An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary is derived from Latin from the Greek word ἐπιστολή epistolē, meaning a letter (see epistle).
The epistolary form can add greater realism to a story, because it mimics the workings of real life. It is thus able to demonstrate differing points of view without recourse to the device of an omniscient narrator.
There are two theories on the genesis of the epistolary novel. The first claims that the genre originated from novels with inserted letters, in which the portion containing the third person narrative in between the letters was gradually reduced. The other theory claims that the epistolary novel arose from miscellanies of letters and poetry: some of the letters were tied together into a (mostly amorous) plot. Both claims have some validity. The first truly epistolary novel, the Spanish "Prison of Love" (Cárcel de amor) (c.1485) by Diego de San Pedro, belongs to a tradition of novels in which a large number of inserted letters already dominated the narrative. Other well-known examples of early epistolary novels are closely related to the tradition of letter-books and miscellanies of letters. Within the successive editions of Edmé Boursault's Letters of Respect, Gratitude and Love (Lettres de respect, d'obligation et d'amour) (1669), a group of letters written to a girl named Babet were expanded and became more and more distinct from the other letters, until it formed a small epistolary novel entitled Letters to Babet (Lettres à Babet). The immensely famous Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Lettres portugaises) (1669) generally attributed to Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues, though a small minority still regard Marianna Alcoforado as the author, is claimed to be intended to be part of a miscellany of Guilleragues prose and poetry. The founder of the epistolary novel in English is said by many to be James Howell (1594–1666) with "Familiar Letters" (1645–50), who writes of prison, foreign adventure, and the love of women.
The first novel to expose the complex play that the genre allows was Aphra Behn's Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, which appeared in three volumes in 1684, 1685, and 1687. The novel shows the genre's results of changing perspectives: individual points were presented by the individual characters, and the central voice of the author and moral evaluation disappeared (at least in the first volume; her further volumes introduced a narrator). Behn furthermore explored a realm of intrigue with letters that fall into the wrong hands, faked letters, letters withheld by protagonists, and even more complex interaction.
The epistolary novel as a genre became popular in the 18th century in the works of such authors as Samuel Richardson, with his immensely successful novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1749). In France, there was Lettres persanes (1721) by Montesquieu, followed by Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), which used the epistolary form to great dramatic effect, because the sequence of events was not always related directly or explicitly. In Germany, there was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) (The Sorrows of Young Werther) and Friedrich Hölderlin's Hyperion. The first North American novel, The History of Emily Montague (1769) by Frances Brooke was written in epistolary form.
Starting in the 18th century, the epistolary form was subject to much ridicule, resulting in a number of savage burlesques. The most notable example of these was Henry Fielding's Shamela (1741), written as a parody of Pamela. In it, the female narrator can be found wielding a pen and scribbling her diary entries under the most dramatic and unlikely of circumstances. Oliver Goldsmith used the form to satirical effect in The Citizen of the World, subtitled "Letters from a Chinese Philosopher Residing in London to his Friends in the East" (1760–61). So did the diarist Fanny Burney in a successful comic first novel, Evelina (1788).
The epistolary novel slowly fell out of use in the late 18th century. Although Jane Austen tried her hand at the epistolary in juvenile writings and her novellaLady Susan (1794), she abandoned this structure for her later work. It is thought that her lost novel First Impressions, which was redrafted to become Pride and Prejudice, may have been epistolary: Pride and Prejudice contains an unusual number of letters quoted in full and some play a critical role in the plot.
The epistolary form nonetheless saw continued use, surviving in exceptions or in fragments in nineteenth-century novels. In Honoré de Balzac's novel Letters of Two Brides, two women who became friends during their education at a convent correspond over a 17-year period, exchanging letters describing their lives. Mary Shelley employs the epistolary form in her novel Frankenstein (1818). Shelley uses the letters as one of a variety of framing devices, as the story is presented through the letters of a sea captain and scientific explorer attempting to reach the north pole who encounters Victor Frankenstein and records the dying man's narrative and confessions. Published in 1848, Anne Brontë's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is framed as a retrospective letter from one of the main heroes to his friend and brother-in-law with the diary of the eponymous tenant inside it. In the late 19th century, Bram Stoker released one of the most widely recognized and successful novels in the epistolary form to date, Dracula. Printed in 1897, the novel is compiled entirely of letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, telegrams, doctor's notes, ship's logs, and the like, which Stoker adroitly employs to balance believability and dramatic tension.
