The Screwtape Letters
by C.S. Lewis
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Epistolary fiction is a popular genre where the narrative is told via a series of documents. You have almost certainly read one of these books. Letters are the most common basis for epistolary novels but diary entries are also popular. The word epistolary comes from Latin where epistola means a letter.
In the days before emails and text messages, letters were an essential part of everyday life and it was only natural for authors to embrace this form of communication.
This genre became very popular in the 18th century. Samuel Richardson wrote two successful epistolary novels – Pamela in 1740 and Clarissa in 1749. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther was another important example in 1774. The History of Emily Montague (1769) by Frances Brooke is another 18th century novel of this type. Epistolary fiction become so widespread that Henry Fielding parodied Pamela with a novel called Shamela in 1741.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is perhaps the most successful novel of all time to be written in this format but others include Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
The wonderful 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff is non-fiction but must be mentioned as the AbeBooks marketplace includes so many rare booksellers. This book is a 20-year correspondence between the author and an antiquarian bookseller, but reads like fiction.
Even in the past 10 years, there has been a steady stream of epistolary literature. Notable examples include World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks and We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. The Griffin and Sabine series, a love affair told via letters and postcards, by artist Nick Bantock is a beloved trilogy and a beautiful example of this form of writing.
Gothic hybrid novel told via letters, stories and excerpts from books.
Stoker uses journal entries, letter and newspaper clippings to tell his 1897 classic vampire tale.
Either a letter or manuscript written in first-person narrative & left for someone to find.
This story is both epistolary (letters) and lipogramatic (writing that lacks certain letters).
Journals, letters, telegrams and drawings tell this story of tomb exploration in Egypt.
A comic novel about students & a teacher written in memos, notes, essays, lesson plans and letters.
Thirteen letters, six each from Snicket & Beatrice, and one from Snicket to his editor.
A novel from 1999, a teenager writes a series of letters to an anonymous person.
Correspondence between an 18-year-old student & her aunt on the merits of Austen.
A novel told through cover letters for job applications that take a dark turn.
A comic novel from 1771 featuring letters from six characters describing the same events.
A marriage falls apart and letters between the characters tell the story.
Byatt uses various methods including diary entries, letters and third-person narrative.
A bleak novel told via letters between a couple of distant and impoverished cousins.
A 1912 novel where a college girl writes letters to her benefactor.
A trilogy of books about a long distance romance told through letters and postcards.
A young adult novel featuring letters exchanged between two 15-year-old girls.
Published in 1995, this is a diary written on a lap-top set in the technology boom of the mid-1990s.
Acclaimed novel from 2003, this features letters from Eva - the mother of Kevin - to her husband.
Fine comic writing that describe one English boy’s painful childhood and teenage years.
Zombie apocalypse told through interviews with various survivors for a UN report.
An early example of detective fiction from 1859 that makes use of various documents.
Told through journal entries – this influential book tackles issues around the mentally disabled.
A horror story told via newspaper and magazines clippings, letters, & excerpts from books.