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Characters cannot come alive and fight and guide the world unless the novelist wants them to remain characters. – E. M. Forster

A novel is a long prose narrative that describes fictional characters and events, usually in the form of a sequential story. The genre has historical roots in antiquity and the fields of medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter, an Italian word used to describe short stories, supplied the present generic English term in the 18th century. Further definition of the genre is historically difficult. The construction of the narrative, the plot, the relation to reality, the characterization, and the use of language are usually discussed to show a novel's artistic merits. Most of these requirements were introduced to literary prose in the 16th and 17th centuries, in order to give fiction a justification outside the field of factual history.


  • I often find that a novel, even a well-written and compelling novel, can become a blur to me soon after I've finished reading it. I recollect perfectly the feeling of reading it, the mood I occupied, but I am less sure about the narrative details. It is almost as if the book were, as Wittgenstein said of his propositions, a ladder to be climbed and then discarded after it has served its purpose.”
  • What reading does, ultimately, is keep alive the dangerous and exhilarating idea that a life is not a sequence of lived moments, but a destiny...the time of reading, the time defined by the author's language resonating in the self, is not the world's time, but the soul's. The energies that otherwise tend to stream outward through a thousand channels of distraction are marshaled by the cadences of the prose; they are brought into focus by the fact that it is an ulterior, and entirely new, world that the reader has entered. The free-floating self--the self we diffusely commune with while driving or walking or puttering in the kitchen--is enlisted in the work of bringing the narrative to life. In the process, we are able to shake off the habitual burden of insufficient meaning and flex our deeper natures.”
    • Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, p. 85
  • If anything has changed about my reading over the years, it is that I value the state a book puts me in more that I value the specific contents.”
    • Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, p. 84
  • To read, when one does so of one's own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and to set off toward it
    • Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, p. 80
Michael Chabon:"All novels are sequels; influence is bliss".
  • People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.
G. K. Chesterton at work
  • A good novel tells us about the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author...A sincere novel exhibits the simplicity of one particular man, an insincere novel exhibits the simplicity of mankind
  • A good novel tells us about its hero. A bad novel tells us about the author.
  • The dull people decided years and years ago, as everyone knows, that novel-writing was the lowest species of literary exertion, and that novel reading was a dangerous luxury and an utter waste of time.
  • It was only after two years' work [he confesses] that it occurred to me I was a writer. I had no particular expectation that the novel would ever be published, because it was sort of a mess. It was only when I found myself writing things I didn't realise I knew that I said, 'I'm a writer now' The novel had become an incentive to deeper thinking. That's really what writing is — an intense form of thought.
Janet Evanovich
DH Lawrence birthplace museum
Novalis:"Life must not be a novel that is given to us, but one that is made by us".
Oscar Wilde: "In every first novel the hero is the author as Christ or Faust".
P.G. Wodehouse
  • Romance novels are birthday cake and life is often peanut butter and jelly. I think everyone should have lots of delicious romance novels lying around for those times when the peanut butter of life gets stuck to the roof of your mouth
  • Axiom: Novel must have either one living character or a perfect pattern: fails otherwise.
  • But I have seen my obstacles: trivialities, learning and poetry. This last needs explaining: the old artist's readiness to dissolve characters into a haze. Characters cannot come alive and fight and guide the world unless the novelist wants them to remain characters.
  • As for 'story' I never yet did enjoy a novel or play in which someone didn't tell me afterward that there was something wrong with the story, so that's going to be no drawback as far as I'm concerned. "Good Lord, why am I so bored"—"I know; it must be the plot developing harmoniously." So I often reply to myself, and there rises before me my special nightmare—that of the writer as craftsman, natty and deft.
    • E. M. Forster, Selected Letters (1985), letter 104, to Forrest Reid, 19 June 1912
  • He shivered. His coat was thin, and it was obvious he would not get his kiss, which he found puzzling. The manly heroes of the penny dreadfuls and shilling novels never had these problems getting kissed.
  • Diana felt she was beginning to understand why, in all those novels she read, the headiest loves were the loves that couldn't be.
  • A novel must show how the world truly is, how characters genuinely think, how events actually occur. A novel should somehow reveal the true source of our actions.
    • "Jane Austen" in the film Becoming Jane (2007), script by Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams
  • Writing a novel is actually searching for victims. As I write I keep looking for casualties. The stories uncover the casualties.
  • The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything....The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead...In any case, it seems to me that all over the world people nowadays prefer to judge rather than ask so that the voice of the novel can hardly be heard over the noisy foolishness of human certainties
  • Jane: What do you think of his book Arthur?
    Gideon: I don't think of it. I've had no reason to, particularly. I've not had to review it. ...I'm afraid I'm hopeless about novels just now, that's the fact. I'm sick of the form—slices of life served up cold in three hundred pages. Oh, it's very nice; it makes nice reading for people. But what's the use? Except, of course, to kill time for those who prefer it dead. But as things in themselves, as art, they've been ruined by excess. My critical sense is blunted just now. I can hardly feel the difference, though I can see it, between a good novel and a bad one. I couldn't write one, good or bad, to save my life, I know that. And I've got to the stage when I wish other people wouldn't. I wish everyone would shut up, so that we could hear ourselves think...
  • The novel belongs to the category of natural poetry - the allegory to that of the artificial.
    • Novalis in Philosophical Writings, SUNY, 1997, p. 71
  • [on an unnamed book] This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
  • Every novel is like this, desperation, a frustrated attempt to save something of the past. Except that it still has not been established whether it is the novel that prevents man from forgetting himself or the impossibility of forgetfulness that makes him write novels.
  • The main question to a novel is -- did it amuse? Were you surprised at dinner coming so soon? Did you mistake eleven for ten? Were you too late to dress? And did you sit up beyond the usual hour? If a novel produces these effects, it is good; if it does not -- story, language, love, scandal itself cannot save it. It is only meant to please; and it must do that or it does nothing.
  • Someone ought to write a novel about me, ”said Lebedeva loftily.“ I shouldn’t care if they lied to make it more interesting, as long as they were good lies, full of kisses and daring escapes and the occasional act of barbarism. I can’t abide a poor liar.
  • In every first novel the hero is the author as Christ or Faust
    • Oscar Wilde in “Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations“, p. 37