There are three types of epistolary novels: monologic (giving the letters of only one character, like Letters of a Portuguese Nun and The Sorrows of Young Werther), dialogic (giving the letters of two characters, like Mme Marie Jeanne Riccoboni's Letters of Fanni Butlerd (1757), and polylogic (with three or more letter-writing characters, such as in Bram Stoker's Dracula). In addition, a crucial element in polylogic epistolary novels like Clarissa, and Dangerous Liaisons is the dramatic device of 'discrepant awareness': the simultaneous but separate correspondences of the heroines and the villains creating dramatic tension.
An important strategic device in the epistolary novel for creating the impression of authenticity of the letters is the fictional editor.
See also: List of contemporary epistolary novels
Epistolary novels have made several memorable appearances in more recent literature:
- John Cleland's early erotic novel Fanny Hill (1748) is written as a series of letters from the titular character to an unnamed recipient.
- The Coquette; or, The History of Eliza Wharton (1797) by Hannah Webster Foster is a series of letters between several characters.
- Sophia Briscoe used the form in both her novels: Miss Melmoth... (1771) and The Fine Lady... (1772).
- Marianne Ehrmann wrote the epistolary novel Amalie and Minna around 1787.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky used the epistolary format for his first novel, Poor Folk (1846), as a series of letters between two friends, struggling to cope with their impoverished circumstances and life in pre-revolution Russia.
- The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins uses a collection of various documents to construct a detective novel in English. In the second piece, a character explains that he is writing his portion because another had observed to him that the events surrounding the disappearance of the eponymous diamond might reflect poorly on the family, if misunderstood, and therefore he was collecting the true story. This is an unusual element, as most epistolary novels present the documents without questions about how they were gathered. He also used the form previously in The Woman in White (1859).
- Spanish foreign minister Juan Valera'sPepita Jimenez (1874) is writing in three sections, with the first and third being a series of letters, while the middle part is a narration by an unknown observer.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) uses not only letters and diaries, but also dictation cylinders and newspaper accounts.
- Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs (1912).
- Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace's The Documents in the Case (1930).
- Haki Stërmilli's novel If I Were a Boy (1936) is written in the form of diary entries which documents the life of the main protagonist.
- Kathrine Taylor's Address Unknown (1938) was an anti-Nazi novel in which the final letter is returned as "Address Unknown", indicating the disappearance of the German character.
- Virginia Woolf used the epistolary form for her feminist essay Three Guineas (1938).
- C. S. Lewis used the epistolary form for The Screwtape Letters (1942), and considered writing a companion novel from an angel's point of view—though he never did so. It is less generally realized that his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964) was a similar exercise, exploring theological questions through correspondence addressed to a fictional recipient, "Malcolm", though this work may be considered a "novel" only loosely in that developments in Malcolm's personal life gradually come to light and impact the discussion.
- Thornton Wilder's fifth novel Ides of March (1948) consists of letters and documents illuminating the last days of the Roman Republic.
- Theodore Sturgeon's short novel, Some of Your Blood (1961), consists of letters and case-notes relating to the psychiatric treatment of a non-supernatural vampire.
- Saul Bellow's novel Herzog (1964) is largely written in letter format. These are both real and imagined letters, written by the protagonist Moses E. Herzog to family members, friends, and celebrities.
- Up the Down Staircase is a novel written by Bel Kaufman, published in 1965, which spent 64 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 1967 it was released as a movie starring Patrick Bedford, Sandy Dennis and Eileen Heckart.
- Shūsaku Endō's novel Silence (1966) is an example of the form of the epistolary novel, with half of the novel composed of letters from Rodrigues and the other half composed either in the third person or in letters from other persons.
- The Anderson Tapes (1969, 1970) by Lawrence Sanders is a novel told primarily in the form of transcripts of tape recordings.
- 84, Charing Cross Road (1970), though not a novel, is a true account by Helene Hanff written in epistolary form as an exchange of letters between the writer in New York City and a bookseller in London over the course of two decades.
- Stephen King's novel Carrie (1974) is written in an epistolary structure, through newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, and excerpts from books
- In John Barth's epistolary work, Letters (1979), the author interacts with characters from his other novels.
