Novel, long work of written fiction. Most novels involve many characters and tell a complex story by placing the characters in a number of different situations.
Because novels are long—generally 200 pages or more—novelists can tell more richly detailed tales than can authors of briefer literary forms such as the short story. Many readers consider the novel the most flexible type of literature, and thus the one with the most possibilities. For example, writers can produce novels that have the tension of a drama, the scope of an epic poem, the type of commentary found in an essay, and the imagery and rhythm of a lyric poem. Over the centuries writers have continually experimented with the novel form, and it has constantly evolved in new directions.
The word novel came into use during the Renaissance (14th century to 17th century), when Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio applied the term novella to the short prose narratives in his Il decamerone (1353; Ten Day’s Work). When his tales were translated, the term novel passed into the English language. The word novella is now used in English to refer to short novels.
II WHAT IS A NOVEL?
Like the short story, the novel tells a story, but unlike the short story, it presents more than an episode. In a novel, the writer has the freedom to develop plot, characters, and theme slowly. The novelist can also surround the main plot with subplots that flesh out the tale. Unlike short stories, most novels have numerous shifts in time, place, and focus of interest.
Like epic poetry, the novel may celebrate grand designs or great events, but unlike epic poetry it also may pay attention to details of everyday life, such as people’s daily tasks and social obligations. For example, the epic the ‘Iliad’ by ancient Greek poet Homer depicts the Trojan War in grand terms but does not comment on the experience of the common soldiers. By contrast, in his novel ‘Madame Bovary’ (1857), French writer Gustave Flaubert shows the main character shopping and worrying about household expenses.
Like a playwright, a novelist tells a story, but a novelist has more freedom than a playwright to portray events outside the framework of the immediate story, such as historical events that happen at the same time as the story. The playwright is more limited in this way because description in dramas is generally conveyed through dialogue between characters. In a play, rarely does a narrator speak directly to the audience, as the narrator of a novel can. Novelists can also make smoother changes in time and place than can playwrights, who must write their works so that they can be performed on stage.
Like the people in the Bible, the novel’s characters may search for God and have their own particular dreams and ideals, but unlike many biblical characters, the characters in novels are generally presented as people without spiritual missions and destinies. For example, in the Bible, the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah call on the Hebrew people to live more righteously. By contrast, although the character Levin in ‘Anna Karenina’ (1875-1877) by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy is obsessed with the moral life, he is also a farmer, thinker, husband, and society man who must attend to the needs of everyday life.
Unlike writers of allegories or parables, novelists do not use characters solely as emblems. The biblical parable of the prodigal son, which tells of a man who forgives his son for the errors of his ways, explores ideas of Christian forgiveness but does not investigate the characters of the family members in great detail. By contrast, the works of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which also explore themes of forgiveness, demonstrate the anguish of guilt-ridden men and women. In Dostoyevsky’s Prestuplanie i nakazanie (1866; ‘Crime and Punishment’) a man commits a murder and escapes punishment from authorities. However, he still suffers because his own conscience is burdened by the knowledge of the wrong he has done.
Finally, the novel may adapt patterns of mythology, but the novelist does not simply retell the myth. Instead, the novelist structures the story around the underlying themes of the myth while featuring unique characters and settings. In ‘Ulysses’ (1922) by Irish writer James Joyce, the experiences of the character Leopold Bloom has some similarity to those of the hero Odysseus in the ‘Odyssey’ by ancient Greek poet Homer. But Bloom’s experiences take place entirely within his world—the Ireland of his time. Joyce thus uses the ancient material of Odysseus’s mythical experiences to create a new interpretation of contemporary experience.
III ELEMENTS OF THE NOVEL
To create a fictional world that seems real to the reader, novelists use five main elements: plot, characters, conflict, setting, and theme.
The plot is the novel’s story and its underlying meaning. Therefore, when a reader describes the plot of a novel, the reader should describe both what happens to the characters and the meaning of these events. Plots can be anything the writer dreams up, from narratives so realistic that they seem like nonfiction to tales of the fantastic, such as science-fiction works that involve distant worlds.
To engage the reader, a novel must feature characters with complex and complete personalities. Characters do not need to be physically realistic; science-fiction novels often feature aliens as characters. But meaningful characters usually have hopes, fears, concerns, and ambitions that the reader can recognize. Well-conceived characters do not simply serve as devices to further the plot; they convince the reader that they have lives beyond the boundaries of the particular story being told.
The novelist makes the reader care about the story by introducing some sort of conflict. The conflict can be physical, emotional, or ethical, but it always creates some sort of tension that the characters must resolve.
Another element that the novelist uses to draw in the reader is the setting of the work—the time and place that the story occurs. For some novelists, setting is essential and plays a major role in the book’s theme, as in a novel that is about life in the American South. For other authors, the setting is not as important—for example, in a book that focuses on the inner thoughts of a single character.
The theme of a novel is the major idea that the novelist is setting forth in writing the book. The theme gives the novel greater depth than it would have if it were a simple recitation of a series of actions. An author uses the other elements of the novel to build the work’s theme. For example, to develop a theme about the current state of the American South, an author might set the book in the South, feature characters from the South, and have the characters speak in a Southern style. Through these elements, along with the plot, the novelist conveys the novel’s theme.
The plot of a novel is the narrative and thematic development of the story—that is, what happens and what these events mean. English novelist E. M. Forster, author of works such as ‘A Room with a View’ (1908) and Howards End (1910), referred to the plot as a “narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality.” By this statement he meant that plot is a series of events that depend on one another, not a sequence of unrelated episodes.
There are several types of plots. An episodic plot features distinct episodes that are related to one another but that can also be read individually, almost as stories by themselves. Most novels involve more complex plots, in which the story builds on itself so that each episode evolves out of a previous one and produces another one. Some plots are based less on the physical action of events than on the emotional reactions of characters and their efforts to communicate their feelings to others. And some novelists experiment with plot, interrupting the main story with subplots, moving back and forth in time, or merging fact with fiction.
A1 Episodic Plots
Many of the earliest novels had episodic plots. One of the first was Lazarillo de Tormes (1554; Lazaro of Tormes), an anonymous Spanish work that follows the adventures of a rogue. This novel and others with rogues as the main characters are called picaresque novels.
Another Spanish novel with an episodic plot became one of the world’s best-known literary works. Don Quixote (Part I, 1605; Part II, 1615) by Miguel de Cervantes follows the travels of a Spanish nobleman who encounters adventures and misfortunes after he strikes out to combat the world’s injustices. Although the novel has a plot, it is structured so that if the reader skips an episode, he or she can still follow Don Quixote’s progress with little loss of understanding.
American writer Mark Twain used an episodic plot in his classic novel Huckleberry Finn (1884), about Huck Finn, a boy who runs away from his hometown and voyages down the Mississippi River on a raft with an escaped slave named Jim. The episodes in Huckleberry Finn revolve around the points when Huck and Jim leave their raft and meet people in the towns and villages that border the river. In between these episodes, they retreat to their raft and contemplate their experiences as they drift south on the water.
A more complicated type of episodic novel is the bildungsroman, a novel about the early years of a person’s life, or a person’s moral or psychological growth. (The term comes from the German for “education novel.”) The bildungsroman traces not adventures but stages of growth in the life of a character. Famous novels of this type include David Copperfield (1849-1850), in which English novelist Charles Dickens traces David’s life from childhood misery to worldly success, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), in which Irish novelist James Joyce records Stephen Dedalus’s emergence as a man and as an artist. Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) by American author Paule Marshall describes the teenage years of Selina Boyce, who grows up in Brooklyn, New York, as the child of immigrants from Barbados. In All the Pretty Horses (1992) by American author Cormac McCarthy, 16-year-old John Grady Cole and two companions travel from Texas to Mexico, where their adventures become rites of passage to manhood.
A2 Complex Plots
Many novels have more complex plots that follow more than one major character or have more than one major story line. A classic example of a novel with a complex plot is Voina i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace) by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. This book is concerned with the histories of five families from 1805 to 1814 and with the Russian military campaign against the invading French army led by Napoleon I. The book features aristocrats and peasants, officers and common soldiers, diplomats and courtiers, town life and country life, flirtations, galas, hunting, and harshly realistic scenes of clashing armies.
The subject matter that novels with complex plot can cover is almost limitless. Some novels, like War and Peace, cover all segments of society. Others, such as Pride and Prejudice (1813) by English author Jane Austen, cover narrower subject matter. Austen’s novel is set in roughly the same time period as War and Peace. However, Pride and Prejudice focuses on one upper-class family, the Bennets, and in particular on the Bennet daughters’ search for husbands.
Subject matter continues to vary widely in contemporary novels. One contemporary example of a complex plot is the science-fiction novel Neuromancer (1984) by Canadian author William Gibson. This novel describes a world dominated by technology in which the main characters struggle against a dehumanizing social system. A very different type of novel is The God of Small Things (1997) by Indian author Arundhati Roy. This dreamlike saga set in the Indian state of Kerala chronicles the downfall of a well-to-do family. Despite significant differences in genre and subject matter between these two late-20th-century novels, they both can be classified as complex-plot novels.
A3 Plots Focusing on Character
Another kind of plot relies more on character than on action. Little action happens, but the subtle quality of the few events and, more crucially, the characters’ feelings about them, form the essence of the story. Madame Bovary (1857) by French novelist Gustave Flaubert, for example, traces Emma Bovary’s problems in three relationships as her marriage degenerates and her two lovers betray her. Everything in the novel arises from the conflict between her romantic ideals about life and the realities of her middle-class existence.
American writer Henry James uses a very simple plot in The Ambassadors (1903), which also focuses on character. Lambert Strether, a middle-aged New Englander, travels to Paris, France, to fetch a young man whose mother is worried about what seems to her to be Europe’s decadent influence. The “ambassador,” Strether, falls under the spell of the city and becomes enchanted with the young man’s mistress. Instead of sending explanations back to the United States, Strether spends his time exploring Europe; the book’s plot focuses on his development as an individual.
The Death of the Heart (1938) by Irish author Elizabeth Bowen concentrates on a young girl’s coming of age and her encounter with the insensitivity of both a lover and her own relatives. The Bone People (1983) by New Zealand writer Keri Hulme looks intensely at the relationship a woman forms with a boy and his adoptive father. The novel’s theme is that the relationships among the three influence each one individually. Although several crucial events occur, the focus remains on the three characters and their interaction.
A4 Experiments with Plots
Some authors experiment with plot by not providing a clearly definable beginning, middle, and end to the story. In Tristram Shandy (1759-1767) by English novelist Laurence Sterne, Tristram himself does not appear until well into the novel. Meanwhile, the reader receives the opinions of the characters Uncle Toby and Mr. Shandy instead. The book also dwells on small details and meditates aloud about itself, as in the narrator’s reflections at the beginning of Chapter 11, Book 2:
Writing, when properly managed, (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation: As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all—so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader’s understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.
In the 20th century writers began to alter the flow of the plot more often. Ulysses (1922) by Irish writer James Joyce is a novel set in Dublin, Ireland, that focuses on the young writer Stephen Dedalus and the married couple Leopold and Molly Bloom. Joyce crowds his plot with details of Dublin life and the random thoughts of his characters. In the end, Joyce leaves several mysteries about his characters unresolved, and he does not tell what happens to the two central heroes, Stephen and Leopold.
American writer William Gaddis experimented with plot in one of his best-known novels, JR (1975), by telling the story of an 11-year-old business mogul solely through dialogue. Playing with the structure of time is another way authors experiment with plot. In Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch, 1966) by Argentine writer Julio Cort?zar, the preface gives instructions as to the varying orders in which the parts of the novel can be read, offering the reader several different possibilities in terms of plot.
American writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. experimented with time in a different way in Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). This novel is about a man who comes “unstuck in time” and moves back and forth to different moments in his life. Dominican-born author Julia Alvarez experimented with time but stayed within the bounds of realism in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991). Alvarez moves her plot backward through time rather than forward. Each successive chapter describes an earlier point in the characters’ lives.
Some novelists blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, as American author Truman Capote did in his novel In Cold Blood (1966), an account of the murder of four family members. Capote termed the book a nonfiction novel. Other writers tell a story from several different points of view, drawing attention to the plot as an element at the whim and mercy of the author. Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier used this approach in El acoso (1956; Manhunt, 1959), about a man trying to escape from his political enemies.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, authors began to experiment with plot by using computers to create so-called hypertext works, which are collections of separate computer files that are linked so that readers can easily jump from one file to another. The reader begins with one file and makes choices about which links to access and read. Hypertext works thus allow the reader to determine the course of the story. With many possible choices at each stage, these works have a great number of potential plot lines. Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, emerged as a center for hypertext writing, in part because Robert Coover, one of the major novelists in the hypertext movement, became a member of Brown’s English department faculty.
The characters of a book are the fictional figures who move through the plot. They are invented by the author and are made of words rather than of flesh and blood. Therefore they cannot be expected to have all the attributes of real human beings. Nevertheless, novelists do try to create fictional people whose situations affect the reader as the situations of real people would.
Authors describe the more simple characters in novels with no more than a few phrases that identify the character’s most important traits. These characters have little capacity for personal growth, and they appear in the novel as limited but necessary elements of the plot. Despite their small parts, such characters are often vivid. The ingratiating, hypocritically “[h]‘umble” Uriah Heep in David Copperfield (1849-1850) by English novelist Charles Dickens is memorable in a way that more complex characters are not. Another simple Dickens character is Mr. Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865), a conformist whose character Dickens captures completely by describing him as someone who will say nothing that would “bring a blush into the cheek of [a] young person.” Although characters such as Heep and Podsnap are severely limited and could not carry a narrative by themselves, they provide a mechanism for the novelist to portray certain ideas or points of view.
A more complex type of character is the mythic figure, who corresponds to an individual from ancient myth or to a shared human experience that is handed down in myths and stories. For example, in the novella The Bear (1942) by American author William Faulkner, the main character, Ike McCaslin, is introduced to his family’s tradition of hunting. His experiences represent the ancient theme of initiation into the hunt, which has been an aspect of human societies for thousands of years. Some modern novelists reinterpret ancient myths and give new attention to characters. In Grendel (1971), American author John Gardner retells the medieval Anglo-Saxon tale Beowulf, in which the hero Beowulf slays the monster Grendel. Gardner’s novel tells the same story, but it is cast from the point of view of the monster. Gardner’s version explores Grendel’s feelings, doubts, and longings.
To create complex, realistic characters, authors usually combine traits that do not correspond to any single real person, but are aspects of several people. To give these characters motives for their actions, authors highlight the characters’ thoughts, feelings, conflicting impulses, and capacity for change. For example, in Anna Karenina (1875-1877) by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, the main character is torn between her stable yet dull marriage and a passionate yet dangerous affair with a military officer. In the end, Anna suffers a tragic fate as her society denounces her affair and turns its back on her.
Richly textured and detailed characters who are strongly affected by events in their lives, like Anna, exist in works throughout the history of the novel, but they especially flourished in the 19th century. With specific tastes and traits, these characters appear to the reader fully realized as true-to-life individuals. Famous 19th-century literary characters include Emma Woodhouse, the willful, witty, and playful main character in Emma (1816) by English author Jane Austen; Emma Bovary, an extravagant and sensual woman in Madame Bovary (1857) by French novelist Gustave Flaubert; and Dorothea Brooke, who loses her idealism in Middlemarch (1871-1872) by English writer George Eliot.
In the 20th century, experiments with stream of consciousness, a literary technique in which authors represent the flow of sensations and ideas, added to the depth of character portrayal. English novelist Virginia Woolf followed this approach to explore the characters of an Englishwoman and a young former soldier in Mrs. Dalloway (1925). Sometimes stream of consciousness challenges the reader. In To the Lighthouse (1927), Woolf achieves a deliberately disorienting effect by moving subtly from character to character, from past to present, and from external events to internal thoughts.
The absence of firmly stamped characters is a feature of the nouveau roman (new novel), a type of novel that developed in France in the 1950s. In the nouveau roman form, characters are only vaguely defined, because the “new novelists” believed that there is no objective truth, only subjective impressions that change depending on viewpoint. An example of a nouveau roman is La jalousie (1957; Jealousy, 1959) by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
Other novelists move in the opposite direction and place true-life people in their works, attempting to portray the people in great detail. For his In Cold Blood (1966), Truman Capote researched the lives of two murderers and wrote their story as a chilling study of personality and motive. Capote’s book traces its ancestry to A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) by English novelist Daniel Defoe, a novel based on real accounts that involves both actual and imagined victims of a real-life plague that occurred in 1665 in London, England.
Novels such as Defoe’s that use historical settings for fictional characters are distinguished from historical novels that attempt to describe the inner lives of historical figures. In Voina i Mir (1865-1869; War and Peace), Russian writer Leo Tolstoy not only grounds his story firmly in the era of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), but also portrays French emperor Napoleon I directly, placing the reader in Napoleon’s mind by describing the emperor’s thoughts about the glory of Moscow as he stands before the city.
Some novelists use historical figures not as main characters but as elements of a backdrop to a fictional story. American writer E. L. Doctorow takes this approach in Ragtime (1975), a book about three families in early-20th-century America. The novel features appearances by public figures such as magician Harry Houdini and businessman J. P. Morgan.
The plot of a novel unfolds as the novel’s characters deal with conflict. The conflict may be of various types. It may be physical, as in Red Badge of Courage (1895) by American author Stephen Crane, in which a young man goes to battle during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The conflict may be ethical and involve making decisions that affect other people. In All the King’s Men (1946), American novelist Robert Penn Warren depicts this kind of conflict by focusing on the effect an ambitious Southern politician named Willie Stark has upon his assistant, Jack Burden, and others. The conflict in a novel may also be emotional. A Death in the Family (1957) by American writer James Agee is about a family recovering from the death of a loved one.
