By Kelly Bridgewater
Ever wonder when the first novel was actually written? Have you even read the first novel? Most people think the first full length novel was written in the Victorian Era, which occurred during the early nineteenth century. Who could forget Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters?
But what if I told you that you guessed wrong? The first full length novel was not even a narrative like we are used to reading today. It was an epistolary novel, you know, like The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The novel is called Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson written in 1740 totaling an astounding 1,000 pages. It is one of the longest novels written during its time. It is a story about a servant named Pamela Andrews who lived with her master, Mr. B, who makes unwanted advances toward her. He went so far as to keep her locked up where he can seduce her and eventually almost rape her. Running away, she finally seeks solitude at another estate, but when Mr. B returns, for some odd reason, Pamela starts to fall in love with him. Odd. Wouldn’t work in a modern novel. Readers would be up in arms as to why she fell in love with her attacker.
There were a couple of raunchy books also during this time, such as The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Stern, 1759. Ever read that one? How about Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, 1749. Not that one either. Samuel Richardson penned another book in 1748 called Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, which is 1,500 pages long.
These books were the precursor for the Gothic novels. A Gothic novel is where modern writers can find inspiration come up with the horror lore with ghosts, castles, spooky nights, and vampires. The first Gothic novel was The Castle of Otranto by Horace Warpole, 1764. Another Gothic novel was titled The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve, written in 1777.
Yes, I have read all of these books because in graduate school I took a course on the British novel, and the professor assigned book that, as English majors, we didn’t come across in our many years of studying classic literature.
As much as I did not enjoy reading most of the books assigned in that class (there were 19 novels all 500 pages or more in a sixteen week course plus two 15 page papers assigned), I did become introduced to writers I would not have been introduced to in any other format.
As a writer of suspense, I actually enjoyed reading the beginning of the Gothic novels. It gave me some good ideas to include in my novels. Plus, it showed me how the imagination of the suspense novel has affected and changed the writer in the past two hundred fifty years.
Have you read any classic books in your genre that has changed your perspective on writing? If so, could you share some books. Please, if it is Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, don’t mention her. She seems to inspire every female romance writer today. Not that I like her, but there are more classic writers out there to enjoy. Who is the classical writer who you return to for inspiration?