- Alice Walker employed the epistolary form in The Color Purple (1982). The 1985 film adaptation echoed the form by incorporating into the script some of the novel's letters, which the actors spoke as monologues.
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982) by Sue Townsend - comedy diary set in 1980s Britain.
- The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (1984) by Studs Terkel is a compilation of interviews with people who lived the events that went from the beginning of America's involvement in World War II, Pearl Harbor, to the end.
- Michael Dibdin's A Rich Full Death (1986) is an epistolary crime novel set in 19th century Florence.
- John Updike's S. (1988) is an epistolary novel consisting of the heroine's letters and transcribed audio recordings.
- Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecelia (1988) is an epistolary fantasy novel in a Regency setting, from the first-person perspectives of cousins Kate and Cecelia, who recount their adventures in magic and polite society. This work is unusual in modern fiction in being an epistolary novel written using the style of the letter game.
- Avi used this style of constructing a story in Nothing But the Truth (1991), where the plot is told using only documents, letters, and scripts.
- Bridget Jones's Diary (1996) by Helen Fielding was written in the form of a personal diary
- Last Days of Summer (1998) by Steve Kluger was written in a series of letters, telegrams, therapy transcripts, newspaper clippings, and baseball box scores.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) was written by Stephen Chbosky in the form of letters from an anonymous character to a secret role model of sorts.
- Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan (2001) uses letters and journal entries to weave the story of a middle-aged woman in the 1930s.
- The Boy Next Door (2002) by Meg Cabot is a romantic comedy novel dealt with entirely by emails sent among the characters.
- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot is a series of ten novels written in the form of diary entries.
- Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (2002) by Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler uses letters, documents, and other scripts to construct the plotline.
- Several of Gene Wolfe's novels are written in the forms of diaries, letters, or memoirs
- We Need to Talk about Kevin (2003) is a monologic epistolary novel, written as a series of letters from Eva, Kevin's mother, to her husband Franklin
- The 2004 novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell tells a story in several time periods in a nested format, with some sections told in epistolary style, including an interview, journal entries and a series of letters
- In the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly novels, out-of-context text messages, usually humorous, mark transitions between sections
- Griffin and Sabine by artist Nick Bantock is a love story written as a series of hand painted postcards and letters
- Where Rainbows End (alternately titled "Rosie Dunne" or "Love, Rosie" in the United States) (2004) by Cecelia Ahern is written in the form of letters, emails, instant messages, newspaper articles, etc.
- Uncommon Valour (2005) by John Stevens, the story of two naval officers in 1779, is primarily written in the form of diary and log extracts
- The Great Detective at the Crucible of Life (2005) by Thomas Kent Miller, comprises a variety of letters, parchments, and journal entries that bring to light an adventure by H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) by Max Brooks is a series of interviews from various survivors of a zombie apocalypse
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007) by Jeff Kinney is a series of fiction books written in the form a diary, including hand-written notes and cartoon drawings
- The White Tiger (2008) by Aravind Adiga, winner of the 40th Man Booker Prize in the year 2008. The novel is a series of letters, written by an Indian villager to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is written as a series of letters and telegraphs sent and received by the protagonist
- A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan has parts which are epistolary in nature
- Super Sad True Love Story (2010) by Gary Shteyngart
- Burley Cross Postbox Theft (2010) by Nicola Barker is a polylogic epistolary novel consisting of a bundle of 26 undelivered letters stolen from a mailbox in the village of Burley Cross
- Midnight Movie (2011) by Tobe Hooper and Alan Goldsher is written as a series of emails, Tweets, texts, and oral histories
- The Antagonist (2011) by Lynn Coady is a monologic epistolary novel conveyed through increasingly unanswered email messages
- The Correspondence Artist (2011) by Barbara Browning is based largely on an email correspondence between the narrator and her lover(s)
- Why We Broke Up (2011) by Daniel Handler and illustrated by Maira Kalman
- "Exit the Actress" (2011) by Priya Parmar is an historical novel which stars early stage actress Nell Gwyn, the infamous mistress to Charles II of England, as its protagonist. Through her diary entries, play bills, and gossip columns, Nell's life as everything from an orange seller in her youth, an actress in her teens, and her years as mistress to the king bring the world of seventeenth century restoration England vividly to life..
- Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (2012) by Maria Semple has parts which are epistolary in nature
- Dear Bob and Sue (2012) by Matt and Karen Smith is a non-fiction work by a couple who traveled to all 59 US National Parks and wrote about their travels to their friends Bob and Sue as a series of emails
- The Lawgiver (2012) by Herman Wouk is a fictional novel of his adventures, recounted through emails, text messages, and letters. The story includes himself and his wife, and their quest to modernize themselves.
- Permission (2013) by S. D. Chrostowska, an illustrated book of experimental fiction, was written as a series of unanswered emails to a stranger, who also happens to be a well-known visual artist.
- The Closeness That Separates Us (2013) by Katie Hall and Bogen Jones is almost exclusively written as an exchange of e-mails between the two forbidden lovers, Lena and Ed.
- The Martian by Andy Weir, written as a collection of video journal entries for each Martian day (sol) by the protagonist on Mars, and sometimes by main characters on Earth and on the space station Hermes.
- "Dear Dad", episode twelve of the first season of M*A*S*H, used the framing device of a letter written by Hawkeye Pierce to his father to describe the events of the episode.
- "The Stackhouse Filibuster", episode seventeen of the second season of The West Wing, used the framing device of emails sent by C.J. Cregg, Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn to their respective parents to describe the events of the episode. Aaron Sorkin also used this device on his earlier show Sports Night.
- Epistolary songs include The Beatles' "P.S. I Love You", Eminem's "Stan", Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat", Tom Waits's "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" and Bloodhound Gang's "The Ballad of Chasey Lain".
- Thomas Bailey Aldrich's Marjorie Daw and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper are two examples of epistolary short stories.
- The works of Christine Love all share an epistolary style; from the forum documents and e-mails of "Digital: A Love Story", the e-mails and chat logs of students in "Don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story". "Analogue: A Hate Story" and "Hate Plus" are tales told in the form of diary entries and letters between residents of the colonial spaceship, the Mugunghwa.
- Dear Esther is a 2012 video game by thechineseroom that allows the player to traverse an uninhabited Hebridean island; as the player does this, letters and diary excerpts are recalled audibly by the narrator to reveal the story and encourage progression towards certain areas. These narrations are randomly chosen, and so a different story (or more details of the same story) are revealed during multiple playthroughs of the game.
- The Frictional Games video games Penumbra: Overture (2007) and its sequel Penumbra: Black Plague (2008) are framed in the form of an e-mail written by the protagonist Philip to an outside contact and the story culminates at the point of writing. The developer's later 2010 title Amnesia: The Dark Descent would also frequently refer to letters as a means of exposition, as well as flashbacks, but this time read through by the original writer Daniel after chemically inducing memory loss.
- The entire Star Trek franchise can be described as epistolary to a degree, as its characters are frequently heard making entries in their personal or official logs, whichever is applicable.
- The text portions the multimedia webcomic Homestuck are largely composed of online chats between characters, interspersed with commentary by several omniscient in-universe narrators who interact with the plot.
- American TV show How I Met Your Mother is composed of stories from Ted to his children, making the story epistolary.
- ^E.Th. Voss. Erzählprobleme des Briefromans, dargestellt an vier Beispielen des 18. Jahrhunderts. Bonn, 1960.
- ^B.A. Bray. L'art de la lettre amoureuse: des manuels aux romans (1550-1700). La Haye/Paris, 1967
- ^G. de Guilleragues. Lettres portugaises, Valentins et autres oeuvres. Paris, 1962
- ^A. Takeda. Die Erfindung des Anderen: Zur Genese des fiktionalen Herausgebers im Briefroman des 18. Jahrhunderts. Würzburg, 2008; U. Wirth. Die Geburt des Autors aus dem Geist der Herausgeberfiktion. Editoriale Rahmung im Roman um 1800. Munich, 2008.
- ^"Interview with Patricia C. Wrede". The Enchanted Inkpot. Retrieved 27 February 2016. [permanent dead link]
Did You Know?The word epistolary has been derived from the Latin word epistolē, meaning a letter.