Many conflicts in novels occur between two characters. For example, Les misérables (1862) by French novelist Victor Hugo is about an obsessive policeman named Javert who pursues the character Valjean. Intruder in the Dust (1948) by American novelist William Faulkner features a different sort of conflict, between a small group of characters and the rest of local society. In the book, which is set in the American South, a black man, Lucas Beauchamp, is accused of murder. A white boy, his black friend, and an elderly woman help Beauchamp prove his innocence.
Don Quixote (Part I, 1605; Part II, 1615) by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes describes conflict between an individual and society. The novel is the comic story of a nobleman who continually misinterprets his encounters with other people and thus has a unique view of his society. Conflict in novels can also occur between social groups, as in Germinal (1885) by French novelist ?mil Zola, a work about a group of miners who try to better their lot in life.
Conflict can also occur within a character’s own mind, as that character struggles internally. La chute (1956; The Fall, 1957) by French writer Albert Camus is about a lawyer who lives without questioning his actions until a moment of personal revelation sets him forever to doubting himself. Another novel that features a character with inner turmoil is The Moviegoer (1961) by American author Walker Percy. The novel’s main character, Binx Bolling, is a stockbroker searching for meaning in his life.
Most novelists draw the reader in by having the novel’s conflict develop over time. The reader sees the situation that provokes the conflict, the development of the conflict from episode to episode, and then the climax and the resolution of the conflict. As the tension builds toward the main conflict, the author may introduce subplots that create and resolve other points of conflict. Some novelists reverse the reader’s expectations by describing the aftermath of the story, then going back in time to reveal how the characters arrived at that point.
The setting of a novel—the time and place of its action—is crucial to the creation of a complete work. Physical places such as deserts and outer space, as well as cultural settings such as hospitals and universities, help determine characters’ conflicts, aspirations, and destinies.
In the 19th century, writers such as Honoré de Balzac of France, Ivan Turgenev of Russia, and Charles Dickens of England provided great amounts of detail when describing their novels’ settings, and they did so for specific reasons. In Balzac’s Père Goriot (1834; Old Goriot), the main character arrives in Paris and finds lodging at a boarding house, the Maison Vauquer. The house’s shabby furniture and stained linens represent the struggles of lower-middle-class life. In Ottsy i deti (1862; Fathers and Sons), Turgenev distinguishes between two kinds of country families by contrasting the elegance and the earthiness of their respective households. The ominousness of Dickens’s Great Expectations (1860-1861) proceeds as much from the bleak marshes and the Gothic house owned by the character Miss Havisham as from anything the characters say or do.
Some novelists pay less attention to specific physical objects. English writer Jane Austen, for example, is less concerned with items in a room than Dickens is, but this does not mean she is not concerned with social environment. In focusing, rather precisely, on details such as Mr. Bennet’s income in Pride and Prejudice (1813) or Mr. Eliot’s background in Persuasion (1818), she creates an atmosphere in which a character’s background and home town—whether London, the town of Meryton, or somewhere in northern England—becomes central to the story.
Sometimes novelists make time and place so essential to the narrative that they become as important as the characters themselves. Often this occurs when novels are set in a single, distinctive location. For example, Wuthering Heights (1847) by English novelist Emily Brontë, The Scarlet Letter (1850) by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) by English novelist Thomas Hardy are inconceivable without their settings of Stonehenge, colonial New England, and the Yorkshire moors, respectively.
American author William Faulkner set The Sound and the Fury (1929), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and many other works in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi. Characters featured in one book also show up as characters in other works, drawing all the works together as what is called the Yoknapatawpha saga.
The novel Jazz (1992) by American author Toni Morrison is set in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. This cultural movement of the 1920s and early 1930s featured innovations in literature, theater, art, and music. The setting Morrison creates is integral to the book, whose narrative voice echoes the loose, unpredictable rhythms of the jazz music of the time.
A novel’s theme is the main idea that the writer expresses. Theme can also be defined as the underlying meaning of the story.
The theme of a novel is more than its subject matter, because an author’s technique can play as strong a role in developing a theme as the actions of the characters do. For example, American novelist Wright Morris explores the interaction of the past and present in his work The Field of Vision (1956), which is set at a bullfight in Mexico. Morris’s technique is to use the bullfight’s action as a trigger that causes each of the five characters, all American spectators, to remember events from the past.
Rarely can a novel’s theme be interpreted in only one way. Because of the length of novels, and the various characters, conflicts, and scenes found within them, readers can look at different aspects of the work to uncover different interpretations of the meaning of the tale. British novelist Lawrence Durrell demonstrated this in his series of novels The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960), which is intended to be experienced not as a series of individual novels but as a single work. The collection looks at life in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during World War II (1939-1945). In the four books, Durrell offers different perspectives on roughly the same actions.
A common theme in novels is the conflict between appearance and reality. For example, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by American writer Carson McCullers concerns John Singer, a man who cannot speak or hear. Nevertheless, he serves as a sort of confessor to a group of neighbors. These people idealize him as a listener—“Each man described the mute as they wished him to be”—and unburden themselves by speaking to him. However, the reality is that Singer cannot understand the people and that they do not understand him; they are bewildered when he commits suicide.
Another common theme is the search for personal identity. The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by American writer J. D. Salinger convincingly depicts Holden Caulfield, a teenager who realizes that he is no longer a child, but who is not quite ready for adulthood. Holden’s desperate search for identity has captured the imagination of generations of adolescent readers.
The theme of an individual who strikes out alone to face the world is used in many works. One of the most famous instances is in Huckleberry Finn (1884) by American novelist Mark Twain. The book, set before the American Civil War (1861-1865), is about a boy, Huck, who cannot endure the restrictions of his life in a town along the Mississippi River. He runs away and rafts down the river, along the way becoming friends with an escaped slave named Jim.
Some novels feature people who cannot break from their society’s conventions and instead become disillusioned with the conflict between their aspirations and the reality of their lives. American novelist John Updike explored this theme in Rabbit, Run (1960), about a former high school basketball star who is disappointed with his marriage, unsettled by the birth of his first child, and unhappy with his job as a used-car salesman.
Throughout the history of the novel, a major theme has been whether people can change their situations in life or whether they are in the grips of forces beyond their control. The literary school of naturalism, which emerged in the late 1800s in Europe and later spread to North America, explored the idea that people could not control their fates. Novelists such as ?mil Zola of France and Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser of the United States were major figures in the naturalism movement. In his novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), American author John Steinbeck dramatizes a similar theme of loss of personal control by writing about the Joads, a family forced by economic changes to leave their land in Oklahoma to become migrant workers in California.
Other common themes in novels include how art and life are reflected in one another, the meaning of religion, and whether technology helps people or whether it is a harmful aspect of society.
IV TECHNIQUES OF THE NOVEL
There are several major techniques that novelists employ to make their novels rich in meaning and rewarding to the reader, including point of view, style, and symbolism. Novelists also use a number of minor devices such as imagery and irony.
The most important decision an author must make when writing a novel is what point of view to use. The point of view determines the limitations and freedoms that the author has in presenting the plot and theme to the reader. Readers will experience a book differently depending on whether they know everything that is occurring in the story and all the characters’ thoughts, or whether they have a more limited perspective, such as knowing only what one particular character knows.
A novelist’s style is the approach the writer takes in putting together words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. Style can determine the pace at which the story is told and how directly the author relates the story to the reader.
Many novelists deepen the meaning of their stories by employing symbolism, the use of objects or ideas as symbols that represent other, more abstract concepts. With symbols, authors can write scenes that deepen the reader’s understanding of the theme of the novel. This occurs because the symbols have an unspoken meaning beyond their immediate presence in the story. Symbolism thus allows the author to address controversial matters, such as political or religious issues, without openly discussing these subjects.
Novelists also use many other literary devices, including imagery and irony. By using these devices, writers avoid the need to state every piece of information they wish to convey. Instead, the literary devices give readers the opportunity to discover themselves the layers of meaning in a novel.
A Point of View
The point of view of a literary work is the perspective from which the reader views the action and characters. The three major types of point of view in novels are omniscient (all-knowing narrator outside the story itself), first-person (observations of a character who narrates the story), and third-person-limited (outside narration focusing on one character’s observations).
A1 Omniscient Point of View
In a novel written from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, the reader knows what each character does and thinks. The reader maintains this knowledge as the plot moves from place to place or era to era. An omniscient narrator can also provide the reader with direct assessment of action, character, and environment. For example, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by American writer Carson McCullers opens with this description:
In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was colder he wore over this a shapeless gray sweater. His face was round and oily, with half closed eyelids and lips that curved in a gentle, stupid smile. The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and very soberly dressed.
The omniscient narrator can assume a familiar tone with the reader, because the narrator is not bound by the scope of the story. Many of the earliest novels used the omniscient narrator in such a fashion. In Tom Jones (1749), English novelist Henry Fielding provides brief overviews at the beginning of each major section. Most simply set forth the time frame of the section (“Containing a portion of time somewhat longer than half a year”), but others give a more detailed overview:
Containing the most memorable transactions which passed in the family of Mr. Allworth, from the time when Tommy Jones arrived at the age of fourteen, till he attained the age of nineteen. In this book the reader may pick up some hints concerning the education of children.
The omniscient point of view has advantages and disadvantages. Using an omniscient narrator allows a writer to be extremely clear about plot developments. This point of view also exposes the reader to the actions and thoughts of many characters and deepens the reader’s understanding of the various aspects of the story. However, using an omniscient narrator can make a novel seem too authoritarian and artificial, because in their own lives people do not have this all-knowing power. If clumsily executed, providing thick detail may cause the reader to lose sight of the central plot within a mass of scenes, settings, and characters.
A2 First-Person Point of View
With the first-person point of view, one of the novel’s characters narrates the story. For example, a sentence in a novel in the first person might read, “As I waited on the corner, I remembered the last time I had seen her.”
The first person provides total subjectivity and all the immediacy, intimacy, and urgency of a single individual’s conflicts. The first person also shows a character’s awareness at telling a story. David Copperfield (1849-1850) by English novelist Charles Dickens is narrated by the title character and opens, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
The first person allows the author to write in the voice of a particular character. In his novel Huckleberry Finn (1884), which is narrated by the character Huck, American author Mark Twain not only wrote from Huck’s point of view, but he wrote in the voice that Huck would use if he were a real person. This approach gives Huck authenticity as a real character. Twain began chapter one of the book:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.
Some novelists use the first person in more complex ways. In The Sound and the Fury (1929), American novelist William Faulkner tells the story of the Compson family from four points of view, three of which are first person. The narrative begins from the point of view of a developmentally disabled man, Benjy. It then moves to the point of view of his intellectual brother, Quentin, and then to the point of view of another brother, Jason. The final section is told by an omniscient narrator.
The novel ?Yo! (1997) by Dominican-born writer Julia Alvarez also uses a series of first-person narrators. The book is a portrait of a single character, Yolanda, told from the point of view of various people who know her from different stages of her life. Never does the reader hear from Yolanda directly, but by piecing together the observations of her friends and family, many of which are told in the first person, the reader gains a sense of Yolanda.
A3 Third-Person-Limited Point of View
The third-person-limited point of view tells the story from the third person (“he” or “she”), with a knowledge of what the main character thinks. For example, a sentence from a story in the third person limited might read, “As she waited on the corner, she remembered the last time she had seen him.”
Like the omniscient and first-person narrators, the third-person-limited narrator allows the reader access to the thoughts of the main character. Unlike the omniscient narrator, however, the third-person-limited narrator can only relay one character’s perspective to the reader. In this way the third-person-limited narrator is like the first-person narrator: The viewpoint recreates how an individual experiences the world.
American author Henry James employed the third-person-limited point of view to great effect in books such as Daisy Miller (1879) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881), with the central character acting as a person who can evaluate the significance of events and in turn convey that evaluation to the reader. In Daisy Miller, the character Winterbourne serves this purpose. Early in the novel, Winterbourne relates his first impressions of Daisy:
She was bareheaded, but she balanced in her hand a large parasol, with a deep border of embroidery; and she was strikingly, admirably pretty. “How pretty [Daisy and her parasol] are!” thought Winterbourne, straightening himself in his seat, as if he were prepared to rise.
When using a character as a voice of limited omniscience, the author may describe the character’s experiences only in terms that the character would use, or the author may take a more authoritative approach and describe the character’s life as an outside observer would. In Ulysses (1922), Irish novelist James Joyce uses the first approach when describing the character Gerty MacDowell. Gerty, a sentimental girl of limited understanding, expresses her narrow range of perceptions within her own limitations, and the reader sees the world very much through her eyes. By contrast, in the sections of Madame Bovary (1857) that Emma Bovary narrates, French novelist Gustave Flaubert adopts a broader perspective when he explains Emma’s thirst for romance, excitement, and grandeur in terms that Emma herself would not be able to express.
Style is the novelist’s choice of words and phrases, and how the novelist arranges these words and phrases in sentences and paragraphs. Style allows the author to shape how the reader experiences the work. For example, one writer may use simple words and straightforward sentences, while another may use difficult vocabulary and elaborate sentence structures. Even if the themes of both works are similar, the differences in the authors’ styles make the experiences of reading the two works distinct.
Style can be broken down into three types: simple, complex, and mid-style. Sometimes authors carry a single style throughout an entire work. Other times, the style may vary within a novel. For example, if the novelist tells a story through the eyes of several different characters, the use of different styles may give each character a distinctive voice.
A simple style uses common words and simple sentences, even if the situation described is complex. The effect of the simple style can be to present facts to the reader without appealing to the reader’s emotions directly. Instead, the writer relies on the facts themselves to affect the reader. American author Ernest Hemingway is widely known for a spare, economical style that nevertheless provokes an emotional reaction. His novel A Farewell to Arms (1929) opens with a simple yet powerful description:
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.
A complex style uses long, elaborate sentences that contain many ideas and descriptions. The writer uses lyrical passages to create the desired mood in the reader, whether it be one of joy, sadness, confusion, or any other emotion. American author Henry James uses a complex style to great effect in novels such as The Wings of the Dove (1902):
The two ladies who, in advance of the Swiss season, had been warned that their design was unconsidered, that the passes would not be clear, nor the air mild, nor the inns open—the two ladies who, characteristically had braved a good deal of possibly interested remonstrance were finding themselves, as their adventure turned out, wonderfully sustained.
A mid-style is a combination of the simple and complex styles. It can give a neutral tone to the book, or it can provide two different effects by contrast. American writer Carson McCullers uses the mid-style in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940):
And then sometimes when he was alone and his thoughts were with his friend his hands would begin to shape the words before he knew about it. Then when he realized he was like a man caught talking aloud to himself. It was almost as though he had done some moral wrong. The shame and sorrow mixed together and he doubled his hands and put them behind him. But they would not let him rest.
Some authors use more than one style within a novel. This approach allows the author flexibility in choosing which style is appropriate at different points in the work, depending on the situation and on the character or characters being portrayed. Novelists who have mixed styles include Herman Melville of the United States, in Moby Dick (1851); James Joyce of Ireland, in Ulysses (1922); and Robert Penn Warren of the United States, in All the King’s Men (1946).
Many novels have two layers of meaning. The first is in the literal plot, the second in a symbolic layer in which images and objects represent abstract ideas and feelings. Using symbols allows authors to express themselves indirectly on delicate or controversial matters.
Novelists have created symbolic patterns of imagery since the beginning of the genre. One famous example of symbolism is the letter A in The Scarlet Letter (1850) by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the novel, the character Hester Prynne wears a scarlet-colored A on her dress to symbolize adultery, of which she was found guilty by judges in her community.
Another famous use of symbolism occurs in The Great Gatsby (1925), in which American author F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a green light at the end of a dock to symbolize the difficult-to-obtain American dream of success and happiness:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther … and one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
English novelist Joseph Conrad felt that the novelist must search for the “image,” meaning “the outward sign of inward feelings.” His short novel Heart of Darkness (1902) uses symbols extensively. The story is about a seaman, Marlow, who travels from England to Africa to work as a trader. While there he encounters another European, Kurtz, who has withdrawn from society and is living in a remote area up the Congo River. The following passage from the book suggests the jungle’s decay. Symbolically, Marlow’s voyage into the wilderness represents his spiritual exploration of his own soul:
Going up the river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. … The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish … The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks, hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. … I turned to the wilderness really, not to Mr. Kurtz, who, I was ready to admit, was as good as buried. And for the moment it seemed to me as if I was buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets. I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night.
Czech writer Franz Kafka used symbols in unexpected ways when he portrayed the legal battles of a man named Joseph K. in the novel Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937). In the book the legal process represents not order and logic but confusion, because throughout the novel K. remains ignorant about its true workings.
Sometimes symbols have a straightforward meaning. American author Mary McCarthy used the term natural symbolism to refer to an author’s use of images that require no elaborate interpretation. In Anna Karenina (1875-1877) by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, for example, the death of the nobleman Count Vronsky’s horse, which suffers an accident while racing, foreshadows the fate of the book’s heroine, Anna. William Faulkner used a straightforward symbol in his novella The Bear (1842), about a family’s traditional hunting trip. In this work the bear represents the idea of a noble, free animal in unspoiled wilderness.
Even when symbols appear to have a clear meaning in one part of a novel, they can have another meaning in another part of the book. One example is the prison in La chartreuse de Parme (1839; The Charterhouse of Parma) by French author Stendhal. This jailhouse represents confinement, but that is not its only symbolic meaning. At one point the main character, Fabrizio, seems destined to be executed in prison, and yet it is only from prison that he can see his beloved Clelia (from the window of his cell). It is his occasional view of her from his enforced distance that makes their romance flourish, and because of this the prison is at this moment a place of hope. In Dombey and Son (1846-1848), Charles Dickens uses the image of a train to express two kinds of modern upheaval. In the early sections of the book, the train is connected with reordering and positive change in people’s lives. Later the train becomes an instrument of destruction.
