Novels can be classified into various genres, and can belong to several of these categories at the same time.
Distinctions can depend on the form in which the works are written. These novels include epistolary novels, which take the form of letters written between characters; the diary form deriving from the tradition of travellers of the 17th century and the episodic forms in which the story is usually told in a series of episodes that did not depend on one another to make sense.
Some novels derives from the settings in which they take place, such as regional novels, which focus on life in a certain area.
Others depend on the purpose, such as propaganda novels, which try to convince the reader to adopt a certain point of view.
Other examples derive from both the themes and the forms in which they are written
The picaresque novels are stories of adventures describing malicious main characters, or picaros, who usually travelled and who depended on their intellect for survival. They took advantage of those less clever than themselves and celebrated adventure for its own sake. Their form is usually episodic.
The Gothic novel appeared at the end of the 18th century. Rooted in the graveyard’ school of poetry, (Ossian’s and MacPherson’s works), fascinated by medievalism, the supernatural and gothic architecture, the authors of this genre tried to get free from the links of everyday life and found new source of inspirations using fancy and imagination.
The first Gothic novel was The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, the prime minister’s son. In the last decade of the 18th century, when they became more sentimental, the emphasis shifted on the fears of the heroines. These later examples include The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe, Ambrosio, or The Monk (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis.
Another very important trend that inspired many authors all through the centuries was the utopian novel. The word utopia dates back to the homonymous work by Sir Thomas More. It is composed of two Greek words that mean no place and good place and means an ideal place that doesn’t exist.
It is usually the narration of a voyage to an unknown country, an island, where everything is perfect and in contrast with the real everyday world.
Famous examples are De Republica by Plato and Francis Bacon ‘s book The New Atlantis in 1626.
Jonathan Swift wrote the first anti-utopian or dystopian work, Gulliver’s Travels, who inspired many writers in modern times: George Orwell’s Animal farm and 1984; Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World; Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Anthony Burgess’s The Clockwork Orange. These novels are usually criticism to the society as they reveal the hidden evil of seemingly perfect worlds.
Broadly speaking novels can be divided into classic and popular.
Classic novels have a highly structured plot interwoven with many subplots that create quite a complex story.
They can be classified according to some general trends and themes.
There are social novels which tend to focus on how the characters’ actions reflect or contradict the values of their society. The social novel includes two major types: the novel of manners and the chronicle novel. In its general form, the novel of manners focuses on a small segment of society and is concerned with subtle nuances of behaviour and standards of correctness, usually in upper-class life. Pride and Prejudice (1813) by English writer Jane Austen describes bad behaviour and the distinctions between the pride of self-respect and the various forms pride can assume: arrogance, disobedience, and vanity into which this pride.
American authors Henry James and Edith Wharton wrote novels of manners to depict the struggle of people to maintain individualism while conforming to society’s expectations. (Henry James’s Daisy Miller,1879, Wharton’s book The Age of Innocence, 1920)
The chronicle novel analyses individuals but at the same time offers an examination of social classes and groups. Vanity Fair by William Thackerey offers a witty portrait of the English society during the Napoleonic Wars and Sartoris (1929) by American novelist William Faulkner follows tragic carelessness through several generations
Psychological novels explore the inner workings of an individual’s mind. In terms of style, many psychological novels feature interior monologue that give the reader direct access to the inner thoughts of characters. One famous example of a psychological novel is The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by American writer J. D. Salinger.
In The Bell Jar (1963), American writer Sylvia Plath examines the challenges of being a young woman in America in the 1950s by describing how she feels, as being inside a bell-shaped glass one.
Education novels describe stages in the life of its main character as the individual develops as a person as in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) by James Joyce.
English novelist Charles Dickens in Hard Times (1854) shows how theories about family life translate into everyday living. In this novel, a theory of education has tragic consequences for the theorist’s own children.
Hard Times can be also seen as a Philosophical novel as it provides a platform for the author to explore intellectual or philosophical questions. These works aim to confront the so-called eternal questions about freedom, humanity’s place in the universe, and the value of human effort.
In the 20th century the experimental novel offered examples placed great importance on innovations in style and technique.
One of the earliest examples of the novel of experimentation is Tristram Shandy (1759-1767) by English writer Laurence Sterne. The novel requires the reader to wait with the author until he finishes digressions, figuring out jokes and enjoying twists such as odd turns of phrase, puns, and blank pages.
