The History of the Novel

TheHistory of the Novel

Historyof the Novel

Theword came about towards the end of the 18th century it was initiallyan English translation of the beloved Italian word Novella. Duringthe medieval period, it was used to describe a short, generallyrealistic tale (The Novel 1). The novel in itself involves a humancharacter in a social situation, with a lens viewing the man as asocial entity. The novel as a genre puts more emphasis on characters,particularly on a sharply tailored and plausible character (Taormina1).But the history of the novel is one of the marvels of literature.

TheNovel has evolved over time, with its origin tracing back in the 18thCentury. There are events that led to the change in the understandingof the novel. Several factors led to the emergence of the Englishnovel in the period (Moretti126).The most prominent reason was the growing trend of people drifting tothe cities, mainly London. It is reported that the population haddoubled between 1650 and 1750 (Simonsand Anton1). The growth of the city brought forth both curses and blessings arapid and wider spread of ideas was witnessed during the time and amore commercial society emerged (Simonsand Anton1). As of late 1780, infant and child mortality was at an alarminglyhigh level. In such perilous times, a man, regarded as the firstEnglish novelist, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), emerged (Simonsand Anton1).

Theemergence of the novel is mainly attributed to the appearance ofDaniel Defoe’s RobinsonCrusoeand MollFlanders(The Novel 1). In his works, Defoe addressed various genres whilepresenting the situation of the country in writing, He seemed torepresent all the conditions for the acceptance of the English novelwhich included an emphasis on the man, both as a social entity and abeing with a soul and the representation of a person’s daily lifeaffairs (Simonsand Anton1). The main character in the novels is outstanding and convincingand set a solid foundation that makes Defoe to be credited with beingthe first author of realistic fiction (“The Novel” 1). During thesame period, another writer, Samuel Richardson, introduced the first“novel of character” (“The Novel” 1). His two works, Pamelaand Clarissa,are both characterized by the presentation of emotions that connect areader to the main character in the novel. Both Defoe and Samuel areregarded as the greatest writers who established their claims, not onmyths, but on actual experiences of individuals (Gascoigne4).

Thefocus on fiction started changing. An important date in the historyof literature is 1764 which marked the beginning of a differentdirection of English culture. The rise of romanticism had begun,which put more emphasis on nature, and values imagination more overreason and emotion over intellect (Taormina 3). The first Gothicnovel whose emphasis was suspense, terror, exotic setting andeffects, was published in the year 1765 (Taormina 3). The gothicnovel, TheCastle of Otranto(1765) whose author is Horace Walpole, achieved significant successand marked a shift in the people’s taste towards the exotic,extraordinary, and violent passions, towards the romanticismmovement, adumbrations of which could be evident from the late 18thCentury. Another early sign of romanticism was evident in the novelVicarof Wakefield(1766), which also put an emphasis on horror and romance.

Thepeak of Romanticism was realized in the first decades of thenineteenth century. The greatest writers of this period, mainlyattributed to publishing numerous romantic poems, were John Keats,Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron and SamuelTaylor (Taormina 3). Their emphasis was mainly on the imagination ofan individual as the right way to achieve truth. Another authorduring the romantic era is Scott who changed the novel as an act ofself-defense (Gascoigne1).

Thenext era in the history of novel is the Victorian age. By the year1837, Queen Victoria had not yet gained the throne, but the eventsthat were taking place made it suitable to suggest an opening of anera that bears her name. The period between 1837 and 1901 isdesignated as the reign of Queen Victoria and was characterized bycomplexity of culture in the history of the novel. The period wascharacterized by people who are more enlightened and more reasonable.It is also the age of the emergence of a pope and a more romanticage. A novel published during this period was TheVictorian Frame of Mindby Walter Houghton in 1957 (Taormina 4). In the late Victorianperiod, the novels presented realities of life. It is said that thenovel was the main reading during this time as the queen fostered thepublication of more books. Sir Walter Scott, for instance, developeda large novel-reading public that created and encouraged the customof the 3-volume novel (Taormina 4). More publications were made on amonthly basis that enabled even the poor to have access to them.

Duringthe same period, the late 19thCentury in the US was characterized by the migration of people fromrural to urban areas after the end of the civil war.Industrialization had started to emerge, and several protests weremade by the marginalized groups such as the blacks and feministsgroups. In this period, the existing novelists rejected the idea ofromance. Instead, they advocated for the presentation of the realevents happening to the people (Taormina 4). The novels of this erapresented human personality, either bad or good. The paradigm ofrealism was fostered by Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and TheodoreDreiser as evident in their numerous works (Taormina 4). In the sameperiod in America, a group of writers advocated for local colorwriting which was a realistic portrayal of people’s customs anddialects (Taormina 4). This was due to the desire of the writers topreserve the people’s ways of life during the industrializationera. In the late 19thCentury, the writers adopted the naturalism, which was a morerealistic approach to presenting the happenings by being moreobjective and frank in expressing their ideas.

Afterthe 19thCentury, came the 20thCentury which was characterized by the first and second world wars.Similar to the Victorian era, the 20thCentury was characterized by growth in various sectors. The earth hadbecome a global village due to the development of telecommunications,air and space travel and the growth of gender equality. During thisperiod, authors mainly focused on themselves and the nature ofconsciousness. The novels written in this period were mainlysubjective and personal (Taormina 5). The works of Virginia Woolf,for instance, focused mainly on their thoughts, feelings, andexperiences (Taormina 5).

Inthe 21stCentury, the novels address postmodernism, which emphasizes on abroader spectrum of issues. The emphasis on the postmodernism isscientific discovery and personal reasoning. The fiction novels inthe 21stCentury are mainly characterized by experimentation, metafiction,less reliance on traditional character and playfulness with language(Taormina 5).The novel continues to evolve, with its popularity stillbring felt in the modern days.


EnglishDepartment. The Novel. Brooklyn College, 23 Sept. 2001, 11 November 2016.

Gascoigne,Bamber. History of English Literature. HistoryWorld. From 2001, 11 November 2016.

Moretti,Franco. The Novel: History and Theory, 2005. 11 November 2016.

Simons,Olaf and Anton Kirchhofer. The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 : MarketObservations. 11 November 2016.

Taormina,Agatha. . Northern Virginia CommunityCollege, Aug. 2005, Accessed 11November 2016.