Milestones at the birth of the novel


Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605),
title page of the 4th edition

By no means a comprehensive list, but this is an attempt to show the geographic diversity of the origins of fictional narrative, and how in Europe the influence of the Spanish picaresque romance transfused into French and English writing, creating the base on which the great 19th century novels were built. Gil Blas is situated at a pivotal point of this development.

  • ? The Tale of Genji Murusaki Shikibu (975-c.1025)
  • 1370 The Decameron Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)
  • c.1505-1520 Till Eulenspiegel (tales from Middle Low German medieval folklore whose collection into a book is attributed to Herman Bote)
  • 1554 The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of his Fortunes and Adversities Anon.
  • 1590 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en (c.1500-1582)
  • 1599 Guzman de Alfarache Mateo Alemán (1547-1615)
  • 1605-1615 The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
  • 1626 El Buscón (The Swindler) Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645)
  • 1669 Simplicius Simplicissimus (Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus Teutsch) Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelhausen (1621-1676)


14th century Arabic manuscript of
'The Thousand and One Nights
  • 1704 The Thousand and One Nights (first part first published in a French translation) Anon. The origin of these tales can, among others, be traced to 9th century Persia.
  • 1715-1735 The History of Gil Blas of Santillana Alain-René Lesage (1668-1747)
  • 1719 The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pirates. Daniel Defoe (c.1660-1731)
  • 1726/1735 Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships aka Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
  • 1731 Manon Lescaut Abbé (Antoine François) Prévost (1697-1763)
  • 1740 Pamela Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)
  • 1748 The Adventures of Roderick Random Tobias Smollett (1721-1771)
  • 1749 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

Candide Voltaire

Frontispiece and first page of chapter one of an early English translation by T. Smollett et al of Voltaire's "Candide," printed by J. Newbery, 1762
  • 1759 Candide François-Marie Arouet – Voltaire (1694-1778)
  • 1759-1762 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Laurence Sterne (1713-1768)
  • 1761 Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
  • 1774 The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1742-1839)
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