First novel in English

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The following works of literature have each been claimed as the first novel in English.

The following are some other early long works of prose fiction in English:

There are multiple candidates for first novel in English partly because of ignorance of earlier works, but largely because the term novel can be defined so as to exclude earlier candidates:

  • Some critics require a novel to be wholly original and so exclude retellings like Le Morte d'Arthur.
  • Most critics distinguish between an anthology of stories with different protagonists, even if joined by common themes and milieus, and the novel (which forms a connected narrative), and so also exclude Le Morte d'Arthur.
  • Some critics distinguish between the romance (which has fantastic elements) and the novel (which is wholly realistic) and so yet again exclude Le Morte d'Arthur.
  • Some critics distinguish between the allegory (in which characters and events have political, religious or other meanings) and the novel (in which characters and events stand only for themselves) and so exclude The Pilgrim's Progress and A Tale of a Tub.
  • Some critics require a novel to have a certain length, and so exclude Oroonoko, defining it instead as a novella.
  • Some critics distinguish between the picaresque (which has a loosely connected sequence of episodes) and the novel (which has unity of structure) and so exclude The Unfortunate Traveller.

Due to the influence of Ian Watt's seminal study in literary sociology, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957), Watt's candidate, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), gained wide acceptance.

See also[edit]

  • The article novel for detailed information about the history of the terms "novel" and "romance" and the bodies of texts they defined in a historical perspective.
  • Category:Novels by date for earlier claimants in English and other languages.


  1. ^ Ringler, William A. and Michael Flachmann eds. "Preface." Beware the Cat. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1988.
  2. ^ Sampson, George (1941). The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature, p. 161. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  3. ^ Doyle, Laura (2008). Freedom's Empire: Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640–1940, p. 97. Duke University Press. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  4. ^ The New York Times (2007). The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, Second Edition: A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind, p. 67. Macmillan. Retrieved 26 April 2014.

External links[edit]