Abstract

This essay interrogates the genre “verse novel” into which a great many new texts are being placed by publishers and authors. Since the ancient genre of narrative poetry already exists, and the novel is defined by most theorists in opposition to poetry and verse, the term “verse novel” may well be seen not only as an unnecessary affectation, designed to sell books, but also as a contradiction in terms. However, the essay argues, narrative poetry is a commodious genre, accommodating many subgenres. One of these is the romance, a class which includes both verse and prose and of which some texts dubbed “verse novel” may be members. But, since the majority of these texts are wholly realistic, resembling the popular realistic novel far more than they do the romance or any previously existing poetic genre, the subgenre “verse novel” is recommended for their accommodation after all. Interestingly, this subgenre is, of course, also a subgenre of the novel. Because several novel theorists, including, significantly, Ian Watt, identify the novel exclusively as a prose genre, the essay queries the distinction between prose and verse, questioning, among other things, prose's priority over verse and its reputation as a less stylized, more “natural” form. The essay concludes that verse novels are an embodiment of Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of the idea of the purity of genre; they are hybrid texts that very openly participate in two ostensibly mutually exclusive genres at the same time.

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