Thursday, October 20, 2011

Epistolary Fiction

Stories Told Via Letters, Diaries & Journals on AbeBooks: Epistolary fiction is a popular genre where the narrative is told via a series of documents. You have almost certainly read one of these books. Letters are the most common basis for epistolary novels but diary entries are also popular. The word epistolary comes from Latin where epistola means a letter.

In the days before emails and text messages, letters were an essential part of everyday life and it was only natural for authors to embrace this form of communication.

This genre became very popular in the 18th century. Samuel Richardson wrote two successful epistolary novels – Pamela in 1740 and Clarissa in 1749. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther was another important example in 1774. The History of Emily Montague (1769) by Frances Brooke is another 18th century novel of this type. Epistolary fiction become so widespread that Henry Fielding parodied Pamela with a novel called Shamela in 1741.


George said...

I'm one of the few people who've read all of CLARISSA (1000+ pages!). Richardson knew how to write compelling letters that created drama.

Anonymous said...

I like novels told in diaries and letters a lot, though I haven't read most of the ones featured in the article.

I have also read a lot of "real" collections of diaries and letters - Henry James, Harold Nicolson, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Edward Robb Ellis (DIARY OF THE CENTURY), Hemingway, etc.

I take my hat off to George, however, on CLARISSA.


Unknown said...

I, too, have read all of Clarissa. Also Pamela and Shamela. Long ago.

Dan_Luft said...

No one has ever answered me this: If you drop the greetings and thank yous in an epistolary novel you end up with first person, multiple viewpoints. WHy is that such a radical, modernist innovation like in Faulkner novels?