The novel is an extended fictional prose narrative of considerable length organized around a set of characters and (interconnected) events that deal with the depiction of human experience. The earliest modern European novel is said to be Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, a Spanish picaresque narrative of the early 17th century (Thomas Nashe's Jack Wilton is an even earlier picaresque novel, but possibly because of its lesser influence, it yields the epithet to Quixote). The most important formal element of the picaresque that has influenced later novels is its episodic structure, where incidents and settings not having much in common are loosely strung together by the presence of a central character. Moving on to the England, it's Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) that is widely held to be the first English novel, even though Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688) and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678) predate it a by good few decades, Bunyan's work often rejected on the grounds that it is a Christian allegory and Behn's piece on the claim that it is too short and too exotic (though more recent scholarship places it in the genre of the imperial romance) to be classified as such. But the rise of the early novel also saw the rise of the English middle and mercantile class. In fact, Robinson Crusoe breaks away from earlier conventions by making its hero a man of the commercial class whose concerns are realistically economic rather than idealistic. Because it focused on the ordinary man and his ordinary concerns rather than the kings, heroes and lofty ideals informed by earlier literary forms, the novel was initially considered vulgar, accused of giving its readers funny ideas, but soon enough, it came into its own. Widespread literacy and the blooming of the print culture provided the audience for this new form, and the need of a vehicle of expression for the rising middle class saw to its popularity. But apart from its humble origins and allegiance to the middle classes, what next becomes most noticeable is the sheer number of women writers who took to it. From Behn, Eliza Haywood, Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen and Mary Shelley to Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontes (Charlotte, Emily, Anne) and George Eliot— no other literary form till then had boasted so many female contributors in their ranks. The novel then, in a way, could be considered the most democratic of literary forms, giving voice to the unheard. Later on, the social novels of Dickens and co. would only go on to reinforce this notion. But while the dominance of the Victorian socio-realist novel is well-documented, it is the 18th century (and the two or three decades preceding and following it) that actually saw more experimentation with this form. Behn's Oroonoko can be said to be a precursor to both the imperial romance and the postcolonial novel like Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart nearly three centuries after, Samuel Richardson's seminal work Pamela and its greater successor Clarissa invented the epistolary mode, Henry Fielding carried forward the picaresque while Laurence Sterne anticipated Joyce, the stream of consciousness and the modern and post modern novels in his highly unconventional, non-linear narrative Tristram Shandy. Sir Walter Scott started off the historical novel while Ann Radcliffe popularized the gothic fiction begun by Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Jane Austen continues to be the hallmark of the satirical novel of manners popularized by Burney, further refining it through her introduction of the free indirect discourse which guarantees her immoveable place in the literary world for all time to come. I have just pierced the tip of the iceberg; there is a lot more I wanted to write about including novels' serialization in periodicals, circulating libraries, the three decker format, but that's for another time. I'm too tired. Ciao! NB: This is not well researched, thoroughly fact-checked or comprehensive in any way since I just vomited whatever came to mind.