History of the novelSunday Salonworld literature

Sunday Salon: On the novel trail

sundaysalonThis week, a piece of literary knowledge I’d retained for some thirty years turned out to be wrong. For all those years I’ve thought it was Samuel Richardson who wrote the first recognisable novel in the English language. But digging into this topic in pursuit of my  2013 book reading resolution to learn more about the craft and history of the novel, I discover that there isn’t really a definitive answer. Instead this has one of those infuriating ‘it depends’ kinds of answers. In this case whether you think the first novel was written by Daniel Defoe or John Bunyan or one of the string of other contenders,  depends on how you define ‘the novel’. Frustrating not to get a clearer answer but I now know considerably more about the early pioneers than I ever did before.

Just after I wrote my article about this quest, I found a BBC program called ‘the Birth of the Novel’ which examined the role of Defoe, Richardson, Henry Fielding and Frances Burney in laying the foundations for the novel’s rise in popularity. There were some interesting connections made between the techniques of these pioneeers and modern day authors (Lawrence Stern’s technique in Tristram Shandy was likened to James Joyce’s Ulysses for example).  There seemed more than enough content for an in depth series but unfortunately I had to make do with just the one hour.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

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