The Social Novel may be defined as a fictional narrative that focuses on the varieties of human behavior in society and the way in which the characters reflect or contradict the values of that society.
In this genre, the characters are seen in the background of their social milieu and culture. The inner life of the characters find the place in such novels, greater importance is given to their conflicts and collisions with classes and believes. The essence of a social novel is the conflict between the individual and the society that surrounds him based on different concepts of values.
Two Groups of Social Novel:
Social novels can be divided into two groups.
- The novel of Manners.
- The novel of Civilization.
The novel of Manners:
The novel of manners is concerned with social behavior and its correctness in a given society. The concept of behavior achieves some grant moral effect as we find in the novels of Jane Austen “Pride and Prejudice” and Emma are the best examples. The novelist is preoccupied with the niceties of social conduct and often, commerce by the employment of Irony and satire exposes undesirable passions like arrogance, hypocrisy, and snobbery. Henry James’ novel ‘The ambassador’ is a successful social novel of manners. It depicts with great humor and delicacy the reaction of different American types to a European environment. Evelyn Waugh’s “A handful of dust” is a social novel of manners that presents The vision of sin and guilt in the modern world. The social novel of manners has a satiric structure as we find in Jane Austen. Even modern novelists make use of the same formula. For instance, Philip Roth satirizes the self-protective attitude of the modern middle class in his novel ‘Goodbye Columbus’.
The novel of Civilization:
The social novel of Civilization takes a comprehensive view of the whole Civilization. The best examples are Charles Dickens’s “Little Dorrit” and Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” the novel Civilization aims at revealing the meanings, principles, and social styles that govern people’s lives. The action of individuals is examined in the light of the Civilization that surrounds them. In “Little Dorrit” Dickens explores the English society dominated by the corrupt business class. In the novel Civilization characters or viewed as part of the developing environment. The splendor or shame of their past is exploding. The significance of the character’s behavior becomes clear only in the background of the Civilization which he represents. In “War and Peace” Tolstoy presents the different stages in the development of each character. The novel Civilization, sometimes, depicts the different stages in the growth of the writer’s consciousness as in Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’. Sometimes it uses our family story as in Faulkner’s ‘Sartoris’ or Galsworthy’s ‘Forsyte Saga’.
The Social Novel is a technique in literature. In which the authors express and illustrate society, ethics, etiquette, and protocols. Nowadays, various authors are following this technique in their writings. Especially, to illustrate the Epic society, Dynasty, and fictional Mythologies. This literary form serves as a device to illustrate society.