Novel sequence  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A novel sequence is a set or series of novels which share common themes, characters, or settings, but where each novel has its own title and free-standing storyline, and can thus be read independently or out of sequence.



There is no useful, formal demarcation between novel sequences and multi-part novels. Novels that are related may or may not fall into a clear sequence. It is also debatable whether a trilogy is long enough and whether its parts are discrete enough to qualify as a novel sequence.

For example the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope are only loosely related, although they contain a recurring cast of characters; his political novels about the Pallisers have a tighter connection and dynamic. A strict definition might exclude both.


The novel sequence was a product of the nineteenth century, with Fenimore Cooper's works appearing in the 1820s, and Trollope's Barchester books in the 1850s. In French literature, Honoré de Balzac's ambitious La Comédie humaine (a set of nearly 100 novels and plays, with some recurring characters) started to come together during the 1830s. Émile Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle is a family saga, a format that later became a popular fictional form, going beyond the conventional three-volume novel.

The roman-fleuve (French, literally "river-novel") refers to an extended sequence of novels of which the whole acts as a commentary for a society or an epoch, and which continually deals with a central character, community or a saga within a family. The river metaphor implies a steady, broad dynamic lending itself to a perspective. Each volume makes up a complete novel by itself, but the entire cycle exhibits unifying characteristics.

"The Women of Brewster Place" by Gloria Naylor is an excellent example of a novel sequence; It tells seven separate stories about seven different women, with a common theme but completely different interpretations of them.


In the twentieth century Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu came to be regarded by many as a definitive roman fleuve. Today, however, its seven volumes are generally considered to be a single novel [1]. In some serious sense, it escapes classification.

Proust's work was immensely influential, particularly on British novelists of the middle of the twentieth century who did not favour modernism. Some of those follow the example of Anthony Powell , a Proust disciple, but consciously adapting the technique to depict social change, rather than change in high society. This was a step beyond the realist novels of Arnold Bennett (the Clayhanger books) or John Galsworthy.

Contemporary pressures and novel sequences

A novel sequence usually contains story arcs or themes that cross over several books, rather than simply sharing one or more characters. Sequences of genre fiction are not generally considered romans-fleuve; the Aubrey–Maturin series of Patrick O'Brian might qualify, and possibly the Vorkosigan Series of Lois McMaster Bujold.

Novel sequences, though, are now most common in genre fiction, particularly in science fiction and epic fantasy. The introduction of the preconstructed novel sequence is often attributed to E. E. Doc Smith, with his Lensman books. Such sequences, from contemporary authors, tend to be more clearly defined than earlier examples. Authors are now more likely to announce an overall series title, or write in round numbers such as 12 volumes. These characteristics are not those of the classical model forms, and become more like the 'franchises' of the film industry.

The types instead begin to fill out a concentric model like

trilogy < sequence < 'saga' grouping (single author) < shared universe < genre.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Novel sequence" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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