The social novel, is also known as the social problem (or social protest) novel, the sociological novel and is a work of fiction, which dramatizes a prevailing social problem through the effect they have on the novel’s characters. Topics covered can be as diverse as gender, race, or class prejudice although the narrative can also address poverty, conditions in factories or mines, violence against women, rising criminality and epidemics caused by poor sanitation or overcrowding in urban areas.
Other terms used to define this genre are thesis novel, propaganda novel, industrial novel, working-class novel and problem novel. A more recent development in this genre is the young adult problem novel.
Early examples can be found in 18th century England, as well as throughout Europe and the United States. Henry Fielding’s Amelia (1751) and William Godwin’s Things as The Are OR The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794) are thought precursors of the genre. During the social and political upheavals following the Reform Act of 1833 in England social novels began, such as Charles Dickens’ novels highlighting poverty and unhealthy living conditions. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (1862) was a significant protest novel. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) dealt with anti-slavery and The Grapes of Wrath is probably the best known social protest novel.
How many social novels have you read?
Have you written one?