Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

4.3: Types of Novels

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \(\newcommand{\avec}{\mathbf a}\) \(\newcommand{\bvec}{\mathbf b}\) \(\newcommand{\cvec}{\mathbf c}\) \(\newcommand{\dvec}{\mathbf d}\) \(\newcommand{\dtil}{\widetilde{\mathbf d}}\) \(\newcommand{\evec}{\mathbf e}\) \(\newcommand{\fvec}{\mathbf f}\) \(\newcommand{\nvec}{\mathbf n}\) \(\newcommand{\pvec}{\mathbf p}\) \(\newcommand{\qvec}{\mathbf q}\) \(\newcommand{\svec}{\mathbf s}\) \(\newcommand{\tvec}{\mathbf t}\) \(\newcommand{\uvec}{\mathbf u}\) \(\newcommand{\vvec}{\mathbf v}\) \(\newcommand{\wvec}{\mathbf w}\) \(\newcommand{\xvec}{\mathbf x}\) \(\newcommand{\yvec}{\mathbf y}\) \(\newcommand{\zvec}{\mathbf z}\) \(\newcommand{\rvec}{\mathbf r}\) \(\newcommand{\mvec}{\mathbf m}\) \(\newcommand{\zerovec}{\mathbf 0}\) \(\newcommand{\onevec}{\mathbf 1}\) \(\newcommand{\real}{\mathbb R}\) \(\newcommand{\twovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\ctwovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\threevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cthreevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\mattwo}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{rr}#1 \amp #2 \\ #3 \amp #4 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\laspan}[1]{\text{Span}\{#1\}}\) \(\newcommand{\bcal}{\cal B}\) \(\newcommand{\ccal}{\cal C}\) \(\newcommand{\scal}{\cal S}\) \(\newcommand{\wcal}{\cal W}\) \(\newcommand{\ecal}{\cal E}\) \(\newcommand{\coords}[2]{\left\{#1\right\}_{#2}}\) \(\newcommand{\gray}[1]{\color{gray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\lgray}[1]{\color{lightgray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\rank}{\operatorname{rank}}\) \(\newcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\col}{\text{Col}}\) \(\renewcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\nul}{\text{Nul}}\) \(\newcommand{\var}{\text{Var}}\) \(\newcommand{\corr}{\text{corr}}\) \(\newcommand{\len}[1]{\left|#1\right|}\) \(\newcommand{\bbar}{\overline{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bhat}{\widehat{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bperp}{\bvec^\perp}\) \(\newcommand{\xhat}{\widehat{\xvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\vhat}{\widehat{\vvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\uhat}{\widehat{\uvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\what}{\widehat{\wvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\Sighat}{\widehat{\Sigma}}\) \(\newcommand{\lt}{<}\) \(\newcommand{\gt}{>}\) \(\newcommand{\amp}{&}\) \(\definecolor{fillinmathshade}{gray}{0.9}\)

    Types of Novels


    A satire is a subtle and bold literary device. It can be a striking tool to pinpoint and raise criticism against political practice or other official activities.

    The satire may as such be a strong weapon for opponents who want to reveal faulty, silly, or immoral practices by the authorities. It is also a way to highlight common proceedings that in fact are questionable or even foolish. But writing a good satire takes some skill and one will have to step lightly not to overexpose the object and give away the point too early. A well-written satire will cunningly strip down a certain practice and make it come out as the folly it really is.

    To write a satire you have to take a step back and create some distance to the phenomenon you want to focus on, and describe it in an objective and unbiased manner. The narrative must be set in a credible context. That is, the satire will only work when the story or plot comes as an unpretentious presentation, and is told in a natural and effortless style without lecturing or exaggerating. A relevant technique is to let the narrator be either a somewhat naive observer, for example, a visitor from a foreign country or different culture, or someone who is given the chance to describe a phenomenon to an inquisitive audience. The clue is not to give away the critical attitude, but just to give an objective account and leave the rest to the reader. It is also important that the topic is both familiar and recognizable for the reader.

    The optimal effect of a satire comes when the reader, after being entertained by the presentation, gradually or eventually gets the message. The good satire is a parallel so close to the real-life phenomenon that it will take some reflection to understand its satirical nature. The satire should not be confused with irony or parody which may be used for the same critical purpose, but are quite different approaches to the object.

