The Evolution of the Novel

After reading Teju Cole’s Hafiz, I was struck at how far we have come in our definition of a novel. During this class, we tracked the growth of the novel from its serial beginnings to the full-fledged, bound and printed novelistic form. So, it seems a rough alternative to transition from the likes of Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, who revolutionized the novel with their characters and prose, to a Twitter or cellphone novel. To be sure, the idea itself is interesting, to transmute the novelistic form to the modern technological age, but I’m not sure if its execution is completely successful.

There are certainly limitations in trying to write a story in a series of tweets that are 140 characters or less, or in Teju Cole’s case, a series of retweets – which means the words are not his own, the messages typed by the hands of another. But maybe that’s the intrigue of the form, in the sense that it is a collage, a mashing together, to find a meaning in the words of others. Undoubtedly, Hafiz makes sense, creates a story that leaves the reader thinking. But, it is lacking in the elements that made Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Gaskell’s North and South memorable ­– character development that allowed the reader to form bonds with the protagonist, a setting the reader could imagine themselves in, a conflict that becomes personal for the reader. Perhaps what I am getting at is that the Twitter novel does not allow a personal connection for the reader that the printed novel does, and maybe that is a result of the medium, or of the form itself. In any case, I did not feel the same way after finishing Hafiz as I did after finishing Jane Eyre ­– maybe that’s the goal of this type of novel, to subvert expectations and create a new feeling about literature and the way our stories are communicated.

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