Daniel Defoe and His Novel Idea

Today, novels are found practically everywhere. One of my best friends, Sharyn (from Room 10), re-reads Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind every year. Another friend, Marissa Meyer, has recently seen the publication of her debut young adult novel, Cinder. Instead of writing this blog post, I should be making my way through Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim for a class on Monday. We’ve gotten so used to the idea of the ‘novel’ that most of us assume the form’s been around since the beginning of time, when really, it’s existed for less than 300 years. A baby of a form considering its beginnings in English literature started 1,000 years after the writing of the first English poem, “Caedmon’s Hymn”.

The word ‘novel’ itself is a funny thing. Before it evolved into a noun that refers to the type of books we read today, it was (and still is) an adjective that means ‘new’ and ‘different from anything seen or known before’. And when it was first established in the 18th Century by a fellow called Daniel Defoe, the novel was certainly a novel thing.

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[Texts in Time] Caedmon and his Hymn

Once upon a time (i.e. in the 7th Century), there lived an Anglo-Saxon fellow called Caedmon, who one day decided to play with words in order to praise his God. Finding he liked the sounds of his little creation, he orally passed it on to his friends and family, who also liked it and told all their friends and family. A few decades later, another fellow called Bede ended up liking Caedmon’s Hymn so much that he decided to write it down. And so, one of the earliest recorded poems in the English language was, well, recorded.

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