Novel Definition Origin and Characteristics
Novel Definition Origin and Characteristics
A novel is a fictional prose composition based on real human life in conflict living in society. The word novel has been derived from the Italian word novella which referred to a tale of love and adventure in prose that got flourished in Italy during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For example- Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a collection of love tales in prose entitled ‘Decameron’ in 1350. During the seventeenth century, some prose narratives were produced by some English writers especially by John Bunyan, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Thomas Nash, and a few others after being something inspired by Italian novella. But the novel as an independent genre of literature came into being in English in the earlier eighteenth century. The English novel proper is said to be begun with Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740). After him, some of his contemporaries as- Fielding, Smollett, and Stern tried their hand at this new genre of literature and contributed much to the origin and development of this form of prose literature. Later on, England produced some unique novelists such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jane Austin, and Sir William Scott who brought this genre of literature to perfection forever. Since then onwards this branch of literature finds its way to other languages of the world and has been going on to be produced enormously. The production of novels since its birth is so huge and varied in kind and technique that it is almost impossible to draw a universal definition of novel as a branch of prose literature. However, the study of major novels of any language reveals that there are some Component Elements (features) that seem to be common either more or less to all novels. These elements (features) are – Plot, Character, Dialogue, Method of Narration, Setting, Philosophy of Life and Language. Let us discuss them with illustration in brief as below:
The first component element of a novel is Plot. The term ‘Plot” refers to a sequence of events in any narrative. The plot taken to be narrated aims at a theme or themes. A novel may consist of a single event or a series of events (incidents). A novel that consists of many incidents but has no logical connection with the main theme is called a Novel of Loose Plot. A few examples of this type of novel are – Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield etc. And a novel that consists of only one plot or theme is called a Novel of Organic Plot. In the novel of organic plot, the incidents are not treated episodically; they are dovetailed as integral components of the novel. Some examples of this type of novel are- Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House etc. Though the novel is a fictitious production yet it is based on reality. It cannot go beyond the realities of life.
The second integral element of a novel is Character. Literally, the word ‘Character’ means the collective mental or moral qualities of a person or thing. But literary (in literature) the term refers to the person who gets depicted in a play, novel, story or in any piece of literary creation. The characters in any literary writing may get expressed and delineated through- (1) Objective Narration (2) Dialogues (speeches, soliloquies, monologue etc) and (3) Action (deeds).
The characters in any literary writing may be depicted as- (1) Stable (Firm) and (2) Changing (Developing). A Stable Character is called him who is depicted as unchanging in his dealing, outlook and disposition from beginning to the very end. On the other hand, the character that undergoes a radical change either through a gradual development or as a result or pressure of circumstance is called Changing Character.
Characterization may be of two types as: (1) Type and (2) Individual (Peculiar). A Type Character is one who gets depicted as the representative of a class, group or region with distinct ethos. On the other hand, an Individual Character is he who is depicted with his peculiar or special habits, qualities, whims, and so on which distinguishes him from his class. We can clarify these two types of characterization with an illustration from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Almost all the characters of this narrative poetry are characterized as both types and individuals. For example ‘The Knight’ is a character who is characterized by the author as a real representative of the code of behavior that prevailed in those days among the members of this class (Knights). The Knights were required to be just, provident and pure. They were expected to serve Christianity against the barbarians. They were not only to be the champions of the church, but also the protectors of the weak and exemplars of moral virtues. There is no doubt that Chaucer’s Knight fulfills all these type conditions. At the same time, Chaucer has portrayed him with certain individual characteristics as- he modest as a maiden in his manner. His garments are not gaudy but coarse.
On the basis of the roles played by the characters in a play, novel, story or any literary writing, characters may be classified into two classes as- (1) Major Characters and (2) Minor Characters. The characters that are involved in the theme of a story from the beginning to the end and play important roles in the development of the theme and thus lead the plot to the conclusion are called Major Characters. One or two of the major characters who take the leading role from the very beginning to the end of the story and rounding whom the theme and all other characters revolve is called Hero or Heroine (Protagonist).
On the other hand, the person (character) who plays the role against the hero or heroine from the beginning to the end and causes troubles, conflicts, and sufferance to the hero or heroine or to both and thus leads the theme to a conclusion through some steps as- opening, conflict, crisis, Climax, Falling action and Conclusion is called Anti-hero (Antagonist). For example, we can take Henry Fielding’s novel entitled Tom Jones which contains above forty characters. But among them, only six characters play important roles involving into the theme of the story from the beginning to the end. These characters are- Tom Jones, Sophia, Squire Allworthy, Squire Western, Blifil and Patridge. Among them, Tom Jones is the hero and Sophia is the heroine because all the other characters revolve around them. Blifil is the Antihero (Antagonist) as he stands in the way of the love affairs between Tom Jones and Sophia. All other characters in the novel are minor characters because they play less important or partial roles.
Characterization may be realistic, psychological, humorous (comic), tragic, tragi-comic, ideological, and so on. The characters based on convincing realism and accuracy of details render enduring popularity to any piece of literature. In the English language, there is no dearth of the creators of great characters. Among them, mention may be made of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Henry Fielding and Charles Dickens.
Which is more important either characters or plot (or incidents) in a novel? To its answer, it must admit that as the characters create plot (or incidents) hence the characters are more important in a novel than plot. But the success of a novel depends on the integrated and logical involvement of the two. Both may be called complementary as no plot is possible without characters and no character can get depicted faithfully and successfully without a plot. Characters in a novel should be lifelike i.e. realistic. In a novel proper, anything supernatural or superhuman is prohibited as a novel, though a fictitious creation of the novelist’s mind yet its spirit is rooted in the reality. Otherwise it would lose its fidelity and universality as a realistic form of art.
