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Encyclopedia > Epistolary novel
Titlepage of Aphra Behn's Love-Letters (1684)

An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. The word epistolary comes from the word epistle, meaning a letter. Image File history File links Behn_Love-Letters_1684. ... Image File history File links Behn_Love-Letters_1684. ... A sketch of Aphra Behn by George Scharf from a portrait believed to be lost. ... Titlepage of Aphra Behns Love-Letters (1684) Aphra Behns Love-Letters Between a Noble-Man and his Sister (1684) became the first part of a three volume roman à clef playing with events of the Monmouth Rebellion and exploring the genre of the epistolary novel. ... Events France under Louis XIV makes Truce of Ratisbon separately with the Empire and Spain. ... A novel (from French nouvelle Italian novella, new) is an extended, generally fictional narrative, typically in prose. ... Vintage German letter balance for home use Look up letter in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... == c programming[[a--203. ...

One argument for using the epistolary form is that it can add greater realism and verisimilitude to the story, chiefly because it mimics the workings of real life. It is thus able to demonstrate differing points of view without recourse to the device of an omniscient narrator. Realism in the visual arts and literature is the depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life, without embellishment or interpretation. ... For other uses, see Verisimilitude (disambiguation). ... In literature, an omniscient narrator is a narrator who appears to know everything about the story being told, including what all the characters are thinking. ...


Early works

 two theories on the genesis of the epistolary novel. The first claims that the genre originated from novels with inserted letters, in which the portion containing the third person narrative inbetween the letters was gradually reduced.[1] The other theory claims that the epistolary novel arose from miscellanies of letters and poetry: some of the letters were tied together into a (mostly amourous) plot.[2] Both claims have some validity. The first truly epistolary novel, the Spanish "Prison of Love" (Cárcel de amor)(c.1485) by Diego de San Pedro, belongs to a tradition of novels in which a large number of inserted letters already dominated the narrative. Other well-known examples of early epistolary novels are closely related to the tradition of letter-books and miscellanies of letters. Within the successive editions of Edmé Boursault's Letters of Respect, Gratitude and Love (Lettres de respect, d'obligation et d 'amour)(1669), a group of letters written to a girl named Babet was expanded and became more and more distinct from the other letters, until it formed a small epistolary novel entitled Letters to Babet (Lettres à Babet). The immensely famous Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Lettres portugaises)(1669) attributed by many to Marianna Alcoforado, some to Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues), is claimed to be intented to be part of a miscellany of Guilleragues prose and poetry.[3] 

The first novel to explore deeply the complex play that the genre allows was Aphra Behn's Love-Letters Between a Noble-Man and his Sister (1684), which appeared in three successive volumes in 1684, 1685, and 1687. The novel tested the genre's limits of changing perspectives: individual points were presented by the individual correspondents, and the central author's voice and moral judgement disappeared (at least in the first volume; her further volumes introduced a narrator). Behn furthermore explored a realm of intrigue with letters that fall into the wrong hands, with faked letters, with letters withheld by protagonists, and even more complex interaction. Edmé Boursault (October, 1638 - September 15, 1701), French dramatist and miscellaneous writer, was born at Mussy lEvéque, now Mussy-sur-Seine (Aube). ... The Letters of a Portuguese Nun were written by the 17th century Franciscan nun, Marianna Alcoforado, to Noel Bouton, later Marquis de Chamilly. ... Marianna Alcoforado (1640 - 1723), was a Portuguese female author, best known for the Letters of a Portuguese Nun. ... A sketch of Aphra Behn by George Scharf from a portrait believed to be lost. ...

