The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Epistolary novel

An epistolary novel is a literary technique in which a novel is composed as a series of letters, though diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used.

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

The epistolary novel was a form most popular in the 18th century in the works of such authors as Samuel Richardson, whose epistolary novel Pamela (1740), considered one of the First novels in English. 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. The epistolary novel slowly fell out of use in the 19th century, especially as Jane Austen popularized techniques of the omniscient narrator. 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.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) uses not only letters and diaries, but dictation tapes and newspaper accounts.

C. S. Lewis 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.

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.

The term epistolary refers to the older term for a letter, epistle. It has nothing to do with epistemology.

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13