One of the best things about literature is that it is never limited to one particular style. Authors always experiment, always try to do something new, something unique, and something that will appeal to the reader's mind. Thus, there is no surprise that there are so many different styles of writing novels, poems, and short stories; epistolary writing being one of them. A favorite style among authors since the 17th century, epistolary writing has been a part of famous short stories, novels, as well as poems. Before we get into the classic as well as the modern-day examples of epistolary writing, let us first stop to understand what epistolary writing really is.
Epistolary writing is typically categorized into three types―
- Monologic writing, where the letters/diary entries of only one person are recorded.
- Dialogic writing, where the correspondence between two characters is documented.
- Polylogic writing, where more than two characters correspond with one another.
History and Background
The first true example or sample of epistolary writing is a highly debatable point among literary scholars. How this style of writing really originated, is also a debated issue. Some scholars say that this writing genre originated from letters being inserted into the novels, with the third-person narration eventually disappearing from the novels altogether. Others argue that random letters and documentations were compiled together to form a novel, mostly with love as the main theme. History tells us that Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister by Aphra Behn is one of the very first examples of epistolary writing in the English language, published in the late 1680s. As a genre, epistolary writing became more and more popular as time passed, with famous authors such as Samuel Richardson, Frances Brooke, and Henry Fielding all experimenting with it in their well-received novels.
Epistolary Examples in Literature
Like we saw earlier, some of the earliest examples of epistolary writing date back to the latter part of the 1600s. Some of the most famous literary works are epistolary novels and poems. Though the list is certainly not limited to what we are going to write about in the next section, it does compile some really famous and important examples of epistolary writing, in no particular order.
Bram Stoker's famous novel that continues to send chills up the spines of readers even today, is a good example of epistolary writing. Not only does Dracula consist of letters and diary entries, but it also includes newspaper clippings and excerpts that help the reader understand events that were not directly witnessed by the primary characters. Dracula (as you probably already know) is the chilling tale of the fearsome Count Dracula of Transylvania, his attempts to move to England for spreading the 'undead' curse, and his fight with Professor Abraham Van Helsing and his people.
Book:Daddy Long Legs
Author: Jean Webster
This much-loved novel by American author Jean Webster is a true epistolary novel, and tells the story (through letters) of Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, who regularly writes to her benefactor, meaning, the wealthy man who sponsors her college education. Judy is an orphan and writes to her mysterious benefactor who she privately calls Daddy Long Legs as she catches a glimpse of his shadow once and observes that he is tall and long-legged. To her, he is only the strange and mysterious John Smith who never replies to her letters. This novel is in the form of one-sided letters, from Judy to Daddy Long Legs.
Author: Samuel Richardson
Pamela by Samuel Richardson is one of the earliest epistolary novels written. The novel, through letters from the pretty, innocent Pamela to her parents, tells the story of her and her life as a maid servant in an upper-class family. The fifteen-year old innocent Pamela is working for Mrs. B, a rich old lady who dies and leaves the impoverished Pamela with her son. Mr B., the son, starts attempting to seduce Pamela, though he knows he can't marry her because of the difference in their social status. The tale is taken forward through Pamela's thoughts and feelings, which are expressed in her letters.
Stephen King's first-published novel, Carrie, is written in an epistolary format, consisting of letters, book excerpts, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, journal entries, etc. Carrie is the tormenting, horrifying, and intensely gripping tale of Carrie White, a high-school student who is bullied in school, is a social outcast, and lives with her religious fanatic of a mother who subjects her daughter to various kinds of abuse under the name of praying and religion. Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers, which she eventually uses for seeking revenge on all those who ever hurt her and tormented her, including her mother.
Book:The Perks of Being a Wallflower
This very famous, very realistic, and touching piece of epistolary work focuses on Charlie, an introverted teenager, and his letters to an anonymous stranger, whose identity is not revealed to readers. Charlie goes through various stages as a troubled teenager― drugs, teenage love, adolescent problems, introversion, troubled relationships, sexuality, etc. Charlie's life, as a freshman in high school is a roller coaster ride, where nothing seems to be going either wrong, or right, and he doesn't know if he's happy, or sad. His love for his friend Sam, his relationship with his troubled sister and some past trauma that continues to haunt him, are all eloquently described through his letters to the anonymous recipient.