Symbols are not necessarily limited to one or two easy-to-identify meanings. For example, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Irish author James Joyce uses birds symbolically. One interpretation is that the birds represent the concept of escape, but this interpretation oversimplifies Joyce’s intentions. The symbol of the birds is also connected to the Greek mythological figure Icarus, who flew too close to the Sun wearing his artificial wings; the wings fall apart, and Icarus is plunged into the ocean. In addition, the birds are connected with the ideas of beauty, imagination, religion, and sexual desire.
Many novelists are wary of readers who search out symbols in works and try to identify their meanings. One symbol that has attracted a great deal of attention from readers is the white whale who gives his name to the title of the novel Moby Dick (1851), by American author Herman Melville. The book concerns Captain Ahab, a sailor obsessed with hunting down and killing Moby Dick, who, in a previous encounter, caused Ahab to lose one leg. Ahab and his ship, the Pequod, eventually track down Moby Dick, but the whale then destroys Ahab and his boat and escapes. English writer D. H. Lawrence once commented on the figure of the whale, “Of course he is a symbol. Of what? I doubt if even Melville knew exactly. That’s the best of it.”
D Imagery and Irony
In addition to point of view, style, and symbolism, novelists use many other specific techniques in their works. Two of the most important are imagery, the collection of descriptive details that appeal to the senses and emotions of the reader by creating a sense of real experience, and irony, the reader’s recognition that what is expected from a statement, situation, or action is different from what actually happens.
Through imagery the writer attempts to embody in images all abstractions and generalizations about character and meaning. Japanese author Kawabata Yasunari is known for the startling images in his work. In Yukiguni (1948; Snow Country, 1956) the hero on the train sees a girl’s face reflected in the window as the mountain landscape flows by outside:
Shimamura had the illusion that the evening landscape was actually passing over the face, and the flow did not stop … It was a distant cold light. As it sent its small ray through the pupil of the girl’s eye, as the eye and the light were superimposed one on the other, the eye became a weirdly beautiful bit of phosphorescence on the sea of evening mountains.
The difference between imagery and symbolism is that the purpose of imagery is not to embody meaning but to create an illusion of reality by stimulating the reader’s senses. Nevertheless, an image may also serve as a symbol when it has special meaning and represents another idea, either to the reader or to the novel’s characters. In The Scarlet Letter (1850) by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, the letter A that Hester Prynne wears is an image in the novel that makes her character more vivid to the reader. Within the novel, in the town in which she lives, the letter symbolizes her adultery.
Irony can take several forms, and the novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by American writer Carson McCullers provides examples of each type. Irony can be dramatic (acting without knowing that the effect of one’s actions is the opposite of what one expected). In the novel, four different characters talk to John Singer, who cannot hear them or speak to them, because they think that he will understand their conflicts with other people. Irony can also be situational. When all four characters happen to visit Singer at the same time, each is ignorant of the fact that they have many problems in common and could perhaps help one another. And irony can be verbal (saying one thing when the opposite is true). Singer says to a friend of his who lives in a mental asylum, “I write to you because I think you will understand.”
Authors may also use irony to reveal something about characters to the reader without having the characters become aware of it themselves. In McCullers’s novel, only Singer and the reader are aware that Singer does not understand the characters when they speak to him.
Novelists use many other literary devices in their works. For more information on these devices, see Alliteration; Analogy; Figure of Speech; Humor; Parable; Parody; Satire; Stream of Consciousness.
V GENRES OF THE NOVEL
Novels can be classified into dozens of genres, and novels may belong to several of these categories at the same time. Distinctions among genres can be drawn in many ways. Such distinctions include the form in which the works are written, such as epistolary novels, which take the form of letters written between characters; the settings, such as regional novels, which focus on life in a certain area; and the purpose, such as propaganda novels, which try to convince the reader to adopt a certain point of view. Other examples of distinct forms include picaresque novels, which describe the adventures of rogues; Gothic novels, which describe ghosts and other elements of the supernatural; science-fiction novels, which portray other worlds or other possibilities for our world; and detective stories, which focus on mysteries.
A few broad genres of the novel reflect some general tendencies. Social novels tend to focus on the outward behavior of characters and how other characters react. Psychological novels explore the inner workings of an individual’s mind. Education novels recount a person’s development as an individual. Philosophical novels provide a platform for authors to explore intellectual or philosophical questions. Popular novels usually involve adventure, intrigue, or mystery and appeal to a wide range of people. Experimental novels are works in which writers make major innovations in form and style.
A Social Novel
The social novel focuses on the behavior of characters and how the characters’ actions reflect or contradict the values of their society. The social novel includes two major types: the novel of manners and the chronicle novel. The novel of manners focuses on a small segment of society. The chronicle novel paints a broad survey of society as a whole. In both types, the characters’ external conflicts and interactions with others are the lifeblood of the story.
A1 Novel of Manners
In its general form, the novel of manners is concerned with subtle nuances of behavior and standards of correctness, usually in upper-class life. Novels of manners describe small encounters and use insights from these incidents to make generalizations that apply to humanity as a whole.
Pride and Prejudice (1813) by English writer Jane Austen describes bad behavior, ungentlemanly conduct, and the distinctions between the pride of self-respect and the various forms of arrogance, willfulness, and self-absorption into which this pride can be twisted. Austen’s novel focuses on the three Bennet sisters’ attempts to find husbands. The work features characters such as the reckless, man-chasing Lydia Bennet, the pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the obsequious Mr. Collins, the snobbish Caroline Bingley, the cynical Mr. Bennet, the inane Mrs. Bennet, and the vulgar Mrs. Philips. Typical maneuverings are those of Caroline, a young woman who tries to impress Mr. Darcy by pretending to read a book he is reading. In the novel of manners, such moments, although seemingly trivial, expose the character of a person.
In her later novel Emma (1816), Austen also exposes questionable social maneuvers. For example, the pretentious Mrs. Elton’s patronizing manner causes the main character, Emma, to fume, but Emma’s outburst reveals her own temper:
“Insufferable woman!” was her immediate exclamation. Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! … A little upstart, vulgar being with her Mr. E. and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretention and underbred finery. Actually to discover that Mr. Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady.
American authors Henry James and Edith Wharton wrote novels of manners to depict the struggle of people to maintain individualism while conforming to society’s expectations. In James’s novella Daisy Miller (1879), a young American woman in Europe unknowingly violates social norms by going to the wrong places, not being respectful to society ladies, and walking in public with men to whom she has not been properly introduced. Daisy’s too-friendly behavior and flirtatiousness scare off acquaintances, and James uses the small details of her infractions to comment on how difficult it can be for individuals to honor all of society’s conventions. Daisy herself even comments comically on her fate:
I like a lady to be exclusive; I’m dying to be exclusive myself. Well, we are exclusive, mother and I. We don’t speak to everyone—or they don’t speak to us. I suppose it’s about the same thing.
Wharton’s book The Age of Innocence (1920) develops much the same theme by showing how the so-called proper New York society of the 1870s, concerned with proper background and behavior, defeats the impulse for freedom and self-expression. Newland Archer has spent his life loving a beautiful, exotic cousin of his wife, but she does not fit his society’s idea of a proper wife. Although Newland is at peace with his place in society—he is described as “the good citizen”—he is aware of a lack in his life: “Something he knew he had missed: the flower of life.”
The novel of manners can deal with any segment of society. A Handful of Dust (1934) by English author Evelyn Waugh is about the conflicting manners of Tony Last, a gullible, kindly country gentleman, and Brenda, his glamorous, faithless wife. The story exposes Brenda’s reckless pursuit of an affair and Tony’s self-absorption.
American novelist Mary McCarthy stays strictly within the bounds of the novel of manners in The Group (1963). This work uses the guiding idea of autonomy for women to show how several Vassar College graduates assert this autonomy in their love affairs, domestic arrangements, and careers.
Some novelists of manners have satiric intentions. In The Late George Apley (1937), American writer J. P. Marquand uses the letters of a member of Boston’s upper class to make fun of the type of man who imagines that his snobbish routines, club life, tastes, and connections form the most important part of American civilization. In Goodbye, Columbus (1959), American author Philip Roth satirizes the self-protective attitude of the prosperous middle class. Brenda Patimkin, daughter of a successful businessman, breaks off her relationship with her lower-middle-class boyfriend, Neil, by deliberately letting her parents know about their affair and by letting them forbid the relationship. Neil sums up Brenda’s position by saying, “You can go home—your father will be waiting with two coats and a half-dozen dresses.”
A2 Chronicle Novel
The chronicle novel takes a broader view than the novel of manners by attempting to bring the scope of a whole civilization into the work. It also uncovers the meanings, principles, and social styles that govern people’s lives. The chronicle novel scrutinizes individuals but at the same time offers an analysis of social classes and groups.
Père Goriot (1834; Old Goriot) by French author Honoré de Balzac is a chronicle novel that uses the idea of fatherhood to explore facets of French society. The novel describes the mad generosity of old Goriot, a man who feels holy when he helps his daughters, who are women of low morals. Another father figure in the novel is the sly, sinister character Vautrin, who has a profitable murder scheme prepared for the benefit of his young friend Eugène de Rastignac. By describing Vautrin’s twisted paternal action toward Eugène, Balzac asserts that fatherhood is a failed principle in a society in which fashion and making money are of paramount importance.
Beyond this master idea, Père Goriot also explores the ambition of youth to throw off the past, including the influence of fathers. Eugène, a young man from the provinces who moves to Paris to discard the pieties and illusions of his old life, demonstrates this aspect of personal growth:
He adjusts his cravat and poses for the benefit of women in the first galleries at the Opéra Comique. Passing through one initiation after another he gradually loses his greenness, life’s horizons expand before his eyes; and in the end he achieves some perception of how human beings are packed in strata, layer above layer, in the framework of society.
Eugène comes to recognize his place in society and how his situation can be a form of entrapment. This sort of recognition is typical of what characters discover in the chronicle novel. For example, in Little Dorrit (1857) by English author Charles Dickens, Arthur Clennam visits the deserted London streets on a Sunday, the drawing rooms of the upper middle class, the run-down neighborhood called Bleeding Heart Yard, and the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. In all these places he observes his fellow citizens in various forms of imprisonment: physical, emotional, and social.
The chronicle novel often has a historical sweep over several years or even generations. In Madame Bovary (1857), French author Gustave Flaubert first portrays Charles Bovary as a boy—the young oaf at school, his constrained and uneventful life with his parents. These images add depth to the later scenes that deal with the main character, his wife Emma, and her search for glamour.
Sartoris (1929) by American novelist William Faulkner follows tragic recklessness through several generations. The ideal of heroic daring begins for the family in the American Civil War (1861-1865) with the foolhardy actions of Bayard Sartoris, a Confederate Army officer who is killed in an ill-advised raid on a Union camp. This risk-taking heritage carries down to the 20th century, when the youngest surviving Sartoris leads a self-destructive life.
Another chronicle novel set in the American South is A Summons to Memphis (1986) by American author Peter Taylor. On one level the book is a story about a son’s view of his father, a man of traditional ideas. On another level it is a story about the social contrasts between two Tennessee cities, with Memphis representing the Old South and Nashville representing the New South. By looking at how a responsible, honest, but old-fashioned member of the old society is bewildered by the changes that have occurred around him, Taylor gives his impressions of modern life.
For Russian author Leo Tolstoy, public events and personal experiences both contribute to panoramic novels of Russian civilization. His Voina i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace) is a meticulous recreation of the period of Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), when French emperor Napoleon I waged war on much of the rest of Europe. Within this historical landscape, Tolstoy depicts individuals and their actions, in part because he views historical events as being caused by the convergence of innumerable individual actions. To represent why Russian civilization endured intact through the chaotic Napoleonic period, Tolstoy studies individual people and how they adjust to differing situations. For example, Natasha, who progresses from girlhood to middle age, symbolizes the natural process of adaptation and survival. Over the years she transforms herself from a vibrant, self-assured star of Saint Petersburg society to a family-oriented, settled matron.
? le recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931) by French author Marcel Proust examines an entire culture by focusing on an individual’s memories and impressions of society. The novel is not only an evocation of the customs and manners of an earlier period but also a recreation of the stages of consciousness of the narrator. The reader follows Marcel’s progress as he gradually penetrates the illusions of both social life and love. As he learns about snobbery and betrayal, he learns to rise above their destructive effects. In this seven-volume work, Proust documents the state of his society and shows that pretense and cruelty are highly developed in duchesses, courtesans, salon poseurs, and ladies’ room attendants alike.
B Psychological Novel
The psychological novel’s intent is to reveal its characters’ inner selves at a particular time in life. In terms of style, many psychological novels feature interior monologue and stream of consciousness; these are literary techniques that give the reader direct access to the inner thoughts of characters.
One famous example of a psychological novel is The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by American writer J. D. Salinger. The novel is narrated by Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old boy who has just flunked out of his third prep school. Unwilling to remain at school until the end of the term, Holden runs away to New York City. He does not contact his parents, who live there, but instead drifts around the city for two days. Finally, drawn by the affection for his ten-year-old sister, Phoebe, Holden returns home. Although Holden tries to appear tough, his idealism is revealed when he tells Phoebe that he would like to be “the catcher in the rye”—the defender of childhood innocence—who would stand in a field of rye where thousands of children are playing and “catch anybody if they start to go over the cliff.”
A number of other American writers wrote powerful psychological novels in the mid-20th century. The novella Seize the Day (1956) by Saul Bellow follows the character Tommy Wilhelm, who has lost his job and is about to lose his wife. He seeks help from his father but is rebuffed, and then he watches as his investments fail and he goes bankrupt. By observing Tommy as his world falls apart around him, the reader gains an intimate sense of Tommy’s strengths and weaknesses.
A Separate Peace (1960) by John Knowles is about the relationship between Phineas and Gene, two boys who meet at prep school. Phineas is a charismatic athlete who gains widespread attention and respect. Gene is a more serious student who enjoys Phineas’s friendship but is jealous of his athletic abilities. The critical event in the novel is an accident that Phineas suffers, and by rendering Gene’s internal struggles over his role in the accident, Knowles depicts Gene’s character at that time in his life.
In The Bell Jar (1963), American writer Sylvia Plath examines the challenges of being a young woman in America in the 1950s by describing the precarious psychological condition of a character named Esther. A bell jar is a bell-shaped glass container. To show how she feels, Esther describes herself as being inside one. She is a strong scholar but unhappy with her life and the limitations her society places on women; she suffers a breakdown and attempts to commit suicide. However, she recovers and moves on with her life. This autobiographical novel roughly parallels events in Plath’s own life.
C Education Novel
The education novel describes stages in the life of its main character as the individual develops as a person. For example, in Great Expectations (1860-1861), English author Charles Dickens describes a boy named Pip as he grows up and the challenges he faces as he comes to terms with his own actions. The Mill on the Floss (1860) by English novelist George Eliot deals with a young girl and the consequences of her passions. Maggie Tulliver, although a character of intelligence and determination, is ultimately defeated by both the repressive society of her time and her own unwise impulses.
Le rouge et le noir (1830; The Red and the Black) by French author Stendhal follows the maturation process of a young man named Julian Sorel. When he is accused of murder and brought into court, Julian refuses to make peace with the world around him. Instead, he simply does not bargain with a system that violates his personal integrity, and he is sentenced to death.
Defiance is also the motive of development in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) by Irish writer James Joyce. As he grows up, the main character, Stephen Dedalus, finds that disobedience and betrayal—in Stephen’s terms “silence, exile, cunning”—become ways for him to define himself. One of Joyce’s favorite methods for representing the mind’s discovery of the world was what he called epiphany—a “sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself.” In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen’s epiphanies take the form of unexpected perceptions in the course of daily life. For example, in the following passage he realizes the beauty of an ordinary girl:
A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh.
Even before psychology developed as an academic field in the late 1800s, education novels explored people’s emotions and memories. For example, in the mid-1800s Charles Dickens used the monstrous looking, menacing convict Magwitch, in Great Expectations, as a haunting presence. Acting as a long-repressed image of childhood pain and degradation, Magwitch symbolizes forces that spring from nowhere and yet control an individual’s destiny. English author D. H. Lawrence also deals with the surfacing and resolution of old psychic problems in Sons and Lovers (1913). The main character, Paul Morel, comes to terms with his love for his father, Walter Morel, by becoming friends with the hardened workman Baxter Dawes, who shares many traits with Walter.
Education novels need not be limited to the early years of a character’s life. What’s Bred in the Bone (1985) by Canadian author Robertson Davies spans the entire life of a character named Francis Cornish, from childhood and education through a career in espionage and on to retirement, at which time Francis becomes an art collector. Davies became known for incorporating theories of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung in his work. One of the major Jungian ideas that Davies worked into his writings was that some experiences are shared on a subconscious level by all people.
Many education novels are concerned with an individual’s search for identity. In The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) by American author James Weldon Johnson, a man whose mother is black and whose father is white struggles with committing himself fully to black society or white society. In the end the man—who is never given a name—decides on white society, but only because American culture allows black people to be treated so badly. Forty years later another American writer, Ralph Ellison, described a young black man’s search for his place in the world in Invisible Man (1952). Ellison’s character, also unnamed, finally withdraws from a society that pushes black people to the margins.
D Philosophical Novel
Novelists have always found it relatively easy to include in their works theories and opinions about society, the universe, ethical values, and other ideas. Novels in which intellectual exploration is the main purpose are sometimes called philosophical novels. These works aim to confront the so-called eternal questions about freedom, humanity’s place in the universe, and the value of human effort.
In philosophical novels, characters are sometimes used to voice ideas and viewpoints, and they are as much spokespeople for theories and positions as they are independent figures. However, the philosophical novel differs from purely philosophical works because it embodies concepts in human personality and directs attention to the characters who hold opinions rather than just to the positions themselves.