The epistolary novel as a genre became popular in the 18th century in the works of such authors as Samuel Richardson, with his immensely successful novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1749). In France, there was Lettres persanes (1721) by Montesquieu, followed by Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), which used the epistolary form to great dramatic effect, because the sequence of events was not always related directly or explicitly. In Germany, there was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774) (The Sorrows of Young Werther). The first North American novel, The History of Emily Montague (1769) by Frances Brooke was written in epistolary form. Samuel Richardson (August 19, 1689 – July 4, 1761) was a major 18th century writer best known for his three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753). ... Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. ... This article or section seems not to be written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia entry. ... Persian Letters is a satirical story of two Persian brothers travelling through France by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu. ... Montesquieu in 1728. ... Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse is an epistolary romance novel by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, published in 1761 by Rey (Amsterdam). ... Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (June 28, 1712 – July 2, 1778) was a Genevan philosopher of the Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism. ... Pierre Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos, a French official and army general, was born on October 18, 1741 in Amiens, France and died in Taranto, Italy on September 5, 1803. ... Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) is a famous French epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in 1782. ...  , IPA: , (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832), commonly known as Goethe, was a German poet, novelist, theorist, and scientist who is considered one of the giants of the literary world. ... The Sorrows of Young Werther (German, Die Leiden des jungen Werther, originally published as Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) is an epistolary and loosely autobiographical novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774. ... The Sorrows of Young Werther (German, Die Leiden des jungen Werther, originally published as Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) is an epistolary and loosely autobiographical novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774. ... Frances Brooke Frances (Moore) Brooke (1724 - 1789) was an English author. ...

Later in the 18th century, the epistolary form was subject to much ridicule, resulting in a number of savage burlesques. The most notable example of these was Henry Fielding's Shamela (1741), written as a parody of Pamela. In it, the female narrator can be found wielding a pen and scribbling her diary entries under the most dramatic and unlikeliest of circumstances. In literary criticism, the term burlesque is employed as a term in genre criticism, to describe any imitative work that derives humor from an incongruous contrast between style and subject. ... Henry Fielding (April 22, 1707 – October 8, 1754) was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich earthy humor and satirical prowess and as the author of the novel Tom Jones. ... An Apology for the Life of Mrs. ...

The epistolary novel slowly fell out of use in the late 18th century. Although Jane Austen tried her hand at the epistolary in juvenile writings and her novella Lady Susan, she abandoned this structure for her later work. Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist whose works include Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey. ... A novella is a narrative work of prose fiction somewhat longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. ...

Types of epistolary novels

Within the genre of the epistolary novel one can distinguish three narrative types: monologic (giving the letters of only one character, like Letters of a Portuguese Nun), dialogic (giving the leters of two characters, like Mme Marie Jeanne Riccoboni's Letters of Fanni Butlerd (1757), and polylogic (with three or more letter-writing characters). In addition, a crucial element in polylogic epistolary novels like Clarissa, and Dangerous Liaisons is the dramatic device of 'discrepant awareness': the simultaneous but separate correspondences of the heroines and the villains creating dramatic tension. Marie Jeanne Riccoboni (1714 - December 6, 1792), whose maiden name was Laboras de Mezières, was born at Paris in 1714. ...

Later works

Epistolary novels have made rare but memorable appearances in more recent literature.

Fyodor Dostoevsky used the epistolary format for his first novel, Poor Folk (1846), as a series of letters between two friends, struggling to cope with their impoverished circumstances and life in pre-revolution Russia. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Russian: Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский, IPA: , sometimes transliterated Dostoyevsky or Dostoievsky  ) (November 11 [O.S. October 30] 1821 – February 9 [O.S. January 28] 1881) is considered one of the greatest writers of Russian and world literature. ... Poor Folk was first novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which he wrote over the span of nine months. ...

The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins uses a collection of various documents to construct a detective novel in English. In the second piece, a character explains that he is writing his portion because another had observed to him that the events surrounding the disappearance of a certain moonstone might reflect poorly on the family, if misunderstood, and therefore he was collecting the true story. This is an unusual element. Most epistolary novels present the documents without questions about how they were gathered. He also used the form previously in The Woman in White(1859). The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins is a 19th-century epistolary novel, generally considered the first detective novel in the English language. ... Wilkie Collins William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist, playwright, and writer of short stories. ... The Woman in White is an epistolary novel written by Wilkie Collins and published in 1859. ...

The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket consists of letters and notes between himself and Beatrice. The book is obviously meant to be humorous while at the same time explaining some of the mysteries surrounding the Baudelaires. Several of the letters (mostly from Lemony Snicket) tend to be very long and rambling; one goes on about his love for Beatrice for four pages. The Beatrice Letters is a book by Lemony Snicket. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Beatrice (pronounced bee-a-tris or in Italian bay-a-tree-chay) is a name derived from the Latin name Beatrix. ...

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) uses not only letters and diaries, but dictation discs and newspaper accounts. Abraham Bram Stoker (November 8, 1847–April 20, 1912) was an Irish writer, best remembered as the author of the influential horror novel Dracula. ... Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, featuring as its primary character the vampire Count Dracula. ...

