The novel has often been described as a modern genre with little in common with the prose fiction of other periods and cultures. The relationship between the modern novel and the prose fiction of the ancient Greeks and Romans is particularly problematic. In The Novel Before the Novel (1977), Arthur Heiserman admits that it is anachronistic to categorize ancient prose works as fiction novels. Ian Watt, an influential scholar, begins his study of the novel in The Rise of the Novel (1957) with eighteenth century or, at the earliest, seventeenth century prose fiction. In The Ancient Novel: An Introduction (1995), however, Niklas Holzberg argues that the works of ancient authors such as Xenophon of Ephesus and Lucius Apuleius easily fit the broad modern definition of the novel.
Differences in style, form, and content among modern novelists have made any critical definition of the genre difficult. The questions “What makes a good novel?” and “Is this work really a novel?” can be answered only through the application of arbitrary critical rules, for a major feature of the genre appears to be its inability to be restricted or characterized. The novel becomes what it wants to be: descriptive, narrative, or dramatic; ironic, serious, or ambiguous in tone; historical or imaginary; purely entertaining, didactic, or both. As a result, critics such as Robert Scholes and Robert A. Kellogg, in The Nature of Narrative (1966), have stressed the diverse and changing nature of the novel form. In The Ancient Romances: A Literary-Historical Account of Their Origins (1967), Ben Edwin Perry calls the genre “formless,” and in The Search for the Ancient Novel (1994), James Tatum describes ancient fiction as oxymoronic because of its many...
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