This is not the first time I've heard of this, and I'm not really sure this is true. Then I came across this book review:

Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published in 1719 and sometimes regarded as the first novel in English.

Then I started wondering, is this really true? What about other books like Utopia by More?

Does anyone have evidence as to whether or not Robinson Crusoe is the first novel?

I suppose it depends on the definition of a novel.

  • I agree it depends on the definition, and I think it cannot be answered factually.
    – Suma
    Jul 20, 2011 at 9:13
  • Agreed - it seems hard to confirm. There's a Wikipedia article about this (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_novel_in_English) which indicates similarly. I assume you would have to define strict limits on the actual ambit of the question before it was answerable.
    – NotJarvis
    Jul 20, 2011 at 9:20
  • 1
    Even the claim you quote is not that strong, it tells "sometimes regarded as the first novel in English", which is fully explained by the definition issue. I see nothing to "debunk" here.
    – Suma
    Jul 20, 2011 at 9:21
  • @Suma it also depends on the definition of "English".
    – jwenting
    Jul 9, 2018 at 7:26

1 Answer 1


For English you can find a list of multiple first novels, which mentions the definition problem:

There are multiple candidates for first novel in English partly because of ignorance of earlier works, but largely because the term novel can be defined so as to exclude earlier candidates:

The list is as follows:

The following works of literature have each been claimed as the first novel in English.

  • Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur, (written circa 1470, published 1485)
  • William Baldwin, Beware the Cat, (written 1553, published 1570, 1584)
  • John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and his England (1580)
  • Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (1581)
  • John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (1678)
  • George Ashwell (translator), Philosophus Autodidactus (1686)
  • Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688)
  • Simon Ockley (translator), The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan (1708)
  • Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  • Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders (1722)
  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740)
  • 1
    Don Quixote was in Spanish. The quoted claim in the question states that Crusoe was "sometimes regarded as the first novel in English." So Don Quixote is irrelevant
    – NotJarvis
    Jul 20, 2011 at 9:17
  • 1
    Unfortunately this is a (almost) completely unreferenced Wikipedia article... so it's mere opinion.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 20, 2011 at 10:54
  • As I wrote in the comment to a question, I think this question cannot be answered in a factual manner, as (which is already expected by the question) what is a first novel depends on the definition of a novel. One could add different novel definitions accepted by a literature theorists, and explain what criteria are satisfied by which "first novel", but I am not willing to do this, as I think the question should be closed anyway.
    – Suma
    Jul 20, 2011 at 11:05
  • Suma, your answer would be fine, except it's unreferenced. If the answer is that the experts are in disagreement, then reference the disagreement.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 20, 2011 at 12:01
  • Is it possible to reference such an answer (word redefinition)?
    – horatio
    Jul 20, 2011 at 15:45

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