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The Book as Knowledge: Fiction Literature

Fiction are a type of literary work generally written as prose. The characters, plot, and setting are invented by the author.

In this section, we'll explore fiction book forms and fiction genre. We'll also discuss children's books, comics and graphic novels, and creative nonfiction.

Fiction Book Forms

Forms of fiction literature include the epic, novel, novella, short story and flash fiction. They can also include fables, fairy tales, folklore, plays and poetry.


A fable is a short fictional story featuring characters such as animals, mythical creature, or other elements of nature that are anthropomorphic. The narrative often includes a moral lesson.

According to Harthan (1981), fables have been a standard book topic since before printed books. Traditionally associated with Aesop who lived in the 6th century BC, fables were aimed at people of all ages. However until the 18th century, fables were most often used by teachers and clergy.

The first English printed edition of Aesop's Fables was published in 1484 by William Caxton (c1415-c1492).
In 1563, Gabriele Faerno (1510-1561) published Fabulae Centum or 100 Fables in Rome. Commissioned by Pope Pius IV to promote morals in children, the book was reprinted by many others.

The image on the left is from Centum Fabulae (1567). The image below right is from Gheeraerts' Aesop's Fables (1567).


In 1567, Marcus Gheeraerts (c. 1520-1590) illustrated and published an edition of Aesop's Fables.

French author Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) was known for his fables published in several volumes between 1668 and 1694. Contained in a dozen books, the 239 fables vary in length and are classics in French literature.

The image below left is by Jean de la Fontaine and the one below right is by Francis Barlow.


In 1666 Francis Barlow published a polyglot of Aesop's Fables including text in English, French, and Latin.

In John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), he noted the usefulness of Aesop's fables for children. He encouraged the use of illustrations with fables.

In 1757, John Newbery published Fables in Verse for the Improvement of the Young and Old.

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) illustrated a number of works of Aesop's Fables including Robert Dodsley's Selected Fables in 1776 and a three-volume edition The Fables of Aesop and Others in 1818.

The image below is from Francis Barlow's Aesop's Fables.


The image on the right is from Walter Crane's The Baby's Own Aesop.

In 1887, Walter Crane (1845-1915) a famous children's book illustrator published The Baby's Own Aesop.


To learn more, explore Banbury Chap Books and Nursery Toy Book Literature (1890) by Edwin Pearson. This book explores the history of fables as well as other books for children.

To learn more, explore Ernest Ingersoll (1852-1946) wrote Birds in Legend: Fable and Folklore (1923).

Fairy Tales

A fairy tale is a type of short story that features fantasy characters such as giants, trolls, elves, mermaids, and fairies. Magic or enchantments are often featured in these narratives.

Fairy tales can be traced back to oral history. Madame d'Aulnoy (c1650-1705) coined the term "fairy tale" in the 17th century to describe these types of stories. The French author was known for her fairy tales. Originally, fairy tales were intended for both adults and children.

Charles Perrault (1628-1703) was a French author who wrote many well-known fairy tales including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Sleeping Beauty. Many of his works were rewritten by the Brothers Grimm.

Some of the best-known fairy tales were written by the Brothers Grimm including Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859). Their stories include Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Snow White, and many others. Kinder- und Hausmarchen or Children's and Household Tales was their first collection published in 1812. Subsequently, many well-known illustrators created their own books based on the stories. For instance, Household Stories from the Collections of the Brothers Grimm (1882) translated by Lucy Crane and illustrated by Walter Crane is an excellent example. Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) illustrated a version called The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm in 1909.

The image below is from Household Stories (1882).


Mother Goose is an imaginary author associated with fairy tales and nursery rhymes. The character was identified in books as early as the 17th century. Charles Perrault (1628-1703) published Tales of Mother Goose in 1697. However, in 1791 John Newbery (1713-1767) published Mother Goose's Melody making the permanent association with specific nursery rhymes. This book was reprinted many times and the rhymes made their way into many other books. For instance, The Real Mother Goose (1916) was written by Blanche Fisher Wright contained the most popular nursery rhymes.


Mother Goose, or The Old Nursery Rhymes (1890) illustrated by Kate Greenaway is another example.

Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875) was a Danish author who published fairy tales including The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, and The Emperor's New Clothes. He first published the book Fairy Tales in 1835. It was translated into many different languages. In 1838 he wrote Fairy Tales Told for Children.

Jack and the Beanstalk is a classic British fairy tale. The earliest known book version was by Benjamin Tabart (1767-1833) in 1807 who published the Juvenile Library in London. Many others created versions of the story such as The Story of Jack and the Giants (1851). George Cruikshank and Walter Crane both created beautifully illustrated versions.

During the 19th century, many fairy tales were reprinted as very short (12 pages) books such as Cinderella by companies like George Routledge and Sons. They were known as "Threepenny Toy-books".

The image below left is the cover from Cinderella and the image below right is the cover of Old French Fairy Tales (1920).


Fairy tales were popular in countries around the world. For instance, Old French Fairy Tales was published in 1920.


The novel is a work of fiction. This narrative prose generally involves imaginary people, places, and events. Early examples include Don Quixote by Cervantes, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and Pamela by Samuel Richardson. Most novels for adults are 70,000-120,000 words and divided into chapters. Novels for young adults are around 30,000 words. A novelette is a novel of 30,000 to 50,000 words, while a novella is a long short story.

Although novels are sometimes published in parts such as the three-volume novels of the 18th century, they are generally stand-alone books. In some cases, novels are published in a series with each book bearing it's own title. These books are published in a sequence and often share characteristics such as genre, characters, and/or setting. In some cases, sequels are produced that continue the characters, plot, and setting of a previous work.

Many series have become best-sellers such as the Star Wars books (1977-present) have sold over 160 million copies, The Dark Tower series by Stephen King (1982-2012) have sold more than 30 million copies, and the The Redwall series by Brian Jacques (1986-present) have sold over 20 million copies.

Series and sequels are particularly popular in young adult books. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books are examples of series that can be read in any order, while the Harry Potter books are intended to be read in a particular order. A trilogy is a set of three connected works such as the The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov and Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

In some cases, additional books are added to make four or five books in the grouping. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (2002-2011) have sold more than 33 million copies.

The Origins of the Novel

It's difficult to identify the point where the novel splits from other types of fiction. During the early modern period, narrative historical accounts often contained invented passages that were used to embellish the text. However, novels have literary and artistic elements that set them apart. In early works, the word novel was placed on the title page of the book to indicate that the book was not a forgery, but instead a work of the imagination. These novels were a distinct type of literary prose. Considered creative works, they allowed artistic freedom not available to authors of history. Novels introduced the ideas of personal views, intimate feelings, secrecy, love, and gallantry. Readers could identify with the characters and often discussed their reading experience with friends.

The term fiction became associated with those works with cultural significance that should be explored and critiqued for their literary value, while novels were intended to be enjoyed rather than evaluated.

According to Sutherland (2012, 3),

"The novel (or 'new thing') happened in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. It coincided with, and arguably depended upon, an array of preconditional factors: for example, mass literary, urbanisation, mercantilism, the Protestant Ethic, the rise of the bourgeoisie, female emancipation, new technologies, parliamentary democracy and individual authorial genius. Scholars have tried, but a juggling octopus could not keep all those balls in the air. Enough to say - it happened."

The arrive of the novel coincided with the availability of cheaper books and sammler octavo formats that could be read without the support of a table. People could afford to buy them for their personal collections.

Early novel forms began appearing shortly after the invention of the printing press. One of the first uses of the term novel was in William Painter's Palace of Pleasure well furnished with pleasaunt Histories and excellent Novelles in 1566.

Novels of the 17th Century

donThe term novel began to replace romance on title pages by the mid 17th century.

An archetypal novel is a work of fiction considered to be a precursor to the novel. Tales or romances, they had many of the characteristics of novels.

Don Quixote published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615 is an archetypal novel. This novel is considered the most influential work of Spanish literature.

The image on the right shows the title page to Don Quixote.

Novels of the 18th Century

During the 18th century most novels were heroic or satirical romances. Some were also explored escapist topics like adventure. In 1719, Englishman Daniel Defoe (c 1660-1731) published one of the earliest novels, Robinson Crusoe.

Another early novel was written by Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) called Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740). The novel tells the story of a maidservant who falls in love with her nobleman master.

The image below shows the title page and a scene from the novel Pamela.


French author Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) wrote Paul et Virginie published in 1789. At the age of twelve he read Robinson Crusoe and was influenced both by the writing and the travel aspects. Like Robinson Crusoe much of Paul et Virginie takes place outdoors. The story involves loves between two people of different social classes. The book was particularly popular with children.

