What a Novel Is (HUM303)

“A novel is a piece of prose fiction of a reasonable length. Even a definition as toothless as this, however, is still too restricted. Not all novels are written in prose…. As for fiction, the distinction between fiction and fact is not always clear. And what counts as a reasonable length?

“The truth is that the novel is a genre which resists exact definition. This in itself is not particularly striking, since many things– ‘game’, for example, or ‘hairy’– resist exact definition…. The point about the novel, however, is not just that it eludes definitions, but that it actively undermines them. It is less a genre than an anti-genre.

“The novel is a mighty melting pot, a mongrel among literary thoroughbreds.

“Most commentators agree that the novel has its roots in the literary form we know as romance. Indeed, these are roots that it has never entirely cut. Novels are romances– but romances which have to negotiate the prosaic world of modern civilization.”

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