. The result is a carefully crafted study of a banal love tragedy in which the heroine, like Don Quixote, cannot reconcile her romantic dreams with ordinary reality.
In the 19th cent. Russian novelists quickly gained world reputations for their powerful statements of human and cosmic problems. If Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1865–69) is a God-centered novel, Feodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866) can be considered a God-haunted one.
The American Novel
American novels in the 19th cent. were explicitly referred to as romances. James Fenimore Cooper's historical novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826), Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter (1850), and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851)—the latter two heavily allegorical and containing supernatural elements—properly belong in this category. In the last decades of the century, however, a shift toward realism occurred. Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1883), a revival of the picaresque novel, is romantic in its Mississippi River setting but realistic in its satirical attack on religious hypocrisy and racial persecution.
By the end of the century Henry James had brought his moral vision and powers of psychological observation to the novel in numerous works, including The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), and The Ambassadors (1903). These novels are not only masterpieces of realism but also—in their carefully crafted form, experimental point of view, and superb style—supreme examples of the novel as a literary genre. A lesser figure, William Dean Howells, realistically portrayed a marriage and divorce in A Modern Instance (1882) and the newly rich classes in The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885).
The Twentieth Century
The English Novel
The American Novel
In the United States the profound postwar dislocation of values is evident in such novels as The Great Gatsby (1925), by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a romantic bootlegger whose version of the American dream of success is shattered by a corrupt reality; The Sun Also Rises (1926), by Ernest Hemingway, concerning a group of disillusioned expatriates in Europe who find meaning only in immediate physical experience; and The Sound and the Fury (1929), by William Faulkner, about the disintegration of a once-proud Southern family.
An even more profound dislocation than that came after World War I occurred in the years following World War II. To many American novelists the atrocities of the Nazi regime, the specter of the atom bomb, the tensions of the cold war, the horrors of the war in Vietnam, the assassinations and riots of the 1960s, and the political corruption of the 1970s and 80s rendered the so-called reality of earlier literature terrifyingly unreal, bringing about a switch toward the fantastic. Novelists such as John Hawkes, William Burroughs, and Kurt Vonnegut wrote darkly surreal fantasies, while Philip Roth and Norman Mailer produced brutal satires of American life and Joyce Carol Oates wrote fictive studies of violence in America.
The French Novel
The Russian Novel
Types of Novels
For convenience in analyzing the forms of the novel, critics often place them in categories that encompass years of historical development. An early and prevalent type was the picaresque novel, in which the protagonist, a social underdog, has a series of episodic adventures in which he sees much of the world around him and comments satirically upon it. Modern variations of this type include, in addition to those already mentioned, Saul Bellow's Adventures of Augie March (1953) and Thornton Wilder's Theophilus North (1973). Notable examples of the epistolary novel, which is made up of letters from verious protagonists, are Dangerous Liaisons (1782), by Pierre Laclos, a study in depravity made all the more devastating because the characters' evil is revealed obliquely through their correspondence, and The Documents in the Case (1930), by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which a crime and its solution are revealed through letters.
The historical novel embraces not only the event-filled romances of Scott, Cooper, and Kenneth Roberts, but also works that strive to convey the essence of life in a certain time and place, such as Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter (1920–22), about life in medieval Norway, and Mary Renault's Mask of Apollo (1966), set in ancient Greece. Closely related to the historical novel is the social novel, which presents a panoramic picture of an entire age. Balzac's Human Comedy and Tolstoy's War and Peace became models for those that followed, including U.S.A. (1937), by John Dos Passos.
The naturalistic novel studies the effect of heredity and environment on human beings. Emile Zola's series, The Rougon-Macquarts (1871–93), influenced Arnold Bennett's novels of the “Five Towns,” which treat life in the potteries in the English midlands; other novels that can be called naturalistic are The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1918), by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, and An American Tragedy (1925), by Theodore Dreiser. A derivative of the social novel is the regional novel, which delineates the life of people in a particular place—focusing on customs and speech—to demonstrate how environment influences its inhabitants. Notable examples of this genre are Hardy's “Wessex novels” and William Faulkner's novels set in Yoknapatawpha County. The novels of Ignazio Silone, notably Bread and Wine (1936), are both social and regional—in a small Italian village Silone reveals a microcosm of Mussolini's Italy.
