Discuss the emergence of the novel as a new literary form.

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"A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose." It is the descendant of early forms of literature.

For many years in the history of language, the two major kinds of "literature" were poems and plays. Beowulf is one of the earliest examples of an epic poem in English literature, and it was passed down over generations in the oral tradition, which means it was memorized and shared by word-of-mouth.

With the passing of time, still few people could read or write. These skills were first found predominately with clerics of the Roman Catholic Church. Scribes often recorded not only history, but stories as well. Eventually the nobility (most often just the men) also learned to read, but before paper was invented, most writing was done first on sheep skin, and then later on parchment—that was very expensive. The poems were often epic (long) telling of the adventures of brave and gallant heroes (such as Beowulf).

[The Church] was Europe's chief publisher, librarian, and teacher.*

The next form was the play. Early drama was generally Bible-based. The first plays were miracle plays, which taught a lesson, often using Biblical characters or saints, and were often humorous.*

Robert Chambers, writing in 19th century notes that 'especially in England, miracle [came] to stand for religious play in general...'

During the 15th Century, however, the tone of plays changed: the morality plays were serious, preaching a darker message of the "wages of sin." Though not English in origin, the most famous of these plays, still performed today, is Everyman.*

Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a godly life over one of evil...

As time goes on and more people can read, literature starts to evolve (as does language). It may well be that Miguel Cervantes wrote the first novel, Don Quixote, in 1604, but it took time before the "novel" found an audience.  It is believed that Pamela may have been the first English novel, written by Samuel Richardson in 1750. Other early favorites include Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, and the still famous, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, "founder of the modern English novel." (Ironically, this story was presented first in a "serial" form, with a new installment every so often in a newspaper, believed by most readers to be a true story; it was enormously popular.*)

A shorter form of the novel is the novella.

novella...is a written, fictional, prose narrative longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel.

The novella is also called a "short novel," and finds its origins in approximately the 10th Century with the writing of the well-known Arabian Nights, also called One Thousand and One Nights.

The novelette is another form of literature. "[It is] is a piece of short prose fiction."

The difference between the novel, novelette and novella is based on the word count—the count varies depending upon the source.

Additional sources:



*Adventures in English Literature. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.




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