Whereas most philosophical essays are concerned solely with ideas, the focal point for the philosophical novel is the consequence of ideas on ordinary lives. For example, Greek philosopher Plato and French writer Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote works that present ideas of how children should be raised, but English novelist Charles Dickens in Hard Times (1854) shows how theories about family life translate into everyday living. In this novel, a theory of education has tragic consequences for the theorist’s own children.
In Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain, 1927), German author Thomas Mann uses both debates and complex symbolism to convey ideas about modern civilization and the self-tormenting condition of people concerned with intellectual exploration. The book is set in a mountain hospital for sufferers of tuberculosis. Cut off from their ordinary lives, Mann’s characters experience a pure and painfully keen sense of human consciousness, and they debate different views of human life. A good example of Mann’s use of symbolism is the X ray, which becomes an emblem for poetic insight and for Mann’s research into the nature of human life. Another symbolic motif, infection, yields a possible insight into the nature of existence. “Life itself?” Mann writes, “Was it perhaps only an infection, a sickening of matter? Was that which we might call the original procreation of matter only a disease, a growth produced by morbid stimulation of the immaterial?”
Debate and symbolism are also techniques used by Czech writer Franz Kafka in Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937), a philosophical novel about the challenges that face the individual in the modern world. Like Mann, Kafka chooses to filter issues through the life of an ordinary man. Joseph K., a conscientious bureaucrat, is awakened one morning by officials who tell him he is under arrest but who fail to specify his crime. K. searches for the solution to his situation by questioning those whom he considers witnesses and accomplices. But his encounters and debates with court officials, his lawyer, and others connected with the case only serve to help convict him of the unnamed crime. Kafka uses visual and symbolic images to convey the nightmarish aspect of K.’s trial. For example, in one scene, K. must locate the Court in the unlikely recesses of a tenement that is a maze filled with strangers who seem to know him. His wanderings symbolize that he is lost and does not know how to escape from his problems.
Milan Kundera, a Czech novelist influenced by Kafka, used philosophical novels to create a menacing political environment that prompts his characters to seek autonomy in play, sex, and art. In Nesnesniteln? lehkost byt? (first published in French, 1984; The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984) he explores the pervasive effects of the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia after 1968, when troops from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its allies marched into Czechoslovakia to reinforce Communist rule. Using episodes from the lives of two couples, meditative digressions, dream scenes, and re-creations of historical events, Kundera explores the nature of human identity in a time of police investigations, forced confessions, and ideological ruthlessness masked as democracy.
For Kundera, the novel form is “a poetic meditation on existence.” Portraying a society that destroys individuality through police investigations and forced confessions, he shows what happens to characters who feel “weightless” because they lack traditional values and ideals of selfhood. He addresses the difficulty of maintaining standards of morality and judgment under a government that demands total submission from its citizens.
Like Kafka and Kundera, American writer Walker Percy offers a devastating account of the modern sense of confusion, but Percy does not ground his writings in politics. Percy’s novel The Moviegoer (1961) is about Binx Bolling, a stockbroker who finds escape from his unsatisfying life in the fantasy world of cinema. As Binx searches for the meaning of life, Percy uses the cinema as a complex symbol of the possibilities available in the modern world, as well as the limitations of modern society as a place to gain a lasting sense of meaning.
E Popular Novel
Popular novels are novels whose primary intention is to entertain. They are accessible to a wide range of people and are usually written to achieve commercial success by providing readers with a good story. There are many different types of popular novels, including Westerns, detective stories, spy novels, science-fiction tales, fantasy novels, horror novels, romances, and historical novels.
E1 Western Novel
Western novels are set in the American West and feature cowboys and Native Americans. These books feature cattle rustlers, stage and train robbers, and gunfights. One of the earliest Westerns was The Virginian (1902) by American novelist Owen Wister. It is about a Southerner who moves to the West. The Virginian, as the main character is known, is a calm but strong-willed hero who served as the model for many future literary characters:
It was now the Virginian’s turn to bet, or leave the game, and he did not speak at once.
Therefore Trampas spoke. “Your bet, you son-of-a—.”
The Virginian’s pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas:
“When you call me that, smile!” And he looked at Trampas across the table.
Many other American novelists produced classic Westerns. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) by Zane Grey tells the story of a gunslinger who helps a woman protect her property in Utah. The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) by Walter Van Tilburg Clark is about a search for cattle rustlers that ends in tragedy. In The Big Sky (1947) by A. B. Guthrie, Jr., a young man from Kentucky spends years in the Rocky Mountains in the mid-1800s. Shane (1949), a novel by Jack Schaefer, depicts a solitary gunfighter who is unable to escape violence once he arrives in a town.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, some traditional Western novelists such as Louis L’Amour continued writing, but many of the works set in the American West dealt more with issues related to the environment and the ethnic diversity of the population. Major writers include Sherman Alexie, Rudolfo Anaya, Louise Erdrich, and Larry McMurtry.
E2 Detective Novel
Detective stories and mystery stories typically involve convoluted plots, so that the reader remains as puzzled as the characters within the story. Precursors to modern mysteries were the Gothic novels of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Gothic tales such as The Castle of Otranto (1764) by English writer Horace Walpole featured mysterious situations but were more concerned with creating a dark and frightening atmosphere than with solving a crime.
Detective stories and mystery tales emerged in the 1800s. A forerunner, Bleak House (1852-1853) by English novelist Charles Dickens, moves the reader from the East End of London to an aristocratic country house, connecting these two scenes through the unraveling of an illicit love affair in the past. Some of the best-known mystery novelists of the early and mid-20th century, along with examples of their work, are English author Agatha Christie (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926), Belgian French writer Georges Simenon (The Patience of Maigret, 1940), and American authors Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, 1930), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, 1939), and Ross MacDonald (The Galton Case, 1959).
Mystery novelists who came to prominence in the late 20th century include Americans Sue Grafton, who writes of the adventures of a private eye named Kinsey Millhone; Tony Hillerman, whose books feature Navajo police officers; Elmore Leonard, noted for fast-paced works set in seedy locations; and Walter Mosley, one of the most successful African American mystery writers.
E3 Spy Novel
Many popular novels take the form of spy stories. Some writers emphasize the glamorous side of a spy’s life, as English writer Ian Fleming did in several novels featuring the British secret agent James Bond. Bond lives in a world of fast cars, beautiful women, ingenious weaponry, and gorgeous settings. Fleming’s novels include Casino Royale (1953), Goldfinger (1959), and Thunderball (1961).
Other spy fiction looks at a darker side of life in espionage. The Secret Agent (1907) by English writer Joseph Conrad features agents who are seedy and petty. For example, the mission of Mr. Verloc, an operative for a foreign government, is the brutal and certainly antiheroic business of using a boy as an accomplice in blowing up the Greenwich Observatory in England.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) by British writer John le Carré features betrayal, misuse of power, and the cynicism of international intriguers. The main character is Alex Leamas, a middle-aged British agent who is assigned to protect the cover of a double agent in East Germany. To succeed in his mission, Leamas must allow himself and the woman he loves to be destroyed. Using the taut plot devices of the thriller, including a spectacular ending at the Berlin Wall, le Carré goes beyond action and excitement to explore the consequences of espionage for ordinary, decent people. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), le Carré describes the search for a traitor in the British intelligence community. The novel introduces false leads, scene shifts, and clues from different sources in the service of the complicated spy plot.
English writer Graham Greene also used the spy genre for unconventional purposes. His novel Our Man in Havana (1958) features parody and comic characters and situations. The mission is absurd: a mock intrigue involving a vacuum cleaner representative named James Wormold of Phastkleaners, Ltd. Recruited by British intelligence, he has no conception of what to do and so invents contacts and concocts reports.
E4 Science-Fiction Novel
Science-fiction novels are books based on actual or imagined scientific discoveries. Some common subjects for science fiction include space travel, time travel, the discovery of other intelligent beings in space, and the creation of self-aware robots. Frankenstein (1818) by English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is often cited as one of the precursors to science-fiction novels. It is the tale of a doctor who uses body parts to construct an artificial man.
In the late 1800s English author H. G. Wells was a great influence on science fiction, with novels such as The Time Machine (1895), about a man who travels forward in time; The Invisible Man (1897), about a man who turns himself invisible; and The War of the Worlds (1898), about a Martian invasion of Earth. For several decades in the early 20th century, the best science fiction was published in magazines, but in midcentury the genre revived in the novel form with authors such as Stanislaw Lem of Poland (Solaris, 1961; translated 1970) and Isaac Asimov (The Foundation Trilogy, 1951-1953), Frank Herbert (Dune, 1965), and Ursula K. Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969) of the United States.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, one movement in science-fiction novels was cyberpunk. The works of cyberpunk authors feature hardcore scientific technology and action-oriented plots. Major cyberpunk writers include Pat Cadigan, William Gibson, John Shirley, and Bruce Sterling. Other science-fiction novelists, the so-called humanist writers, focus their works on characterization and pay less attention to scientific developments. Important humanist authors include Orson Scott Card, Vonda McIntyre, and Ian Watson. Other influential science-fiction novelists include Brian Aldiss, Terry Brooks, Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Moorcock, Larry Niven, and Kim Stanley Robinson.
E5 Fantasy Novel
Fantasy novels deal with magical and supernatural characters and events. Many fantasy works are written in a lyrical or witty style, and some appeal especially to children.
Two of the most famous works of fantasy are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871) by English author Lewis Carroll. These books are about a girl who finds herself in a strange world where she becomes larger and smaller, meets a talking rabbit, and has other dreamlike experiences. Another book about a girl who travels to a magical world is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by American writer L. Frank Baum. Baum’s novel is about a girl from Kansas named Dorothy, who together with her dog Toto is transported during a cyclone to the land of Oz.
English novelist J. R. R. Tolkien created an enduring body of work that includes the novel The Hobbit (1937) and the trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955). These books are set in a fantasy world called Middle Earth. The Hobbit centers around the small and timid Bilbo Baggins who, lured into a treasure-hunting adventure, finds a ring that makes its wearer invisible. In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo’s nephew Frodo gains possession of the ring and battles Sauron, a demonic being who desires control over all Middle Earth.
Another popular fantasy is Watership Down (1972) by British writer Richard Adams. The novel is about a group of rabbits who must find a new home. Beginning in 1998 English novelist J. K. Rowling began publishing the Harry Potter books. This series of fantasy novels about a boy in training to become a wizard became extremely popular among readers of all ages.
E6 Horror Novel
Horror novels, also called occult novels, usually deal with a battle between supernatural forces of good and forces of evil. They are typically darker than fantasy novels and aimed more at adult readers. An early example of a horror novel is Dracula (1897) by British writer Bram Stoker. This novel introduced the character of the vampire Count Dracula of Transylvania. A more contemporary example of a horror writer is American novelist Anne Rice, who became identified with fiction about vampires after the publication of her novels Interview with the Vampire (1976) and The Vampire Lestat (1985). She followed with several more books about supernatural creatures. Other writers include William Blatty, author of The Exorcist (1971), about a girl possessed by a demon; and American writer Dean Koontz, who has published dozens of horror novels. One of Koontz’s most famous is Watchers (1987), which deals with genetic experimentation.
American novelist Stephen King is perhaps the best-known horror writer today. His first novel was Carrie (1973), about a lonely high school girl who can move objects with her mind. King’s many other novels cover a wide range of themes. His works include The Shining (1976), about a haunted hotel; Christine (1983), about a car that acts on its own; Misery (1987), about a writer kidnapped by a crazed fan; and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), about a girl who becomes lost in the woods in Maine.
E7 Romance Novel
Romance novels are stories of love. One of the first great romances was Jane Eyre (1847) by English novelist Charlotte Brontë, about a young orphan girl who gains a job as a governess and finds love with her employer. Rebecca (1938), by British writer Daphne du Maurier, tells of a young woman who marries a widower and becomes preoccupied with what kind of woman the man’s first wife was.
A classic romance is Love Story (1970) by Erich Segal, about a man from a wealthy family who marries a poor girl who dies young. A well-known passage from the novel describes one of their conversations:
I stood there at the bottom of the steps, afraid to ask how long she had been sitting, knowing only that I had wronged her terribly. “Jenny, I’m sorry-”
“Stop!” She cut off my apology, then said very quietly, “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.”
Other famous romance novelists are Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, and Jacqueline Susann.
E8 Historical Novel
The historical novel places its characters in a past time. The novelist attempts to portray that era realistically in both fact and spirit.
The first major historical novel was Waverley (1814) by Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott. This novel and its many sequels revolve around historical events in Scotland, England, and many other regions of the world. French novelist Alexandre Dumas wrote two major historical novels. Le comte de Monte-Cristo (1844; The Count of Monte Cristo) concerns a man unjustly imprisoned. Les trios mousquetaires (1844; The Three Musketeers) is about three swashbuckling adventurers during the reign of 17th-century French king Louis XIII.
One of the most popular novels ever in the United States is a historical novel. Gone With the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell is set during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Reconstruction period directly after the war. It tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern belle who lives on her family’s plantation, Tara. Much of the novel concerns Scarlett’s infatuation with her neighbor Ashley Wilkes and the pursuit of Scarlett by a charming and dashing man named Rhett Butler.
Historical North America has been the subject of many other historical novels. In Northwest Passage (1937), American novelist Kenneth Roberts examines the life of 18th-century American frontiersman Robert Rogers. Rogers was one of the seekers of the elusive Northwest Passage, a water passage around the north coast of North America connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. World Enough and Time (1947) by American writer Robert Penn Warren revolves around political maneuverings in Kentucky in the early 1800s.
One of the most popular writers of historical novels of the late 20th century was Patrick O’Brian, who was born in England and later moved to Ireland. O’Brian wrote 20 books about Jack Aubrey, a British naval officer, and Stephen Maturin, an Italian Catalan doctor and spy. O’Brian’s novels are set during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), when French leader Napoleon I waged war on much of the rest of Europe. O’Brian published his first Aubrey-Maturin novel, Master and Commander, in 1969. The final installment of the series, Blue at the Mizzen, appeared in 1999, shortly before O’Brian’s death.
F Experimental Novel
An experimental novel can be defined as a work in which the author places great importance on innovations in style and technique. Experimental novels can be challenging to read because they represent reality in unusual ways, but they also demonstrate one of the novel’s greatest strengths—its ability to encompass an almost endless variety of approaches. Czech writer Milan Kundera asserted this idea when he argued that the novel is a constant questioning of forms.
One of the earliest examples of the novel of experimentation is Tristram Shandy (1759-1767) by English writer Laurence Sterne. The novel requires the reader to wait with the author until he finishes digressions, figuring out jokes and enjoying twists such as odd turns of phrase, puns, and blank pages. Twentieth-century Argentine writer Julio Cort?zar termed a reader who must follow the author’s whims in this way an accomplice reader, because reading becomes a more involved activity. Cort?zar allowed readers to become accomplice readers in his Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch, 1966), the structure of which permits readers to jump around from chapter to chapter.
During the 19th century the prevailing trend in the novel was realism, but some experimental efforts appeared. One example is Zapiski iz podpol’ia (1864; Notes from Underground) by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky plunges the reader into the narrator’s complex mindset. The term underground refers to the narrator’s inner psychology, which dominates the novel and allows the reader little objective perspective. This immersion of the reader in an individual’s thoughts was not a common literary approach at the time.
In ? la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931), French writer Marcel Proust explored the individual mind by attaching great importance to what he called “the little moment” of sharp, poignant sensory recall. These moments are triggered by the most ordinary everyday events—the uneven footing of a curbstone or, in the novel’s most famous such moment, the taste of a madeleine (little cake) when dipped in tea, a taste that evokes for the narrator his childhood in the town of Combray.
Ulysses (1922) by Irish writer James Joyce is basically a projection of impressions, perceptions, and knowledge. Drawing attention to his chapters by changing the literary style he uses, Joyce constantly forces the reader to readjust to parody, stream of consciousness, dialogue in play form, mixing of objective fact and dream, journalese, and political bombast. The monologue of Molly Bloom at the end of the novel is the most famous example of how Joyce portrays the mind processing reality. In the monologue Molly moves quickly through a train of associations:
…is he awake thinking of me or dreaming am I in it who gave him that flower he said he bought he smelt of some kind of drink not whiskey or stout or perhaps the sweety kind of paste they stick their bills up with some liquor I’d like to sip those richlooking green and yellow expensive drinks those stagedoor johnnies drink with the opera hats…
Even as he used stream of consciousness, Joyce did establish plots. Other writers abandon story line altogether. L’innomable (completed 1950; published 1953; The Unnamable, 1958) by Irish-born writer Samuel Beckett is a pure monologue detached from linked events. A voice tells versions of its situation in an indefinable environment, lost in a vast space, being forced to speak in order to exist, and being haunted by vague presences. The novel is an exploration of “the unintelligible terms of an incomprehensible damnation,” and the prose registers the voice’s confusion: “Where now? Who now? When now? Unquestioning. I, say I. Unbelieving. Questions, hypotheses, call them that. Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on.”
Other experimentalists retain some of the conventions of storytelling and are less inclined to move toward the outer frontiers of language and consciousness. In The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), American writer Thomas Pynchon uses a complex plot and the trappings of social satire while at the same time achieving originality of form. The novel pokes fun at popular culture but on a deeper level explores the mentality of those convinced that broad conspiracies underlie much of what happens. The main character, Oedipa Maas, becomes a detective trying to uncover a network of subversives who are running a private postal service.
Cr?nica de una muerte anunciada (1981; Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1983) by Colombian writer Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez is also unified by the idea of a conspiracy, in this case a whole town’s casual attitude toward the impending murder of one of its inhabitants. The novel is experimental in that it is not a tale of identifying the killers—they have openly announced their intentions—but is instead a description of how and why the bystanders and participants handle their parts in the crime. The narrator, a reflective investigator who tries to re-create the crime through first-hand recollection and research, becomes a reporter of the townspeople’s indifference, resignation, callousness, and confusion.