Further classifications include novels of the soil—stark stories of people living close to the earth like Ole Rølvaag's Giants in the Earth (1927); novels of the sea such as Richard Henry Dana's Two Years before the Mast (1840); and novels of the air like Antoine de St. Exupéry's Night Flight (1931). Novels that treat themes of creation, judgment, and redemption are often called metaphysical novels; famous examples include Franz Kafka's The Castle (1926), Georges Bernanos's Diary of a Country Priest (1936), and Graham Greene's Heart of the Matter (1948).
The German Bildungsroman [formation novel], Erziehungsroman [education novel], and Künstlerroman [artist novel] make useful distinctions among works like Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain (1924), Colette's Claudine series (1900–1903), and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1915) respectively. Taken together, they can be called novels of initiation. So can Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, but because of its extensive analysis of the minds and hearts of a large cast of characters it can also be placed with such disparate works as Demian (1919), by Herman Hesse, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), by J. D. Salinger, and Thousand Cranes (tr. 1956), by Yasunari Kawabata, in the ranks of the psychological novel.
The tradition of the novel of manners, with its emphasis on the conventions of a particular group of people in a particular time and place, persists in such works as Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence (1920), John O'Hara's Butterfield 8 (1935), and John Updike's Couples (1967). Although classification of novels can be helpful in indicating the breadth and diversity of the form, the great novel transcends such categorization, existing as a complete, many-faceted world in itself.
Points of View
Critics have also classified the numerous experiments at reader manipulation carried on by novelists who relate their stories from different points of view. The omniscient point of view is that of the all-knowing author who is also the narrator. Thus Fielding's voice is heard in Tom Jones as is that of Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Point of view can be limited in a variety of ways. Indeed, much of the development of the novel in the 20th cent. involved such limitation. And as the importance of point of view has increased, the importance of plot in many instances diminished.
In The Golden Bowl (1904), James used a narrator-observer who filters the events and emotional climate of the story for the reader, but whose own knowledge of other characters' motives and of the outcome of events is restricted. Since he talks about others, he uses the third person. For Remembrance of Things Past, Proust created a narrator-participant who analyzes the lifelong development of his own intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic faculties in the first person. In Ulysses, Joyce composed interior monologues for his characters, which ran simultaneously with their ordinary conversation with other people. Faulkner's Sound and the Fury is told from the point of view, successively, of an idiot, a neurotic, and an egoist. Later, the French new novelists like Butor in The Modification (1957) experimented with the second-person narrative, which creates a deliberate, unexpected yet not unpleasant tension for the reader who wonders to whom the narrator's remarks are addressed.
See E. A. Baker, The History of the English Novel (10 vol., 1950; Vol. XI by L. Stevenson, 1967); C. C. van Doren, The American Novel, 1789–1939 (rev. ed. 1955); H. James, The Future of the Novel (ed. by L. Edel, 1956); R. V. Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition (1957); M. Turnell, The Novel in France (1951, repr. 1958); D. E. Maxwell, American Fiction (1963); R. Pascal, The German Novel (1956, repr. 1965); E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (1927, repr. 1966); A. Burgess, The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction (1967); H. Peyre, French Novelists of Today (1967); A. Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel (rev. ed., 2 vol. in 1, 1968); E. Muir, The Structure of the Novel (1929, repr. 1969);H. M. Waidson, The Modern German Novel, 1945–1965 (2d ed. 1971); A. F. Boyd, Aspects of the Russian Novel (1972); G. Lukács, The Theory of the Novel (tr. 1973); F. N. Magill, Critical Survey of Long Fiction (8 vol., 1983); J. Radway, Reading the Romance (1984); E. Elliot, ed., The Columbia History of the American Novel (1991); S. Moore, The Novel: An Alternative History (2 vol., 2010–2013); S. Kern, The Modernist Novel (2011); T. G. Pavel, The Lives of the Novel: A History (2013); M. Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography (2014).
(Russian roman), a variety of the literary type known as the epic; one of the broadest ranging of the epic genres, differing in content from another variety, the national historical (heroic) epic.