The image below by Augustin Legrand (1794-1800) depicts a scene from Paul et Virginie.


Gothic fiction experienced a revival in the form of Ann Radcliff's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1784).

Novels of the 19th Century

Romanticism continued to be popular with authors like Victor Hugo and Mary Shelley into the 19th century.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, novelists began experimenting with different genre.

Novelists also began exploring realistic fiction. Authors like Walter Scott began writing novels that blurred the lines between fact and fiction. While some explored contemporary topics like racism, abolitionism, and child labor, others developed historical fiction exploring topics such as war. For instance, Leo Tolstoy published War and Peace (1868-1869).

During the 18th century in England and the 19th century in America, the domestic novel gained popularity. Also known as sentimental fiction, these books focused on individuals with unblemished character who received rewards for their virtuous conduct. Uncle Tom's Cabin is an example. These were also written for children in the form of books like Goody-Two Shoes.

Authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells explored technological and biological developments.

In 1843, Jules Janin (1804-1874) wrote Un Hiver a Paris which describes a winter season in Paris through the eyes of an American visitor. The novel contains a mixture of wood engravings and steel engravings by Eugene Lami.

The image below shows a theatre performance and was published in Un Hiver a Paris.


The penny dreadful, also known as the penny horrible, penny awful, and penny blood, was a British serial novel published in the 19th century. The term came to be associated with cheap books aimed at working-class young adults. Beginning in the 1830s, these serials became a cheap alternative to mainstream novels. However eventually they were predominately aimed at teen boys.

Designed to compete with the penny dreadful, the yellow-back was a cheap novel published in Britain beginning in the 1840s. Decorated with bright covers, Routledge was the first to publish a series known as the Railway Library. These publications often sold advertising that was placed in the front and back matter of the book.

The images below show yellow-backs including Jack's Secret (1893), Fickle Heart (1887), and Misrepresentation (1866).


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Go to the Yellowbacks Collection at Explore one of these cheap fiction novels. Why do you think they appealed to the working class of the 19th century?

dimeDuring the second half of the 19th century, inexpensive paperback editions of popular works became popular. These sold at newsstands for a dime or quarter a copy.

In 1860, the Dime Novel Library was introduced by Beadle and Adams of New York. The first book in the series was Maleaska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter (1860) by Ann S. Stephens. The series was popular among young, working-class people. In 1874 they added colored covers and began numbering the series.

The image on the left shows the New Dime Novel Series with a color cover and reprinted stories.

The term dime novel soon became associated with sensational novels. Westerns themes were popular for this type of novel. The term was used into the 1940s with pulp novels like the Western Dime Novel.


Novels of the 20th Century

During the 20th century, the the novel went global. Literary scholars from around the world developed literary theories associated with the novel. Novels continued to be viewed as art. Continued experimentation lead to crossover projects with related genre and formats such as the graphic novel.

The Novel in America

According to Cathy Davidson (1986, 3-5) in Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America.,

"At least one hundred novels were produced in America between 1789 and 1820. Novelists of the early national period read one another and often responded to one another's plots. Readers avidly sought out novels. Publishers and proprietors of lending libraries advertised novels prominently as a way to attract readers to buy or borrow other kinds of books... the task of the early American novelist was to find a distinctive voice despite the dominance of British and European traditions and against the demoralizing derision of Ango-European arbiter of value and good taste...

The early American novel soon became the single most popular literary genre of its day... One reason, I argue, for the popularity of early American novels was the way they coupled sensational plots with problems that were very much part of the nation-building enterprise (diffuse, varied, and often disharmonious) engaged in by Americans across the spectrum of class, region, religion, ethnicity, race, occupation, age, and gender in the 1790s...

"Free speech and dissent may be hallmarks of democracy - but that does not mean they are always welcome by those in positions of power... The novel's popularity lay in its ability to address the widest possible demographic of readers - Federalists and anti-Federalists, liberals and republications."

In 1921, Meredith Starr wrote The Future of the Novel. The book included interviews with well-known authors reflecting on their craft. For instance, Upton Sinclair hoped that novels would deal with human relationships and the realities of life.

"I can only venture to hope, and that is that the novel will cease to deal exclusively with the exploiting classes, and will devote itself more and more to the useful members of society." (Starr, 1921, 72

try itTry It!
Read one of the interviews from The Future of the Novel (1921). Think about how authors and their novels have changed in the past century. What's stayed the same? What's the future of novels and novelists?


Plays are a literary work intended to be performed live on the stage. Screenplays are a particular type of play written to be produced as a feature length film, for the web, or for television. The text of a play or visual recording is called the script. Scripts are often published as books.

Many of Shakespeare's plays were published in book form.

Read Pratt, Aaron T. (September 2015). Stab-Sticking and the status of early English playbook as literature. The Library, 16(3), 304-328. IUPUI students can view the article online.

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Explore the Database of Early English Playbooks. This website provides a search engine where you can explore every playbook produced in England, Scotland, and Ireland through 1660.

Although the digital books aren't available at this website, you can get a feel for the titles and topics of the period. You can then use other online tools to search for digital copies.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1899) by Oscar Wilde is an example of a play script sold as a book.

troubleIn 1973, a book that incorporated both elements of the script and production notes from the Star Trek series The Trouble with Tribbles by David Gerrold gained popularity.

The image on the right shows the cover of the paperback book The Trouble with Tribbles: The Birth, Sale, and Final Production of One Episode.


Poetry is a written or spoken work in the metrical form and can be classified as ballad, epic, limerick, ode, sonnet or other categories.

Poetry is often published in books in anthologies such as The Best American Poetry published since 1988.

Short Stories

A short story is a short work of literature generally written as a narrative. While novella are longer than short stories and often published as books, flash fiction are very short stories and often found as collections on the Internet.

Short stories are often published in collections organized by author or theme. Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain were known for their short story collections in the 19th century.

Many short stories originally published in pulp or literary magazine were expanded into novels.

Fiction Genre

In the early 20th century, general fiction transformed into the categories of genre fiction and literary fiction. However, the creation of these categories of fiction has led to much controversy.

Genre fiction is written to fit into a particular category such as adventure, crime, or science fiction.

Literary fiction has emerged as a classification that attempts to engage the reader in the exploration of deep questions or truths. Less emphasis is placed on plot, while more stress is placed on the inner story of the characters and emotional involvement of the reader in the story. Stories are generally character studies with a slower pace than genre fiction. Because they are often described as more elegantly written than genre fiction, some critics oppose literary fiction as a category. Instead, they prefer to think of it as simply realistic fiction.

The focus on literary realism began in the mid-19th century. Middlemarch (1869-1871) by George Eliot (1819-1880), Ragged Dick (1868) by Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) by William Dean Howells (1837-1920), and The Open Boat (1897) by Stephen Crane (1871-1900) are examples.

Authors like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Theodor Fontane, and Anton Chekhov are other authors who write realistic fiction. American authors Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Frank Norris, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton also fall into this category.

Postmodern fiction also falls into the category of literary fiction including streams of consciousness styles like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, the best generation authors like Jack Kerouac and magic realism found in works by Gabriel García Márquez.

Adventure Fiction

From sea stories and imaginary voyages to lost worlds and tales of survival, adventure novels include a wide range of topics. Often involving the risk of physical harm, adventure fiction stories involve readers in an exciting undertaking that involves danger and action. These novels move quickly emphasizing plot over characters and other creative elements.

Adventure fiction overlaps with other subgenres such as crime novels, war novels, sea stories, science fiction, westerns, and spy stories.

Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe (c 1660-1731) may be the first novel in this genre. The term robinsonade was coined in 1731 to refer to this type of survivalist fiction.

From the mid-19th century, adventure fiction has been a popular type of fiction. Authors like Sir Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, Edgar Wallace, and Robert Louis Stevenson are known for their work during this period. A Tales of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens is categorized as adventure because of the constant danger faced by the characters.

During the 19th century many adventure novels were written for children such as The Swiss Family Robinson (1812) by Johann David Wyss (1743-1818) and Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson (1950-1894).

The Tarzan (1914-1995) series by Edgar Rice Burroughs have sold more than 50 million copies.

The image below shows the frontispiece and title page for Tarzan of the Apes. Click the image to read the book.


Many of the dime novels and pulp fiction of the late-19th and 20th century involved adventure. Authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Talbot Mundy, and Harold Lamb are examples.

The image below shows David Crockett by John Abbott. Click the image to read the book.


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Skim David Crockett: His Life and Adventures (1874) by John Abbott.