La traici?n de Rita Hayworth (1968; Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, 1971) by Argentine writer Manuel Puig is another imaginative extension of the novel form. Part satire of 1940s movies and their audiences, part study of middle-class consciousness, the novel treats the theme of betrayal humorously. The structural core is a series of interior monologues. Film-crazed characters reveal their illusions and tastes, ideas of glamour, and views of love, seduction, and marriage. In one section the monologue is a one-sided conversation based on the observations of Choli, a woman in the cosmetics business who treats her friend Mita to comments on everything from eye shadow and men’s silk dressing gowns to moral values. The reader serves as an accomplice in composing questions, or responses, omitted by the author. For example, in a remark that reveals both Choli’s sensibility and the novel’s focus on illusions, Puig gives an answer to an unasked question:
I’m not saying you should wear bright red or the famous turquoise, that’s not your style, but just the same if I had been at the table I would have defended Toto, all he wanted was to see his mother well dressed, like a movie actress.
Novels can employ archaic language and conventions, alternate histories, or modern technology to create new visions. A famous literary experiment is The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) by American writer John Barth, in which Barth creates his own version of an 18th-century novel, complete with an imaginary diary by English colonizer John Smith. The main character, poet Ebenezer Cooke, “had found the sound of mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over.” Barth himself uses the style of the 1600s and 1700s to fashion an extended joke about the novel form itself and its preposterous plots, intrigues, and casts of eccentrics.
In Ragtime (1975) American author E. L. Doctorow mixes history and fiction to create events that never happened. For example, in the novel Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, two famous real-life psychoanalysts, take a trip through the Tunnel of Love ride at the Coney Island amusement park.
One of the best-known experimental novelists is American writer William S. Burroughs. His best-known book is Naked Lunch (1959), a loosely structured novel that depicts the experiences of a man trying to escape drug addiction. In the late 1960s Burroughs began experimenting with the technique of “cut-out and fold-in,” deliberately cutting apart and recombining the sentences of his manuscript in order to achieve new images and freedom from the boundaries of conventional storytelling techniques.
Technically, there is no end to the devices that novelists use to direct attention to their styles and structures. And there is virtually no end to the types of novels that writers create as they alter form, setting, and purpose to produce new and imaginative works that engage audiences.
VI HISTORY OF THE NOVEL
The earliest examples of long writings in prose appeared in Europe and Asia in ancient and medieval times, but the novel took its modern form beginning in the 1500s, primarily in Europe. Today authors from all parts of the world write novels. This section traces the historical development of the novel.
A Early Narrative Forms
Fictional stories were composed throughout the ancient world, and many of these have been referred to as novels. From ancient Rome the chief examples of these works are The Golden Ass (2nd century ad) by Lucius Apuleius, in which Lucius describes his adventures after magic ointment turns him into an ass, and the Satyricon (1st century ad) by Petronius Arbiter, which portrays wild parties and other excesses of life in Rome in the 1st century ad.
In Greece in the early centuries of the Christian era (beginning in the 1st century ad, after the birth of Jesus Christ), several books appeared that can be considered novels. The best known include the romances Daphnis and Chloë (2nd century ad?), which is generally attributed to Longus, and ?thiopica (3rd century ad), by Heliodorus of Emesa.
With the fall of Rome in the 5th century, Europe moved into the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century). During this time the epic was a popular form, and it can be seen as a precursor to the modern novel. Usually told or written in verse, epics generally involve the adventures of a single character, usually a heroic one. Details of everyday life do appear, but only as background to a greater, grander story. The list of well-known epics is long and includes the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf (8th century), the Spanish El cantar de m?o Cid (1140; The Song of the Cid), and the German Nibelungenlied (13th century; Song of the Nibelungs).
The romance also developed in the Middle Ages. Romances were lengthy works told in verse or prose. They centered on issues of courtly love, featuring knights, ladies of the court, and chivalry. At first, romances were told and sung by French poet-musicians called troubadours and trouvères. Subsequently, romances were written by nobles, clerics, court musicians, and scribes. One popular romance was Le morte d’Arthur (1469-1470; The Death of Arthur) by English writer Sir Thomas Malory. The work tells the story of King Arthur, a legendary king of the Britons in ancient times; his wife, Queen Guinevere; her lover, the knight Lancelot; and many of the other characters of Arthurian legend.
In India, epics such as the Mahabharata (The Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty, 400 bc-ad 400) and the Ramayana (Way of Rama, 3rd century bc) were originally handed down from generation to generation by spoken word. People would learn and memorize them by hearing older people recite them. Later, the epics were written down. Another Indian precursor to the novel was the Dashakumaracharita (The Adventures of the Ten Princes), a prose romance by Dandin, a Sanskrit writer of the late 6th century ad.
Many scholars believe that the first true novel was The Tale of Genji (11th century ad) by Japanese author Murasaki Shikibu. A portrait of court life in Japan, it focuses on the fictional Prince Genji, his love affairs, and his descendants. Despite these early Asian examples, however, the novel failed to develop a sustained strength in Asia until the 20th century. Up to that time, poetry was the most popular literary form in that area of the world.
B 16th and 17th Centuries
The novel developed in its modern form in Europe in the late 1500s and early 1600s, during the flowering of the Renaissance (14th century to 17th century), a time of renewed interest in learning and culture. The subject matter of the early novels reflected the concerns of society in general, including the emergence of the middle class as a social group, the questioning of traditional religious and moral values, curiosity about science and philosophy, and an appetite for exploration and discovery.
The earliest novels, called picaresque novels, were stories of adventure featuring roguish main characters, or picaros, who traveled widely, depended on their wits for survival, and took advantage of those less clever than themselves. In contrast to the poetic romances of chivalry, which told of the pursuit of high spiritual ideals, picaresque novels celebrated adventure for its own sake. They also were episodic, meaning that the story was told in a series of episodes that did not depend on one another to make sense.
A major picaresque novel was Lazarillo de Tormes (1554; Lazaro of Tormes), a rambling, anonymously written Spanish work that traces the misadventures of a boy making his way in a world of savage peasants, corrupt clergy, conniving nobles, and an array of rough characters. Through his experiences Lazaro learns the art of survival, including how to eat bread without being noticed—he takes mouselike bites from the loaf. In England, an early picaresque was The Unfortunate Traveller, or The Life of Jack Wilton (1594) by Thomas Nashe. A racy treatment of 16th-century Italy, it features sinister clerics, beautiful endangered women, and appearances by German theologian Martin Luther and Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus.
Don Quixote (Part I, 1605; Part II, 1615) by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes is a more serious work. It depicts an idealistic Spanish nobleman who imagines himself a hero but is actually an undistinguished, middle-aged man who has read so many romances of chivalry that he has lost touch with reality. Featuring remote castles, strange inns, and motley company, the work dramatizes the collision between idealism and realism. With his work, Cervantes introduced the idea that the novel should penetrate surface appearances. For example, when Don Quixote encounters a barber wearing a brass basin on his head to shield himself from the rain, Don Quixote thinks that the basin is a magical golden helmet. His mistake represents the idea that things are not always as they appear. Despite Don Quixote’s foolish misinterpretations, the work is not cynical and deflating, but instead celebrates the freedom that dreaming and idealizing can provide to people.
The novel made few major advances in the 1600s. During that century public interest in the drama was strong, and English masters such as John Milton and John Dryden wrote outstanding narrative poetry. Many people considered the new form of the novel cheap and vulgar compared with drama and poetry. It also seemed to require less skill to create than verse did, and its subject matter was rarely as refined as that of the other literary forms. One exception was La princesse de Clèves (1678; The Princess of Clèves), an elegant work by French writer Marie de La Fayette about a married noblewoman who falls in love with another man. She keeps her feelings secret and does not remarry, even after her husband’s death. The courtly setting of the book placed it apart from the picaresque adventure tales. The book also treats the emotional states of its characters in much more depth than the picaresque novels do.
C 18th Century
In the 18th century, five authors—Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, and Laurence Sterne—wrote the first major novels in English. Writers from France and Germany produced the first important novels in continental Europe.
The first major British novelist was Daniel Defoe, a journalist by trade. He satisfied the public taste for exotic foreign countries and characters in Robinson Crusoe (1719) and looked at city life in Moll Flanders (1722). Robinson Crusoe concerns a shipwrecked sailor who must survive on a remote island. Defoe based his plot on the adventures of a seaman, Alexander Selkirk, who had been marooned on one of the Juan Fern?ndez Islands off the coast of Chile. Moll Flanders is narrated by a London prostitute who steals from her clients, preys on children when times are bad, goes to bed, unwittingly, with her own brother—and all the while keeps a cheerful attitude.
Samuel Richardson, like French writer Marie de La Fayette, paid attention to the psychology of his characters at a time when few writers did. For example, Defoe created captivating narratives, but his work tells readers little about the inner thoughts of his characters. By contrast, in the lengthy novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747-1748), Richardson addresses inner torment, manipulation in romance, and passion turned to cruelty. Thousands of pages in these two novels are spent on conveying nuances of feeling.
Richardson’s Pamela provoked a reaction in Henry Fielding, a London judge who wrote drama before turning to prose. Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742) parodies Pamela, whose main character proves her virtue by writing letter after letter about chastity. Fielding writes about a virtuous man, but the main character proves his resolve by surviving on the road after losing his job. Fielding’s masterpiece is Tom Jones (1749), a story in the picaresque tradition. The novel is about a young man’s adventures as he tries to gain his rightful inheritance. It features precise phrasing, well-drawn characters, and the careful unwinding of mysteries.
The works of Tobias Smollett, such as The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) and The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), provide a broad vision of English social life, from pretentious provincials to hard-bitten sailors to semiliterate servant girls. Smollett’s stories are strongest when they satirize social climbers and describe the faults of the English middle and upper classes.
Laurence Sterne, a country clergyman and intellectual, brought together the concerns of other writers of his time. Like Richardson, Sterne was obsessed with the differences between individuals, but like Fielding and Smollett, he was comic and lusty in his subject matter. Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-1767) opened up a new front for the novel: experimentation with structure and language. The novel is filled with asides, wild scholarly digressions, comic scenes, blank pages (to be filled in by the reader), and other experimental features, including a black page to express grief for a departed character.
The development of the Gothic novel was another important literary trend in England in the 1700s. In Gothic novels, authors created the element of horror by using ghosts, chains, dungeons, tombs, and nature in its more terrifying aspects. The first Gothic novel was The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole. Later examples include The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe, Ambrosio, or The Monk (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis, and Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
C2 France and Germany
In continental Europe, writers also moved into richer veins as the popularity of the picaresque novel waned. Gil Blas (1715-1735) by French writer Alain René Lesage was one of the last picaresque novels. French writer Pierre Marivaux then produced La vie de Marianne (1731-1741; The Life of Marianne), about a girl left alone in Paris. Marivaux’s character is more ordinary and realistic than the characters of the romance, but more complicated and sympathetic than the rogues featured in picaresque novels.
Candide (1759), by French author Voltaire, satirizes the philosophical school of Optimism founded by 17th-century German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, which states that the world we inhabit is “the best of all possible worlds.” Voltaire believed that Optimism led people to accept their situations instead of changing them. Candide follows the checkered fortunes of an innocent young man as he travels the world and gradually comes to mistrust the philosophy that “all is for the best” and that people should not try to improve their lot.
Another major French novel was Le neveu de Rameau (written 1761-1774, published 1805; Rameau’s Nephew) by French writer Denis Diderot. It takes the form of a philosophical dialogue between “I” (the narrator) and “He” (the nephew of French composer Jean Philippe Rameau). Les liaisons dangereuses (1782; Dangerous Liaisons) by French writer Pierre Choderlos de Laclos is grounded much more in everyday life. In the novel, the Marquise de Merteuil challenges her friend the Vicomte de Valmont to seduce a naive young woman. Valmont agrees, but he also sets out to seduce another woman, who is married. Laclos’s depiction of society intrigue represents the power plays of political life.
In Germany, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sorrows of Young Werther), which explores the inner life of a tormented young man who, disappointed in love, kills himself. Werther’s suicide became an international event in literary culture, and hundreds of young men are said to have followed his example, leaving themes of melancholy and self-destruction for later novelists to consider.
D 19th Century
For the novel, the 19th century was a time of innovation in form and exploration of new subject matter. In Europe, the major authors of the period were French, English, and Russian. Many North American authors of the 19th century were preoccupied with creating a national literature distinct from European influences. A few novelists were writing in Latin America and in Asia, but those areas and Africa did not truly embrace the novel form until the 20th century.
In Europe, two major classes of novels developed: novels of manners and chronicle novels. Works such as Emma (1816) by English writer Jane Austen, Madame Bovary (1857) by French writer Gustave Flaubert, and The Mill on the Floss (1860) by English writer George Eliot are novels of manners. These complex observations of individuals and society, set in the provincial countryside, focus in great detail on the lives of a few individuals.
The era’s chronicle novels had a larger scope, making the novel an all-purpose literary and cultural experience: a source of historical information, a study of manners and morals, a course in contemporary political and ethical ideas, and an investigation of wealth and poverty, respectability and crime. Examples of this type of novel include Waverley (1814) by English writer Sir Walter Scott, Le rouge et le noir (1830; The Red and the Black) by French author Stendhal, the multivolume series La comédie humaine (1842-1848; The Human Comedy) by French writer Honoré de Balzac, Vanity Fair (1847-1848) by English writer William Makepeace Thackeray, Our Mutual Friend (1865) by English writer Charles Dickens, and Voina i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace) by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
The novels of Jane Austen study a small segment of society in order to explore individual character. They generally address two themes: the loss of illusions—usually leading characters to a more mature outlook—and the clash between traditional moral ideals and the everyday demands of life. In most of her novels, Austen’s characters correct their faults through lessons learned as a result of tribulation. Because of her sensitivity to universal patterns of human behavior, many readers regard Austen as one of the greatest novelists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Austen’s works contain few references to social and political issues, such as the squalor of agricultural laborers’ lives and the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) waged by France against other European nations. By contrast, the grand-scale novels of the 19th century responded to history, social change, and national character by including a great amount of detail and at the same time displaying broad panoramic scenes. Sir Walter Scott was the first to make full use of this combination. His works are enormous social canvases, beginning with a series of novels about the history of Scotland. Starting with the issue of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 in Waverley, Scott embarked on a campaign to re-create the atmosphere of modern and medieval France, England, Scotland, and the Middle East. His works feature knights, bandits, dour clergymen, and crazed peasants. Scott was one of the first writers to show individuals in the rush of great events.
Charles Dickens began his career with The Pickwick Papers (1837), a sprawling travel story with an old gentleman as its main character. Dickens’s other novels, notably Oliver Twist (1838), Barnaby Rudge (1841), Little Dorrit (1857), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859), are highly colored by historical events such as wars, riots, and the passage of important laws. Dickens’s books examine the social conditions of his time and place—England during the reign of Queen Victoria—and he gained fame for his ability to embody these conditions in characters who are both representations of the times and unforgettable individuals in their own right. These characters include Mr. Bumble of Oliver Twist, the caricature of low-grade administrative cruelty; Pip of Great Expectations (1860-1861), the uncomfortable newly made gentleman; and the Veneerings of Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865), the quintessential middle-class social climbers.
William Makepeace Thackeray also found inspiration in his society. His novel Vanity Fair is about the adventures of an ambitious woman named Becky Sharp and the social ambitions of the upper middle class. Thackeray used the turmoil of the Battle of Waterloo (1815) as a device for heightening the story’s tension.
Much of the fiction of George Eliot was similarly a response to political and social history. Her monumental Middlemarch (1871-1872) undercuts the sense of modern progress by showing lives drifting in the flux of events rather than truly moving forward. Another large-scale social novelist, Anthony Trollope, wrote several kinds of novels—studies of the provincial English clergy in the books of the Chronicles of Barsetshire series (1855-1867), sprawling novels about political power such as Phineas Finn (1869), and studies of civilization such as The Way We Live Now (1875), a reflection on the decline in values of the upper middle class.
The Brontë sisters, Emily and Charlotte, explored the condition of women. Wuthering Heights (1847), by Emily, is about a passionate but troubled love affair. It tells of romantic obsession and the power of personality, but it also describes class conflict. Jane Eyre (1847), by Charlotte, is a tale of personal growth that depicts women’s relationship to power in a male-dominated society.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries novelists experimented with narrative form and also continued to produce realistic works with conventionally resolved plots. At times writers risked unpopularity through their innovations. English writer Thomas Hardy chronicled the lives of rural English workers and gentry in a realistic fashion, but in exploring the tragic aspects of sexual passion, he fell afoul of his audience in a way that Dickens, Thackeray, and Eliot never had. After Jude the Obscure (1895), an explicit exploration of problems in lower middle-class domestic life, Hardy gave up novel writing and went back to poetry. He was discouraged by the outcry against his frank treatment of passion and its consequences.
In France, the ambitions of Honoré de Balzac dominated the first half of the 19th century as he created the multivolume series The Human Comedy. The series is a detailed depiction and study of French society from the French Revolution (1789-1799) to the ascendance of Louis Philippe to the throne in 1830. Balzac paid close attention to human character and behavior, and virtually no aspect of society—from simple peasants to sophisticated Parisians—escaped his penetrating gaze. Balzac’s realistic novels are characterized by precision of observation, scrupulously motivated characters, and settings that are essential to the plot rather than merely ornamental.
On a smaller scale than Balzac, Stendhal used the novel as a way of reflecting human life as realistically as possible. (In The Red and the Black, he wrote, “A novel is a mirror which passes over a highway.”) His works do not feature as much reporting on society as Balzac’s do; rather, they pay more attention to individual characters. Stendhal’s The Red and the Black looks at life in France in the early 1800s, after the fall of Emperor Napoleon I. The main character, Julian Sorel, becomes Stendhal’s embodiment of the spirit of the age. Neither an honor-bound retainer of the old order nor a democratic radical, he represents the fierce yearnings of ambition and pride that many young people felt at the time.