The novel, which began to develop in Western European literature during the Renaissance, has attained preeminence in modern world literature. The term “romance” was initially used to distinguish narrative works written in any Romance language from works written in Latin, the literary language of the Middle Ages. Later, with the appearance of English and German novels, the original meaning of the term was forgotten, and it took on its modern meaning, although it had somewhat different connotations in different countries. In England, for example, the term “romance” was applied only to works depicting unusual adventures. Works describing everyday social life were called novels. Most novels have been written in prose, but there are some novels in verse.
In contrast to the epopee, with its interest in the founding of a society and in events and positive characters of national and historical significance, the novel focused on the emergence of the social character of an individual through his life experience and his external and internal clashes with his environment. Historically, the novel emerged as a new genre and developed when feudal society, despite its strict system of authoritarian religious, class, and corporate norms, gave rise to conditions favoring the moral liberty of the individual, the growth of the individual’s self-awareness and self-assertiveness, and the ideological and moral rejection by the individual of generally accepted norms. The rapid development of the spirit of individuality, within the framework of the awareness of various strata of society, was important not only for the emergence of a new type of self-interested person but also for the formation of a new, humanistic world view.
Novels were written in Europe during the late classical period of the first to the fourth centuries (for example, Heliodorus’ classical erotic novel Aethiopica). However, the development of the novel actually dates from the eve of the Western European Renaissance. The genre may be traced to 12th-century French literature, which saw the rise of the “courtly” ideal—the knight’s striving for refined moral and aesthetic experiences, which were most powerfully manifested in love for a “beautiful lady,” the heart’s elect. The moral and aesthetic experiences to which the knight aspired were a clear expression of the “personal principle,” which was not part of the knightly code before the 12th century. The courtly ideal inspired many chivalrous verse and prose novels, in which the hero, a knight, accomplishes improbable, sometimes fantastic deeds not in the name of his homeland, familial duty, or vassalage, as in the heroic epic, but for his own glory and out of devotion to his beloved.
In the 16th and 17th centuries writers from the democratic strata began to show an interest in themes associated with the novel. Adventure novels appeared first in Spanish literature and later in other Western European literatures. Profiting from their impetuousness, resourcefulness, and trickery and experiencing both success and defeat, the protagonists of these novels, who were from the lower strata of society, insinuated themselves into the upper strata of declining feudal society and managed to attain high status. The best picaresque novels, such as A. R. Lesage’s Gil Blas, not only described the hero’s adventures but also provided a broad view of the mores of various social strata.
Chivalrous and picaresque novels were similar in their plot structure. The adventures of the knights or “rogues” consisted of encounters with diverse, often fortuitous dangers in various places. The plots lacked unity of action and consisted of a chain of episodes linked only by the unity of the protagonist and the temporal sequence. As for the originality of artistic conception during the period of the courtly and picaresque novels, the hero usually emerged unscathed from the most terrible encounters, and the final unraveling of conflicts commonly provided a happy ending.
Cervantes’ Don Quixote, an adventure work combining the motifs of the picaresque, pastoral, and chivalrous novels, was written in the early 17th century, at the end of the Renaissance. The work was originally intended to parody poor imitations of the chivalrous novel, but it turned into a great novel that anticipated modern European romanticism. The “Don Quixote situation,” the contrrsquoition of a subjectively heroic human nature and the prosaic quality of life, survived in the literature of later periods.
Various types of adventure novels emerged and developed during a historical epoch characterized by the lack of mature social forces ideologically capable of opposing the old principles on which society rested. On the eve of the bourgeois revolutions, when ideological antagonisms emerged, they were reflected in the further development of the novel. Writers with various social ideals became interested in showing how individual characters emerged and developed through internal, ideological conflicts with society. The adventure novel gave way to the novel, with a plot focusing on a single conflict between the protagonists, who occupied different positions in life, or between the principal character and his social environment.
The first new novels were written by the mid–18th–century British and French sentimentalists. The entire plot of J.-J. Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloï se (1761), is constructed around a single conflict. The sentimental love between the aristocratic Julie and the impoverished teacher Saint-Preux reveals not only the depth of their experiences but also their inner protest against the callous moral norms and mores of the ruling nobility. During the 19th century the new novelistic form, which corresponded to the new content of the novel, attained a dominant position in literature, having been mastered immediately by such major novelists as Balzac and Stendhal and gradually by others, including Scott and Dickens.
