The novel has always had the reputation of being light entertainment, almost bordering on the frivolous. Part of the blame for this reputation can be placed on the word novel itself. The word originally derived from the Latin novus, meaning “new.” It came to English by way of the Italian word for short story, novella. A novella was a short work of prose fiction that told a new, original story, in contrast to retelling a traditional one.
The story in a novella was meant to be a novelty, a new delight for readers. The readers responded, and today there numerous kinds of novels: romance, spy, Westerns, mystery, detective, gothic fiction, science fiction, historical novels, novels of place, the psychological novel, epistolary novels (in which the story is told through an exchange of letters), the roman clef (which requires a “key,” or supplementary information), the cult novel, the proletarian novel, and the modern antinovel.
The world’s first novel was written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu. Continuing the tradition, Dame Barbara Cartland (7/1/1901 – 5/21/2000) completed a novel every two weeks, publishing more than 723 novels, which sold more than 1 billion copies in 36 languages, making her the best-selling novelist of all time.