With Victor Hugo, the big novel about society returned to the simpler techniques and attitudes of Walter Scott. Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris (1831; The Hunchback of Notre Dame) is a long novel on medieval Paris, centering on the cathedral of Notre Dame. His Les misérables (1862) focuses on the injustice of society toward the poor and defenseless. The book tells the story of Jean Valjean, who spends years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family.
In the 1850s the school of realism developed in France, and from there it spread to other countries. The guiding principle of the realist writers was the exact depiction of human behavior. Gustave Flaubert, best known for Madame Bovary, was the first realist novelist. Madame Bovary follows the life of Emma Bovary as she marries, becomes disillusioned with her husband, has affairs, and ultimately suffers for her actions. The book depicts common, everyday experiences, and Flaubert introduced a new focus on the craft of novel writing—the idea that an author’s technique, if masterly enough, could make a novel a work of art even if the subject matter of the book was ordinary.
Another French writer, ?mile Zola, was the leader of the school of naturalism, a literary genre that developed from realism. Naturalistic writers believed that human behavior is determined by hereditary instincts, emotions, and environment rather than by personal intentions, plans, or designs. Therefore, people do not have free will—that is, they are not free to make whatever choices they want. In writing his books, Zola approached his characters as if making scientific observations about them. He researched the locales of his works and let his research introduce him to character types that he then placed in his novels.
The 19th century was a period of great literary achievement in Russia, where writers generally rejected the scientific and rational approach of the French naturalists. The Russians portrayed human behavior as much less predictable.
One of the first great Russian works was Mertvye dushi (1842; Dead Souls) by Nikolay Gogol. The novel describes an unscrupulous government official who goes from place to place buying, stealing, and wheedling from their owners the titles to serfs whose names appeared on the preceding census lists but who have since died. These are therefore called dead souls. Using these records as financial assets, he plans to raise loans with which to buy an estate with live servants. Gogol’s look at social injustice contains descriptions of provincial Russia and comments on the degrading influence of serfdom on both master and serf.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky also rebelled against the French naturalists’ scientific approach to understanding human actions. Dostoyevsky responded to the great questions of the century—the price of progress, the meaninglessness of life without Christian values, the corruptibility of human impulses—by creating volatile, unpredictable people whose actions embodied these questions. For example, in Prestuplenie i nakazanie (1866; Crime and Punishment) the character Raskolnikov commits a murder on purpose and gets away with it, only to torment himself later with the knowledge of his wrongdoing.
Leo Tolstoy became noted for his ability to create characters in all their human complexity. To his work he brought what English writer Henry James described as the quality of “felt life”: the physical experience of love or battle, the sensations of one’s own being, the look and feel of the everyday world. Tolstoy’s novella Smert’ Ivana Ilicha (1886; The Death of Ivan Ilich) studies the ways that a man of limited mind and spirit, spurred by the knowledge of his imminent death, plunges into the depths of his past in a futile search for meaning and coherence. Voina i Mir (1865-1869; War and Peace), set during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), when French emperor Napoleon I waged war on much of Europe, advances the notion that human history is the complex coming together of an infinite number of separate human experiences.
Another great Russian novelist of the 1800s was Ivan Turgenev. His masterpiece is Ottsy i deti (1862; Fathers and Sons), a carefully crafted story about political turmoil in Russia and the conflicts between older and younger generations. The novel’s subject matter and setting are on a smaller scale than the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but the work is no less ambitious in its examination of society and the complexities of the self.
D4 North America
The first novel in North America is considered to be The History of Emily Montague (1769), written in Canada by English-born author Frances Brooke. Early novels from the United States include The Power of Sympathy (1789) by William Hill Brown, Charlotte Temple (1791) by Susanna Rowson, and Wieland; or, The Transformation (1798) by Charles Brockden Brown. However, the novel did not become an important form in the Americas until the early 1800s.
In North America, some of the major early novels were set in the continent’s vast wilderness. The novels by American author James Fenimore Cooper that make up the series called The Leather-Stocking Tales—The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841)—follow the adventures of a frontiersman named Natty Bumppo, a white man who lives in the wilderness. Natty represents the conflict Cooper saw between developing the land in the name of progress and preserving nature unspoiled. Early Canadian works such as Wacousta (1832) by John Richardson also contrast the wilderness against civilization. For French Canadians, the importance of the land was a common theme. It was explored in works such as Le terre paternelle (The Paternal Earth, 1846) by Patrice Lacombe and Charles Guérin (1853) by Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau.
Other early novelists of North America explored the struggle of people to obey their consciences without the guidance and support of established institutions, and the isolation of men and women in a region without ancient traditions (at least, without European ones). In many ways these works have a fable-like quality when compared with European novels of the time, which were much more grounded in everyday events.
The Scarlet Letter (1850) by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne is set in the colonial times of the 1600s. The main character, Hester Prynne, has had a child out of wedlock and refuses to reveal the name of the father, a member of the community who chooses not to come forward and own up to his responsibility as a father. Hester’s ostracism from society allows Hawthorne to comment on human psychology and the nature of sin and guilt. Moby Dick (1851) by American author Herman Melville is about a sea captain named Ahab who has lost one leg in an encounter with a white whale named Moby Dick. Obsessed with revenge, Ahab chases the whale across the oceans, and in his pursuit he loses sight of the fact that he is also responsible for the safety of the men on his ship.
Harriet Beecher Stowe grounded her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) much more in her own time and place. The book concerns Tom, a slave in the South before the American Civil War (1861-1865). When Tom is sold by his owners, the Shelbys, he is taken down the Mississippi River. After he saves the life of Little Eva, the daughter of St. Clair, a wealthy plantation owner, St. Clair buys Tom to save him from a worse fate down the river. Eva and St. Clair die in an accident two years later, however, and Tom is sold to a cruel man named Simon Legree, who eventually kills Tom because he will not reveal the hiding place of two runaway slaves. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a strong antislavery statement that created a sensation when it was published. It revealed the cruelty of the system of slavery and cast the national political debate over abolition and slavery in terms of good and evil.
Another strain of American writing was grounded in the study of upper-class social customs and the conflict between traditional manners and a society increasingly focused on economic competition and gain. Henry James explored upper-middle-class social values in works such as Daisy Miller (1879), a novella about a young American woman who ignores social rules in Europe and suffers for her actions. A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890) by William Dean Howells centers on a literary magazine in New York City and the social and political tensions experienced by the people involved with the publication. The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin was one of the earliest feminist novels in the United States. It is about a young woman in an unsatisfying marriage who discovers a sense of personal freedom.
In Canada, William Kirby (The Golden Dog, 1877) and Gilbert Parker (The Seats of the Mighty, 1896) set their works in the French society of Québec province. However, these Canadian tales of adventure involved more physical action than novels by James and Howells, whose primary focus was social relationships. Laure Conan was French Canada’s first major female writer. Her Angéline de Montbrun (1884; Angeline de Montbrun, 1974) is about a woman who cuts herself off from society and devotes herself to prayer.
American writer Mark Twain drew together many of the themes of 19th-century North American literature in Huckleberry Finn (1884), a tale set before the American Civil War (1861-1865). The book tells the story of a young runaway, Huck, and an escaped slave, Jim, who journey down the Mississippi River on a raft. Their trip through the wilderness is punctuated by stops in various towns, where they meet all kinds of people. At times, Huck struggles with what he thinks is his responsibility to report Jim as an escaped slave, but in the end he listens to his own conscience and decides to help Jim. With Huck as the novel’s narrator, Twain used language and phrases that represented the American manner of speech more authentically than any American novel had done before.
E 20th Century
In the late 1800s and the 1900s there was an explosion in the number of novels written and in authors’ choice of subject matter, as well as broad experimentation with language and point of view. At the same time, many authors continued to work in traditional veins. In the 1900s the novel form took hold in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Australia to a greater extent than ever before.
Many British writers held fast to traditional approaches to novel writing, but others experimented with the form. A major theme of British novels in the 20th century was disillusionment, which was one product of a century with two major wars—World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945)—and the final breakup of the British Empire.
E1a Pre-World War II
One of the most important English novelists of the early 20th century was Joseph Conrad, who was born in Poland and did not become a British citizen until he was almost 30 years old. Nevertheless, Conrad is considered a master of prose in the English language, and the turn of the century he published the novels Lord Jim (1900), about a seaman who wanders the world, and Heart of Darkness (1902), about an Englishman who journeys up the Congo River in Africa.
With these two novels, Conrad challenged the 19th-century manner of telling a story. Most novels up until this time used a narrator who described the characters and action but was outside the story itself. Conrad’s novels employed a character who told a story within the frame of a third-person narrative. The results opened unsettling questions—questions about who the reader should trust and believe, for example. Conrad also broke from tradition by using symbolic patterns and recurring images to convey meaning to the reader, rather than the long descriptive passages favored by 19th-century novelists.
Conrad’s innovations were followed by other new approaches in the form and subject matter of the novel. One prominent experimental writer in England was Virginia Woolf. In novels such as Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927) she used the stream-of-consciousness technique, which gave the reader access to the characters’ thoughts in all their randomness. Woolf wrote a manifesto for 20th-century writers in her essay “Modern Fiction” (1925; originally published as “Modern Novel,” 1919). Life, she argued, was not what the 19th-century realists plotted:
“Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?”
Alongside writers such as Conrad and Woolf, however, many English novelists of the early 20th century held to the traditional style of telling straightforward stories. Much of this prose was about people’s social and moral lives. A good example of the traditional novel is Tono-Bungay (1909) by H. G. Wells, which tells the story of a young man’s rise out of the lower middle class. D. H. Lawrence was another major writer largely untouched by the experimental impulse. He achieved recognition with Sons and Lovers (1913), a bildungsroman (novel about the early years of person’s life). The main character of the book, Paul Morel, is the child of a coal miner, and the book describes him coming to painful realizations about class, family, love, and sex.
English writer E. M. Forster presented straightforward plots, but he also featured symbolism in his books. For example, his novel A Passage to India (1924), about racial tensions in India, could only be set in India. Therefore the setting is important on a literal level. But India also serves as a symbol of one of the novel’s themes, the chaos of the modern world. In the novel, the tension between the British and the Indians symbolizes the confusion that Forster saw all people experiencing as the world grew ever more complex.
The confusion of the modern world is also a theme of Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley. The novel describes a dark and dangerous future. In his earlier novels Crome Yellow (1921) and Antic Hay (1923), Huxley mocked chic Londoners in much the way that William Thackeray had done in the 1800s, using satire to strip away illusions and to expose corruption. Another satirist, Evelyn Waugh, combined wit and tragedy in A Handful of Dust (1934) and Brideshead Revisited (1945). These novels explore the darker side of social life.
Graham Greene combined satire with metaphysics, or the study of the nature of existence. Brighton Rock (1938) is a searching portrait of a crazed, sin-obsessed murderer. Greene went on to write about the moral agonies of characters living on the edge of personal abysses. The main character of The Power and the Glory (1940) is a priest, totally isolated, confronting his past and his sins while living in Mexico during a time of political chaos.
E1b Post-World War II
After England experienced the violence of World War II (1939-1945), the English novel became especially rich in works about the individual struggling against social ills such as the injustices of class, the anonymity of life in a modern nation, and the stifling uniformity imposed by institutions. In the late 1950s a group known as the “angry young men” emerged. The “angry young men,” including Kingsley Amis, John Braine, and Alan Sillitoe, wrote about the resentments of the working class. A typical work is Braine’s Room at the Top (1957), which makes a hard-edged character, rather than a gentleman, the center of the story. The “angry young men” were responding specifically to the conditions of post-World War II England: the decline of the middle class’s prestige, the rise of an aggressive commercial and popular culture, and, for the general population, the unfulfilled promise of material well-being.
Other writers explored England’s social ills as well. Beginning in the 1950s Muriel Spark wrote razor-sharp portraits of power-hungry people and self-deluders. Her novels include Memento Mori (1959), about a group of individuals confronting their old age, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), about the effect a charismatic teacher has on her students. Iris Murdoch specialized in writing about psychological confusion. Typical of her work is A Severed Head (1961), about love affairs among a group of Londoners. The novel is a cautionary tale about modern love and excessive self-analysis. Margaret Drabble criticized the “iced-over” condition of England in The Ice Age (1977), about the economic and spiritual troubles of England in the 1970s.
Jean Rhys was an unsentimental realist who focused on manipulated women and predatory men in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1930) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939). Rhys is best known for the novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), the story of the character Antoinette Cosway. English writer Charlotte Brontë first created Antoinette, the insane first wife of the character Mr. Rochester, in the novel Jane Eyre (1847). Wide Sargasso Sea traces how Antoinette became the person Brontë depicts her as.
The works of Anita Brookner, who was also concerned with women at the mercy of a ruthless society, expose the aggression and meanness among members of the free-spirited, supposedly tolerant middle class. Brookner’s novel The Misalliance (1986) is a portrait of a woman bedeviled by vulgar, reckless, and cruel friends. Toward the end of the century, Pat Barker looked back at the violence near its beginning. In a trilogy made up of Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993), and The Ghost Road (1995), Barker describes the horrors of World War I (1914-1918).
E2 Continental Europe and Ireland
Novelists on the European continent and in Ireland also wrote about violence and other troubles of the 20th century. Before World War II (1939-1945) they tended to use a more psychological approach than did English writers. Several of these European novelists wrote innovative works that tried to place the reader directly into the minds of the characters. After the war the experimental impulse remained active, but many European novelists took a more traditional approach as they looked at the war’s impact on their countries and societies.
E2a Pre-World War II
The major European novelists of the early 20th century include Marcel Proust of France, James Joyce of Ireland, Franz Kafka of Czechoslovakia, André Gide of France, and Thomas Mann of Germany. These writers rejected the traditionally plotted novel in favor of narratives that register the less-regular motions of consciousness.
Proust’s multivolume work ? la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931) experiments with narrative pacing and the use of symbolic patterns. Beginning with the childhood memories of its narrator, Marcel, it expands into a lyrical-pictorial series of impressions about the town of Combray, in northern France. At first concerned with a bedroom nightlight, a mother’s kiss, the landscape of Combray, and the routines of mysterious adults, the work becomes a meticulous re-creation of a love affair that the boy Marcel has heard about. The entire work becomes an attempt to conjure up the past through sharp sensory moments of sudden recall.
Proust’s work built on the narrative approach in James Joyce’s pioneering collection of short stories, The Dubliners (1914). These tales depict characters’ inner thoughts in a much more direct way than previous writers had attempted. The result was an intense, and sometimes disorienting, exploration of individual consciousness. Joyce extended his new approach to the novel form in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), a study of the growth of a young man as a person and as an artist. The thoughts of the main character, Stephen Dedalus, jump from association to association, making it difficult for the reader to follow.
Joyce expanded on this technique in Ulysses (1922), a detailed recounting of the events and moments of consciousness in the lives of several Dublin residents during a single day. The book is Joyce’s masterpiece, an exploration of the possibilities of the English language and a work that renders both the physical world of his characters and the workings of their minds as they move through it:
Mr. Bloom put his head out of the window.
—The grand canal, he said.
Gas works. Whooping cough they say it cures. Good job Milly never got it. Poor children! Doubles them up black and blue in convulsions. Shame really. Got off lightly with illness compared. Only measles. Flaxseed tea. Scarlatina influenza epidemics. Canvassing for death. Don’t miss this chance. Dog’s home over there. Poor old Athos! Be good to Athos, Leopold, is my last wish. Thy will be done. We obey them in the grave. A dying scrawl. He took it to heart, pined away. Quiet brute. Old men’s dogs usually are.
Joyce continued his experiments with the English language in Finnegans Wake (1939), which takes the form of a series of a man’s dreams during one night. In this book Joyce tried to present the unconscious workings of the mind. The language he used was designed to bear to ordinary language the same relationship that unconscious mental processes bear to conscious mental processes:
Shize? I should shee! Macool, Macool, orra whyi deed ye diie? of a trying thirstay mournin? Sobs they sighdid at Fillagains chrissormiss wake, all the hoolivans of the nation, prostrated in their consternation and their duodisimally profusive plethora of ululation. There were plumbs and grumes and cheriffs and citherers and raiders and cinemen too. And the all gianed in with the shoutmost shoviality. Agog and Magog and the round of the agrog.
A focus on mental processes, whether conscious or unconscious, is also the hallmark of the works of Franz Kafka, a Czech writer whose novels Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937) and Das Schloss (1926; The Castle, 1930) study the obsessions of characters lost in mysterious social and political environments. Kafka’s characters lose their nerve and faith as they struggle with authority and scrutinize themselves closely because of an indefinable sense of guilt.
In France, the mind turned in on itself became a central concern in novels such as Les faux-monnayeurs (1926; The Counterfeiters, 1928) by André Gide, about a novelist telling a story about a group of suicides. Gide’s focus is as much on the process of literary composition as on the tormented psyches of his people. The relationship of counterfeiting and fakery to art are Gide’s main concerns. La nausée (1938; Nausea, 1949) by Jean-Paul Sartre concerns Antoine Roquentin, a man doing solitary research on an 18th-century historical figure. Roquentin starts experiencing sudden sicknesses that he calls nausea, and he begins to examine his life. The novel examines Roquentin’s psychological processes as he evaluates his existence:
The thing which was waiting was on the alert, it has pounced on me, it flows through me, I am filled with it. It’s nothing: I am the Thing. Existence, liberated, detached, floods over me. I exist.
I exists. It’s sweet, so sweet, so slow. And light: you’d think it floated all by itself. It stirs. It brushes by me, melts and vanishes.