Northanger Abbey[edit]

Northanger Abbey:"I am no novel reader – I seldom look into novels - Do not imagine that I often read novels - It is only very well for a novel".
Jane Austen:"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid".

Jane Austen (1 March 2009). Northanger Abbey. Wild Jot Press. ISBN 978-0-9791940-2-3. 

  • a volume of dozen lines of Milton, Proper and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator and a chapter from the Sterne are eulogized by a thousand pens-there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and slighting the performance which have only genius, wit and taste to recommend them.
    • pp. 20-21
  • I am no novel reader – I seldom look into novels - Do not imagine that I often read novels - It is only very well for a novel.
    • p. 21
  • And what are you reading miss...? It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.
    • p. 21
  • The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
    • p. 66

Understanding Lorrie Moore[edit]

Alison Kelly (2009). Understanding Lorrie Moore. Univ of South Carolina Press. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-1-57003-823-5. 

  • A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.”
    • p. 13
  • ...A novel is a daily labor over a period of years. A novel is a job…But a story can be a mad, lovely visitor, with whom you spend a rather exciting weekend.
    • p. 14
  • Punning on the typographical and literary meaning of the word “character” and exploiting the resemblance of the “word” with “world”, Moore has identified the purpose of transpositions like this which continue throughout the novel: I was inspired by the idea of anagram, which is the rearrangement of characters to make new worlds.
    • p. 50
  • I believed the novel to be a messy expression of that mysterious banality ‘the creative process’- not unlike life, I suppose.
    • p. 64

External links[edit]

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