    Earth with yellow sign posted that reads "Caution!!! People running free"

    Image from Pixabay

    Humor: Irony vs. Satire

    Famous writers often use humor in their works, and they do it quite deliberately. For example, Charles Dickens often chose to highlight the comical sides of characters he wanted to criticize. Ridiculing certain characters or institutions is a skillful way of manipulating readers. In general, it is liberating to laugh at authorities, and in that way humor can be an effective literary technique. Both irony and satire are widely used by writers to make a point and to lead the readers to draw their own conclusions. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was a classic master of satire and humor. He had many friends, but his writing certainly made him some enemies as well. The ultimate aim of a satire is to present a certain phenomenon in a way that makes the readers laugh but at the same time respond to the serious issue behind the text. But for writers there is pitfall here, because humor may distort the thematic message in a text and move the readers’ focus and intellectual understanding of the text. So a writer with a message must pick his method carefully and will often have to make a choice – because being funny and serious at the same time is not easy.


    It is an interesting fact that crime literature never achieved any due respect or acclaim by literary scholars and critics. It is considered a simple and trivial genre without much literary merit. One reason may be that the universe of a traditional crime story is displayed within a fairly predictable framework. When you pick up a crime story, you, to some extent, know what you will get. Certain elements are mandatory ingredients of the genre; number one is evident – there has to be a crime committed. Number two – there must be a criminal, and number three – there must be someone who goes after him.

    Yellow caution-style tape that reads "Cyber crime"

    Image from Pixabay

    Science Fiction

    Science fiction literature revolves around science and technology that does not yet exist and may never exist. But to keep the attention of most readers, it has to be plausible; therefore the science and technology described is based on the principles of science. These stories are most often set in the future. Sometimes they are about life on a changed Earth, but they also often deal with aliens, life on other planets, parallel worlds, or even time travel.

    The main concern for many science fiction authors is not the scientific and technological developments themselves, but how they affect mankind. In fact, some science fiction stories depict situations arising mainly from the social or political change resulting from these developments. In other words, a lot of science fiction can also be seen as comments on important societal issues.

    It was the editor Hugo Gernsbach who coined the expression “science fiction” in the 1920s. Not very successful himself as an author, he launched the first science fiction magazine in 1926, in which he published the works of other science fiction authors. Since then, the science fiction genre has become increasingly more popular and has developed into several sub-genres. These sub-genres are not, however, surrounded by impermeable genre borders; most sci-fi stories cross over into other sub-genres – and even other genres.

    Books and stories in the science fiction genre can focus on hard science fiction (revolving around science and technology), apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds, dystopian societies, time-travel, and space exploration and first contact, among other topics.

    Children's Literature

    The first English literature intended for children appeared during the Victorian age. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872) have become classics of fantasy literature for children. The characters Alice encounters in her underworld adventure have become immortal, like the Rabbit, the Mad Hatter and the Walrus, who is behind the famous quote, “The Time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.” Much of the literature produced for children at the time was meant to be educational with a clear moralist Christian motive. Children were seen as small people apt to a sinful life if they were not taught the correct ways. Moral education may be good, but it is not entertaining. So literature for children had to be more than that. Towards the turn of the century writers like Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Rudyard Kipling contributed with books for children that are still read and cherished today. Who has not read or seen the animated film version of Kipling’s The Jungle Book? Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped have also gained their positions as classics and have been successfully adapted to film. During the first half of the 20th century, literature for children gradually established itself as a genuine and fully recognized literary genre; and now one celebrated fiction writer after another came up with memorable and great literature for children. Examples include J.R.R. Tolkien’s substantial epic The Lord of the Rings (1937-49), C.S. Lewis’s wonderful Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56), A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, the magical world of Harry Potter created by J.K Rowling, and the popular stories by Roald Dahl and the Swedish Astrid Lindgren. In today’s fiction it is seen as sign of an author’s versatility to be able to write both for children and for a grown-up audience.

    Historical Fiction

    History is an interesting and at the same time difficult subject. Researchers spend their time studying source material, and then draw their conclusions after having presented theories and discussed with colleagues. Our knowledge of history is based on extensive and collective research by historians and archaeologists. So an author of fiction has to respect what these scholars have established as historical facts.

