Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a novel?

A novel is a work of long-form fictional prose.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A novel is a long narrative of fictitious prose. Novels are generally complex, involving multiple characters and settings, and concerned with human experience. 


Novel entered English from the Italian word novella, meaning “short story,” which derives from the Latin word novellus, meaning “young, new.”


Long prose works have existed for millennia; Lady Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, written in the 11th century CE, is often called the world’s first novel. But the first modern novels, such as Madame de La Fayette’s La Princesse de Clèves, did not appear until the late 17th century, and the literary form did not gain popularity until the 18th century, with works by writers such as Daniel Defoe, Aphra Behn, and Samuel Richardson. 


The novel became a widely popular and fully realized literary form in the 19th century, with writers like Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jane Austen, and Victor Hugo producing notable works. For example, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a 20th-century novel in the Gothic horror genre. 


see: narrativestoryfictionprose

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