A novel is a long prose fiction having a plot, a number of characters, and the plot developing and coming to a logical conclusion through the characters’ interaction with one another. J.B. Priestley defines a novel “as a narrative in prose treating chiefly of imagery characters and events”. J.B. Priestley further says “we may regard fiction as a narrative pure and simple, or as a picture manners, or as an exhibition of characters, or as a vehicle of certain philosophy”.
Since the flowering time of the novel in the second half of nineteenth century, the novel has displayed all other literary forms in popularity, and has replaced long verse narratives almost entirely. The novelistic art has received the devoted attention of some of the supreme craftsmen of modern literature—Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Thackeray, H.G. Wells, R.L. Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, And James Joyce. These great craftsmen have made the novel “a pocket theatre” exhibiting the both “within and without of us”. It is the most effective medium for the portrayal of the human thought and action “combining in itself the creation of poetry with the details of history and the generalized experience of philosophy, in a manner unattempted by any previous effort of human genius”. (Worsford)
“Other great types of literature, like epic, drama, the romance, and the drama were first produced by other nations; but the idea of the modern novel seems to have been worked out largely on English soil; and in the number and the fine quality of her novelist, England has hardly been rivaled by other nation.” (Long)
Many critics divided the novel into two classes: stories and romance; the story being a form of the novel which relates certain incidents of life with as little complexity as possible; and the romance being a form of the novel which describes life as led by strong emotions in complex and unusual circumstances. The novels are otherwise divided into novels of personality like, The Vicar Wakefield and Silas Marner; historical novel, like Ivanhoe; the novel of romance like Lorna Donne; and the novel of purpose, like Oliver Twist, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. All such classifications are imperfect, and the best of them is to open the objections.
The critics have divided the Neo-Classical novels in the following categories:
The Travelogues—the novel proper started in a limited sense with Travelogues. The Travelogues are travel stories relating the adventures of the travelers or voyagers in unknown and unchartered seas. They often land on uninhabited islands or some islands inhabited by strange creatures. The earliest of them is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe lands on an uninhabited island and somehow managers to live there for several years, until he is rescued from there by a lucky chance by a passing ship of his own country. Another famous travelogue is Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. In this romance, Gulliver lands on several islands inhabited by such strange creatures as the Lilliputians, Houyhnhnms, Brobdingnags, and Yahoos. However, Swift’s episodes in these adventures have a very pungent satire on contemporary political situations.
The Picaresque Novel –a short vogue of the Picaresque Novel also came in the eighteenth century. The term ‘Picaresque’ is derived from ‘Picaro’ which means a wandering rouges. In these novels the hero is rouge or a bad character who wanders from place to place and encounters many adversaries who are equally roguish. The novelist narrates these episodes one by one, and thus the whole plot becomes episodic and disjointed. Denial Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, and Jonathan Wild, and Smollett’s Adventures of the Roderick Random are The Picaresque Novels. The heroes or heroines of these novels are themselves bad characters. The heroine of Defoe’s Moll Flanders, for example, is herself a rogue and a bad character. She was “Twelve years a whore, five times a wife (whereof once to her own brother), twelve year a thief, eight year a transported Felon in Virginia.
The Epistolary Novel—the term “Epistolary” is derived from “Epistle” which means a “letter”. Therefore, The Epistolary Novel is a novel in which the plot develops through the medium of letters. In The Epistolary Novel there is very little dialogue amongst the characters face to face. The characters exchange their views and thoughts through their letters and their replies. Through the medium of these letters the plot develops and comes to an end. The best two examples of Epistolary letters are Richardson’s Clarissa Harlowe and Pamela.
The novelistic art has received the devoted attention of some of the supreme craftsmen of modern literature. Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce have made the novel “a pocket theatre” exhibiting the both “within and without of us”. It is the most effective medium for the portrayal of the human thought and action: “combining in itself the creation of poetry with the details of history and the generalized experience of philosophy, in a manner unattempted by any previous effort of human genius”. (Worsford)
In novel the controversy between rules and taste continued but here, two factor made the controversy much less instance and lively than the controversy in poetry and drama criticism. Firstly, the novel had newly emerged and it had no theory or rules of its own available in any ancient or preceding period. Secondly, it emerged as literature of the middleclass, which was also new and without any tradition behind. .
Fielding along among the novelists of the age was a conscious artist who tried to forge a theory of the novel drawn from the existing models of epic and drama; and he faced the same problem that the drama and poetry critics were facing at the time: how to reconcile the rules of construction and decorum with the claims of contemporary taste for variety and verisimilitude; and as usual in the English tradition, a compromise was struck between the rules and the demand. The result was an episodic plot leaving large scope for a variety of incidents and characters, a mixed form allowing tragic endings with comic interludes as well as comic endings with tragic situations, and a middle style providing scope for serious contemplations as well as farcical flourishes. .
The emergence of the novel in the later phase of the Neo-Classical movement was in indication that the grip of aristocracy in life as well as literature was loosing, and that the middle class was emerging to dominate both the life and in literature; and very appropriately, when we move further into the Romantic movement, which replace neo-classicism, we find a glorification of the common man, almost a deification of the uncivilized ad primitive person, and a search for the “natural” rather than the “civic” order in life as well as in literature.
However the percept and epigram, the satire and the Mock-heroic (epic) of the age of Dryden and Pope, or the age of prose and reason, might have been discarded by the subsequent generations of the writers, but the gift of novel continued long after the Neo-Classical movement had gone out of fashion.”