List of claimed first novels in English

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A number of works of literature have each been claimed as the first novel in English.

List of candidates[edit]

Other relevant works[edit]

The following are other early long works of prose fiction in English not generally considered novels:

Differing definition of novel[edit]

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. (The article for novel contains a detailed information pf the history of the terms "novel" and "romance" and the bodies of texts they defined in a historical perspective.)


  • Critics typically require a novel to have a certain length. This would exclude Oroonoko, arguably a novella.

Content and intent[edit]

  • Critics typically require a novel to be wholly original and so exclude retellings such asLe Morte d'Arthur.
  • Critics typically make a distinction between collections of short stories, even those sharing common themes and settings, and novels per se, which typically has a single protagonist and narrative throughout. This might also lead to the exclusion of Le Morte d'Arthur.
  • Critics typically distinguish between the romance. which have a heroic protagonist and fantastic elements, and the novel, which attempts to present a realistic story. This would, yet again, exclude Le Morte d'Arthur.
  • Critics typically 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'.
  • Critics typically between the picaresque, made up of a connected sequence of episodes, and the novel, which has unity of structure, and so exclude The Unfortunate Traveller.

Owiing 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]


  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. ^ Chapman, J. (1892). The Westminster Review, Volume 138. p. 610.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Chapman, J. (1892). The Westminster Review, Volume 138. p. 610.
  6. ^ 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]