The third but an important element of a novel is Dialogue. Dialogue refers to the conversation between two or more people. The use of dialogue imparts dramatic quality to a novel. Dialogue should be used sparingly and carefully with the intention that through dialogues the plot may get evolved and the characters may get revealed their true passion, emotion, motive, feeling etc. Dialogues should be in keeping with the personality of the speakers and suitable to the situation. For instance, a king should talk like a king, a maidservant like a maidservant, a ruffian like a ruffian, a prostitute like a prostitute, and a clergyman like a clergyman. In brief, to say, dialogue should be realistic but in using dialogue the novelist should take care that the speech may not go in any way beyond the purpose of the novelist. For example, in a real-life situation, people happen to make a quarrel in which the people involved use many unnecessary words (rebukes) or repetitions of the same phrases. The novelist must eschew them all and employ only those talks which serve the purpose of the evolution of the plot and unfold the inner motives, passion, feeling, etc. of his characters.
The fourth component element of a novel is Method of Narration. Method refers to the particular way of treating, operating or representing a thing. The literary Method refers to the particular way of representing any literary art as a whole.
There are several literary methods among which mention may be made of- Dramatic Method, Interview Method, Conversational Method, Narrative Method, Soliloquy Method, Dramatic Monologue Method, Figure Method, Autobiographical Method, Pastoral Method and so on.
All these methods may broadly be classified as- Subjective Method and Objective Method.
In the Subjective Method, the speaker says whatever he says, in the first person and through this method he generally expresses his own personal experience and outlook toward things and life. The author becomes a character of his plot or identifies himself with one of his characters and narrates his incidents. The Subjective Method is also called Autobiographical Method. When something is represented in the form of a letter it is called Epistolary Method.
In the Objective Method, the speaker treats things objectively, often using the third person, keeping him away from expressing his self (ego). Among the much-used objective method, mention may be made of the Dramatic Method and Narrative Method. The Objective Method is also called Direct Method.
The fifth important feature of a novel is the Setting (Atmosphere/environment). Atmosphere refers to the surroundings in which a person, animal or plant lives and operates its function. The portrayal of the environment in a novel involves the customs, traditions, lifestyle and other special peculiarities of a place where the incidents of the novel take place. The depiction of the environment makes a novel life-like and imparts vividness and fidelity which in turn increases the gusto for the enjoyment of the novel. The depiction of the environment in a novel should always be consistent with the place, time, and occasion. For example, in portraying a town life the novelist must create an environment that is peculiar to a town. Thus in representing rustic or peasant life the novelist should portray the surrounding which is peculiar to rustic life. Along with other elements the success of a novel depends on the faithful representation of the environment also. It imparts fidelity to the novel as a realistic representation of life.
The sixth feature found in most novels is the Novelist’s Philosophy of Life. The term ‘Philosophy of Life’ refers to the author’s ideas or outlook towards life. A novel though based on the realities of life yet it is a production of his own mind. It is not an exact copy of rude life. Hence in portraying life, the author’s own outlook towards life falls on the novel either directly or indirectly. In most novels, it is learned that life is full of conflict and struggle and it is the society in which the hero or heroine lives makes him suffer in life. For example, in the novel entitles David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, the author’s philosophy of life that got expressed through the life of David is that man is a slave of circumstance. The author may express his philosophy by means of his personal commentary, by elucidating the action or motives of his characters or by generalizing the question suggested by his characters or by drawing experience through the study of the incidents.
The last but not the least component element of a novel is Style and Language. Language is the pot as well as the medium of all literature through which the author gives shape to his writings. But in using language the author enjoys freedom. The author may use standard dialect, vernacular language, figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, irony, pun, wit, symbols etc. which may impart peculiarity to the author’s style.
In addition to these component elements illustrated above, there is a Quality of a Novel that is also found present in any good novel and that is Spontaneity and Universality. Spontaneity refers to the logical and natural pouring forth of the author’s experience, feeling, emotion and motive that he wishes to display. He should not bring about anything by force. It is a quality that enhances the beauty and fidelity of a novel. In other words, to say, every feeling, emotion, and action must follow the former one in logical order. Universality is another quality that refers to the common acceptability of what the author imparts through his story as a whole. It is achieved by means of treating any theme of human interest. The author’s feelings, emotions, experience, message etc. should correspond with that of the readers and they must feel that what the author narrates is their own.
On the ground of the theme and subject, novels may be classified as Social Novels, Humanitarian Novel, Regional Novel, Family Novel, Picaresque Novel, Autobiographical Novel, Psychological Novel and Stream of Conscious Novel. 0 0 0.
Novel Definition Origin and Characteristics
N. B. The article ‘Novel Definition Origin and Characteristics’ originally belongs to the book entitled ‘ The Laws of Literature‘ by Menonim Menonimus.
Novel Definition Origin and Characteristics
Books on Literary Criticism by M. Menonimus:
- World Short Story Criticism
- World Poetry Criticism
- World Drama Criticism
- World Novel Criticism
- World Essay Criticism
- Indian English Poetry Criticism
- Indian English Poets and Poetry Chief Features
- Emily Dickinson’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
- Walt Whitman’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
- Critical Essays on English Poetry
- Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: Return of the Spirit-An Analytical Study
- Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: ‘Yawmiyyat Naib Fil Arayaf’-An Analytical Study
- Analytical Studies of Some Arabic Short Stories
- A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Pre-Islamic Period (500 AD-622 AD)
- A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Early Islamic Period (622 AD-661 AD) …