Christian Fiction

Christian fiction, also known as inspirational fiction, has a long, but rocky tradition. Christian novels are works that incorporate a Christian world view or themes. Works such as Divine Comedy (c1308) by Dante Alighieri and The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan are two early examples of religious, allegorical literature. However these aren't classified as novels.

In the early 19th century, American Protestants viewed the novel as a threat to virtue.

"A host of religious and nonreligious commentators condemned the form (novels) as hopelessly corrupting. Such censures would find a wide circulation in the United States as the American Tract Society issued tracts on the subject; gift books and advice manuals included articles on the dangers of novel reading; and a host of other printed materials would warm readers away from the insidious novel for"... Virtuous action, and thus the ability to lead a worthwhile life, depended on embracing what was true and avoiding even the slightest hint of dissimulation or falseness." (Gutjahr, 2002, 211)

At the root of Christian concerns was the idea that novels contained "false notions of things" and took time away from more "worthy activities". However the introduction of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace in 1880 changed many opinions. Pope Leo XIII even blessed the book.

The image below shows the cover of Ben-Hur (left) and the author (right).


During the late 19th and early 20th century, the Christian fiction book market did well. Supported by the ecumenical Protestant movement that focused on addressing social problems related to industrialization, immigration, and urbanization, a substantial body of social gospel fiction was popularized (Smith, 2007).

On the other hand, many Christians continued to distrust the novel through much of the twentieth century. Although a number of well-received Christian novels were produced such as The Robe by Lloyd Douglas in 1942, most were not produced by Christian publishers.

lewisWorks like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1960) by C.S. Lewis and A Live Coal in the Sea (1996) by Madeleine L'Engle had Christian themes.

According to Gutjahr (2002), over the past several decades Christian novels have exploded in popularity. By connecting Christian publishers with Christian bookstores and creating formula novels like Christian romances that would appeal to twenty-somethings, a large customer base was established. Canadian Janette Oke (1935-) author of Love Comes Softly (1979) had a tremendous impact on this publishing boom. An Evangelical Christian, her historical romances focus on female protagonists during pioneer times. Frank Peretti author of This Present Darkness (1985) is example of an author that combines Christian themes with a suspense.

The success of the Life Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in the 1990s is evidence of this shift in thinking about the role of novels in Christian culture. The Left Behind series have sold more than 65 million copies.

To learn more about the history of Christian Fiction, browse Gutjahr, Paul C. (2002). No longer left behind:, reader response, and the changing fortunes of Christian novel in America. Book History, 5, 209-236. IUPUI students can view the article online.

swiftComedy and Satire Fiction

Comedy fiction is intended to amuse an audience through laughter. This type of fiction generally contains elements of whimsy, fun and fancy making it humor or comic fiction. Intended to entertain, satire is a genre that involves making fun of individuals or society to make a point. Parody, irony or sarcasm are often used to express ideas.

During the Age of Enlightenment, satire became a popular tool of authors like John Gay, Robert Harley, and Alexander Pope. In A Modest Proposal (1729) by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), the author suggests that peasants sell their children as food for the rich.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding is an example from the mid-18th century.

The cover and an illustration from The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling is shown below.

diary of a nobodynobody

During the 19th century, authors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain brought humor to novels. In 1892, The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith (1854-1919) was published.

The frontispiece and title page below is from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. Click the image to read the book.


Many humorous books were published as dime novels and yellowbacks like Out of the Hurly-Burly, or, Life in an Odd Corner (1874) by Charles Heber Clark (1841-1915) also known as Max Adeler.

The image below shows a yellow-back humor book titled Out of the Hurly-Burly, or, Life in an Odd Corner (1874).


The juvenile satire combined with allegorical and dystopian literature of the 20th century included Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding (1911-1993), A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), and Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell (1903-1950). These books are commonly read in schools to gain insights into society.

Crime Fiction

Detective stories, legal thrillers, and courtroom dramas all involve fictionalized crimes. Other categories include whodunits, locked room mysteries, and police procedurals. The narratives involve detecting crimes, identifying motives and suspects, and solving crimes.

Crime novels emerged in the early 19th century. The Rector of Veilbye by Danish author Steen Steensen Blicher was published in 1829. Some of Edgar Allan Poe's works could also be considered detective fiction such as Rue Morgue (1841). However Monseiur Lecoq (1868) by French author Emile Gaboriau invented the detective drama. Les Habits Noirs (1862-67) by French author Paul Feval also featured detectives.

The Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle brought the subgenre of crime fiction to the forefront of popularity in the late 19th century. First appearing as short stories, the character Sherlock Holmes rapidly grew in popularity and became the basis for novels in the early 20th century.

The image below shows the frontispiece and title page to Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893). Click the image to view the book.


Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was a well-known English author. Her 66 detective novels have sold over 4 billion copies and making her the best selling novelist of all time. Her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Style (1920) featured detective Hercule Poirot. Her second novel The Secret Adversary (1922) introduced a detective couple Tommy and Tuppence.

The cover art for The Mysterious Affair at Style and The Secret Adversary are shown below.


Epistolary Novels

In an epistolary novel, a series of letters are used to tell the story. In some cases the author combines conventional narrative with the letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, or other documents. The use of ephemeral materials adds realism to the reading experience. Carcel de Amor or Prison of Love (c. 1485) by Diego de San Pedro may be the first example in the genre. Love-Letters Between a Noble-man and His Sister by Aphra Behn is a well-known example published in three volumes (1684, 1685, 1687).

The title page to Love-Letters Between a Noble-man and His Sister is shown below.


Although the peak of popularly for this type of novel was the 18th century, the epistolary format is popular with children and young adults today. Recently, electronic documents such as blog postings and Twitter messages have been incorporated creating a transmedia storytelling experience.

Erotic Literature

fanny hillIn erotic fiction, fictional accounts of human sexual relationship play a central role. Through themes involving orgies, prostitution, sadomasochism, and other traditionally taboo subjects, sexual fantasies and stories are presented with the intention of arousing the reader sexually.

In erotica literature "the journey of the main characters is generally shown through the lens of their sexuality and sexual practices." (Dunneback, 2013). The genre may feature bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism.

Erotic books have a long history. Facetiae by Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini and The Tale of Two Lovers by Aeneas Syvius Piccolomini are early printed examples from the 15th century.

In the late 18th-century Marquis de Sade of France was imprisoned for naming the idea of sadism.

During the 18th century Edmund Curll (1675-1747) gained success with the Merryland books. In 1748, Fanny Hill by John Cleland (1709-1789) was published. It became a seminal work because its many challenges and obscenity trials.

The image on the left shows the cover of Fanny Hill from a 1910 edition.

During the Victorian period in the 19th century, much of the erotic literature was written by hacks who were paid to write books for the marketplace.

During the 20th century, the themes were expanded. Books like Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), The Story of O (1954) by Pauline Réage (1907-1998), and Lolita (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) were published.

Books like Tropic of Cancer (1934) by Henry Miller (1891-1980) helped bring light to and reform the obscenity laws in the United States and United Kingdom.

In the 1970s, books like Fear of Flying (1973) by Erica Jong (1942-) reflected the sexual revolution of the 1970s.

In the 1980s, Anne Rice (1941-) wrote the Sleeping Beauty trilogy under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure.

The Fifth Shades of Grey (2011-2012) books by E.L. James (1963-) have sold more than 65 million copies.

According to Katie Dunneback (2013),

"ebooks continue to be popular with readers of erotic literature, especially when the covers are sexually suggestive...'We know that there are skill many readers who prefer to read erotic romance digitally - after all, the recent resurgence in the [genre] started digitally.'"

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Skim Harvey, Karen (2005). Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture. Cambridge University Press. Preview Available:

Think about the way erotic literature has been perceived over time.


Fantasy is situated between the real and mythical world. Although elements may be real such as locations or actions of characters, the reader is asked to suspend disbelief and delve into an imaginary world. Magic and supernatural phenomena are incorporated into the characters, plot, or setting. Magical creatures are often part of these worlds. In addition, they often take place in a medievalist form.

Fantasy tends to avoid scientific technology found in science fiction and the macabre themes of horror.

Literature has a long history of incorporating fantasy elements including epic poetry, Arthurian legends, and works of Shakespeare like A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In the 19th century works included The King of the Golden River (1841) by English author John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Phantastes (1858) and The Princess and the Goblin (1872) by Scottish author George MacDonald (1824-1905). In 1863, Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) published The Water-Babies. This fantasy connects with the interest at that time in Darwinian evolution and social progress. William Morris and H.G. Wells also wrote fantasies during this period.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871) by English author Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) are examples of fantasy and literary nonsense.

