A Guide to the Novel (1965)

Preface: "This book is what its title announces, a guide to the novel.  In Part One I have tried to provide the critical vocabulary by which one may see the wholeness and fullness of a novel.  Part Two is a brief history of the novel for those who wonder how this magnificent art-form developed as it passed from one master to another.  I thought that such an account would be especially useful, since short general histories of the novel are hard to come by.  In Part Three I have put forward a reading list of about one hundred major novelists together with their chief titles.  Enough commentary is added to let the prospective reader know the kind of novel he or she would be facing.  I have undoubtedly omitted several excellent authors; and I have prudently shrunk from assessing novelists who have become prominent since 1950; but I am reasonably confident that no title has been included which would waste a serious reader's time...."

For an example of the commentary offered, here is Dick's presentation of Mark Twain's famous classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885):

Huckleberry Finn is laid on the Mississippi River before the Civil War.  Its narrator and protagonist is Huck, the barefoot son of the town drunk.  After trying to endure the efforts of good-intentioned citizens to "sivilize" him, Huck lives in his father's forest shack for a while, then strikes down the river on a raft in company with a runaway slave, Jim.  The two witness the melodrama and the mean hypocrisies of river life as well as its moments of serene harmony.  When the raft takes them into the deep South, Huck must decide what to do about his friendship with an escaped "nigger."  Although Huckleberry Finn was written as a sequel to the boy's adventure tale, Tom Sawyer, it runs much deeper.  The first-person narrative, in using the rough but eloquent dialect of a river urchin to put forth the beauty, variety, and violence of the mighty river-world, demonstrates the poetic strength possible to American colloquial prose.  Huck's moral predicament is compelling not only as a boy's private emergency but as symbol of a national dilemma.  Huckleberry Finn is commonly honored, together with Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Melville's Moby-Dick, as one of the highest achievements of nineteenth-century American fiction.

To help you develop your own approach to a novel, these five chapters are provided:

Plot (central change, development, probability, tension).

Characterization (flatness and roundness, moral stature, psychology).

Narrative manner (point of view, time and tempo, style, distance).

Idea (the nature of human worth, man's power).

Historical background (biography, the author's times, the state of literature).

Each chapter ends with a battery of questions to bring out the reader's understanding of its concepts.

Part Two of the Guide provides a short history of the novel, including: Rise of the Popular Masterpiece; Refinement of the Novel (from about 1860 to date); Serious Novel vs. the Best-Seller.

In Part Three you will find chronological lists of some hundred American, English, French, Russian and other novelists, together with their works and brief descriptions of selected titles.  These can help you decide which titles to explore.

   Copyright 2005-2009  by Richard M. Eastman.  All rights reserved.