Epistolary novel

From Academic Kids

An epistolary novel is a literary technique in which a novel is composed as a series of letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. The word "epistolary" comes from the word "epistles", meaning letters, although it has nothing to do with epistemology.

The form is related to the false document form, but more probably draws inspiration from the letters in the New Testament.

One of past arguments for an epistolary novel was that it was thought to add greater realism and verissimilitude to the story, chiefly because the epistolary novel mimics the workings of non-fictional works in real life. It is able to demonstrate differing points of view without recourse to the omniscient narrator, whom some novelists believed to be an unrealistic representation.

The epistolary novel was a form most popular in the 18th century in the works of such authors as Samuel Richardson, whose early novel Pamela (1740), was considered the first epistolary novel. In France, Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) used the epistolary form to great dramatic effect, because the sequence of events was not always related directly or explicitly.

Even during the end of the 18th century, the epistolary form was subjected to much ridicule, resulting a number of savage burlesques, most notably in Henry Fielding's Shamela, written as a parody of Pamela, where the female narrator can be found wielding a pen and scribbling her diary entries under the most dramatic and unlikeliest of circumstances.

The epistolary novel slowly fell out of use in the 19th century. By the time Jane Austen popularized techniques of the omniscient narrator, the form has become somewhat archaic. For example, Pride and Prejudice (1811) was originally written as an epistolary novel but Austen rewrote it with a third-person omniscient narrator marking, in part, the end of the era of the epistolary novel.

Subsequently epistolary novels made some rare but memorable appearances in English literature. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) uses not only letters and diaries, but dictation tapes and newspaper accounts, to trace the supernatural tale. C. S. Lewis also used this form to craft his Screwtape Letters and considered writing a companion novel from an angel's point of view--though he never did so.

In the late 20th century, Emma Bull and Steven Brust's Freedom and Necessity combined letters with diary entries, as did Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

Epistolary form has made a small number of recent appearances in contemporary literature such as Andrew Crumey's fourth novel Mr Mee and Tim Parks' Home Thoughts. Arguably, both Ella Minnow Pea and Ibid: A Life by Mark Dunn are also written as epistolary novels. The most recent mutation of the epistolary novel is the novel in e-mails, which follows the same format (example: PS He's Mine).

This technique has also been adapted to film, as in Woody Allen's 1983 picture Zelig, where he used bluescreen technology to insert himself into actual newsreels from the 1920s and 1930s.

See also: literature, false document.da:Brevroman de:Briefroman es:Novela epistolar ja:書簡体小説 nl:Briefroman pl:Powieść epistolarna


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