In the 20th century, fantasy gained popularity particularly with children with books like Peter Pan (1911) by J.M. Barrie (1860-1937) and the Wizard of Oz series (1900-1920) by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919).

The image below is an illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the title page to Once on time (click the image to read the book) and the book cover for The Hobbit.


Books like Once on a Time (1917) by A.A. Milne (1882-1956) focused on kingdoms, princes, and princesses. Books like The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954/55) by J.R.R. Tolkien introduce readers to fictional worlds. One of the best selling books of all time, The Lord of the Rings has sold 150 million copies and The Hobbit has sold more than 100 million copies.

"Sword and sorcery" novels were popular like Conan the Barbarian (1932) by Robert E. Howard (1906-1936). Chronicles of Narnia (1950s) by C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and the Earthsea (1964) books by Ursula K. LeGuin (1929-) emerged during this time. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams (1952-2001) represents humor in science fiction and has sold over 14 million copies.

Ender's Game (1985) by Orson Scott Card (1951-) shows how a short story can become a novel and eventually a series of books and even a movie.

The popularity of fantasy continues to grow today with books like the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus books by Rick Riordan.

Gothic Fiction

Gothic fiction combines elements of horror and romance genre. The stories are often set in medieval buildings or castles and have sinister overtones. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764) by English author Horace Walpole (1717-1797) is considered the first gothic novel. Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) made the Gothic novel socially acceptable by explaining supernatural elements. Her novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho published in 1794 contain remote castle, seemingly supernatural events, terror, brooding villains, and a heroine.

The title page for The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho are shown below.


Other authors emerged including Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe.

Although the genre had been dismissed by critics, penny blood or penny dreadful novels were popular.

In the 1880s, Gothic fiction experienced a revival with novels like Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson and Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker.

Click the image below to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


Twentieth century authors include H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, and William Hope Hodgson. Today, authors like Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood continue the tradition.

Historical Fiction

waverleyIn historical fiction, the characters, plot, and setting take place in a specific location and time in history. In some cases, the story is based or draws on events that actually happened. Although the characters are often fictional, the place and time may seem real to readers because author attempts to capture the social elements, manners, and language of the time period. Historical fiction overlaps with many other subgenres including romance and war novels.

Waverley (1812) by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is considered to be the first historical fiction novel. The story is set in Scotland during the Jacobite uprising of 1745. Scott also wrote the historical novels Guy Mannering (1815), Rob Roy (1817), and Ivanhoe (1819). Last of the Mohicans (1826) by James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) by Victor Hugo (1802-1885) and The Three Musketeers (1844) by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) are other 19th century examples.

The image on the left shows an image from the 1893 version of Waverley.

goneThe genre continued to be popular through the 20th century with series like Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949), Horatio Hornblower (1937-1967) by C.S. Forester (1899-1966). James A. Michener (1907-1997) wrote historical fiction novels set around the world.

The image on the right show the original cover to Gone with the Wind.

Historical fiction gained in popularity in the second half of the 20th century with books like Catch-22 (1961) by Joseph Heller (1923-1999), The Eagle Has Landed (1975) by Jack Higgins (1929-), Shogun (1975) by James Clavell (1924-1994) and The Thorn Birds (1977) by Colleen McCullough (1937-).

More recently The Name of the Rose (1980) by Umberto Eco (1932-), the Earth's Children (1980-2011) series by Jean M. Auel (1936-), The Pillars of the Earth (1989) by Ken Follett (1949-)


maryIn a horror, the characters, plot, and/or setting instill a feeling of dread in readers. Elements of the occult, magic, macabre, and supernatural are often incorporated in stories that involve monsters, mummies, ghosts, witches, werewolves, vampires, and demons. The themes often deal with good and evil, the afterlife, death, and demonic pacts. The subgenre is associated with gothic fiction as well as thrillers, suspense, mystery, dark fantasy, monster literature, mystery, and weird fantasy.

Early horrors were gothic novels such as Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole (1717-1797), The Italian (1796) by Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), and The Monk (1797) by Matthew Lewis (1775-1818).

The image on the left shows Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

In the 19th century, gothic novels became horror literature with books like Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley, the short story collections of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) and Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker (1847-1912).

vampireHorrors were popular during the time of pulp magazines and books. Authors like H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1927) were popular in the early 20th century. In 1954, I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson (1926-) introduced the zombie apocalypse to the horror genre.

The Vampire Chronicles (1976-2003) by Anne Rice (1941-) have sold more than 80 million copies.

The image on the right shows the cover of Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

The best-known contemporary horror author is Stephen King (1947-). However other authors like Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, and Peter Straub are also popular.

Recently genre mashups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith have become popular.

Military Fiction

red badge of courageWar novels and military historical fiction are both examples of military fiction. These works take place in a field of combat or on the home front. Characters may be involved in preparing for or recovering from military engagement. Many works of military fiction are also historical fiction.

The roots of military fiction can be found in the epic poetry such as The Iliad, Beowulf and the legends of King Arthur. In the 19th century, the war novel gained popularity with works like War and Peace (1869) by Leo Tolstoy and The Red Badge of Courage (1895) by Stephen Crane.

The image on the left shows the original cover of The Red Badge of Courage.

Novels like All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) emerged after World War I. Also during this time, modernist novels focusing on the psychological trauma of war experiences gained popularity such as Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf. Other successful novels include A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway and Company K (1933) by William March.

Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell and The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975) revisited the American Civil War.

After World War II, a number of contemporary war novels emerged including From Here to Eternity (1951) by James Jones, The Caine Mutiny (1952) by Herman Wouk, and The Bridge over the River Kwai (1952) by Pierre Boulle. MASH (1968) by Richard Hooker was a black comedy based on the Korean War.

Many novels were produced based on the Vietnam era including The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O'Brien. Contemporary novels include The Hunt for Red October (1984) by Tom Clancy.


In mystery fiction, the story involves unraveling clues to solve a crime or unveil a secret. The plot might involve a disappearance, murder, or secret that is of interest to the audience. Subgenres include crime fiction, detective fiction, historical mysteries, and suspense. Sometimes called whodunit, the books emphasize the puzzle and suspense aspects of a mystery and use logic to solve problems. In some cases mysteries include elements of thrillers and supernatural fiction.

During the English Renaissance, the increase in literacy matched with more individualistic thinking and a respect of human reasoning led to an interest in solving mysteries. However prior to the 19th century, most areas had little law enforcement other than a local constable so what we know today as the police procedural or detective story didn't exist.

Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1819) by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822), The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), and The Woman in White (1860) by Wilkie Collins represent early examples of what we call a mystery today. In 1887, Sherlock Holmes was introduced by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).

Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930) made a significant contribution with the creation of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. Both series were written under pseudonyms by various authors.

The images below show covers from the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery stories.

hardy boysnancy drew

In the 1920s and 1930s, Agatha Christie (1890-1976) introduced many well-known mysteries such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death on the Nile (1937), and And Then There Were None (1939).

During the 1930s through 1940s pulp magazines and books incorporated mystery themes sometimes referred to as weird menace stories. While some of these stories were simply crime stories others had supernatural or horror elements.

The Perry Mason books by Erle Stanley Gardner (1933-1970) have sold more than 300 million copies.

Mysteries continue to be popular with readers. For instance, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has sold 80 million copies since its publication in 2003 and Angels and Demons has sold over 39 million copies. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith (1999-present) have sold over 15 million copies.



senseRomance fiction focus on human relationships and romantic love. Many early literary forms incorporated themes of medieval chivalry laying the foundation for romantic novels.

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson is considered the first popular romance novel. Books like Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen and Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte typify this genre.

The image on the right shows a scene from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

A number of romance subgenre exist. For instance, historical romances were introduced in 1921 by Georgette Heyer. Other categories include romantic suspense, paranormal romance, science fiction and fantasy romance, time-travel romance, supernatural romance, inspirational romance, multicultural romance, historical romance, and erotic romance.

In the 1930s, the British company Mills and Boon introduced category romances. Their books were reprinted in North America by Harlequin and are sometimes simply referred to as Harlequin Romances.

Beginning in the 1970s, the modern romance emerged with authors like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Janet Dailey whose books were often published in paperback rather than hardcover. In the 1980s, book paperback book covers became increasingly risqué. More recently, historical romance has re-emerged with independent, strong-willed heroines. In addition, authors like LaVyrie Spencer incorporate overweight-middle aged heroes. The genre has also bridged into science fiction with authors like Jayne Ann Krentz.

Today, romance novels account for nearly half of paperbacks sold in North America focusing on a predominately female audience. Authors like Jude Deveraux, Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel are particularly popular.


brideA family saga chronicles the lives of a family or connected individuals over a long period of time. These works are often a series of books that explore historical events, social changes, and many perspectives over time.

