The Middle Ages to the Renaissance
During the Middle Ages, verse and prose works in the heroic, realistic/satiric, and pastoral modes continued to be written, thus nourishing the soil that produced the long fictions of the Renaissance that modern critics most frequently call the first novels. The dominant heroic form of the early Middle Ages, the lives of Christian saints and martyrs, blended the influences of Vergil with those of the Gospels and the letters of Paul to create a Christian heroic type that would flourish in the later Middle Ages in the epics of Roland, the Cid, and Arthur. The saints’ lives also carried forward the Roman satiric mode, primarily in the form of tricks played by the saints on the always greedy, pompous, pagan soldiers and magistrates. In the later medieval period, such satire was most often directed at corrupt clerics and wealthy burghers, with pranks being pulled on them by such masterful imps as the German Tyll Eulenspiegel. The French fabliaux of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries contain many stories of this type, besides satires in which the trick is a sexual one played by a lusty youth with the wife of a rich, gout-ridden old merchant. Geoffrey Chaucer worked marvelous variations on these themes in The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400), andGiovanni Boccaccio worked the same vein in his Decameron: O, Prencipe Galetto (1349-1351; The Decameron, 1620), both collections providing continuing inspiration for later writers of fiction.
Of incalculable effect on the eventual rise of the intellectual novel, or novel of sensibility, was the introspective devotional literature of the Middle Ages, its greatest example being the Confessiones (397-400; Confessions, 1620) of Saint Augustine. Using autobiographical narrative in the service of ethical and religious speculation, the Confessions, like the greatest novels, grant high dignity and importance to the individual life. The Confessions also brought to Western literature that intimacy of tone and truthfulness of thought and feeling that are the essence of the modern intellectual novel.