In the following articles, you will be introduced to the most popular literary genre, the novel. We read novels at various occasions for various reasons. Sometimes, we read the novel to enjoy the story, for our entertainment, for relaxation, as a hobby or as a set text for our studies. In the novel, we encounter the experiences of people engaged in various life-like situations. Many of us have never bothered to define the novel or find out what constitutes a novel. Can we refer to any story book as a novel? You will find out the answer to this question as we try to define the novel in this article.
The novel is an imaginative art that is presented in prose form. This means that the story presented in the novel is fictitious. We will therefore commence our definition of the novel by first of all defining prose fiction. In this unit, we are going to define prose fiction. This definition will guide our understanding of, not just the words “prose” and “fiction” but, prose fiction as a genre of literature. You will also be acquainted with the earliest forms of prose fiction.
In this article, as stated earlier, we will start our definition of the novel by first of all defining those characteristics that make the novel unique, thereafter; we will link them to the definition of the novel as a genre of literature.
Prose is the most distinctive and common form of language. Its origin is traced to the Latin word prosa which means ‘straight-forward’ in the literal sense. This means that whenever you are talking to someone in a straight forward manner, you are speaking in prose form. Most of the things we read as articles, text books, some aspects of the Bible, are presented in prose. Prose is devoid of the rhythmic pattern that characterises poetry and the dialogue format of drama. In most text books or other prosaic presentation, the arrangement is usually in chapters or grouped under specific headlines, and sub-headings. Poetry is presented in verse and stanzas because certain aspects of it are expected to rhyme in a particular form but in prose, stanza or verse is absent. Poetry therefore has a more systematic form of presentation while prose is presented in what I could call free style. Poetry presentation adheres to a particular metric form and definite structure which is absent in prose. In writing therefore, anything that is not presented in verse or dialogue is presented in prose.
Usually, because prose is presented in a straight forward manner, it is constructed in a simple manner and loosely defined structure. There is no specific guidelines in the construction of prose and writers do not make any special effort to present it in a particular pattern like is done in drama and poetry. Because there is no specific or formal structure, prose is therefore used in everyday conversation and as the general mode of communication in many “formal and informal presentations like the spoken dialogue, speeches, factual, topical and fictional writing” (Iwuchukwu, 2010, 3). So we talk in prose form in our everyday
discussions, speeches, preaching and in other modes of communication as we interact with one another on a daily basis. In writing, prose is presented in paragraphs that are made up of sentences and phrases (sometimes) in a narrative form reflecting the pattern of everyday speech. This means that when you are reading any prose work, it will seem as if you are talking to someone or that someone is narrating an event or incident to you. Although prose writing does not adhere to the systematic presentation found in poetry, the writer does not just jumble words on the pages of the book without caring whether they make sense or not. The writer ensures that the sentences are correct and arranged in a logical sequence for it to make sense and for the reader to understand what is being communicated. We liken this to our everyday speech where we ensure that the words we utter are presented coherently in a logical and meaningful way so that the person we are talking to will be able to understand and assimilate the message. It is difficult to trace the origin of prose since oral communication is as old as the world itself. In written form, prose used for the dissemination of written information in text books, magazines in commerce is traced to the 15th century by Monks in monasteries who composed and sold enlightening religious materials like the lives of saints and some other articles of faith in printed form. From then on, prose became in this environment the medium of silent and private reading (Whiteman 2006, 16) and later spread to other forms of writing.
The origin of fiction is traced to the Latin word fictum which means “created” and refers to stories, incidents, events or accounts that are not real. Good examples of fictitious stories are folktales and other fabricated stories. It is a product of the narrator’s imagination or another person’s imagination being narrated by a different person but not factual. Some newspapers in Nigeria like The Sun Newspapers serialise short stories which is different from their news items. While the former is fiction, the later is factual. Fiction is therefore any form of story which deals, in part or in whole, with events that are not factual, but rather, are imaginary and invented by its author. We have seen that fiction refers to non-factual accounts but in its other meaning, it represents a major branch of literature like the novel and short story which are referred to as genres of prose fiction. This means that we will combine prose and fiction to get a branch of literature that is known as prose fiction.
You have learnt so far that prose fiction is non-factual story and another important characteristic of prose fiction is that it is presented in a narrative form. You can see that we have been mentioning story in our definition of fiction. Stories are usually narrated by someone, orally or written. This means that prose fiction is presented in a narrative form. There are other forms of prose that are presented in a narrative form that are not classified as prose fiction. Can you mention some examples? Some of them include essays, biographies, some historical accounts and many others. Fiction and narrative are words that distinguish prose fiction from any other form of narrative or fictional work. For instance, biography is presented in a narrative form but it is a factual account of the life of an individual. Also the fact that prose fiction tells a story that is not true distinguishes it from history which is a factual account of events that took place in the life of a people or a nation with real names of the participants, actual dates and identifiable locations like towns, countries or villages. You may recall how the events of the civil war were recollected by various authors and published in various newspapers after Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s death. This is history and not prose fiction.
