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History of Fictional Prose

We have been exploring the emergence of literature, and fictional prose in particular.  How ‘symbols’ and ‘pictograms’ changed to words which recorded ‘fact’ in part 1.

Tales and myths, previously handed down through generations by word of mouth, became documented.  Then civilisations started to experiment with different writing styles and we left it last time with the introduction of a writing ‘frame’ as seen in One Thousand and One Nights.

What was still lacking, however, was the first true written work of a single piece of prose fiction.

A boost was made to prose-writing in 1455 with the introduction of the printing press to Europe.  Other forms of printing had already come to existence around the world but this introduced mass printing and ensured printed material became available to a larger population, not just the privileged few.

Unlike poetry, which had rhythm and rhyme to assist in its’ recount, prose was not easily remembered and therefore needed to be written down.  The printing press ensured prose a future and more people started to experiment in the longer-style of writing, with little or no ‘structure’ as seen in verse.

William Caxton was the first to publish a book in English in the late 15th century – this was not a work of fiction but the translation of a History of Troy.  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur are included in the works he published in England.  Again, these are collections of tales, not a single piece of continuous prose.

During the early modern period we see the likes of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe writing plays for entertainment rather than education, so fiction as we understand it nowadays was starting to take shape.

Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes had ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha’ published in two parts 1605 and 1615.  It is widely regarded as turning point in fictitious writing.  Again, it is written around several ‘stories’ of his exploits but these have no relation to historical figures – genuine fiction.

Early English novelists include John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, all born in the 17th century.  Indeed, in many circles, Daniel Defoe is credited as being the first true English fiction novelist with his work ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (published in 1719) – a fictional autobiography.

The history of fictional prose has been a difficult one to trace.  Works we now find ‘laughable’ were believed at the time.  Imagination was not encouraged in the early years – most written material was historical or religious.  It took a few brave authors to step out of the shadow; include emotions in their work.

Then we have the second obstacle of actually writing prose.  Poetry was in existence in oral form for millennia.  This slowly became documented and verse was formed.  An extended piece of writing was a long way off when written word was first introduced.

Tales were written, then collections of stories.  Gradually the expression of writing grew.  It was not a quick process.  One thing is widely accepted – we would not have experienced the joy of novels without the invention of the printing press.

Denny Bradbury is a modern-day fiction author and poet.  ‘The Reunion’ is a fictitious novel exploring a year in the lives and emotions of five friends. She is also promoting her new novel, Borvo, which is an extraordinary historical-fiction novel around King Alfred.

To read part 1 of my article on the History of Fictional Prose click here

Laura Scott

To purchase one of Denny’s books please click on the images below or contact Denny directly at email denisebradbury@btinternet.com.
The Reunion Denagerie of Poems by Denny Bradbury