Ulysses (1922) by Irish writer James Joyce is basically a projection of impressions, perceptions, and knowledge. Drawing attention to his chapters by changing the literary styles, Joyce mixes objective fact and dream dialogues and train of associations. In Ragtime (1975) American author E. L. Doctorow mixes history and fiction to create events that never happened. For example, in the novel Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, two famous real-life psychoanalysts, take a trip through the Tunnel of Love ride at the Coney Island amusement park.
One of the best-known experimental novelists is American writer William S. Burroughs. His best-known book is Naked Lunch (1959), a freely structured novel that depicts the experiences of a man trying to escape drug addiction. Burroughs deliberately cut apart and recombined sentences to realize new images and freedom from the limits of conventional storytelling techniques.
As people became more used to reading they looked for a cultural way of entertainment and Popular novels’ primary intention is to entertain. They are accessible to a wide range of people and are usually written to achieve commercial success by providing readers with a good story.
There are many different types of popular novels, including detective stories, spy novels, science-fiction tales, fantasy novels, horror novels, romances, historical novels, and westerns.
Detective stories and mystery stories typically involve complicated plots, so that the reader remains as puzzled as the characters within the story.
Precursors to modern detective and mystery stories were the Gothic novels of the late 1700s and early 1800s with their mysterious situations and a dark and frightening atmosphere.
Detective stories and mystery tales emerged in the 1800s. A forerunner was Edgar Allan Poe whose Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) introduces the chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, an amateur detective, who, by an intense analysis of motives and clues, solves crimes that are puzzling to the police.
Some of the best-known mystery novelists of the early and mid-20th century, along with examples of their work, are English author Agatha Christie (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926), Belgian French writer Georges Simenon (The Patience of Maigret, 1940), and American authors Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, 1930), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, 1939), and Ross MacDonald (The Galton Case, 1959).
Many popular novels take the form of spy stories. Some writers emphasize the glamorous side of a spy’s life, as English writer Ian Fleming did in several novels featuring the British secret agent James Bond. Bond lives in a world of fast cars, beautiful women, ingenious weaponry, and beautiful settings. Fleming’s novels include Casino Royale (1953), Goldfinger (1959), and Thunderball (1961).
Other spy fiction looks at a darker side of life in espionage. The Secret Agent (1907) by English writer Joseph Conrad features agents who are seedy and petty or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) by British writer John le Carré features betrayal, misuse of power, and the cynicism of international intriguers.
Science-fiction novels expresses human fears and curiosity about the future. Frankenstein (1818) by English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is often cited as one of the precursors to science-fiction novels. It is the tale of a doctor who uses body parts to construct an artificial man.
In the late 1800s English author H. G. Wells was a great influence on science fiction, with novels such as The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).
For several decades in the early 20th century, the best science fiction was published in magazines, but in mid-century the genre revived in the novel form with authors such as Isaac Asimov (The Foundation Trilogy, 1951-1953).
Fantasy novels deal with magical and supernatural characters and events. Many fantasy works are written in a lyrical or witty style, and some appeal especially to children.
Famous examples are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)and Through the Looking-Glass and by English author Lewis Carroll and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by American writer L. Frank Baum.
English novelist J. R. R. Tolkien created an enduring body of work that includes the novel the trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) set in a fantasy world called Middle Earth.
Beginning in 1998 English novelist J. K. Rowling began publishing the Harry Potter books.
Horror novels, also called occult novels, usually deal with a battle between supernatural forces of good and of evil. An early example of a horror novel is Dracula (1897) by British writer Bram Stoker about the vampire Count Dracula of Transylvania. American novelist Stephen King is perhaps the best-known horror writer today.
Romance novels are stories of love. One of the first great romances was Jane Eyre (1847) by English novelist Charlotte Brontë and Rebecca (1938), by British writer Daphne du Maurier.
A classic romance is Love Story (1970) by Erich Segal, about a man from a wealthy family who marries a poor girl who dies young.
The historical novel places its characters in a past time. The novelist attempts to portray that era realistically in both fact and spirit. Sir Walter Scott is considered the father of this type of fiction with his Ivanhoe.
In the United States one of the most popular historical novels is a Gone With the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, set during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Reconstruction period directly after it.
One of the most popular writers of historical novels of the late 20th century was the English Patrick O’Brian who wrote 20 books set on board of a ship a British Catalan during the Napoleonic Wars. Master and Commander (1969) is the most famous.
Finally, western novels are typically American as they set in the West of the U.S.and feature cowboys and Native people. One of the earliest Westerns was The Virginian (1902) by American novelist Owen Wister.