A novel is usually in the form of prose and published as one book. Prose, or ordinary language in its written form, is contrasted with verse, or words written with a metrical arrangement (poetry).
The word “novel” comes from the Italian “novella,” meaning “news” or “short story of something new.” The Italian originated from the same Latin word.
Definition and Explanation of a Novel
Novels include basic elements like characters, dialogues, a climax, a setting, a conflict, and resolution. Some follow what’s known as Freytag’s Pyramid, starting with exposition, moving onto a rising action, hitting the climax, and then heading towards the resolution with the falling action. Despite the prevalence of novels that follow the pyramid, it is not necessary to make a successful novel.
Novels are the longest genre of prose but there is no defined length in regard to what makes a novel and what makes a novella. The first was written in classical Rome, Elizabethan England, and Japan. One of the best know, Don Quixote, is often referenced as the beginnings of novel writing in Europe. Another even more important contribution to the literary world was Tale of Genji, written in 1010 by Murasaki Shikibu. It is commonly referenced as the world’s first novel. Some other quite early novels include The Life of Aesop, Dauphins and Chloe, Hysimine and Hysimines, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Examples of Famous Novels
The Old Man and the Sea is a short book but it’s one that ranks among the best the English language has ever seen. This is a great example of the controversy between what’s considered a novel and what’s a novella. The story follows an old Cuban fisherman who has gone for months without catching anything. When he heads out to see this final time, he hooks an enormous marlin. The battle with the fish takes up most of the book, followed by the dark ending.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations is a very well-known book by the author of several other popular novels like Bleak House and David Copperfield. The story follows a young, poor boy named Pip whose realization that he’s poor and his love for a young girl, Estelle, changes his life. The novel focuses on Pip’s growth and development and can be labled as a coming of age novel. The following lines come from Chapter 27 of Great Expectations.
Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come.
Here, Pip is listening to Joe speak. Pip feels awkward around him. He’s embarrassed for Joe and the life he’s leading, but he’s also embarrassed by the choices he’s made and what he looks like now. The changes in their social classes have driven the two apart.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is Brontë’s best-known work, one that follows Jane’s life and struggles. The novel was published under a pen name in 1847. Today, the book is noted for its revolutionary prose. It was the first of its kind to focus on a protagonist’s moral development, alongside her spiritual, through a first-person narrative. Here are a few lines from the novel:
Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!
Here, Jane is expressing herself to Mr. Rochester, her lover interest throughout the novel, as the two argue over the state of their relationship and his engagement to Miss. Ingram. Readers can clearly see the moving prose that Brontë is celebrated for.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies focuses on a group of boy stranded on an island and their attempts to govern themselves. Things go from bad to worse on the island while Golding engages with themes of individuality, group/herd mentality, violence, and more. Here are a few lines from Ralph’s perspective:
He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.
Here, the reader is confronted with the changes that have come over the boys since they were stranded on the island. These are the thoughts of someone who’s lived a long and hard life, not a young boy.
Types of Novels
There is an almost endless number of types of novels one could come up with. Here are six of the most common:
- Thriller: ordinary heroes are pitted against villains out to destroy them, or something they hold dear. Connected to spy fiction and adventure.
- Fantasy: a genre of speculative fiction the deals with a fictional universe.
- Mystery: involves death or crime that has to be solved by the hero/heroes of the novel.
- Romance: concerned with a romantic relationship between characters.
- Historical Fiction: focuses on fictionalizing real places, events, and sometimes people.
- Science Fiction: type of speculative fiction that deals with futuristic technologies and problems.
Related Literary Term
- Novella: a prose, fiction work that’s shorter than a novel and longer than a short story.
- Narrative Poem: contains all the elements of a story and are normally longer than average.
- Play (Theatre): a form of writing for theatre. It is divided into acts and scenes.
- Protagonist: the main character of a story, generally considered to be the hero or the force for good.
- Antagonist: a character who is considered to be the rival of the protagonist.