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English novel
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English novel

Early novels in English

See the article
First novel in English.

Romantic novel

The Romantic period saw the first flowering of the English novel. The Romantic and the Gothic novel are closely related; both imagined almost-supernatural forces operating in nature or directing human fate. Just as William Wordsworth and other poets were integral to the growth of English Romanticism, so Mary Shelley, and Ann Radcliffe were key to the sudden popularity of the Gothic novel.

It is equally important to recognize, however, the role that the contemporary reader played in the history of the English novel. For many years, novels were considered light reading for young, single women. Novels written with this in mind often contained sometimes heavy moral instruction, and, like earlier English literature, attempted to provide an example of the correct kind of conduct.

Victorian Novel

The novel first began to dominate English literature during the Victorian era. Most Victorian novels were long and closely wrought, full of intricate language, but the dominate feature of the Victorian might be their versimilitude, that is, their close representation to the real social life of the age. This social life was largely informed by the development of the emerging middle class and the manners and expectations of this class, as opposed to the aristocrat forms dominating previous ages.

For the first time in English history, female authors assumed a central role. The English novel was defined, to a large extent, by the works of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontė, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot.

None of this should imply that the Victorian novel was not diverse; it was, extraordinarly so. Emily Brontė and Charles Dickens wrote in very different styles and addressed altogether different themes. Key to Victorian style is the concept of the authorial intrusion and the address to the reader. For example, the author might interrupt her narrative to pass judgment on a character, or pity or praise another, while later seeming to exclaim "Dear Reader!" and inform or remind the reader of some other relevant fact.

Serial Novel

Most novels of the Victorian period were published in serial form; that is, individual chapters or sections appearing in subsequent journal issues. As such, demand was high for each new appearance of the novel to introduce some new element, whether it be a plot twist or a new character, so as to maintain the reader's interest. During this time, authors were paid by the word, which tended to create wordy prose. In part for these reasons, Victorian novels are made up of a variety of plots and a large number of characters, appearing and reappearing as events dictate.

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