These sagas may cross into other genres for example Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert is science fiction and has sold over 12 million copies, while The Thorn Birds (1977) by Colleen McCullough is historical fiction.

Brideshead Revisited (1945) by Evelyn Waugh, Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides, and The Godfather (1969) by Mario Puzo are examples.

The image of the book on the right is from Brideshead Revisited.

Science Fiction

A story based on actual or imagined science is incorporated into science fiction. The narrative may take place in the future or on another world. This type of imaginative fiction often involves commentary on existing conditions or prophecy. Subgenres include steampunk and cyberpunk.

Early example of science fiction include Utopia (1516) by Thomas More (1478-1535). This book sets the stage for utopian literature for the next five hundred years. The literary term utopia involves a setting that reflects that ideal society represented in an imaginary or future world. Dystopia is the opposite reflecting a nightmare society.

The image below left shows the island of Utopia from the book Utopia by Thomas More and the image below right is from The Man in the Moone.


gulliverThe science fiction genre really emerged following the Age of Reason and Scientific Revolution between the 17th and 18th centuries. Topics include space travel in Micromegas (1752) by Voltaire (1694-1778), The Man in the Moone (1638) by Francis Godwin (1562-1633), and Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1656) by Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655); imaginary voyages like Somnium by Johannas Kepler (1571-1630) and Gulliver's Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745); lost worlds like Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé (1710) by Simon Tyssot de Patot (1655-1738) and The New Atlantis (1627) by Francis Bacon (1561-1626); and futures like L'An 2440 by Louis-Sébastien Mercier (1740-1814).

The image on the left is from the frontispiece to Gulliver's Travels. Click the image to read the book.

During the 19th century, Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley (1797-1851) introduced the "mad scientist". Shelley also introduced the first apocalyptic novel titled The Last Man (1826). Predki Kalimerosa: Aleksandr Filippovich Makedonskii (1836) by Alexander Veltman (1800-1870) introduced the first use of time travel.

The image below is the frontispiece and title page to a 1831 version of Frankenstein. Click the image to read the book.


During the second half of the 19th century, the term scientific romance was used to describe books that combined fiction and scientific writing.

French novelist Jules Verne (1828-1905) published romantic adventures with technology including A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869). Verne's work mixed adventure and romantic views of technology. Commercial successes, Verne can be considered the first full-time science fiction novelist.

The image below shows the frontispiece to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Click the image to read the book.


H.G. Wells (1866-1946) is the first English novelist to gain notoriety in science fiction with works like The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and The War of the Worlds (1898). Wells explored on the social aspects of technology building political messages into much of his work.

lost worldBy the early 20th century, science fiction grew to include authors from around the global and included a wide range of topics. The Sultana's Dream (1905) by Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (1880-1932) dealt with gender-reversed roles and technology in a futuristic society.

Science fiction continued to be popular in the UK with books like The Lost World (1912) by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). In the United States science fiction works like A Princess of Mars (1912) by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) were popular.

The image on the right is from The Lost World. Click the image to read the book.

Inexpensive publications known as pulp magazines and books introduced short story collections with titles like Amazing Stories and Weird Tales.

After World War I, a new wave of authors emerged and more literary science fiction novels were produced. Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) focused attention on issues related to the implications of technology.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell (1903-1950) as sold over 25 million copies. A dystopian novel set in the future during a totalitarian regime, 1984 became part of popular culture introducing words like "big brother" that are still used today when referring to privacy rights.

The 1940s and 1950s is considered the Golden Age of Science Fiction with authors like Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Judith Merril, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke were also introduced.

Science fiction continued in popularity during the 1960s and 1970s with authors like Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin.

During the 1980s, cyberpunk was introduced by authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. Steampunk was also introduced during this time with authors like Philip Pullman.

try itTry It!
Skim Brouillette, Sarah (2002). Corporate publishing and canonization: neuromancer and science-fiction publishing in the 1970s and early 1980s. Book History, 5, 187-208.

The author uses one novel to reflect the larger genre and publishing industry at a particular point in time. In addition, it places this novel as part of the larger history of the genre. Think about a novel in another genre that you could explore in this way.
Explore the following for ideas:
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Sensational and Pulp Fiction

Inexpensive books with lurid and exploitative stories have been popular for two centuries. Often containing sensational cover art, they were printed for the mass market on low-quality paper. These softcover books were produced across genre and often had suggestive covers. Aimed at the working class audience, these novel-magazines were inexpensive enough for the everyday person to afford as entertainment. Comic books descended from sensational fiction focusing on heroic characters.

During the mid to late 19th century, penny dreadfuls and dime novels was the term used to describe this short fiction.

In the first half of the 20th century, pulp fiction was used to describe these cheap books. A cross between a magazine and novel in length and appearance, many of these were anthologies of short stories. Frank Munsey's Argosy Magazine (1896) is considered to be the first pulp publication. The Popular Magazine began publication in 1903. Although primarily an American work, pulp fiction also gained popularity in the United Kingdom. Pulps were particularly popular before World War II. Paper shortages caused an increase in price and most publications shifted to a thicker, smaller digest size.

The "pulp"

“is a story of paper, or rather of paperback books, produced in massive numbers between the late 1930s and early 1960s. These throwaway items hold within their covers a rich history of literary tastes; they point to, even reflect, a democratizing literacy and the new forms of identity and community that emerged in mid-twentieth century America. The covers themselves present new visions of the American landscape and its inhabitants… the mechanisms of pulping a work entailed a process of redistribution, or more precisely, remediation: writings often created for an educated and elite audience took on new lives by being repackages as cheap paperbacks.” (Rabinowitz, 2014, 23)

Rabinowit (2014) notes that

“kin to the penny dreadfuls and dime novels of the nineteenth century, pulp fiction became popular in the 1920s and 1930s mass-marketed magazines devoted to crime, passion, and science: True Love, Amazing Stories, Black Mask. By the mid-1920s, pulp had entered slang as a term for nonsense and excess - over-the-top sentimentality. The first successful pulp paperback line in the United States was published in 1939 by Pocket Books. Wartime rationing and the Armed Services Editions made them patriotic; they fueled the postwar explosions in higher education. The paperback revolution propelled mass literacy, opening a landscape of pulp novels that ranged from bohemian enclaves and artists’ colonies in Greenwich Village to gothic mansions in Greenwich, Connecticut.” (Rabinowitz, 2014, 32).

She also states

“The many subgenera of pulp fiction echo crises in twentieth-century history: in the 1930s novels, Nazi spies must be tracked down and working-class solidarity celebrated. In the 1940s, war-wounded men spread violence across the home front, and sensible workingwomen must understand them; in the 1950s, the scene shifts to Eastern Europe, where communist plots are thwarted by perky American wives. In the 1960s, the “system” with its vast computer networks and military budgets, traps freewheeling, artistic men and women.” (Rabinowitz, 2014, 33).

Since the 1950s, the term pulp fiction has been associated with mass-market paperbacks. Mass-market paperbacks are generally 4x7 inches, printed on inexpensive paper, and bound into a softcover form using adhesive. Rabinowitz (2014) noted “The paperback revolution sparked a certain form of reading - what I call demotic reading - as it lured readers with provocative covers at an affordable price into a new relationship with the private lives of books and so with themselves” (Rabinowitz, 2014, 9). She also states that “A lowly yet somehow revered object, the paperback book exemplifies a modernist form of multimedia in which text, image, and material come together as spectacle to attract and enthrall a recipient, its audience, its reader. This medium was designed for maximum portability and could move seamlessly from private to public spaces” (Rabinowitz, 2014, 4).

About one-third of all books printed are paperbacks. Many publishers specialize in paperback reprinting popular titles regularly. The trade paperback has increased in popularity in recent years. This larger format is often used after the hardcover version of a book has sold out.

Social Fiction

A social fiction, also known as a social problem or social protest novel, focuses on social issues such as child labor, violence against women, poverty, crime, and epidemics.

Precursors of the social novel focused on social problems often connecting them to depravity or corruption of the individual and society. Amelia (1751) by Henry Fielding, Caleb Williams (1794) by William Godwin, and Nature and Art (1796) by Elizabeth Ichbald are examples predating the rise of the novel.

First introduced in 18th century England, social novels spread to Europe and the United States. Social and political changes in the early 19th century followed the Reform Act of 1832 in England. A reaction to rapid industrialization and the suffering of the poor who were not profiting from economic change, these books were aimed at the middle class. These novels sought to direct attention on contemporary social and political issues related to class, gender, and labor issues.

