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 recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary is derived from Latin from the Greek word ἐπιστολή epistolē, meaning a letter (see epistle).
The epistolary form can add greater realism to a story, because it mimics the workings of real life. It is thus able to demonstrate differing points of view without recourse to the device of an omniscient narrator. An important strategic device in the epistolary novel for creating the impression of authenticity of the letters is the fictional editor.
There are two theories on the genesis of the epistolary novel. The first claims that the genre is originated from novels with inserted letters, in which the portion containing the third person narrative in between the letters was gradually reduced.The other theory claims that the epistolary novel arose from miscellanies of letters and poetry: some of the letters were tied together into a (mostly amorous) plot. Both claims have some validity. The first truly epistolary novel, the Spanish "Prison of Love" (Cárcel de amor) (c.1485) by Diego de San Pedro, belongs to a tradition of novels in which a large number of inserted letters already dominated the narrative. Other well-known examples of early epistolary novels are closely related to the tradition of letter-books and miscellanies of letters. Within the successive editions of Edmé Boursault's Letters of Respect, Gratitude and Love (Lettres de respect, d'obligation et d'amour) (1669), a group of letters written to a girl named Babet were expanded and became more and more distinct from the other letters, until it formed a small epistolary novel entitled Letters to Babet (Lettres à Babet). The immensely famous Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Lettres portugaises) (1669) generally attributed to Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues, though a small minority still regard Marianna Alcoforado as the author, is claimed to be intended to be part of a miscellany of Guilleragues prose and poetry. The founder of the epistolary novel in English is said by many to be James Howell (1594–1666) with "Familiar Letters" (1645–50), who writes of prison, foreign adventure, and the love of women.
The first novel to expose the complex play that the genre allows was Aphra Behn's Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister , which appeared in three volumes in 1684, 1685, and 1687. The novel shows the genre's results of changing perspectives: individual points were presented by the individual characters, and the central voice of the author and moral evaluation disappeared (at least in the first volume; her further volumes introduced a narrator). Behn furthermore explored a realm of intrigue with letters that fall into the wrong hands, faked letters, letters withheld by protagonists, and even more complex interaction.
The epistolary novel as a genre became popular in the 18th century in the works of such authors as Samuel Richardson, with his immensely successful novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1749). John Cleland's early erotic novel Fanny Hill (1748) is written as a series of letters from the titular character to an unnamed recipient. In France, there was Lettres persanes (1721) by Montesquieu, followed by Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), which used the epistolary form to great dramatic effect, because the sequence of events was not always related directly or explicitly. In Germany, there was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werther) (1774) and Friedrich Hölderlin's Hyperion . The first Canadian novel, The History of Emily Montague (1769) by Frances Brooke,and twenty years later the first American novel, The Power of Sympathy (1789) by William Hill Brown, were both written in epistolary form.
Starting in the 18th century, the epistolary form was subject to much ridicule, resulting in a number of savage burlesques. The most notable example of these was Henry Fielding's Shamela (1741), written as a parody of Pamela. In it, the female narrator can be found wielding a pen and scribbling her diary entries under the most dramatic and unlikely of circumstances. Oliver Goldsmith used the form to satirical effect in The Citizen of the World , subtitled "Letters from a Chinese Philosopher Residing in London to his Friends in the East" (1760–61). So did the diarist Fanny Burney in a successful comic first novel, Evelina (1788).
The epistolary novel slowly fell out of use in the late 18th century. Although Jane Austen tried her hand at the epistolary in juvenile writings and her novella Lady Susan (1794), she abandoned this structure for her later work. It is thought that her lost novel First Impressions, which was redrafted to become Pride and Prejudice , may have been epistolary: Pride and Prejudice contains an unusual number of letters quoted in full and some play a critical role in the plot.
The epistolary form nonetheless saw continued use, surviving in exceptions or in fragments in nineteenth-century novels. In Honoré de Balzac's novel Letters of Two Brides , two women who became friends during their education at a convent correspond over a 17-year period, exchanging letters describing their lives. Mary Shelley employs the epistolary form in her novel Frankenstein (1818). Shelley uses the letters as one of a variety of framing devices, as the story is presented through the letters of a sea captain and scientific explorer attempting to reach the north pole who encounters Victor Frankenstein and records the dying man's narrative and confessions. Published in 1848, Anne Brontë's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is framed as a retrospective letter from one of the main heroes to his friend and brother-in-law with the diary of the eponymous tenant inside it. In the late 19th century, Bram Stoker released one of the most widely recognized and successful novels in the epistolary form to date, Dracula . Printed in 1897, the novel is compiled entirely of letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, telegrams, doctor's notes, ship's logs, and the like.