Book:Bridget Jones's Diary
Loosely based on Jane Austen's famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones's Diary is a funny take on a 30-something single woman who drinks too much, smokes too much, and worries endlessly about her weight, as well as her career. This novel is an epistolary piece of work, as Bridget's life and events are described through the entries that she makes in her diary. Bridget Jones's Diary is a light-hearted, and yet realistic read on relationships, career issues, and family pressures that most of us face today.
Book:Diary of a Wimpy Kid
This is definitely one of the cutest series of all time. Loved by children and adults alike, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a series of personal journal entries made by Greg Heffley, the leader character in the book. This epistolary series also includes little drawings made by Greg in his diary, or 'journal', as he likes to call it. This series is a funny, realistic take on the life of the average middle-school student― problems, friends, crushes, family relationships, et al.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley is the terrifying, tragic tale of the eccentric and over-ambitious Victor Frankenstein who creates a hideous creature during an experiment. The novel, which was originally supposed to be a short story, is written in epistolary form, with Captain Robert Walton describing the tale and experiences of Victor Frankenstein, who he has just rescued while on a voyage to the North Pole. The story is told in a series of letters from Walton to his sister, Margaret.
Book:The Screwtape Letters
The Screwtape Letters is an unusual kind of novel, written and published in the epistolary format. Scholars feel that this novel by the legendary C.S. Lewis is both fictional, as well as non-fictional: fictional in its approach, and non-fictional in its essence. The story is in the form of 31 letters, which are written by a senior Demon in Hell, to his nephew, who is a junior Tempter. The letters describe in detail how the inexperienced Tempter can promote sin, and tempt a British man called the Patient in order to bring about his damnation and lead him to Hell.
Book:The Princess Diaries
The Princess Diaries is a series of epistolary books for teenagers. As the name itself suggests, The Princess Diaries tell the readers about the life of an unconventional young princess, Mia, who lives in New York City with her single mother. Mia is far from even a princess-like image: she is not one of the 'popular' girls in school, she is not exceptionally brainy, and she does not possess exceptional talents. Her father, the prince of Genovia (a fictitious European country) and her grandmother, the dowager princess try their best to train her in gracious living, and handling life as an heir. These books are written in the form of diary entries, and account for a funny, light-hearted read.
Book:The Diary of a Young Girl
The Diary of a Young Girl, or Anne Frank's Diary is perhaps the most famous non-fictional work in the epistolary format. Anne Frank was a Jewish young girl in her early teens who wrote this diary during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Anne, her family, and some friends were in hiding from the Nazis for two years, before they were betrayed and deported to concentration camps where most of them eventually lost their lives. Anne's diary gives the reader a realistic, horrifying picture of what Nazi Germany was like before and during World War II.
Book:The White Tiger
The White Tiger is author Aravind Adiga's debut novel, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the year of its release. This epistolary novel is in the form of letters from an Indian villager, Balram Halwai, to the Chinese Premier. Through his letters, Balram tells the Premier as well as the leader, all about his life as the son of a poor rickshaw puller, to a rich man's chauffeur, to eventually a successful entrepreneur. This novel is written in a dark, satirical manner, and portrays the struggle of the Indian working classes in a rapidly globalizing world.
Epistolary Writing: Advantages and Disadvantages
Different points of view, and differences in opinions among scholars have led to defining the advantages and disadvantages of epistolary writing.
✦ Epistolary writing helps connect the reader to the characters more easily. The reader becomes a part of the character's world, as the tale progresses through letters, or journal entries. It is more intimate and personal as compared to third-person narration.
✦ Epistolary writing provides an opportunity for the author to share multiple points of view to the reader at once.
✦ It seems more authentic and genuine when in epistolary form, as compared to third-person narration.
✦Epistolary writing puts the entire focus on the characters of the story, and not much else.
✦ Since there are barely any present-tense dialogs used, interaction between characters cannot always be deciphered correctly. The reader may look at the interaction from only one viewpoint and not the other.
✦ Understanding the exact relationships between characters is also sometimes confusing in epistolary novels.
✦ It is difficult to portray intimate scenes in an epistolary novel, especially if they are written in the format of letters or newspaper clippings or even diary entries.
✦ Epistolary novels can cause the reader to become biased towards one character and miss the importance of the other characters. Similarly, not every character's point of view may interest the reader.
Epistolary writing is really a very interesting literary device. Though it has its share of disadvantages, we really don't think we can imagine our favorite epistolary novels in third-person narration instead, can you?