A 1921 article predicted novels would move towards action and adventure.
That happened… eventually. While the biggest novels of recent decades have been action-heavy, perhaps the least action-heavy classic ever — Ulysses by James Joyce — was published only the next year.
This is the age of the airplane, the wireless telegraph, of radium, of “relativity.” Very well! It is also the age of the novel. Perhaps the future will create a new literary genre such as no one can at present foresee, but for the moment the novel is the summary of modern life; and when people ask what the literature of the coming years is going to be, the question they really ask is: What kind of a novel is the public going to read?
Indeed, an explosion in novel formats has occurred in recent years and decades, from e-books to audiobooks to fan fiction to books written with serialized chapters online.
Which of these two types will the novel of the future… approach? Will we have more and more realism, as the tendency seemed to be in 1914? Or will we turn back to the old novel of adventure, of action?
The novel of adventure is becoming fashionable again in Europe. Not only are publishers accepting new books of this kind, but they are reprinting many stories that were written a generation ago, but had no success at that time — the heyday of the naturalists.
Particularly interesting, for instance, is the new vogue of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Continentals who had read “Treasure Island” in the years following the publication of that masterpiece of adventure could be counted almost on the fingers of the hand. Now Stevenson is all the rage.
In the last 30 years, the biggest authors have included J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, Suzanne Collins, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, Veronica Roth, and Michael Crichton. There’s still a place for realism in fiction, but increasingly that place doesn’t seem to be on the bestseller list.
The Future of the Novel
Published: Sunday, May 15, 1921