Sybil, or The Two Nations (1845) by Benjamin Disraeli explores the plight of working class people in England. In Alton Locke (1846) by Charles Kingsley, the author explores social injustice in the clothing and agricultural industries.

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was well-known for her industrial or social novels focusing attention on the working poor in books like Mary Barton (1848) and North and South(1854-55).

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is another English author who focused on poverty in England. Novels like Oliver Twist (1838), Bleak House (1853), and Hard Times (1854) reflect these concerns.

The image below is the frontispiece and title page to Oliver Twist.


Considered by some to be the most significant social protest novel of the 19th century, Les Misérables (1862) by Victor Hugo (1802-1885) dealt with French social and political issues. The book explores the period between 1815 and the the June Rebellion in 1832.

The images below are from the original edition of Les Misérables.

le misles mis

French author Émile Zola (1840-1902) incorporated social protest elements into his works L'Assommoir (1877) dealing with life in the urban slum and Germinal (1885) focusing attention of the plight of coal workers.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, American novelists begin focusing on social issues. Works like Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain are examples from this period.

Novels focusing on social protest continued to be popular in the 20th century. The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) was first published in serial form in a socialist newspaper. The novel focused on the unsanitary conditions in Chicago meatpacking plants.

The images below show the covers of The Jungle and Grapes of Wrath.


The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck (1902-1968) explored the plight of the poor during the Great Depression. Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright (1908-1960) and Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) examined the racial divide between African-Americans and the white dominated society.

During the second half of the 20th century, social problem novels for young adults gained popularity including The Outsiders (1967) by S.E. Hinton (1948-) and The Pigman (1968) by Paul Zindel (1936-2003).

Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction encompasses a wide range of genres that deal with the invention of imaginative pasts and potential futures. Genres include alternative history, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, fantasy, horror, science fiction, steampunk, supernatural fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and weird fiction.

Robert A. Heinlein described the genre in a February 8, 1947 issue of the Saturday Evening Post along a definition that didn't include fantasy. The term was used in the 1960s and 1970s, then fell out of use until the 21st century. Today it's used by authors who dislike the stereotypical pigeonholes of science fiction and fantasy.


Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that may incorporate fantasy, horror, alternative history, westerns, historical fiction, or other elements. The term steampunk first appeared in 1987 to reflect the styles of the Victorian era mixed with technology in the vein of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Current authors include China Miéville, Philip Pullman, and Scott Westerfeld. The genre is particular popular with young adults.

The image on the right is the book cover from Leviathan (2009) by Scott Westerfeld.


Superhero fiction is a recent genre connected closely with adventure and science fiction. The plots normally revolve around a person with superhuman powers who comes in conflict with a super-villain.

Most often sold in a comic book form, comic novels are also common.

The story origins can be traced back to ancient myths and legends as well as more folklore heroes like Robin Hood.

Although Superman first appeared as a comic book in 1938, the term superhero can be traced back to at least 1917. The Adventures of Superman (1942) by George Lowther (1913-1975) emerged from the comic.

Thriller and Suspense

A thriller contains elements of danger and excitement are often classified as suspense fiction. The story keeps the reader on the "edge of their seat" through the use of uncertainty and potential danger. This subgenre overlaps with adventure, conspiracy, crime, espionage, suspense, mystery, and horror. Legal, political, spy, supernatural, techno, and psychological thrillers are also subcategories.

moteEarly thrillers were based on folklore. Little Red Riding Hood (1697) by Charles Perrault (1628-1703) is an early example of a thriller that involves a psycho-stalker.

The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) by Alexandre Dumos (1802-1870) is a swashbuckler with elements of suspense.

The image on the right shows an advertisement for The Count of Monte Cristo.

In the 20th century, thrillers became more common The Riddle of the Sands (1903) by Erskine Childers (1870-1922), Heart of Darkness (1903) by Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) by John Buchan (1875-1940).

During the mid-20th century, books about the cold war, spies, and espionage were popular such as The Manchurian Candidate (1959) by Richard Condon (1915-1996), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré (1931-), and The Bourne Identity (1980) by Robert Ludlum (1927-2001).

Although Alfred Hitchcock is best known for his movies, many novels and short story collections were also published under his name.

Urban Fiction

Often connected to crime fiction depicting prostitution, drugs, and violence, urban fiction also known as street lit focuses on the lives of people in the inner city. Incorporating the language and culture of the street, the novels generally focus on the dark side of city life.

Inner-city experiences have been portrayed in novels like Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (1893) by Stephen Crane and The Sport of the Gods (1902) by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

However the modern origins of the urban fiction subgenre can be traced back to ghetto novels of the 1960s and 1970s by authors like Robert Beck (1918-1992) also known as Iceberg Slim. During this time period, the African American inner-city experience gained popularity in novels.

During the 1990s, the term street lit gained popularity. Today, urban fiction has shifted to the inner city Latino experience.


malaA western is a work of fiction where an adventure occurs within the context of the American west. In most cases, a western is historical fiction taking place in the 19th century. However contemporary westerns are also popular. Typically the characters include cowboys, American Indians, frontiersmen, outlaws, settlers, miners, ranchers, and lawmen.

An American genre, westerns began with the Leatherstocking Tales (184-1827) by James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) set on the American frontier.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, western themes were popular in penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and yellowbacks. Malaeska; the Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Ann Stephens (1810-1886) is an early example. Many of these books included fictionalized stories of real people like Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok.

Although set in the US, many non-American authors have written westerns including Karl May (1842-1912).

In the early 20th century, the popularity of westerns increased with books like The Virginian (1902) by Owen Wister (1860-1938), Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) by Zane Grey (1872-1939), and the short stories of Max Brand.

During the middle part of the century, western movies contributed to the popularity of western books. The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) by Walter van Tilburg Clark (1909-1971), and Shane by Jack Schaefer (1907-1991).

Although the western genre lost momentum after the 1960s, some authors like Louis L'Amour (1908-1988), Larry McMurtry (1936-), and Cormac McCarthy (1933-) found readers.


Not all fiction fits neatly into a single genre. Many titles explore multiple categories.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by A Square (Edwin Abbott Abbott) (1884) is a wonderful example of a combination of genre including satire, social commentary, science fiction, romance, and even geometry and physics. Although not a bestseller when it was first published, it was rediscovered when Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity was published. It was even mentioned in a Letter to the Editor in the journal Nature in 1920. (IUPUI students can view the letter online.) The book continues to be a "must read" in both mathematics and English classrooms today. It was made into a wonderful movie a few years ago. You can watch the trailer to get the general idea.

The image below left is the cover of Flatland and the image on the right shows the unusual dedication page.


try itTry It!
Read Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by A Square (Edwin Abbott Abbott).
Can you think of other genre-bending titles?
Can you find other titles that provide indirect commentary on the time they were written, but also make a lasting impression?

Children's Books

Children's literature is generally divided into picture book (ages 0-5), early readers (ages 5-7), chapter books (ages 7-12), and young adult (ages 12-18) categories.

Jacalyn Eddy (2006, 69) in Bookwomen: Creating an Empire in Children's Book Publishing, 1919-1939 notes that

"the public had long wanted quality reading material for children. During the seventeenth century, children's books were generally catechisms and moral teachers aimed at indoctrinating children into the beliefs of their elders... as fiction became more acceptable, signaled by the appearance of such books as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Swift's Gulliver's Travels, didacticism in children's literature shifted from moral to social object lessons."

The children's book industry began to take hold in the 18th century. John Newbery (1713-1767) is often credited with developing the market for children's books with the publication of The History of Little Goody Two Shoes in 1765.

By the early nineteenth century, children's books in America were reflecting the social values of the times including thrift, obedience, hard work, and upward mobility.

In mid-century, many classics were produced by authors like Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain. Picture books by illustrators like Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott were also popular. However by the end of the century, poor quality dime novels were also being targeted to youth such as Beadle's Half-Dime Library.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, children's books were being written in Europe as well as the United States. Italian writer Carlo Collodi (1826-1890) published The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883. It was translated and reprinted many times worldwide selling more than 35 million copies.

The image below shows a 1914 version of Pinocchio.


In 1919, the president of Macmillan Company promoted a young woman named Louise Hunting Seaman to head the new children's department. In the past, the company had a "gentlemanly reputation". However they saw the need to broaden their markets. Macmillan Company saw themselves as a culture distributor with a "high civic calling" (Eddy, 2006, 66). This sense of social responsibility was reflected in their choice of children's books as a new area of focus. Although they had been producing juvenile titles along with their established textbook lines, it was time to jump into the mass market.