    One way for the author to go is to “fill in” what history does not tell us, that is, to create a story about what “might have happened.” As long as the author steers clear of established historical facts this might work, but as soon as a character or a setting can be identified as factual history, he cannot tamper with it. For example, changing the fate of Napoleon or Hitler, or introducing hand guns in the Middle Ages would simply be a falsification, even if it is presented as fiction.

    Another approach for writers of historical material is to use a factual setting and create one or more characters who take their places in a plot developing against a historical backdrop. This will give the author a framework that will be historically correct while his character(s) are purely fictional; they may even relate to and communicate with historical and factual characters. This has been done successfully by the Norwegian writer Kjartan Fløgstad in Grense Jacobselv where he creates a plot about how ex-Nazis were so smoothly re-established as clean and respectable citizens after the war. Another prime example of this approach is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables which is the story of a failed insurrection during the French Revolution.

    Reading stories set in history gives us a feeling of truth and authenticity. Such books (and films) may also bring about a sense of unification with the past and a rooting in our national identity. This is why historical novels were so popular during the Romantic Period. Stories about national heroes, chivalry, and bravery would spark the feeling of national pride and the urge for independence. Good examples are the historical plays of German playwright Friedrich Schiller and Scottish Sir Walter Scott’s stories about Rob Roy and Ivanhoe.

    Woman holding long red cape-type piece of fabric stands alone in a stone amphitheater

    Image from Pixabay

    Mass or Light Literature

    In one of his essays, author George Orwell raised the question of whether “bad” literature can still be readable. The issue may seem far-fetched and indicate a rather highbrow attitude to literature, but who should be the judge of what is good and bad literature – the literary scholar or the reader? Critics might classify "bad" books as sub-standard writing that does not appeal to the intellect. They would probably claim that taste and popularity are not the same as quality. They may have a point, but it seems a bit pretentious to discard the literary preference of millions of readers.

    Some of the most popular sub-genres of what is staple reading for the masses are available at a newsagent or in the supermarket rather than a bookstore. And this kind of literature has been and still is enjoyed by millions who just seek the pure entertainment of a reading experience. Examples of such literature are the western, hospital romance, family chronicle, science fiction, and crime, among others.

    Exercise 4.3.1

    How would you categorize these extracts, all of which are taken from novels? Think about your reasons for suggesting a particular category.


    How did you get on? The first extract is from an historical novel (Dunnett, 1993, p. 11). We can guess that it's set in the past because the detailed description of Edinburgh doesn't sound like a modern town. We know it's from a novel since, in the last paragraph of the extract, we are allowed to share a piece of information that one of the characters has been given: ‘The King's Wark, Anselm Adorne had been told.’ Anselm Adorne did exist – he was a merchant and magistrate in Bruges in the second half of the fifteenth century – but Edinburgh is described as he sees it, and this we know can only be a fictional reconstruction. This is a good example of what historical novels can do: they can imaginatively recreate the past, peopling it both with characters who really existed and with characters who are completely fictional.

    The second extract is from a popular romance (Mortimer, 1980, pp. 12-13). We know this, I think, because of the emphasis on the smouldering sexuality of the male character and the admiring response of the female character to him. They are stereotypes, placed in a stereotypical situation, although it's perhaps worth pointing out that the male figure has sound literary antecedents in the form of Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester, from Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre respectively.

    The third extract is science fiction (May, 1982, p. 11). We might deduce this from the unfamiliar situation, the use of strange words such as ‘superficies’ and ‘normal space’ and the fact that the Ship is a space ship, surrounded by stars.

    I hope you could classify these extracts without too much difficulty, because you were able to draw on concepts of various kinds of fictional writing, based on your knowledge and experience of reading. This is the kind of classification that Dennis Walder summarises on page 9 of The Realist Novel, although he also points out that these classifications are not fixed or rigid.

    Contributors and Attributions

    • Adapted from the course Approaching Prose Fiction from OpenLearn licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA
    • Adapted from Literary Analysis authored by Jan-Louis Nagel (CC BY-SA) except for Science Fiction which was authored by Karin Dwyer Løken, provided NDLA, under the license: CC BY-NC-SA

    4.3: Types of Novels is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?