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What Are the Different Genres of British Fiction?

By C. Mitchell
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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Most British fiction can be classified as at least one of a long list of genres, ranging from the historical to the gothic and science fiction. There is no comprehensive list of all of the different genres of British fiction, in large part because different scholars recognize different genres. Nevertheless, there are ten fairly standard genres of British fiction that most scholars acknowledge. These are the Bildungsroman, or formation novel, the historical novel, the regional or provincial novel, the novel of manners, the gothic novel, the industrial novel, the adventure novel, the romance novel, the science fiction novel, and the detective or mystery novel.

Genre in British fiction, as in all types of fiction, is a means of categorizing work based on style. A work's genre tells readers something about its setting, its contents, and the perspective from which it is written. A historical novel, for instance, tells a story that is based on truth and takes place in a setting inspired by reality. Similarly, a regional or provincial novel tells a story set in a certain slice of British society. Characters in these sorts of novels can be expected to use language and display tendencies common to ordinary people in the target time frame, the target geographic area, or both.

In a Bildungsroman, the novel’s plot will center around a certain character or set of characters as they grow, either in age or in perspective. A novel of manners uses characters to parody or otherwise demonstrate the unique mannerisms of a certain sector of society, often the ruling class or elites. Somewhat predictably, a detective novel focuses on unwinding some mystery or central unknown. The industrial novel, which has largely fallen to the wayside, attempted to describe the effects that the industrial revolution was having on British society.

Gothic novels often adopt a similar tone as they focus on some dark melodrama. England's 19th century is often referred to as its "gothic period," and much of gothic-genre fiction arises from this era. Of the remaining genres, romance novels center on love between characters, adventure novels typically involve far-off lands and unknown terrains, and science fiction novels incorporate new technology and fancied, speculative realms.

Using genre to definitively categorize British fiction is a somewhat controversial practice among academics, as most works can properly fit into more than one category. Genre can also be falsely limiting. A great many detective stories were written in the 1800s, for example, and the genre can be said to have had its origins there — but British novelists today continue to write mysteries. The genre is the same, but the style, the writing, and the literary weight can be dramatically different. Most academics categorize British fiction by time frame first, and then by genre.

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