In addition to works of fiction, nonfiction works were also produced for young people such as The Story of Mankind (1921) by Hendrik Van Loon (1882-1944).

The image below is the title page of The Story of Mankind.


Picture Books

A picture book is an illustrated book for children with little or no text. Combining visual and verbal narratives, the books are aimed that the interests of pre-readers and children 0-5 years old.

John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) published Orbis Pictus in 1658. Considered to be the first picture book specifically for children, it was an encyclopedia divided into 150 chapters and illustrated with woodcuts.

The images below are from Orbis Pictus (1658).


John Newbery (1713-1767) had many successful books including The History of Little Goody Two Shoes (1765). It was reprinted and illustrated in the United States in 1888.


The illustrations in most early children's books were printed in black and white, but by the 1860s the English printer Edmund Evans (1826-1905) began issuing picture books in color.

Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894) published Der Struwwelpeter in 1845. The German picture book portrayed the consequences of children misbehaving.



An alphabet book is an illustrated picture book for young children intended to teach letters and and letter sequences. Generally, a letter is accompanied by a corresponding visual and word or phrase like a is for apple.

Walter Crane (1845-1915) wrote An Alphabet of Old Friends. This is an example of an alphabet book that includes nursery rhymes. He also wrote many other books for children.

The image below is from An Alphabet of Old Friends.


A counting book is designed to teach young children about numbers and how to count. Generally, the numerals are presented along with an illustration.

A nursery rhyme is a short metrical verse taught to very young children. Song of Sixpence by Walter Crane (1845-1915) is an example.

Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) wrote The House that Jack Built along with many others. The House that Jack Built is an example of a predictable nursery rhyme where lines are repeated and built on through the story.


Catherine (Kate) Greenaway (1846-1901) was an English children's book author and illustrator. There is a children's picture book medal named in her honor.

The image below left is from The Queen of the Pirate Isle illustrated by Kate Greenaway and the photo on the right is Kate Greenaway.


Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton wrote a beautiful illustrated book about travel for the juvenile audience in 1882 titled Abroad.


Edward Lear (1812-1888) wrote the Nonsense Drolleries for children including two poems.

peterThe children's book market expanded in the 20th century.

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) created a series of children's books including The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902), Jemima Puddle-Duck, The Tale of Tom Kitten, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tailor of Gloucester, and Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes (1922). The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold more than 15 million copies. The Peter Rabbit books by Beatrix Potter have sold more than 150 million copies.

An image from The Tale of Peter Rabbit is shown on the left.

Other picture books from the early 20th century include Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag, The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunoff, and The Little Engine that Could by Lois Lenski.

Robert McCloskey (1914-2003) wrote eight picture books including the Caldecott medal winners Make Way for Ducklings and Time for Wonder. Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and JourneyCake, Ho! were honor books.

McCloskey was also known for his chapter book Homer Price (1943).

In 1942, the Little Golden Books series was introduced by Simon & Schuster. These inexpensive books provided high quality children's books for many homes. Titles included The Poky Little Puppy, Scuffy the Tugboat, and The Little Red Hen. The Poky Little Puppy (1942) by Janette Sebring Lowrey (1892-1986) has sold more than 15 million copies.

catTheodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) also known as Dr. Seuss published 46 books for children. His first book for children was titled And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). Known for his rhyme and imaginative characters, his bestselling books included The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Horton Hears a Who! and the holiday classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. The Cat in the Hat has sold more than 11 million copies.

Hans Augusto (H.A.) Rey and Margret Rey introduced a monkey character in 1939. This character became Curious George in a series of seven original books published beginning in 1941. The Curious George books by Hans and Margret Rey have sold more than 27 million copies.

Virginia Lee Burton (1909-1968) published The Little House in 1942. It won the 1943 Caldecott Medal.

The Railway Series including the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends series (1945-2011) have sold more than 200 million copies.

Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952) introduced Goodnight Moon in 1947. It continues to be a best-seller selling over 16 million copies.

The Clifford the Big Red Dog (1963-present) series by Norman Bridwell (1928-) have sold more than 110 million copies.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) published Where the Wild Things Are in 1963 receiving the Caldecott medal and selling more than 19 million copies. His books like In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There included Holocaust themes from his childhood. In addition to his writing, he was also an acclaimed illustrator of books like the Little Bear series.

The image below is the cover of Where the Wild Things Are.


Eric Carle (1929-) wrote The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 1969 and has sold more than 30 million copies. He has written more than 70 books selling more than 103 million copies.

The Where's Waldo? (1987-present) books by Martin Handford (1956-) have sold more than 55 million copies

Sam McBratney wrote Guess How Much I Love You (1994) selling more than 15 million copies.

The Rainbow Fish (1992-present) books by Marcus Pfister (1960-) have sold over 15 million books.

Early Reader Books

Early reader books are aimed at children ages 5-7. These books are intended to generate interest in reading and develop reading skills. Sometimes called easy books, they are heavily illustrated with limited text.

Some early reader books are also chapter books such as some of the I Can Read! and Magic School Bus series books.

Introduced in 1957, the I Can Read! line of beginning reader books by HarperCollins were intended to help children learn to read. Else Holmelund Minarik (1920-2012) Little Bear book was the first in the series followed by Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff (1912-2004) in 1958. Other popular characters include Amelia Bedelia (1964), Frog and Toad (1970), and Biscuit (1996). There are currently over 200 titles in the series.

The Berenstain Bears books (1962-present) by Stan and Jan Berenstein have sold over 260 million copies.

The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole (1944-) from Scholastic explores science topics.

The Maisy (1990-present) books by Lucy Cousins (1964- ) have sold more 20 million copies.

Chapter Books

Chapter books are aimed at children ages 7-12 and introduce readers to longer books divided into sections. They are considered children's books.

In 1900, L. Frank Baum (1856-1919) published the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The Bobbsey Twins books (1904-1979) have sold more than 50 million copies.

Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) wrote The Wind in the Willows published in 1908 selling more than 25 million copies.

Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942) published Anne of Green Gables in 1908 selling over 50 million copies.

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) published The Secret Garden in 1911.

Hugh Lofting (1886-1947) published The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle in 1922.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne was introduced in 1926. The Winnie-the-Pooh (1926-1928) series by A.A. Milne have sold more than 70 million copies.

The Hardy Boys books (1927-present) have sold more than 50 million copies.

The Nancy Drew series (1930-present) by various authors have sold more than 200 million copies.

littleLaura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) published Little House in the Big Woods in 1932. The Little House on the Prairie (1932-2006) books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have sold more than 60 million copies.

The image on the left is the first edition cover of Little House in the Big Woods.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944) wrote The Little Prince. Published in 1943, it has sold over 140 million copies worldwide.

Pippi Longstocking books (1945-2001) by Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) have sold more than 80 million copies.

Enid Blyton (1897-1968) wrote over 600 children's books during her 40 year career selling over 600 million copies. Her characters include Noddy and many series such as The Secret Seven.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) published The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe selling over 85 million copies. The Chronicles of Narnia (1949-1954) by C.S. Lewis have sold more than 120 million copies.

E.B. White (1899-1985) published Charlotte's Web in 1952 and has sold more than 15 million copies.

The Ramona (1955-1999) books by Beverly Cleary (1916-) have sold more than 30 million copies.

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) wrote A Wrinkle in Time (1962) selling more than 10 million copies.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990) published Charlie and the Chocolate in 1964. It has sold more than 13 million copies.

Richard Adams (1920+) wrote Watership Down in 1972 and has sold more than 50 million copies.

The Choose Your Own Adventure books (1979-present) have sold more than 250 million copies.

The Baby-sitters Club series (1986-present) by Ann Martin have sold more than 172 million copies.

The American Girl books (1986-present) have sold more than 120 million copies.

The R.L. Stine Goosebumps books (1992-present) by R.L. Stine have sold over 300 million copies.

The Junie B. Jones (1992-present) books by Barbara Park (1947-) have sold more than 44 million copies.

The Magic Tree House (1993-present) books by Mary Pope Osborne (1949-) have sold more than 70 million copies

J.K. Rowling (1965-) published the Harry Potter series beginning in 1997. This is the best-selling book series of all time. The Harry Potter books have sold over 450 million copies.

The Captain Underpants (1997-present) books by Dav Pilkey (1966-) have sold more than 26 million books.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999-2006) books by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) (1970-) have sold more than 65 million copies.

The Artemis Fowl (2001-2012) books by Eoin Colfer (1965-) have sold over 20 million copies.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians (2005-2009) books by Rick Riordan (1964-) have sold move 15 million books.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007-present) series by Jeff Kinney (1971-) have sold more than 75 million books.

