Types of English Novel

The novel is a humanist development, that looks at the complexities of life as lived in the everyday and does it through telling a story. There is some sort of predicament, perhaps against other people or social conventions or simply within the mind. Something has to be worked out and resolved, hopefully. The novel does contain hope or investigates despair. There are various categories of novel through which these happen. The first recognised novel in England is Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe.

Click on one to find and relate
Allegory Characters
Comic novels Education
Epistolary Feminist
Gothic Ironic
Magic realism Narrative structure
Narration Naturalism
Picaresque Postmodern
Psychological Readerly
Realism Reflexive
Romance Satire
Science fiction Stream of consciousness
Style Utopian


AllegoryThe surface story, while a good read in itself, is but a means to an end of a deeper meaning. This is common in religious stories because earthly concerns are a distorted reflection of heavenly concerns. Much concerns the trials of journeying.Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan.
CharactersThese are the actors who form, who must do something or something else, and relate to the others. It is through characters that a novel moves on. Characters may be given different levels of credibility, perhaps the lowest in comic novels and the most in in depth psychological moves.
Comic novelsThese are about people caught in situations which draw out their own absurdities. The situation may be absurd or the people themselves. Comic novels can be cruel, and also have an overall pessimistic view of life. The world is exposed as bizarre and irrationality is emphasised. People are self-obsessed, or follow drives that seem beyond rational control. The worlds portrayed lack depth.Vanity Fair (1848) by William Makepeace Thackeray.
EducationA character engages with a series of predicaments and learns something about him or herself. The character may start as challenging the system, and may come to conform, or the passage is the other way around. The character may start young, and through growing up progress is followed. Life can be presented as very complex through which the growing and self-educating process takes place.
EpistolaryThese are in the form of letters or emails to and from people. If this is all it is, it can be a rather restrictive format, and to get the full sense of place the letters or emails would have to be long, contrived and somewhat unconvincing. There is psychological potential. Older times when middle class people wrote letters to each other in good English might make better novels, although letters took a while to arrive. Another alternative to this is novel in the form of diaries.Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748) by Samuel Richardson.
FeministBoundaries are challenged in the ordered male world. The categorising of male and female as binary opposites is undermined, particularly the subordinate female. Alternatively women's consciousness is highlighted within the male dominated world, often a subculture within it, or men too challenge the given power structures that invade everything from decision making to relationships.A Room of One's Own (1931) by Virginia Woolf
GothicThis utopian related form of novel is often set in the past and perhaps in some far away land of the trees, like Transylvania! The place of dilemma is not the location but in the mind, however. The point about the fantastical world is not to seek perfection but to show the fallacy of seeking perfection (e.g. everlasting life) or the evil involved in seeking it immorally. These often use Christian iconography to actually support the general Christian viewpoint from the viewpoint of the other side.
IronicIt is the difference between how things seem and how they really exist. Often this is the expression of views to those intended or otherwise existing, and through expressing them creates the real meaning or stituation desired. It is usually done through creating absurd or unbelievable narration. However, irony can be located in the difference between characters' perspectives (situational) showing that one view is far from the truth or indeed between their limited perspective and the reader's greater awareness looking down upon everything (dramatic). Satire is part of irony, as is the comic novel.Gulliver's Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift.
Magic realismEvents usually are bizarre and even supernatural or mythical. Rationality is undermined for the purpose or examining what may be more real than the rational. The Western tradition is parodied as a counter to its cultural imperialism and therefore local third world ways of thinking are presented. There is alternatively a Western (once Eastern European) critique of authority and power, making events produced bizarre. Alternatively other methods challenge the ordered world though distorting the plot, or the narration is made strange, or the mind has a high place alongside geographical locations, or the novel discusses fiction itself 9or a combination of these).Midnight's Children (1981) by Salman Rushdie
Narrative structureThere needs to be a scene set for action to take place within. The action has to be coherent, so that one thing leads to another. The characters carry out the action, and they need introducing, and they need to interrelate. The narrative is that underlying structure which runs the story, arranging the elements, driving the reader through the book. Time is dealt with, usually compressed and unevenly, and the predicament gives the plot. The plot is the narrative manifested in the predicments thrown up and resolved. The narrative varies in intensity and level of dominance, usually becoming the most imposing towards the end as the story comes towards its closure.
NarrationThis can take place from different points of view. The most neutral, most hidden approach, is the third person, with the least necessary "intrusion" to describe and present the narrative. This narrator is like God, all knowing and all seeing, but only revealing so much as necessary so that the story's life-world has its freedom and independence. However, the narrator is never invisible, and so lends itself to opening up to further possibilities. If the novel is not realistic, if there is a hint of postmodernism, the narrator must be ulike God. A form of variable invisibility is to make one character the narrator, so that the narration is located from within the book and by a participant rather than coming as an external agent. It perhaps takes away the artificiality of the extra eye. Unlike God, these narrators become fallible. The person who is the central character may be relatively invisible, as no complication is offered, but when some other character is the narrator, or more than one person is the narrator, the business of narration itself becomes all the more obvious and important. There may even be a character who is nothing but a narrator, a strange non-participant yet placed within the story. This form of narrator is as unreliable as the other characters, and in fact presents problems if only observing and not participating like some private eye! Narrators can be far from invisible, either because there is more than one, or because opinions (especially moral) are being passed. Such a narrator can even emphasise that the whole thing is fiction, raising the question whether the narrator is the only real element or itself part of the fiction.