Epistolary novels can be categorized based on the number of people whose letters are included. This gives three types of epistolary novels: monologic (giving the letters of only one character, like Letters of a Portuguese Nun and The Sorrows of Young Werther), dialogic (giving the letters of two characters, like Mme Marie Jeanne Riccoboni's Letters of Fanni Butler (1757), and polylogic (with three or more letter-writing characters, such as in Bram Stoker's Dracula ). A crucial element in polylogic epistolary novels like Clarissa and Dangerous Liaisons is the dramatic device of 'discrepant awareness': the simultaneous but separate correspondences of the heroines and the villains creating dramatic tension.
The epistolary novel form has continued to be used after the eighteenth century.
Frances Burney, also known as Fanny Burney and later as Madame d'Arblay, was an English satirical novelist, diarist and playwright. Born in Lynn Regis, now King's Lynn, England, on 13 June 1752, to the musician Dr Charles Burney (1726–1814) and his first wife, Esther Sleepe Burney (1725–1762), she was the third of her mother's six children. She began her "scribblings" at the age of ten. In 1786–1790 she was an unusual courtier appointment as "Keeper of the Robes" to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, George III's queen. In 1793, aged 41, she married a French exile, General Alexandre D'Arblay. Their only son Alexander was born in 1794. After a long writing career, and travels in which she was stranded in France by warfare for over ten years, she settled in Bath, England, where she died on 6 January 1840. Of her four novels, the first, Evelina (1778), was the most successful, and remains the most highly regarded. Most of her plays remained unperformed in her lifetime. She also wrote a memoir of her father (1832) and many letters and journals, which have been gradually published since 1889.
A first-person narrative is a mode of storytelling or a peripheral narrator in which a storyteller recounts events from their own point of view using the first person i.e. "I" or "we", etc. It may be narrated by a first person protagonist, first person re-teller, first person witness, or first person peripheral. A classic example of a first person protagonist narrator is Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847), in which the title character is also the narrator telling her own story, "I could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased to notice me".
A story within a story, also referred to as an embedded narrative, is a literary device in which one character within a narrative narrates. Multiple layers of stories within stories are sometimes called nested stories. A play may have a brief play within it, such as Shakespeare's play Hamlet; a film may show the characters watching a short film; or a novel may contain a short story within the novel. A story within a story can be used in all types of narration: novels, short stories, plays, television programs, films, poems, songs, and philosophical essays.
In literary criticism, stream of consciousness is a narrative mode or method that attempts "to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind" of a narrator. The term was coined by Alexander Bain in 1855 in the first edition of The Senses and the Intellect, when he wrote, "The concurrence of Sensations in one common stream of consciousness enables those of different senses to be associated as readily as the sensations of the same sense" (p. 359). But it is commonly credited to William James who used it in 1890 in his The Principles of Psychology. In 1918, the novelist May Sinclair (1863–1946) first applied the term stream of consciousness, in a literary context, when discussing Dorothy Richardson's (1873–1957) novels. Pointed Roofs (1915), the first work in Richardson's series of 13 semi-autobiographical novels titled Pilgrimage, is the first complete stream-of-consciousness novel published in English. However, in 1934, Richardson comments that "Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf & D.R. ... were all using 'the new method', though very differently, simultaneously". There were, however, many earlier precursors and the technique is still used by contemporary writers.
Les Liaisons dangereuses is a French epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in four volumes by Durand Neveu from March 23, 1782.
Narration is the use of a written or spoken commentary to convey a story to an audience. Narration encompasses a set of techniques through which the creator of the story presents their story, including:
The Letters of a Portuguese Nun, first published anonymously by Claude Barbin in Paris in 1669, is a work believed by most scholars to be epistolary fiction in the form of five letters written by Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues (1628–1684), a minor peer, diplomat, secretary to the Prince of Conti, and friend of Madame de Sévigné, the poet Boileau, and the dramatist Jean Racine.
