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The Symbolic Literature of the Renaissance

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Italian: Novella
Spanish: Novelas

Authority: Gracian

(What is this?)

Novel comes from the Latin novellus meaning young, fresh, new and this in turn from novus, new, in Latin and neos in Greek.

     Fiction existed in classical times - there was Daphnis and Chloe by Longus (a childish piece according to Huet), the Aethiopica and Theagenes and Caricleus both by Heliodorus, the Golden Ass by Apuleius and Petronius’ Satyricon but, beyond these supreme examples, the genre was rare. Ramon Llull in the late 13th century wrote Blaquerna, certainly the first ‘novel’ written in Catalan and probably the first of the second millennium but the name was not to be generally used for an imaginative work of prose fiction until later. The first ‘novels’, as we understand them, were romances in long epic format (the principal meaning of ‘roman’ in modern French is still a novel) and novellas were confined to short stories similar to Exempla and which resonated with many of the other short pieces found on this site. Epics were normally in verse and used high language whereas prose was appropriate for the vulgar language of Facetiae and Satires of all kinds. ‘Novel’, a word used with an eye to marketing was intended to denote the novelty of the incident described in the story. It is only in English and Spanish (novellas) that novel has evolved to its modern meaning

     This evolution of the meaning of the word is exemplified by Boccaccio’s Decameron from the late 14th century which consisted of 100 ‘novellas’, short stories often with a satirical twist to them. And the title of Cervantes work Novelas Exemplares of 1613 indicates the relationship with the moral aphorisms of the exempla.

     By the late Renaissance, full length and specialized forms of the novel had evolved, the pastoral, the picaresque, the knightly, the allegorical (Gracian’s own El Criticon is a supreme example) and the satirical of which Rabelais’ must take first place. In the late 16th century, as in other genres of literature and reflecting the widespread flowering of ‘scientific’ inquiry, the novel generated theoretical treatises such as that of Pierre Daniel Huet’s Traité de l’origine des Romans (1670).

     Novel of course means new and the first European newspapers both in England and the continent of Europe also date from the early 17th century. Often these were just single broadsheets which joined the tracts and chapbooks which were sold by the thousand on the streets. Many of these ephemera were satirical and were indistinguishable from the genuine news. A famous example of the former was the ‘News from Heaven and Hell’ of 1588 a defamatory tract on the Earl of Leicester describing his attempt and failure to enter heaven after his death.