NaturalismInfluenced by Darwin, this is a form of realism which stresses environment, the family line (and advantages/ disadvantages) and something of a deterministic outcome.
PicaresqueA set up and denial of the romance, particularly a journey in search of an ideal, and shows the characters to be foolish and in fact involved in no such thing other than atckling their predicaments as they prove too powerful or complex to resolve.Don Quixote (1605-1615) by Cervantes; Tristram Shandy by Henry Fielding.
PostmodernA general category for those novels which deny realism, which are poststructural in language, whose devices draw attention to the novel as a novel. These novels are writerly and reflexive. They can show both the creativity and repetitive nature of life. Time and space is distorted, and characters can inhabit more than one world. Somewhere rules are broken and ordinary narration is disturbed.The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) by John Fowles.
PsychologicalEither ordinary grammatical introspection can be used or a stream of consciousness. The idea is to present at least part of the novel from the mind at a cost of easy to be followed narrative. This may be incorporated into a more conventional narrative structure or may overtake it.Jayne Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë; Portrait of a Lady (1881) by Henry James.
ReaderlyThe text is simple to read, and readers consume it without having to engage in the process of word production. It is usually realist. It would stand in binary opposition to "writerly" except that readerly texts can be subjected to writerly analysis - thus undermining the structuralist binary opposition and giving a post-structuralist analysis.Concept in Barthes, R. (1975), S/Z, London: Jonathan Cape.
RealismRealistic novels are like looking glasses through which the reader sees an ordinary world operate. This produces a story to get lost into, because the only interest is in the characters as they work through the plot. The stories are one removed from say sociological observations, but with the freedom given to the writer to make it up, but the writer is constrained by the ordinary four dimensional universe (except with the ability to truncate time and move across space in the narration: the characters themselves have to obey normal physical laws). Nevertheless, as in social anthropology, the "data" can become very full and rounded. Driving the plot towards resolution often presents problems because in the ordinary world matters are never quite so successfully resolved as in many a realist novel. Also the good order of a realistic novel clashes with the disorder of society; the novelist should face the same dilemmas as say the social anthropologist who also faces the problem of the device that turns complexity into a readable account.So many (!) including Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen, and authors like Anthony Trollope, George Elliot.
ReflexiveThe fact that here is a novel is highlighted by devices both written and presented, and this self-conscious, self referential, approach allows complexity to be better presented. If coherence of the story is a problem, then a reflexive form of narration may be suitable, or a quality of writing which disturbs the reader who would prefer a good lost-in-the-book run-through of the plot, impossible in the reflexive novel.The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) by John Fowles.
RomanceThis form of novel goes beyond ordinary experience and social predicaments into make-believe. Something new is being searched for in an alternative world beyond familiar circumstances so that the novel's purpose is a moral or ideal issue. Nevertheless, the transportation to some idealised world, or going on a somewhat fantastic journey, can lead to disappointment, and its moral outcome. The characters' ideals can be crushed. The fantastical journey can be a big illusion or joke, where the reality is a series of mundane disappointments or repeated errors. European writers tend to present and then undermine the fantastic, whereas Americans use the fantasy to explore matters.Portrait of a Lady (1881) by Henry James; Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë.
SatireA form of comic novel which intends, by lampooning, to be in fact constructive in its criticism because it wants things to be better. it's like saying, "If only people or institutions were more sensible or efficient then society would be improved."Nightmare Abbey (1818) by Thomas Love Peacock
Science fictionA popular novel form which involves some utopian elements. The object is to reflect back on how we are now, as well as to dream on the possible future where life has more potential. Another object is to create an environment for moral discussion.
This is a method of writing that tries to locate predicaments in the mind of the person. Our thoughts jump around and exhibit hopes and fears and the need for instant decisions on all kinds of matters, with intrusions from all over the place. This works very badly with a neutral third person God-like narrator. The sentences of characters' thoughts disobey ordinary grammatical rules and may leave their meaning ambivalent.Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce; To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf.
StyleThis concerns narration specifically and the method of writing in general. Each epoch seems to have a predominant style, but so does each author. It is something of a game of recognition to read a passage and guess the author. There are styles of detachment and attachment, psychological involvement or neutrality, use of metaphor or its avoidance, emotional engagement or cool detachment, complexity/ elaboration or simplicity, and moralising and amorality. There are even deliberate attempts at different styles in the one book, say in the postmodern novel.The Rainbow (1915) by David Henry Lawrence (etc.)
UtopianThis is an extreme form of romantic novel because problems are eliminated. This make-believe intends to point up what could be the case, with the possibilities of utopia, though sometimes the characters may not be as perfect as the world they live in and some utopias may collapse at some point within the story, exposing them as a sham or unavailable in the real world.News from Nowhere (1891) by William Morris.
WriterlyThis kind of novel is usually beyond realism, forcing the reader to generate meaning actively from the given text. It stands at first glance in binary opposition to being readerly.Concept in Barthes, R. (1975), S/Z, London: Jonathan Cape.


Reference: Peck, J., Coyle, M. (1993), Literary Terms and Criticism, London: Macmillan.