In Germany, Thomas Mann began his career with a conventionally told family chronicle, Buddenbrooks (1901; translated 1924), then turned to images of spiritual and physical illness in Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain, 1927), a novel about people living in an isolated tuberculosis sanatorium. The patients serve as symbolic representatives of nations and peoples, art and politics, progress and reaction, and death and life. They are detached from life in the new 20th century, but their illnesses and anxieties are symbolic of those found in normal society.
E2b Post-World War II
After World War II ended in 1945, the international experimental impulse persisted. New tendencies developed, including plays on words, parodies of the act of writing itself, and a lack of concern for completion and resolution.
Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett, who spent much of his life in France, became one of the best-known experimental writers of the time. In several of his novels his characters seem lost in their own minds, incapable of judging or changing their surroundings. They serve as voices that speak about the futility of life. Beckett’s novels include Murphy (1938) and the trilogy made up of Molloy (completed 1947; published 1951; translated 1955), Malone meurt (completed 1948; published 1951; Malone Dies, 1956), and L’innomable (completed 1950; published 1953; The Unnamable, 1958).
Some of the most interesting experiments in form and subject came in the so-called new novel, which developed in France in midcentury. Among the writers known as new novelists were Michel Butor, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, and Claude Simon.
These writers differ in many ways, but they all portray life as a sort of detective story in which there are clues but no solution. Robbe-Grillet’s novels, for example, replace a straightforward story with repetitive clusters of scientifically precise descriptions generated by obsessed, unidentified characters. Thus, Robbe-Grillet’s characters lack both the physical characteristics and the inner psychology of traditional characters. In his relentlessly detailed La jalousie (1957; Jealousy, 1959), Robbe-Grillet focuses exclusively on the visual details of walls, drinking glasses, and landscapes. These objects and scenes are what the eye of the jealous husband obsessively focuses on.
Another new novelist, Marguerite Duras, achieved her greatest fame later, with the semiautobiographical work L’amant (1984; The Lover, 1985), about a woman’s first love affair. The novel features many of Duras’s signature experimental approaches, including a rejection of chronological narrative. Instead, the work moves back and forth in time.
In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), writers were less experimental and more inclined to address social wrongs. Two of the greatest Soviet novelists were Boris Pasternak, who chronicled the Russian Revolution of 1917 in Doktor Zhivago (1957; Doctor Zhivago, 1958), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who recorded some of the abuses of the USSR under Joseph Stalin, who headed the country from 1924 to 1953. Pasternak’s writing is lyrical and personal, while Solzhenitsyn’s is more precisely derived from fact and incident. Both, however, wrote honestly and matter-of-factly about the condition of suffering people.
Social and political novels thrived in other parts of Europe as well. In La ciociara (1957; Two Women, 1959), Italian novelist Alberto Moravia studies the impact of war on a shopkeeper and her daughter. Milan Kundera writes about his native Czechoslovakia in Kniha smichu a zapomn?n? (first published in French, 1979; The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, 1980), a scathing presentation of the way in which the citizenry of the country is made to forget history.
Germany was particularly rich in novels that examine history. Heinrich B?ll, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972, dealt with fascism and World War II in Billard um halb zehn (1959; Billiards at Half-Past Nine, 1962). He portrayed German life from World War I to the 1970s in Gruppenbild mit Dame (1971; Group Portrait with Lady, 1972).
Günter Grass, another German novelist, is acclaimed for books such as Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1962), about the Nazi takeover of his home city of Danzig (now Gda?sk, Poland) in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. When Grass won the Nobel Prize in 1999, the Nobel Academy praised his work by stating that, “When Günter Grass published The Tin Drum in 1959 it was as if German literature had been granted a new beginning after decades of linguistic and moral destruction.”
Many other German novelists, such as Christa Wolf in Kassandra (1983; Cassandra, 1984) and Wolfgang Hilbig in Ich (I, 1993), focused on issues related to the division of Germany into East Germany and West Germany, which lasted from 1945 to 1990.
Christa Wolf was part of an important trend in the 20th-century European novel: the emergence of more female novelists. Another prominent female German writer was Irmtraud Morgner. Her works examine the difficult position of modern women who are expected to be both primary caregivers in the family and to provide significant financial support to the family. In Spain, Ana Maria Moix, Rosa Montero, Soledad Puértolas, and Carme Riera looked at the limits placed upon women in modern society. Portuguese novelist Agustina Bessa-Lu?s examined the psychology of middle-class women in A sibila (The Sibyl, 1953) and other novels. In Greece, Margarita Karapanou’s O ipnovat?s (The Sleepwalker, 1986) challenged the status quo of the upper middle class.
Experiments with various aspects of the novel continued through the end of the 20th century. For example, French writer Marie Darrieussecq debuted with the novel Truismes (1996; Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation, 1997). It tells the story of a young woman who slowly metamorphoses into a giant pig. However, she changes back and forth from her human to her animal form, giving the narrator an opportunity to comment on herself and on the society that perceives her as either woman or animal. In 1998 José Saramago of Portugal won the Nobel Prize for literature. His works are particularly noted for their blend of fantasy and reality. For example, in A jangada de pedra (1986; The Stone Raft, 1995), the Iberian Peninsula breaks free of Europe and drifts off into the ocean.
See also Austrian Literature; Czech Literature; Danish Literature; Dutch Literature; Finnish Literature; French Literature; German Literature; Greek Literature; Hungarian Literature; Icelandic Literature; Irish Literature; Italian Literature; Norwegian Literature; Polish Literature; Portuguese Literature; Russian Literature; Scottish Literature; Spanish Literature; Swedish Literature; Welsh Literature.
E3 North America
North American novelists, like European novelists, took traditional and experimental literary approaches in the 20th century. Another important development was the growing number of prominent novelists not of Anglo-Saxon background. Writers from other ethnic and cultural groups moved within the general literary current, but their subject matter often related to the issue of cultural diversity in modern society.
E3a Pre-World War II
The 20th century was a time of great change in the novel in North America, but some writers in the early part of the new century continued in the traditional veins of the 1800s. The last great novels that Henry James wrote, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904), involve the common 19th-century theme of social manners. James had a strong influence on American writer Edith Wharton, whose works also examined the subtleties of turn-of-the-century upper-class social life. Wharton’s major works include The House of Mirth (1905), about a woman who loses her place in society, and The Age of Innocence (1920), a love story with an unhappy ending.
American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald also focused on human behavior and its consequences, but his work had a more contemporary feel, as he chronicled the glamorous Jazz Age society of the 1920s. Fitzgerald’s most famous work is The Great Gatsby (1925). This book is narrated by a man named Nick Carraway. Nick tells the story of James Gatz, a poor Midwesterner who makes a fortune through devious means and reinvents himself as Jay Gatsby, a wealthy and mysterious man famous for his lavish parties on Long Island. Gatsby’s ultimate goal is to win the love of Daisy Buchanan, an upper-class socialite who has married another man. Gatsby’s attempts to win her end in tragedy, however.
In Canada, historical sagas were popular. Maria Chapdelaine (1914; translated 1921) by Louis Hémon is considered a classic of French Canadian literature. It examines the lives of early settlers. One of the best-known historical sagas is a series of novels by Mazo de la Roche that began with Jalna (1927). The collection focuses on the fictional Whiteoak family in Ontario. Mine Inheritance (1940) by Frederick Niven is another treatment of Canada’s early settlement.
Other writers took a more activist approach to social change and made an effort to depict realistically the lives of the downtrodden and the ignored. This tendency had begun in the late 19th century with writers such as Stephen Crane and Frank Norris. Crane’s novella Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (1893) chronicles the life and death of a young prostitute. Crane depicts the disturbing aspects of war in Red Badge of Courage (1895), about a young soldier’s experiences in the American Civil War (1861-1865). In McTeague (1899), Norris shows tragedy in the lives of ordinary people.
One of the first 20th-century works to take a critical look at modern society was Sister Carrie (1900) by American author Theodore Dreiser. This plainly told story is about an ambitious girl who uses her sexuality to move ahead socially. With later novels such as The “Genius” (1915) and An American Tragedy (1925), Dreiser became a leader of the literary school of naturalism. Naturalist writers felt that people’s actions are controlled by instinct and by social conditions, and that people have little chance to change their behavior through their own free will.
The works of Crane, Norris, and Dreiser reflected a growing tendency in the early 1900s for American authors to depict society with a view to reform or revolution. Some writers focused on specific injustices, as did American writer Upton Sinclair in The Jungle (1906), about working conditions in the meat-packing industry in Chicago, Illinois. This book led to investigations by the federal government and the passage of laws to ensure the safety of food. Other writers commented more generally on the corrupting effects of capitalist society, as did American author Sinclair Lewis in Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922), both explorations of deficiencies in the Midwestern character.
Other American authors who addressed social and economic issues were James T. Farrell in the Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932 to 1935), about a Catholic boy growing up in the slums of Chicago; John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath (1939), about a family driven off their Oklahoma farm and forced to become migrant laborers; and Richard Wright in Native Son (1940), about urban race relations.
In Canada, Douglas Durkin criticized society in The Magpie (1923). Waste Heritage (1939) by Irene Baird is set during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Another strain of Canadian novels concerned war and its impact on people. Examples include Generals Die in Bed (1930) by Charles Yale Harrison and Barometer Rising (1941) by Hugh MacLennan.
One of the most important developments in literature in North America in the early and mid-20th century was a new attention to the possibilities of style. For example, in tightly controlled novels such as The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), American writer Ernest Hemingway captured the sensory texture of human experiences such as battle, café life, love, and sport. Hemingway’s language was simple, but he used it to complex effect. Relying primarily on nouns and verbs, he sought to make the reading of a text as close as possible to the actual experience of what it described. This approach, he felt, would have the strongest emotional effect on the reader.
In a different vein, American writer William Faulkner followed the trend of European authors Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, André Gide, and Thomas Mann in innovating with style. Faulkner set many of his novels in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, using this environment to explore the idea that the traditional values of the American South had been savaged by a new ideal, power. Like the European authors, Faulkner’s greatness lay not only in his themes but also in his way of rendering them—with experiments in fragmented narrative. In novels such as As I Lay Dying (1930), Faulkner used stream of consciousness to reproduce the perceptions of crazed or fixated people and to mix fact with legends and illusions. One of his goals was to present the world as a place where no objective truth exists—that is, a place in which each person has a dramatically different impression of the world.
E3b Post-World War II
After World War II (1939-1945) several major novels about war appeared. The Naked and the Dead (1948) by American Norman Mailer features a platoon of soldiers in the Pacific Ocean arena of conflict during World War II. Turvey (1949) by Canadian author Earle Birney satirizes the Canadian intelligence service through the eyes of Tops Turvey, a young soldier. From Here to Eternity (1951) by American author James Jones studies war from an enlisted man’s viewpoint.
Perhaps the best-known North American novel to emerge from World War II was Catch-22 (1961) by American author Joseph Heller. The novel describes the absurdities of military life. Representing the craziness of war is the regulation “Catch-22,” which states that “a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.” The result of the regulation is that an airman who has gone crazy can ask to be grounded, but when he asks, his concern for his well-being proves that he is in fact sane, and thus healthy enough to fly.
Around midcentury, issues of civil rights surfaced in literature. In 1952 Ralph Ellison emerged as a major literary figure with the publication of his novel Invisible Man. The novel’s narrator, whose name is never given, describes how he comes to realize that he is in fact “invisible.” As a black man in the United States, he can never really be seen as a thinking, feeling human being, but is perpetually walled in by white people’s stereotyped notions of black people. The hero finally retreats to an abandoned cellar, making his invisibility total. The hero’s swings from realism to hallucination and back, along with Ellison’s insight into the loneliness of modern city life, make the novel more than just a study of black consciousness. “Who knows,” his character asks the reader, “but that on the lower levels, I speak for you?”
Other writers pushed the boundaries of literature by addressing unconventional topics. In 1955 Russian-born American writer Vladimir Nabokov shocked readers with his Lolita (1955), about a middle-aged man named Humbert Humbert who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl. Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962) is a fragmented tale about a scholar editing a poem. The novel encases the reader in a world of jokes, ironies, and wordplay.
Many other writers experimented with language in the mid-20th century. In her book The Double Hook (1959), Canadian writer Sheila Watson uses cadence (the rhythm of writing) and images rather than plot for communicating ideas. In the novels The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) and Giles Goat-Boy (1966), American author John Barth uses puns, parodies, and tricks—anything but the progression of a story or the analysis of a character. In parts of The Subterraneans (1958), American writer Jack Kerouac gives interrelated impressions to convey an experience:
…the cold winter rainy nights when Charles would be crossing the campus saying something witty, the great epics almost here sounding phantom like and uninteresting if at all believable but the true position and bigburn importance of not only Charles but a good dozen others in the light rack of my brain, so Mardou seen in this light, is a little brown body in a gray sheet bed in the slums of Telegraph Hill, huge future in the history of the night yes but only one among many, the asexuality of the WORK—also the sudden gut joy of beer when the visions of great words in rhythmic order all in one giant archangel book go roaring thru my brain, so I lie in the dark also seeing also hearing the jargon the future worlds—damaje-eleout-ekeke-dhdkdk-dldoud, ——d, ekeoeu-hdhdkehgyt—better not more than which strangely he doth mdodudltkdip—baseeaatra—for example because of mechanical needs of gyping, of the flow of river sounds, words, hark, leading to the future and attesting to the madness, hollowness, ring and roar of my mind which blessed or unblessed is where trees sing—in a funny wind—well-being believes he’ll go to heaven—
In V (1963) American writer Thomas Pynchon transforms the mystery story form into a meditative exploration of 20th-century history. In Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) the framework of an investigation barely serves to hold together Pynchon’s story about World War II, weaponry, and the destructive powers of modern civilization. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. also concerns World War II. The novel is the story of a prison camp survivor named Billy Pilgrim; the plot jumps back and forth between Billy’s life experiences and his experiences on a fictional planet named Tralfamadore, to which he is taken several times.
Other writers took a more traditional approach in their look at postwar society. While fashioning a spare, hard-boiled style, American writer John O’Hara took up the themes and obsessions that Fitzgerald wrote about in the 1920s: money, success, class, competition, youth, and beauty. In From the Terrace (1958) he undertook a survey of the entire American scene. Many novels by American author John Cheever, including The Wapshot Chronicle (1957) and Bullet Park (1969), are set in American suburbia, which Cheever presents as prosperous but spiritually destitute. American writer Louis Auchincloss wrote about the American moneyed classes in books such as The Rector of Justin (1964), which is about the headmaster of a boarding school, and The Embezzler (1966), which depicts financial maneuverings.
With his Rabbit series—Rabbit Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990)—American author John Updike explored a less glittering side of American life, tracing the life of a former high school basketball player through four decades of personal and social change. Several Canadian novels of the 1990s looked at social change by re-examining historical events. The Afterlife of George Cartwright (1992) by John Steffler looks at early contact between European settlers and Native Americans. Fugitive Pieces (1996) by Anne Michaels traces the impact of the Holocaust on subsequent generations. In Québec the historical novel enjoyed success in the French language in Au nom du père et du fils (In the Name of the Father and the Son, 1984) by Francine Ouellette and Les filles de Caleb (1985; Emilie, 1992) by Arletter Cousture.
Two other major Canadian novelists of the late 20th century were Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood. Davies’s writings encompass myth, magic, psychology, the theater, and circus life. His novels are rich in descriptive passages, but Davies was mostly a philosophical novelist, with characters engaged in metaphysical debate about worldly temptations and the struggle between God and the Devil. His best-known work is the trilogy Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), and World of Wonders (1976).
Atwood typically writes about women, the themes of lost opportunities and missed connections, and the way the past haunts the present. Atwood’s writing is noted for its alarming perspectives on the familiar. Her heroines are both victims and victimizers, and they see themselves as objects in a consumer society. This notion is depicted literally in The Edible Woman (1969), about a woman who finds herself unable to eat after she starts to feel that her society is consuming her by destroying her individuality. Atwood’s other novels include The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and The Robber Bride (1993).
Many other North American novelists paid special attention to the situation of women in society. The Women’s Room (1977) by American writer Marilyn French is about a married woman who becomes increasingly independent. French focuses on the struggles and dilemmas of modern women as they try to balance society’s expectations of women with their own personal goals. Other major feminist works include Play It as It Lays (1970) by American writer Joan Didion, about a California woman who has a mental breakdown; Fear of Flying (1973) by American author Erica Jong, about a woman asserting her personal independence; and The Good Mother (1986) by American author Sue Miller, about a woman who loses custody of her daughter after a divorce.
The experimental impulse remained active through the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Canadian writer W. P. Kinsella merged reality with fantasy in books such as Shoeless Joe (1982), about the appearance in an Iowa cornfield of famed baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. In The English Patient (1992) Canadian author Michael Ondaatje pulled together several plot lines to create a complex story that jumps back and forth in time. American author William Gaddis wrote JR (1975) in fragmented dialogue. His works include The Recognitions (1955), Carpenter’s Gothic (1985), and A Frolic of His Own (1994).
Perhaps the most important development in the North American novel in the mid- and late 20th century was the dramatic increase in the number of works written by authors from minority groups. These writers form part of the overall current of the development of the novel, but an important element of many of their works is the attention they give to the situation of ethnic groups in North America.
Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright is a chilling account of an African American man’s hatred of the weakness and hypocrisy of middle-class whites. It is an indictment of the social structure, but also a frank coming-to-terms with the reality of violence. The narrative technique of Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison—which uses wild and grotesque portraiture, as well as surrealistic scene painting—makes its exploration of New York City’s predominantly African American neighborhood of Harlem into a literary experiment and a study of society. Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), by James Baldwin, is an evocative portrait of a boy growing up under the terrors of hell-fire preaching. Toni Morrison, who won the Nobel Prize in 1993, explored the African American experience in novels such as Song of Solomon (1977) and Jazz (1992).