Young Adult Fiction

Young adult books are designed to be of interest to children ages 12-18. They are sometimes called juvenile fiction.

Although the idea of young adult literature was introduced in the 19th century, it wasn't until the early 20th century that books were designed specifically for this audience.

During the 19th century, many books were published that appealed to young adults such as Swiss Family Robinson (1812), Oliver Twist (1838), Great Expectations (1860), Alice in Wonderland (1865), Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Heidi (1880), Treasure Island (1883), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Kidnapped (1886), and The Jungle Book (1894).


Anna Sewell (1820-1878) wrote Black Beauty in 1877. This novel is an excellent example of a book that appeals to both children and adults. It has sold over 50 million copies since it was introduced.

Jack London (1876-1916) wrote a number of books that appealed to young adults including Call of the Wild (1903).

nurseDuring the first half of the 20th century, the young adult category began to involve. Bridging the gap between children's books and adult fiction, these juvenile titles were aimed at teenagers. Books like Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly (1921-2006) were embraced by young people.

Helen Dore Boylston (1895-1984) introduced the Sue Barton seven-book series about a young nurse between 1936 and 1952.

The image on the right is the cover of Sue Barton, Senior Nurse.

John Robert Tunis (1889-1975) introduced juvenile sports novels in the 1940s. Books like Iron Duke (1938), Duke Decides (1939), The Kid from Tompkinsville, and others introduced a new audience of young people to leisure reading.

In the first half of the 20th century, publishers began to recognize the value of novels in the youth market however a specific young adult designation wasn't yet identified. Books including The Hobbit (1938), The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and Lord of the Flies (1954) were appealing to young adult readers.

By the 1960s, coming-of-age novels like The Outsiders (1967) by S.E. Hinton (1948+) were being published specifically for the young adult audience. The Outsiders has sold more than 13 million copies.

During the 1970s and 1980s the young adult literature market became distinct from children's literature and works written for adults. Many of the books contained issues of interest to young people including sexuality, drinking, and drug use.

His Dark Materials (1995-2000)books by Philip Pullman (1946-) have sold over 15 million copies.

The Sweet Valley High series (1983-2003) by Francine Pascal and others have sold over 250 million copies.

During the 2010s, dystopian literature has become popular among young people. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (1962-) has sold over 23 million copies.

Stephenie Meyer (1973-) wrote the Twilight series selling more than 116 million copies.

Read Impel, Andrea (2013). Children’s Books. In, M. Suarez & H.R. Woudhuysen, The Book: A Global History. Oxford University Press. IUPUI students can view the article online.

To explore additional books, go to Children's Library at and the Juvenile Historical Collection at

To learn more about children's literature using books written at the turn of the 20th century, check out Coloured Books for Children, Children's Books and their Illustrators, and Randolph Caldecott: A Personal Memoir of his Early Art Career.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Illustrated books have a long history, however the separate category of comic books and graphic novels have a relatively short history.

Comic Book

A comic book is a booklet containing sequential panels created in a cartoon style with dialogue inside balloons or captions. Comic books may contain narratives across literary genre.

During the 18th century a number of author-illustrators combined visuals and words in their storylines. For instance, William Blake (1757-1826) wrote books like Marriage of Heaven and Hell in which pictures and words are inseparable.

Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846) published Histoire de M. Vieux Bois or The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in 1837. It is often credited as this first European comic book.

The image below is from Histoire de Monsieur Cryptogame by Rodolphe Töpffer (1830).


The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck was translated and printed in the United States in 1842.

Below is the title page from The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck.

old buck

funniesAlly Sloper's Half Holiday (1884) by was the first British comic book.

In 1933, the first comic book appeared in the United States and was a collection of reprinted newspaper comic strips.

The image on the right is Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics from 1933.

Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and Joe Shuster (1914-1992) introduced Superman in 1938.

Marvel Comics introduced Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and other iconic characters in the 1960s.

In the 1950s, the comic book industry faced censorship issues with the introduction of the Comics Code Authority (CCA). This group required participating publishers to send all comics through a review process. Although the guidelines were revised over the years, the practice was censorship. Most publishers abandoned the CCA in the 21st century.

In the 1970s, the comic industry worked with the United States government to build stories around issues such as drug abuse.

To work around the censors, underground comics emerged in the 1970s. These comics didn't adhere to the strict requirements of the CCA. Also, during this time, independent comics were published. These comics experimented with new formats, content, and approaches.


astroboyThe first Japanese comics appeared in the 18th century as booklets of short stories with visual elements. However, scroll-based manga existing in the 12th century.

Manga are a comic book form created in Japan in the late 19th century. Covering a wide range of genre, they are read worldwide. The modern version of Manga appeared after World War II and was influenced by American comics.

Machiko Hasegawa (1920-1992) published Sazae-san in 1946 as a comic strip. They were then printed in digest form.

Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) produced Mighty Atom known as Astro Boy in 1951.

A group of manga artists known as the Magnificent 24s introduced shojo manga in 1969. Marketed to a female audience the storylines often feature super-heroines and romance.

Graphic Novels

mausA graphic novel is a book composed of sequential art. The term is applied to a wide range of works including fiction and nonfiction. Unlike comic books that are often sold as periodicals, a graphic novel is a stand-alone work.

In the first half of the 20th century, a number of authors produced works that reflected the definition of a graphic novel such as He Done Her Wrong (1930) by Milt Gross, the Classics Illustrated, and adult picture novels by St. John Publications.

Richard Kyle coined the term "graphic novel" in 1964 to distinguish genre-driven content from American comic books. However it was Will Eisner (1917-2005) who popularized the term with his book A Contract with God and other Tenement Stories in 1978.

Art Spiegelman (1948-) is best known for Maus (1986, 1991) winner of the Pulitzer Prize. This graphic novel went a long way in legitimizing the new literary form.

Alan Moore (1953-) and Dave Gibbons (1949-) published Watchmen in 1986. The book depicts an alternate history, explores contemporary issues, and examines the superhero concepts. It was a critical and commercial success later being turned into a movie.

To learn more, explore the Center for Cartoon Studies and the British Library Comics Collection.

Creative Nonfiction

In the second half of the 20th century, a new literary genre emerged focusing on factually accurate narratives. While rooted in fact, these works are written using literary styles and techniques to tell their story.

Unlike journalism and technical writing, creative nonfiction is rooted in storytelling rather than in simply conveying information to an audience. These works read like fiction, but are intended to be factually accurate. Authors including Gay Talese (1932-), John McPhee (1921-), and Joann Didion (1934-) are currently writing in this genre.

Forms within creative nonfiction include autobiography, biography, essays, food writing, memoir, travel writing, and others.

In The Art of Fact (1990), Barbara Lounsbery identified four characteristics of creative nonfiction. First, the subject matter must be based in the real or natural world. Second, the research associated with the book should be exhaustive including verifiable references. Third, the setting and events should be placed in context. Finally, the literary prose style should be used to convey the information in a narrative form.

When the book follows a story arc, the works are referred to as narrative nonfiction.


Also known as a non-fiction novel, the term faction was a term coined in the 1960s to describe fictional narratives based on real events. In Cold Blood (1965) by Truman Capote (1924-1984) spurred discussion about fact vs fiction in novel writing. Capote identified his work as a nonfiction novel.

In most of these texts, real historical people and events are woven together with fictional elements and narrative. Often connected with the historical novel, the books are generally more fact than fiction. Earlier examples of nonfiction or faction novels have been identified. For instance, Operación Masacre (1957) by Rodolfo Walsh (1927-) fits this category. Written by an Argentine investigative journalism, the novel tells the story of a 1956 massacre.

Many others pushed the boundaries of this genre during the 1960s including Hell's Angels (1966) by Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005), Armies of the Night (1968) by Norman Mailer (1923-2007), and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) by Tom Wolfe (1931-).

Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976) by Alex Haley (1921-1992) and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994) by John Berendt (1939-) are examples from the 1970s.

True Crime

True Crime is a nonfiction literary genre where the author tells that story of an actual crime. In some cases facts are mixed with fiction. Often focusing on murders or unsolved mysteries, the books are often formulaic and published to exploit topics in the news. The deaths of celebrities and high-profile serial killers have been particularly popular. For instance, Helter Skelter (1974) by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry was a best seller. The book tells the story of the 1969 Manson Family murders. The Executioner's Song (1979) by Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer prize.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Scottish criminologist William Roughead (1870-1952) who attended high profile murder trials then wrote best-selling books based on these crimes.

American author and librarian Edmund Lester Pearson (1880-1937) wrote true crime books. In 1924, he published Studies in Murder.


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