In Russia, adventure novels emerged in the anonymous literature of the late 17th and early 18th centuries (for example, the Tale of Vasilii Koriotskii) Until the time of Pushkin, adventure novels were created by lower-class democratic writers, including M. D. Chulkov and A. E. Izmailov. The first Russian novel of the new type was Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which established a tradition followed by many 19th-century novelists, including M. Iu. Lermontov, I. S. Turgenev, and I. A. Goncharov.
The new type of novel, which was based on the author’s and sometimes the hero’s principled ideological position, was characterized by a comprehensive, profound treatment of problems. In addition to showing how the characters of their heroes took shape through complex, conflicting relationships, many writers also described how characters were formed and changed under definite national historical conditions. Thus, the narrative of works such as Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Balzac’s Père Goriot, and Dickens’ Hard Times capture very broad aspects of the society of particular periods and countries, describing civic, cultural, and everyday relations and mores. Novels such as Balzac’s Lost Illusions, Dickens’ Bleak House, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov are broad and monumental, with many plot lines. Often, novels of this type were combined into cycles, such as Balzac’s La Comédie humaine and Zola’s The Rougon-Macquarts. The authors of these novels revealed varying degrees of historicism in their artistic thought, and owing to this quality they disclosed, sometimes spontaneously, the way in which the characters described in their novels were shaped by social circumstances. Consequently, these novelists attained a realism that revealed the profound contradictions in society—a critical realism, in which even the heroes whose viewpoints have the author’s sympathy meet with failure and defeat. Novels such as Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Times, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot have strongly dramatic or even tragic denouements. The spiritually and psychologically contradictory character of man is profoundly revealed by novelists such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, who held very powerful moral ideals. The 19th century was the classic period of the novel’s development.
The tradition of the slice-of-life novel, which was frequently combined with the psychological novel of critical realism, was continued by many 20th-century writers, including J. Galsworthy, A. France, R. Rolland, R. Tagore, T. Mann, A. Moravia, G. Greene, E. Hemingway, H. Boll, and W. Faulkner. However, two new, opposing trends emerged in the development of the novel: modernism and socialist realism. The crisis of the ideological awareness of bourgeois society was manifested not only in the demise of the orientation toward objective processes and the principles of life in society but also in a sharp intensification of the subjective, individualistic world view. Novelists who were caught up in this trend abandoned realism and concentrated on the subjective “stream of consciousness” of their heroes and on the analysis of their heroes’ emotional impressions of life, omitting any general ideological conception and frequently passing into psychological “naturalism.” The modernist novel, which grew out of this emphasis in 20th-century world literature, is represented by the works of A. Belyi, M. Proust, J. Joyce, and F. Kafka.
In Russian and Soviet literature, as well as in the socialist literatures of other countries, which express a revolutionary, concrete historical understanding of the world, 20th-century novels continued the democratic traditions of 19th-century realism. They depicted the assimilation of a new world view by the civically active members of the masses of workers and peasants and the democratic intelligentsia, as well as their participation in the revolutionary movement, in the civil struggle, and in the construction and defense of a new society. Created on the basis of the principles of socialist realism, these novels dealt with the themes of struggle and labor, with sociopolitical problems and conflicts, and with heroic or romantically heroic feelings, critically affirming life. In these works, the novel takes on a new feature. As in the 19th-century novel, the characters are revealed in the course of their development, but development entails the active participation of the heroes in the revolutionary creation of a new society.
Novels of this type, including Gorky’s The Mother, A. A. Fadeev’s The Rout, and N. A. Ostrovskii’s How the Steel Was Tempered, did not usually have broad plots, but by virtue of certain features of their content, they often achieved a monumental scale of plot development, giving rise to a new type of epic novel. In Soviet multinational literature the epic novel is represented by such works as M. A. Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don, A. N. Tolstoy’s The Road to Cavalry, K. Simonov’s The Living and the Dead, M. A. Stel’makh’s Human Blood Is not Water, A. Upīts’ A Break in the Clouds, and M. Auezov’s The Path of Abai. Among the most outstanding foreign socialist novels are A. Seghers’ The Dead Remain Young, L. Aragon’s The Communists, and J. Iwaszkiewicz’s Fame and Glory.
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G. N. POSPELOV