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Types of Novels

For convenience in analyzing the forms of the novel, critics often place them in categories that encompass years of historical development. An early and prevalent type was the picaresque novel, in which the protagonist, a social underdog, has a series of episodic adventures in which he sees much of the world around him and comments satirically upon it. Modern variations of this type include, in addition to those already mentioned, Saul Bellow's Adventures of Augie March (1953) and Thornton Wilder's Theophilus North (1973). Notable examples of the epistolary novel, which is made up of letters from verious protagonists, are Dangerous Liaisons (1782), by Pierre Laclos, a study in depravity made all the more devastating because the characters' evil is revealed obliquely through their correspondence, and The Documents in the Case (1930), by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which a crime and its solution are revealed through letters.

The historical novel embraces not only the event-filled romances of Scott, Cooper, and Kenneth Roberts, but also works that strive to convey the essence of life in a certain time and place, such as Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter (1920–22), about life in medieval Norway, and Mary Renault's Mask of Apollo (1966), set in ancient Greece. Closely related to the historical novel is the social novel, which presents a panoramic picture of an entire age. Balzac's Human Comedy and Tolstoy's War and Peace became models for those that followed, including U.S.A. (1937), by John Dos Passos.

The naturalistic novel studies the effect of heredity and environment on human beings. Emile Zola's series, The Rougon-Macquarts (1871–93), influenced Arnold Bennett's novels of the "Five Towns," which treat life in the potteries in the English midlands; other novels that can be called naturalistic are The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1918), by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, and An American Tragedy (1925), by Theodore Dreiser. A derivative of the social novel is the regional novel, which delineates the life of people in a particular place—focusing on customs and speech—to demonstrate how environment influences its inhabitants. Notable examples of this genre are Hardy's "Wessex novels" and William Faulkner's novels set in Yoknapatawpha County. The novels of Ignazio Silone, notably Bread and Wine (1936), are both social and regional—in a small Italian village Silone reveals a microcosm of Mussolini's Italy.

Further classifications include novels of the soil—stark stories of people living close to the earth like Ole Rølvaag's Giants in the Earth (1927); novels of the sea such as Richard Henry Dana's Two Years before the Mast (1840); and novels of the air like Antoine de St. Exupéry's Night Flight (1931). Novels that treat themes of creation, judgment, and redemption are often called metaphysical novels; famous examples include Franz Kafka's The Castle (1926), Georges Bernanos's Diary of a Country Priest (1936), and Graham Greene's Heart of the Matter (1948).

The German Bildungsroman [formation novel], Erziehungsroman [education novel], and Künstlerroman [artist novel] make useful distinctions among works like Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain (1924), Colette's Claudine series (1900–1903), and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1915) respectively. Taken together, they can be called novels of initiation. So can Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, but because of its extensive analysis of the minds and hearts of a large cast of characters it can also be placed with such disparate works as Demian (1919), by Herman Hesse, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), by J. D. Salinger, and Thousand Cranes (tr. 1956), by Yasunari Kawabata, in the ranks of the psychological novel.

The tradition of the novel of manners, with its emphasis on the conventions of a particular group of people in a particular time and place, persists in such works as Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence (1920), John O'Hara's Butterfield 8 (1935), and John Updike's Couples (1967). Although classification of novels can be helpful in indicating the breadth and diversity of the form, the great novel transcends such categorization, existing as a complete, many-faceted world in itself.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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