Héloïse was a French nun, writer, scholar, and abbess. Héloïse is accorded an important place in French literary history and in the development of feminist representation. While few of her letters survive, those that do have been considered a foundational "monument" of French literature from the late thirteenth century onwards. Her correspondence, more erudite than it is erotic, is the Latin basis for the bildungsroman and a model of the classical epistolary genre, which influenced writers as diverse as Madame de Lafayette, Choderlos de Laclos, Voltaire, Rousseau, Simone Weil and Dominique Aury.
Jean Giono was a French author who wrote works of fiction mostly set in the Provence region of France.
Persian Letters is a literary work, published in 1721, by Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, recounting the experiences of two fictional Persian noblemen, Usbek and Rica, who are traveling through France.
Possession: A Romance is a 1990 best-selling novel by British writer A. S. Byatt that won the 1990 Booker Prize. The novel explores the postmodern concerns of similar novels, which are often categorised as historiographic metafiction, a genre that blends approaches from both historical fiction and metafiction.
Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded is an epistolary novel by English writer Samuel Richardson, a novel which was first published in 1740. Considered the first true English novel, it serves as Richardson's version of conduct literature about marriage. Pamela tells the story of a fifteen year-old maidservant named Pamela Andrews, whose employer, Mr. B, a wealthy landowner, makes unwanted and inappropriate advances towards her after the death of his mother. Pamela strives to reconcile her strong religious training with her desire for the approval of her employer in a series of letters and, later in the novel, journal entries all addressed to her impoverished parents. After various unsuccessful attempts at seduction, a series of sexual assaults, and an extended period of kidnapping, the rakish Mr. B eventually reforms and makes Pamela a sincere proposal of marriage. In the novel's second part Pamela marries Mr. B and tries to acclimatize to her new position in upper-class society. The full title, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, makes plain Richardson's moral purpose. A best-seller of its time, Pamela was widely read but was also criticized for its perceived licentiousness and disregard for class barriers.
The Underworld USA Trilogy is the collective name given to three novels by American crime author James Ellroy: American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001), and Blood's a Rover (2009).
The Gum Thief is Canadian author Douglas Coupland's twelfth novel. It was published on September 25, 2007, by Random House Canada in Canada and Bloomsbury Publishing in the United States.
Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées is an epistolary novel by the French writer Honoré de Balzac. It was serialized in the French newspaper La Presse in 1841 and published by Furne in 1842 as the first work in the second volume of Balzac's La Comédie humaine. It was dedicated to the French novelist George Sand. The first English translation of the novel appeared in 1902, with a preface by Henry James.
The Miernik Dossier, published by the Saturday Review Press in 1973, was the first of seven novels by the American novelist Charles McCarry featuring an American intelligence agent named Paul Christopher. Set in 1959 in Europe and Africa during the days of the Cold War, it is narrated in the form of reports, overheard conversations, and various documents from a multitude of sources of different nationalities, supposedly giving the reader an authentic picture of what an actual intelligence operation might be like. McCarry had previously been an undercover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency for nine years, and the book was hailed for its apparent authenticity and realistic depiction of tradecraft. It received excellent reviews, and instantly established McCarry's reputation as one of the foremost American novelists of espionage. Later books by McCarry, nine more in all, expanded from focusing solely on Christopher into what might be considered a chronicle of the Christopher universe: two novels feature his cousins, the Hubbards, and in many of the other Christopher novels his father, mother, one-time wife, and daughter play important and recurring roles. Also in this universe is a 1988 historical novel, The Bride of the Wilderness, about Christopher's ancestors in 17th-century England, France, and Massachusetts. Like all of McCarry's books, this one displays "an almost Jamesian awareness of [its] European locale, the special authenticity of a loving expatriate writing of an adopted foreign land."
Women letter writers in early modern Europe created lengthy correspondences, where they expressed their intellect and their creativity; in the process, they also left a rich historic legacy.
If I Were a Boy is an Albanian epistolary novel written by Haki Stërmilli in 1936. Written mostly in a form of diary entries it documents the struggle of the young female protagonist Dija to adjust in an Albanian patriarchal society, which was common during the time the novel was written in. Originally the novel was written in Gheg dialect.
The Nature of a Crime is a collaborative novel written and published in 1909 by authors Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford. The text did not acquire acclaim until after Conrad's death in 1924, when Ford brought the text to light in his essay "Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance". The Nature of a Crime is the last of three books written by Conrad and Ford.