Although it is difficult to imagine, the novel is a relatively new literary form. Poetry and drama (plays), for example, have a much longer history. The novel, however, did not arise as a unique genre until the late eighteenth century. According to literary historians, it arose along with, or partly because of, the rise of the individual.
It is said that Woolf's style, and that of other early-twentieth-century novelists, represents a culmination of this connection between the novel and the individual. Before there were "individuals," so to speak, a person lived his or her life according to what was determined from the outside or according to what society decreed was correct. A person did not go through life assuming that he or she could make personal, or individual, decisions and choices. The literary historians argue, then, that when this new type of person, this "individual," began to exist, it needed new literary forms to express itself. The novel was one of these forms.
What comes with being an individual is a sense of separateness and uniqueness, a sense of being apart. One way this sense of being separate is cultivated is by each person focusing on, or developing a sense of, his or her own mind or consciousness. The novel is a literary form of the individual, literary historians argue, because novelists present and...
(The entire section is 1,387 words.)