The novel is defined as a “…fictitious narrative, having a closely – knit plot of some intricacy, characters that approach human reality, of epic length and scope, but with a definite unity of effect. The plot may be subordinated to characters or characters to the plot, but there should be some kind of narrative action; and even if the limits of space and time covered are small, there should be a sweep or sense of bigness about a novel to differentiate it from a tale of a short story” (Woods et al.1936,
698). Basically, length is what distinguishes one genre of prose fiction from the other. The novel is the longest form of prose fiction followed by the novella while the short story is the shortest. The length of any genre of prose fiction is measured by the number of pages that make up that particular work. It is said that the short story is so short that it can be contained in as few as five to twenty five pages (5-25 pages); the novella, about sixty to one hundred and seventy pages while any work in that genre that is above that is categorised as novel. The novel is an artistic work, not just a product of the writer’s imagination, but it must be presented in a style that would make it an entertaining piece. Another important factor in the novel is that though it is fiction, it is presented in
a realistic manner and presents a slice of life known as verisimilitude. This means that events are presented in a way that it will look like a real life story; factual account but they are not. In the novel we extend our sympathies. This helps us to understand an aspect of human life that we would have missed if we did not read the novel which is an extension of life. When we empathise with others, we also understand them.
The novel presents the closest imitation of life because of empathy and sympathy in it whereby the readers identify themselves with the characters. The novel is a fictitious artistic account that is the product of the writer’s imagination and is presented in a narrative form. The novel is the longest form of prose genre because it is expected to present an “epic length performances that try to cope with the totality of life” (Lubbock 30).
It is an artistic work that “has a personal narrative, a hero to identify with fictional inventions, style, and suspense – in short anything that might be handled with the rather personal ventures of creativity and artistic freedom” (Kermode1980, 23). The personal hero is sometimes referred to as the protagonist. It treats essentially personal subject matter which is open to various interpretations by the reader as it relays human experience from the writer’s imagination.
The novelist represents the social, political, and personal realities of a place and period with clarity and details that make it very close to life. A novel could be based on history but the author uses vivid and graphic representations of characters and incidents to present an entertaining story. The language used by novelists is distinct and this enables the author to manipulate it to suit his or her purpose or style and at the same time make the message clear and for the reader to enjoy the story, be entertained and also be educated..
The English Novel
The English novel refers to novels written by English men and women that reflects the English society at a particular period. It is different from the novel in English which could be the novel of any continent, country or locality but written in English language. In English novel, each writer presents his or her perspective of the English society at that particular time in the history of the people.
The present form of the English novel was originally serialised to the audience and to a large extent this influenced the author, because sometimes the author conceded to the demand of the reading public in the plotting and structure of the novel. For instance, the marriage between Pip and Esther in Charles Dickens Great Expectations was said to have been influenced by the reading public. The emergence of the English novel was influenced by several factors which were historical, moral, structural, and the subject matter at every stage of its development. The application of fiction and realism to the novel started with the English novel because though the story was a product of the author’s imagination the reading public expected the story to be credible and be as close as possible to real life. Consequently, the novel presents many character types, detailed and vivid description of incidents, action, setting and general environment and atmosphere that are appear life-like. The character is revealed as the story moves through suspense, climax and resolution of conflicts.
CONCLUSION In this unit we have tried to explain prose fiction and linked it to the novel. You have learnt that the novel is a long narrative and fictitious story that presents a slice of life through the representation of events that seem realistic. It tells a story that deals with cultural, social and political issues in the world but the characters are not known human beings but relate to themselves like people in the real world. The setting is also imaginary unlike the setting in history which is real. You learnt also that the English novel refers to novels written by English men and women about the English people and environment. We also tried to differentiate prose fiction from history since both of them tell stories. We also explained that prose fiction is an aspect of literature that is presented in a narrative form.
Prose is a type of writing that is not presented in verse and fiction, and is a tale that is a product of the writer’s imagination. It is an invented story which means that it is not real. In prose fiction therefore, the writer tells a fictitious story to his readers to educate or entertain or to do both. Prose fiction refers to any narrative presented in prose form and is not factual. It is a combination of two distinct words, “prose” and “fiction”. The genres of prose fiction are the short story, the novella and the novel. Prose fiction is a product of the writer’s imagination which means that it presents an invented story. The novel is the longest and most popular form of prose fiction which presents human experience to educate and entertain the readers by telling stories that deal with life-like situations. The events could be contemporary or historical accounts manipulated by the writer and presented in a fictional manner.