By way of preface to
Incognita; or, Love and Duty Reconcil’d
(1692), which he refers to as a ‘novel’, William Congreve, best known as the dramatist who gave us
The Way of the World
(1700), draws a distinction between ‘romances’ and ‘novels’ that has been cited many times subsequently. The distinction is made in terms of the greater ‘familiarity’ of novels, their superior credibility and down-to-earth quality:
Romances are generally composed of the Constant Loves and invincible Courages of Hero’s, Heroins, Kings and Queens, Mortals of the first Rank, and so forth; where lofty Language, miraculous Contingencies and impossible Performances, elevate and surprize the Reader into a giddy Delight, which leaves him flat upon the Ground whenever he gives of, and vexes him to think how he has suffer’d himself to be pleased and transported, concern’d and afflicted at the several Passages which he has Read,
. these Knights Success to their Damosels Misfortunes, and such like, when he is forced to be very well convinced that ‘tis all a lye. Novels are of a more familiar nature; Come near us, and represent to us Intrigues in practice, delight us with Accidents and odd
, but not such as are wholly unusual or unpresidented, such which not being so distant from our Belief bring also the pleasure nearer us. Romances give more of Wonder, Novels more Delight.