epistolary novel


epistolary novel
a novel written in the form of a series of letters.

* * *

Novel in the form of a series of letters written by one or more characters.

It allows the author to present the characters' thoughts without interference, convey events with dramatic immediacy, and present events from several points of view. It was one of the first novelistic forms to be developed. It was foreshadowed by Aphra Behn's poem cycle Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1683). The outstanding early example is Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740); distinguished later works include Tobias Smollett's Humphry Clinker (1771) and Pierre Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782). The genre remained popular up to the 19th century. Its reliance on subjective points of view makes it the forerunner of the modern psychological novel.

* * *

      a novel told through the medium of letters written by one or more of the characters. Originating with Samuel Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), the story of a servant girl's victorious struggle against her master's attempts to seduce her, it was one of the earliest forms of novel to be developed and remained one of the most popular up to the 19th century. The epistolary novel's reliance on subjective points of view makes it the forerunner of the modern psychological novel.

      The advantages of the novel in letter form are that it presents an intimate view of the character's thoughts and feelings without interference from the author and that it conveys the shape of events to come with dramatic immediacy. Also, the presentation of events from several points of view lends the story dimension and verisimilitude. Though the method was most often a vehicle for sentimental novels, it was not limited to them. Of the outstanding examples of the form, Richardson's Clarissa (1748) has tragic intensity, Tobias Smollett's Humphry Clinker (1771) is a picaresque comedy and social commentary, and Fanny Burney's Evelina (1778) is a novel of manners. Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the form as a vehicle for his ideas on marriage and education in La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761; “The New Eloise”), and J.W. von Goethe used it for his statement of Romantic despair, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sorrows of Young Werther). The letter novel of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782; Dangerous Acquaintances), is a work of penetrating and realistic psychology.

      Some disadvantages of the form were apparent from the outset. Dependent on the letter writer's need to “confess” to virtue, vice, or powerlessness, such confessions were susceptible to suspicion or ridicule. The servant girl Pamela's remarkable literary powers and her propensity for writing on all occasions were cruelly burlesqued in Henry Fielding (Fielding, Henry)'s Shamela (1741), which pictures his heroine in bed scribbling, “I hear him coming in at the Door,” as her seducer enters the room. From 1800 on, the popularity of the form declined, though novels combining letters with journals and narrative were still common. In the 20th century letter fiction was often used to exploit the linguistic humour and unintentional character revelations of such semiliterates as the hero of Ring Lardner's You Know Me Al (1916).

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Epistolary novel — An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic documents , such as blogs and e mails have also… …   Wikipedia

  • epistolary novel — n. novel written in form of a series of letters …   English contemporary dictionary

  • epistolary novel — a novel written in the form of a series of letters …   Useful english dictionary

  • novel — novel1 novellike, adj. /nov euhl/, n. 1. a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes. 2. (formerly) novella (def. 1). [1560 70; <… …   Universalium

  • Novel — For other uses, see Novel (disambiguation). Not to be confused with Novell. New novels in a Oldenburg bookshop, February 2009 …   Wikipedia

  • epistolary — [[t]ɪpɪ̱stələri, AM leri[/t]] ADJ: ADJ n An epistolary novel or story is one that is written as a series of letters. [FORMAL] It s written in epistolary form. ...Laclos s famous epistolary novel …   English dictionary

  • novel — Synonyms and related words: Bildungsroman, Gothic novel, authentic, avant garde, bauble, best seller, bibelot, blockbuster, book, bound book, classic, coloring book, comic novel, creative, curio, definitive work, detective novel, different, dime… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • epistolary — I. adjective Date: circa 1656 1. of, relating to, or suitable to a letter 2. contained in or carried on by letters < an endless sequence of…epistolary love affairs Times Literary Supplement > 3. written in the form of a series of letters < an… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • epistolary — e•pis•to•lar•y [[t]ɪˈpɪs tlˌɛr i[/t]] adj. 1) contained in or carried on by letters: an epistolary friendship[/ex] 2) of, pertaining to, or consisting of letters 3) lit. written in the form of a series of letters: an epistolary novel[/ex] •… …   From formal English to slang

  • epistolary — e|pis|to|la|ry [ıˈpıstələri US leri] adj formal written in the form of a letter or a series of letters ▪ an epistolary novel …   Dictionary of contemporary English


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.