Jewish writers Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow found inspiration in America’s urban scene. Malamud experiments with myth in The Natural (1952), an allegorical tale about a baseball hero, and with the Jewish situation outside North America in The Fixer (1966), about a Russian Jewish man sentenced unjustly to prison. Roth spoke to the concerns of middle-class Jewish intellectuals in Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) and in a series of novels focusing on the character Nathan Zuckerman: The Ghost Writer (1979), Zuckerman Unbound (1981), The Anatomy Lesson (1983), and The Counterlife (1986). More broadly, Roth’s subject is the experience of Americans of varied ethnic backgrounds and their struggle to define identity and to find happiness. Bellow’s major works include Herzog (1964), Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970), Humboldt’s Gift (1975), and More Die of Heartbreak (1987). His varied characters range from baffled victims of the business world to intellectuals trying to puzzle out the universe from the beehive of a chaotic city.
Obasan (1981) and its sequel Itsuka (1990) by Canadian author Joy Kogawa examine the history of Japanese Canadians and the persistent difficulties arising from their forced internment by the government during World War II. Macho! (1973) by American writer Victor Villase?or is about a young Mexican man who wants to enter the United States. In The House on Mango Street (1984) American novelist Sandra Cisneros looks at the experience of a young Hispanic girl as she grows up. American writer N. Scott Momaday incorporates Native American storytelling techniques in House Made of Dawn (1968), about a World War II veteran. Canadian author Bharati Mukherjee, in Wife (1975) and Jasmine (1990), draws on her Bengali heritage to explore the problems of adaptation for an Indian woman in North America.
E4 Latin America
In the early 20th century a major movement in Latin American novels was the regionalist novel, which focused on nature and local characters—gauchos, landowners, and politicians—or national historical events such as the Mexican Revolution. Major representative novelists included Mariano Azuela of Mexico (Los de abajo, 1916; The Underdogs, 1929), Horacio Quiroga of Uruguay (Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte, 1917; translated under the same title, 1997); José Eustasio Rivera of Colombia (La vor?gine, 1924; The Vortex, 1935); and Ricardo Güiraldes of Argentina (Don Segundo Sombra, 1926; Don Segundo Sombra, Shadows on the Pampas, 1935).
A second major development was Indigenismo, a literary movement dealing with Native American cultures and their interaction with European society. Prominent novelists included Jorge Icaza of Ecuador (Huasipungo, 1934; translated 1962), Miguel ?ngel Asturias of Guatemala (Hombres de ma?z, 1949; Men of Maize, 1975), and José Maria Arguedas of Peru (Los r?os profundos, 1958; Deep Rivers, 1978). These writers and others immersed themselves in Native American cultures to explore their language, traditions, and myths.
In the mid- and late 20th century Latin American novelists moved to the forefront of literary experimentation. Infusing their books with a mixture of legend, local history, political conflict, gossip, and keen social observation, they created a new genre known as magic realism, which mixed fantasy and reality. Pedro P?ramo (1955; translated 1959) by Mexican writer Juan Rulfo was one of the first magic realist novels. A novel about Mexico before that country’s revolution in the early 20th century, it focuses on a small town, Camala, and the brutality of Camala’s wealthy, landholding classes. The novel is cast in the form of a ghost story, and its characters are the dead residents of Camala.
Colombian writer Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, is one of the best-known writers of magic realism. Garc?a M?rquez’s writings focus on injustice and oppression. His novel Cien a?os de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970) is about the rise and fall of a town called Macondo. The novel shows the stylistic influence of American novelist William Faulkner, and like Faulkner, Garc?a M?rquez traces the origins of power and corruption through a family history. The work mixes fantastic images with the reality of a country whose economy and political system is dominated by a foreign fruit company.
Mexican writer Laura Esquivel achieved great success with Como agua para chocolate (1990; Like Water for Chocolate, 1993). The novel’s main character, Tita, suffers because she was not allowed to marry her true love. Tita works as a cook, and her emotions are reflected in how her cooking affects people. For example, after she cries into the batter of a wedding cake, the guests who eat it become sick.
Some Latin American authors avoided magic realism and used different experimental techniques. Argentine writer Manuel Puig uses stream of consciousness to depict the thought processes of intensely emotional people. In La traici?n de Rita Hayworth (1968; Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, 1971) he examines the manners and values of the middle class. The novel is set in the 1930s and 1940s and is told through the eyes of a boy entranced by the United States and its movies and consumer culture, which are represented through actress and dancer Rita Hayworth.
Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes mixes fact and fiction in El gringo viejo (1985; The Old Gringo, 1985), which is an account of the later years of American journalist and short-story writer Ambrose Bierce. The novel involves Bierce in the campaign of Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution. Fuentes blends politics, reflection, and violent action to create a vision of his country in crisis.
In the Caribbean, as in many areas of the world, one of the major trends was the depiction of characters caught in the net of politics or an unjust social order.
In A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), for example, Trinidad-born writer V. S. Naipaul describes the seemingly overwhelming odds against a poor father, trapped between a smothering Hindu family and the colonial world, as he tries to possess a home of his own. Naipaul’s later works are descriptions of what freedom can be like amidst the political chaos of new societies.
Many other Caribbean novelists gained importance in the late 20th century, including Maryse Condé of Guadalupe (Ségou, 1984; translated 1987), Patrick Chamoiseau of Martinique (Texaco, 1992; translated 1997), and Earl Lovelace of Trinidad (Salt, 1996). Writers of Caribbean ancestry but living outside the region have also emerged as major novelists, including José Yglesias (A Wake in Ybor City, 1963), Nicholasa Mohr (Nilda, 1973), and Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, 1991).
In the 20th century, the effects of colonialism were important issues for authors in Africa, where many nations gained their independence from colonial powers. Mission Terminée (1957; Mission to Kala, 1958) by Mongo Beti of Cameroon tells of a young African man educated in France who has trouble fitting in when he returns home. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe of Nigeria describes the effect of European settlers on traditional African society. In The River Between (1965) and A Grain of Wheat (1967), Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes about the Mau Mau Rebellion (1952-1956), during which a group of the Kikuyu people began a military campaign against the British, who controlled Kenya at the time.
Even after most African nations had gained independence, the aftereffects of colonialism remained a concern. In South Africa a major issue was apartheid, an official policy of racial separation that the government endorsed from 1948 to the early 1990s. In several books, including A Walk in the Night (1962) and And a Threefold Cord (1964), Alex La Guma writes about the effects of apartheid on people’s everyday lives. Nadine Gordimer addresses apartheid in The Conservationist (1974) and Burger’s Daughter (1979). The Life and Times of Michael K (1983) by J. M. Coetzee is a frightening vision of a desolate, brutal South Africa.
Other African novels examined various aspects of society. Senegalese writer Ousmane Sembène fictionalized a railroad workers’ strike of 1947 and 1948 in Les bout de bois de Dieu (1960; God’s Bits of Wood, 1962). In Guélwaar (1996) he wrote about politics, economics, and religion in postindependence Africa. Autobiographical novels such as The Wanderers (1971) and A Question of Power (1973) by South Africans Es’kia Mphahlele and Bessie Head, respectively, deal with themes of exile. Ayi Kwei Armah of Ghana chronicles precolonial Africa in Two Thousand Seasons (1973), The Healers (1978), and Osiris Rising (1995). In The Promised Land (1966) Kenyan writer Grace Ogot explores the issue of marriage. Novels such as The Joys of Motherhood (1979), Gwendolen (1989), and Kehinde (1994) by Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta look at the place of women in society.
E7 Middle East
The Middle East has two 20th-century traditions in the novel: the Arabic-language tradition and the Hebrew-language tradition.
In the Arab world, the novel form emerged only in the early 20th century. One of the earliest Arabic novels is considered to be Zaynab (1913; Zainab, 1989), by Egyptian writer Muhammad Husayn Haykal. Other important authors of the early part of the century include Tawfiq al-Hakim (Awdat al-ruh, 1933; The Return of the Spirit, 1990) and Taha Husayn (Du’a’ al-karawan, 1934; The Call of the Curlew, 1980) of Egypt, Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad (al-Raghif, 1939; The Loaf) of Lebanon, and Mahmud Ahmad al-Sayyid (Jalal Khalid, 1928) and Dhu al-Nun Ayyub (al-Duktur Ibrahim, 1939; Doctor Ibrahim) of Iraq.
The greatest Arabic novelist of the mid-20th century was Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, whose dozens of novels include the celebrated al-Thulathiyya (The Cairo Trilogy), which chronicles the experiences of an Egyptian family. Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. Female writers became a force in Arabic literature in midcentury. In their novels, Layla Ba’labakki of Lebanon (Ana ahya, 1958; I Am Alive), Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt (Mudhakkirat tabibah, 1958; Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, 1988), Ghadah al-Samman of Syria (Kawabis Bayrut, 1976; Beirut Nightmares), and others addressed social and political life in the Arab world.
In the late 20th century, Arabic writers continued to use the novel to explore people in a political context in Arab society. Major novelists included Hanna Minah of Syria, who promotes workers’ causes in his books, and Isma’il Fahd Isma’il, who dramatizes the plight of the dispossessed masses. Ilyas Khuri deals with the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) in Rihlat Ghandi al-saghir (1989; The Journey of Little Gandhi, 1994).
Writers in Hebrew adopted the novel form in the late 19th century, when Mendele Mokher Sefarim of Russia became a leading writer. Perhaps his best-known novel is Kitsur mas’ot Binyamin ha-shelishi (1878; The Travels and Adventures of Benjamin the Third, 1949), which was originally written in Yiddish but was translated into Hebrew in 1896. World War I (1914-1918) and the Russian Revolution of 1917 had devastating effects on Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and by the late 1920s most Hebrew-language writers were working in British-controlled Palestine. The preeminent writer of the period was Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who eventually won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966.
With the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948, a generation of writers who had grown up in the new land and knew little of Jewish life in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe was thrust into prominence. S. Yizhar’s war novel Days of Ziklag focuses on the inner lives of these young people as well as on the landscape of their native land. In the 1960s many novelists began to question traditional ways. In books such as Mikha’el sheli (1968; My Michael, 1972) and Menuhhah nekhonah (1982; A Perfect Peace, 1986), Amos Oz wrote about individuals having trouble keeping traditional customs.
Another major topic for Jewish writers in the Middle East was the Holocaust, the mass killing of Jews by German Nazis that occurred during World War II (1939-1945). More than 5 million European Jews perished in the Holocaust. Aharon Appelfeld addresses the Holocaust by examining periods directly before and after the war. His works explore people’s denial of Jewish identity before the war, and their inability to escape the memory of the Holocaust even years after the war’s end. Appelfeld’s books include Badenhaim, ‘ir nofesh (1975; Badenheim 1939, 1980), Ha-Kutonet veha-pasim (1983; Tzili: The Story of a Life, 1983), and Mesilat barzel (1991; The Iron Tracks, 1998).
In India, precursors to the novel had appeared in ancient times, and authors such as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (Ananda Math, 1882) helped define the national consciousness through their novels before the 20th century. In the early 20th century, Premchand was a major novelist. His works vividly described life in the heartland of central India. In the 1920s and 1930s the novels of Mulk Raj Anand described the situation of India’s poor and dispossessed. R. K. Narayan, in novels such as The Financial Expert (1952) and The Guide (1958), wrote about the middle-class Indian’s position in society.
One major concern in 20th-century Indian literature was the partition of the country into two nations: India and Pakistan. Many novels, such as Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan (1956) and Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy-Man (1988; later published as Cracking India, 1991), evoked directly the violence and disintegration of partition. When partition was not the primary subject of novels, it was often featured as a major element of the setting. Anita Desai set Clear Light of Day (1980), a novel about a Delhi family, against the background of partition.
Indian novelists have written in dozens of languages, but English-language writing was one of the strongest traditions in the late 20th century. British novelist Salman Rushdie, who was born in India, created a great controversy in 1988 with his publication of the novel The Satanic Verses, which was banned in several Islamic countries because many Muslims considered it an attack on the Qu’ran, the prophet Muhammad, and the Islamic faith. Vikram Seth chronicled a family story in A Suitable Boy (1993). Arundhati Roy was widely acclaimed for The God of Small Things (1997), a family saga that won the Booker Prize, Britain’s highest literary honor.
In China, the 20th century marked the novel’s emergence as an important form for the first time. Many of the major early novels, such as T’ai yang chao tsai Sang-kan ho shang (1948; The Sun Shines over the Sangkan River, 1954) by Ding Ling, deal with agrarian reforms. Government officials often dictated the subject matter, as with Chuang ye shi (1960; The Builders, 1964) by Liu Qing, which portrays the idealized character of an utterly selfless, dedicated “socialist man.” Outside China a literature of dissent appeared in the 1950s. Notable are Eileen Chang’s novel Yang ge (1954; The Rice-Sprout Song, 1955) and Chen Ruoxi’s Yin xianzhang (1976; The Execution of Mayor Yin, 1978).
Not until the mid-1980s did prominent writers and cultural leaders begin to insist on the apolitical qualities of literature—that is, to claim that creative works should be judged by purely artistic standards and that writers should not necessarily be expected to shoulder the moral burdens of the Chinese people and history in their work. Many writers, including Ah Cheng, Zhang Chengzhi, Mo Yan, and Zheng Wanlong, became well known through film adaptations of their work.
In Japan, politics also had a strong influence on the novel, which gained popularity in the 20th century. Autobiographical fiction was an early trend, with works such as Futon (1907; translated 1978) by Tayama Katai, about a writer who lusts after a female student. Other novelists, such as Tanizaki Junichir?, felt that this sort of confessional work lacked imagination and wrote about broader issues. In Tade kuu mushi (1929; Some Prefer Nettles, 1955), Tanizaki set an unhappy marriage against the backdrop of changing cultural values in Japan.
In midcentury, works inspired by Marxism included Kanikosen (1929; The Cannery Boat, 1933) by Kobayashi Takiji, which describes the abuses suffered by workers aboard a floating crab cannery. Many Marxist writers were forced to abandon their Communist ideals during World War II, creating a new literary form—tenko, or recantation, literature. After the war ended, politically committed writing made a resurgence with authors such as Noma Hiroshi, Haniya Y?taka, and Shiina Rinz?. These writers grappled with the meaning of concepts such as freedom and individuality.
Another prominent 20th-century Japanese author was Mishima Yukio. He made his mark on the literary world with Kamen no kokuhaku (1949; Confessions of a Mask, 1958), in which a young man dissects the thoughts and emotions he experienced as he became aware of his homosexuality. In 1968 Kawabata Yasunari became the first Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature. His masterpiece Yukiguni (1948; Snow Country, 1956) tells the story of an ill-fated love affair. The best-known work by ?e Kenzabur? is Man’en gannen no futtoboru (1967; The Silent Cry, 1974), about two brothers who return to the village where they grow up. In 1994 ?e became the second Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
E11 Australia and New Zealand
Australia’s novel tradition began in the mid-1800s but did not gain strength until the early 1900s. Two of the most important early novels were For the Term of His Natural Life (1874) by Marcus Clarke, an account of a convict settlement in Tasmania, and Robbery Under Arms (1888) by Rolf Boldrewood, a story of bushrangers and outback settlers. In the early 20th century major novels included My Brilliant Career (1901) by Miles Franklin, about life on the outback and the beginning of a female writer’s career, and Such Is Life (1903) by Tom Collins, about country life in the state of Victoria.
Other important novelists were Henry Handel Richardson, author of the trilogy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1917-1929), a series of works on the social life of immigrants; Katherine Susannah Prichard, whose Coonardoo (1929) studies the relationship between an aboriginal woman and a white man; Louis Stone, whose Jonah (1911) is a moving study of the poor; and Patrick White, author of Happy Valley (1939), The Tree of Man (1955), The Twyborn Affair (1979), and many other books. White’s works deal with the individual’s search for meaning in a harsh, potentially brutal country searching for its own self-definition. He claimed the Nobel Prize in literature in 1973. Other outstanding Australian novelists include Christina Stead (The Man Who Loved Children, 1940), Thomas Keneally (Schindler’s Ark, 1982), and Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda, 1988).
Two of the earliest novels written and published in New Zealand were Taranaki: A Tale of the War (1861) by Henry Butler Stoney and The Story of Wild Will Enderby (1873) by Vincent Pike. Novelists of greater importance are Jane Mander, whose novel The Story of a New Zealand River (1920) is a sensitive portrayal of life in an lumber-milling community; Jean Devanny, who wrote socialist-humanitarian novels such as The Butcher Shop (1926); Robin Hyde, who dramatized the aftermath of World War I (1914-1918) in Passport to Hell (1936) and Nor the Years Condemn (1938); and John Mulgan, whose Man Alone (1939) shows the stylistic influence of American author Ernest Hemingway.
After World War II (1945-1939), Janet Frame published Owls Do Cry (1957), about a single family in a small New Zealand town. Ian Cross explored the state of mind of a 13-year-old who relives a family tragedy in The God Boy (1957) and examined relationships in After Anzac Day (1961). Sylvia Ashton-Warner used her books to relate the exploration of the self and mind, as well as the search for meaning and values. Her works include Spinster (1958) and Incense to Idols (1960). New Zealand’s other prominent novelists include Keri Hulme (The Bone People, 1983), Witi Ihimaera (The Matriarch, 1986), and Maurice Gee (Live Bodies, 1998).
VII THE NOVEL TODAY
Near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the novel, one of the most flexible of literary forms, remained a powerful way for authors to represent the human experience both on the individual level and on the societal level. In countries all over the world, writers used the novel to give insight into people’s actions, ideas, and aspirations. Novelists kept the form fresh by continuing to explore subject matter of vital interest to readers and by constantly innovating in form and technique. For five centuries the novel has been one of the most important ways for writers to comment on the human condition, and it shows no signs of weakening.
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