C. S. Lewis used the epistolary form for The Screwtape Letters (1942), and considered writing a companion novel from an angel's point of view -- though he never did so. Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, was an Irish author and scholar. ... The Screwtape Letters is a work of Christian fiction by C. S. Lewis first published in book form in 1942. ... A Gothic angel in ivory, c1250, Louvre An angel is a supernatural being found in many religions. ...

Some of J.D. Salinger's stories about the Glass family are written in the form of letters. Jerome David Salinger (born January 1, 1919) is an American author best known for The Catcher in the Rye, a classic coming-of-age story that has enjoyed enduring popularity since its publication in 1951. ... The Glass family is a group of fictional characters that have been featured in a number of J.D. Salingers short stories. ...

Stephen Chbosky's debut novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel, written in the form of letters from an anonymous boy called only Charlie, detailing his freshman year of high school and the trials and tribulations of growing up and reaching adolescence. Stephen Chbosky (born January 25, 1970) is an American author, editor, screenwriter, and film director. ... The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel written in the 1990s by American novelist Stephen Chbosky. ...

Alice Walker uses the epistolary form in her novel, The Color Purple -- a novel about Celie, a black woman in the South. Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an African-American author and feminist who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for The Color Purple. ... For the Broadway musical, see The Color Purple (musical). ...

The blog format has now created a sub-genre of epistolary novel, such as For Ilford Dyson, I Hope You Find This[1] an on-going fiction, where the main character addresses his blog to a friend of his late father. To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ...

See List of contemporary epistolary novels for other modern examples, including works by Vladimir Nabokov and Stephen King. An epistolary novel tells its story through correspondence, letters, telegrams, and the like. ... Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (Russian: Влади́мир Влади́мирович Набо́ков, pronounced ) (April 22 [O.S. April 10] 1899, Saint Petersburg – July 2, 1977, Montreux) was a Russian-American author. ... Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is an American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. ...

Literary and intellectual points

  • Often, narrators of epistolary fiction are somewhat untrustworthy or biased.
  • Sometimes epistolary fiction is used to create a Russian-doll-like effect of letters within letters within letters. This can confuse the reader as to who is actually talking at any one time, and whose account is being told.
  • This style has been effective for mystery writers. For example, see Agatha Christie's novels.

Matryoshka disassembled A matryoshka doll (Russian: , IPA ) or a Russian nested doll (also called stacking dolls or Babushka dolls) is a set of dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside another. ... Agatha Mary Clarissa, Lady Mallowan, DBE (15 September 1890—12 January 1976), also known as Dame Agatha Christie, was an English crime fiction writer. ...


  1. ^ E.Th. Voss. Erzählprobleme des Briefromans, dargestellt an vier Beispielen des 18. Jahrhunderts. Bonn, 1960.
  2. ^ B.A. Bray. L'art de la lettre amoureuse: des manuels aux romans (1550-1700). La Haye/Paris, 1967
  3. ^ G. de Guilleragues. Lettres portugaises, Valentins et autres oeuvres. Paris, 1962

External links

  • Aphra Behn, Love-Letters between a Noble-Man and his Sister (1684-87).
  • BBC Radio 4's "15 March 2007 edition of "In Our Times" edition on Episotlary Literature. Hosted by Melvin Bragg.

  Results from FactBites:
Epistolary Novel ~ Joe Bray ~ eBookMall ~ eBook (259 words)
The epistolary novel is a form which has been neglected in most accounts of the development of the novel.
This book argues that the way that the eighteenth-century epistolary novel represented consciousness had a significant influence on the later novel.
This book demonstrates that the tensions within consciousness are the result of a continual interaction between the two selves of the letter-writer and charts the oscillation between these two selves in the epistolary novels of, amongst others, Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, Fanny Burney and Charlotte Smith.
Early American Novel: Brief Background Notes (1434 words)
Brown's novel was based on the story of Perez Morton's seduction of his wife's sister, Fanny Apthorp, an act at once both incestuous and adulterous according to eighteenth-century law.
The novel insists on the importance of education for women to avoid such a fate.
Sentimental novel or novel of sensibility: This form reflects the sentimentalism of the eighteenth century as reflected in sentimental comedy and domestic tragedy.
  More results at FactBites »



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