The Coverley Papers as the Precursor of English Novel

Question: Discuss The Coverley Papers as the Precursor of English Novel

Or, discuss “Spectator” as the forerunner of the English novel.

Or, evaluate Addison and Steele as the pioneers of the English novel.


A novel is a kind of fictional work about people and events. The word novel is an adaptation of the Italian word novella (from the plural of Latin Novellus, a late variant of Novus, meaning “new”). Although Addison and Steele’s The Coverley Papers are essentially non-fiction prose works, they are considered to be the precursor of the English novel. Because while reading a paper from it, we often feel as if we were reading a page of a novel. It is also said that their essays foreboded the arrival of the novel particularly.

The basic requisites of a novel

Before we consider “The Coverley Papers or The Spectator” as the precursor of the novel, we have to keep in mind the generally accepted basic requisites of a novel. These can be roughly stated to be:

These elements have been recognized, more or less, to constitute the necessary ingredients of the novel.


It has been accepted that the most important aspect of a novel lies in its characterization.  Great novels always have great characters. Even the very modern views on the novel cannot do away with the character even though the importance of the plot has been diminished. In this sense, we see that Addison has done a great deal. The members of the spectator club have been very well delineated. Spectator himself is shy and reserved but observant in a silent manner. A number of essays show flashes of the taciturnity and silence of Spectator and his sense of judgment. So, we see that Addison’s art of characterization is indeed a great step towards the novel.


A novel is formed of several incidents. An incident is what happens to a character or what is brought about by a character. Novelists generally concentrate on some important incidents to develop their plot. In most of the essays of Addison and Steele, we see different scenes, contexts, and places. For example; the essays which deal with Sir Roger’s love affair with the perverse widow offer good material for plot development though they are not starkly developed.


The setting may be the main consideration of the novel because the makeup and behavior of the fictional characters depend on their environment as much as their authors approve of them with personal dynamics. The setting of the essays of “The Coverley Papers” provides a variety of ranges from the countryside to coffee houses. So, in the point of fact, it is nothing else but a precursor of the English novel.

Narrative method and point of view

Where there is a story, there is a storyteller.  Point of view refers to a person who is telling or narrating a story. A story can be told from the first person, second person, or third-person point of view. Writers use the third-person point of view to express the personal emotions of either themselves or their characters. The third-person point of view of a story is how the writer wants to convey the experience to the reader. Though we do not get a particular point of view of the essays of Addison and Steele, they are the forerunners of the English novel since they are the first to inaugurate a narrative in non-fictional writing.

Artistic unity of theme

Whether a novel has a plot or not, there is usually a unity of theme or point of view in a novel. A novel is often the interpretation of life. The essays in the Spectator are more in the nature of a representation of the society of the day rather than an interpretation of it. We get to know from these papers about life in those days, that too in a superficial manner. We do not get any particular point of view of the authors except that they intended to reform society.


It is neat and clean that “The Coverley Papers” is not a novel but has the germ of the novel and we have no doubt that if Addison had written a novel on an extensive plan, it would have been superior to any that we possess. So, it is of course undeniable that “The Coverley Papers” is the forerunner of the novel.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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