Epistolary novel | Characteristics | Examples

The epistolary novel is a kind of fiction in which the characters exchange letters, diaries, or other personal records over the course of the plot. The inclusion of epistolary novels in English literature has a long history, with some of the most well-known examples appearing as early as the 18th century. Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded,” which was published in 1740, is one of the first and most well-known examples of the epistolary novel in English literature. In the novel, a young maid named Pamela fights against her employer’s advances and ultimately marries him. The entire novel is written in the form of letters between the characters.

Examples of Epistolary Novel:

Some noteworthy epistolary novels in English literature are “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys, and “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. The epistolary form has also been adopted in modern writing, with works like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” by Ann Brashares as examples.

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Characteristics of Epistolary Novel:

First-person perspective used: The epistolary novel is often written from the first-person standpoint. This gives the reader a clear understanding of the character’s sentiments and thoughts. For instance, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is written entirely in first-person perspective through the letters and diaries kept by the protagonists.

Exploration of multiple viewpoints: The epistolary novel makes it possible to investigate multiple viewpoints on the same incident or circumstance because each character writes their own letters. As an illustration, Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” is written in the form of letters and diary entries between the two central characters, Celie and Nettie, which enables the examination of their distinctive viewpoints on their common experiences.

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Use of personal documents: Personal documents are frequently used in the epistolary novel to actually tell the plot, including letters, diaries, and newspaper excerpts. As an illustration, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” makes use of the main characters’ letters to describe their feelings and experiences as well as newspaper excerpts to illustrate how their acts are viewed by others.

Unreliable narrators: Because in epistolary novels characters are writing their own letters, it’s possible that they aren’t always trustworthy narrators, and the reader could be required to read between the lines to properly comprehend the plot. For instance, in “Dangerous Liaisons” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the characters’ letters are used to disclose their plans and lies, frequently resulting in confusion and unexpected turns.

Subject-matter of Epistolary Novel

An epistolary novel can cover a wide range of topics because the structure is quite flexible in terms of both content and style. The following are a few typical themes and topics that are frequently covered in epistolary novels:

Relationships: Exploring the intricacies of interpersonal relationships, whether romantic, family, or friendly, is a specialty of the epistolary style. The form can evoke a sense of closeness and emotional depth by permitting characters to speak honestly and freely. Using letters and other personal papers, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” and Helene Hanff’s “84, Charing Cross Road” all examine various kinds of relationships.

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Identity and self-discovery: Because characters frequently share their most private ideas and emotions in their letters and other personal documents, the epistolary form may be a powerful tool for exploring issues of identity and self-discovery. Using first-person narrative in personal papers, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky both explore issues of belonging and discovering oneself.

Society and culture: Epistolary novels can also be used to examine more general issues of society and culture because characters often make observations about their surroundings in their letters and other writings. Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded” and Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ “Dangerous Liaisons” both make comments on social customs and standards of their respective eras using the epistolary genre.

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Psychological states: Characters may divulge their deepest fears and wants in their letters and other written correspondence, which makes the intimate aspect of the epistolary form a powerful tool for exploring psychological states and inner lives in great detail. C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” and Anne Bronte’s “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” both make use of the epistolary genre to address moral and ethical dilemmas while also delving into the psychological states of their characters.


To conclude, we can say that the epistolary novel is a distinctive and captivating genre of writing that enables the examination of various viewpoints, close connections, and difficult emotions through the personal letters written by the story’s characters.

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