15 Great Quotes about the Novel

The best quotations from writers – about the art of the novel

What should a novel be? Writers down the ages have often decreed that the novel should be one thing or another. Here are fifteen of the best quotes from writers about the novel as an art form, as a mode of social enquiry, as a book of questions, and much else besides.

A novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it. – Randall Jarrell

Austen2A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. – G. K. Chesterton

There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be. – Doris Lessing

The novel is the one bright book of life. – D. H. Lawrence

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. – Jane Austen

The only classification of the novel that I can understand is into that which has life and that which has it not. – Henry James

Life resembles a novel more than a novel resembles life. – George Sand

A novel is never anything but a philosophy expressed in images. – Albert Camus

D H Lawrence aged 21A novel should be a book of questions, not a book of answers. – Hilary Mantel

A novelist must preserve a childlike belief in the importance of things which common sense considers of no importance. – W. Somerset Maugham

The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words. – Ursula Le Guin

If you try to nail anything down, in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail. – D. H. Lawrence

I always start with a title … and then work round different meanings. A novel is, for me, always an elaboration of a title. – Muriel Spark

Novels are about other people and poems are about yourself. – Philip Larkin

A novelist has to know enough about a subject to fool the passenger next to him on an airplane. – David Foster Wallace

More treasure troves of great quotations – about the novel and much else besides – can be found in our compendium of moving and profound quotes from writers (with sources) and our great quotes about poetry.

Image (top): Jane Austen (author unknown, 1873). Image (bottom): D. H. Lawrence aged 21, author unknown, Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I am cracking up at Jane’s blunt comment. Must be the Lizzie Bennet in her coming out.

  2. Pingback: 15 Great Quotes about the Novel « buildingapoem