Histories (history of the novel)  

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Histories is an early term for the then emerging novel. For example, Crusoe's books were published as a true story, see the novel presented as a memoir.


The era of "romances" ended before 1719 and "novels" had been appreciated as an alternative as early as 1613, the date when the Novelas Exemplares were published. Extended fictions with modern historical backgrounds were fashionable on the French international market before Robinson Crusoe appeared. A field of diverse sources and parallel histories had been established by that time. Pierre Daniel Huet's ground breaking study Traitté de l'origine des romans (1670) took the first steps looking for origins of the novel in the ancient Mediterranean cultures and in medieval Europe, in the epic tradition and in the traditions of shorter fictions.

Our notion of the epic tradition has grown since then: The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata were unknown in Europe in the 1670s; so were the European Beowulf or the Niebelungenlied – 19th-century scholarship created an awareness of these traditions. The traditions of fictions in a wider context are by contrast extremely difficult to get hold of. Huet already noted Petronius' Satyricon, the incredible stories of Lucian of Samosata, and Lucius Apuleius' proto-picaresque The Golden Ass and a heroic strain with the romances of Heliodorus and Longus. The ancient Greek romance was revived by Byzantine novelists of the twelfth century. All these traditions were rediscovered in the 17th and 18th centuries where they influenced the modern book market. The novella is, however, related to universal oral traditions. Jokes would fall into a broad history of the "exemplary story" which gave rise to the more complex form of novelistic story telling. Fiction has its still wider context with the Bible being filled with similes and stories to be interpreted. Fiction is, as Huet noted, a rather universal phenomenon, though not a phenomenon with a single cause.

The history of prose fiction remains heterogeneous with parallel developments all around the globe. Early examples of prose novels include The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century, Philosophus Autodidactus by Ibn Tufail in the 12th century, Theologus Autodidactus by Ibn al-Nafis in the 13th century, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century. The inventions of paper and movable letters became, however, key factors the genre needed to step from isolated traditions into a market of exchange and awareness of the genre. Spanish, French, German, Dutch and English became the first languages of the new market. The national risings of the USA, Russia, Scandinavia and Latin America widened the spectrum in the 19th century. A wave of new literatures has brought forth novels with Asian and African authors since then. Their novels became already contributions the history of world literature the 19th century created and the 20th century nourished with international awards such as the Nobel Prize in Literature; they make it problematic for any nation to remain unvoiced and unheard of. The novel has become a medium of national awareness on a global scale. The establishment of literature as the realm of fictions to be discussed, a 19th century development, became the moving force behind this development.


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