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Rare Books Virtual Lecture — Novel, but not New

“What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests his heart in everything, and who, having eyes to see what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him as he journeyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on.

― Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy

from Aethiopica, 1772

From the ancient Greek novel to the chivalric romance and the emergence of the picaresque, the novel has relied on a multitude of writers, interactions, initiatives, and innovations. The history of the novel was never arbitrary, but rather has been dependent on expressing the ever-evolving human experience.

from Libro del caballero Zifar, 12th century [facsimile]

What exactly is a novel? The novel, derived from the Italian word, novella – meaning new, or short story of something new – is a long, fictional narrative that illustrates the ideals and norms that guide our lives, the passions that drive us, and the actions we take. The novel centers itself around human existence and imagines a fictional world around it. 

from El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, 1797

According to literary critic Ian Watt, the “rise of the novel” occurred in early eighteenth-century Britain. Watt credits changes in social structures, such as the rise of the market economy and a newly literate population.

from Mining my Antonia, 2012

But while we might credit European acceleration for the rise of the novel, it is far from being a European invention. The concept of the novel is not at all new. To learn more about the history and evolution on the novel, the Rare Books Department invites you to view its most recent virtual lecture: Novel, but not New. 

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