Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
First novel in English
- Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur, (written circa 1470, published 1485).
- Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (1581)
- John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (1678).
- Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688).
- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719).
- Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders (1722).
- Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740).
These are some other early long works of prose fiction in English:
- William Caxton's 1483 translation of Geoffrey de La Tour Landry , The Knight of the Tower (originally in French).
- Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller, or The Life of Jack Wilton (1594).
- Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub (1704).
- Daniel Defoe, The Consolidator (1705).
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726).
There are multiple candidates for first novel in English partly because of ignorance of earlier works, but largely because the term novel can be defined so as to exclude earlier candidates:
- Some critics require a novel to be wholly original and so exclude retellings like Le Morte d'Arthur.
- Most critics distinguish between an anthology of stories with different protagonists, even if joined by common themes and milieus, and the novel (which forms a connected narrative), and so also exclude Le Morte d'Arthur.
- Some critics distinguish between the romance (which has fantastic elements) and the novel (which is wholly realistic) and so yet again exclude Le Morte d'Arthur.
- Some critics distinguish between the allegory (in which characters and events have political, religious or other meanings) and the novel (in which characters and events stand only for themselves) and so exclude The Pilgrim's Progress and A Tale of a Tub.
- Some critics require a novel to be wholly fictitious and so exclude Robinson Crusoe which is based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk.
- Some critics require a novel to have a certain length, and so exclude Oroonoko, defining it instead as a novella.
- Some critics distinguish between the picaresque (which has a loosely connected sequence of episodes) and the novel (which has unity of structure) and so exclude The Unfortunate Traveller.
The phrase "first true novel" is probably an indication that "novel" is being carefully defined so as to exclude earlier candidates than the one the writer has in mind.
Due to the influence of Ian Watt's seminal study in literary sociology, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957), Watt's candidate, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), gained wide acceptance. But with the rise of feminist criticism in the 1970s and 1980s and its concomitant rediscovery of forgotten writings by women, it is now more often argued that Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688) is the “first English novel”.
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