When asked “What is the longest novel ever written?” most people instantly think of the thickest books they encountered in their youth — War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, or The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. They will be surprised to know that these epics are mere cottages compared to the skyscrapers of literature. Not one of the three aforementioned novels breaks into the top ten list of the longest novels ever written. The longest of the three, War and Peace, is 1,440 pages long containing about 561,093 words (English translation, Oxford World Classic edition). Compare that to the longest novel ever written — French author Madeleine de Scudéry’s Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, published in 10 volumes (13,095 pages) containing almost two million words. The length and weight of these novels will send readers scrambling for an ebook version.
Not surprisingly, most of these novels are not well-known or found in most high school or college curricula — for obvious reasons. Technically, the longest novel ever written originally in English and in one volume is Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady published in 1748. The British author, who was also a printer and publisher, had the freedom of writing circuitously since he was, in effect, self-published. It’s almost a shame he wasn’t paid by the word, though. Nevertheless, some 267 years later, his lengthy epistolary novel is still in print in various paperback editions as well as ebook editions. Richardson would be thrilled.
Despite its obscurity in the West, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong is the most widely read novel in China, where it is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (alongside Water Margin, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber). Moreover, Guanzhong’s impact on Chinese literature is compared to that of William Shakespeare’s impact on English literature.
Bookshelf presents the list of the top ten longest novels ever written — excluding, of course, multi-volume series (e.g., Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling).
1. Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus or Cyrus the Great (1649-53) by Madeleine de Scudéry (13,095 pages, 10 volumes, 1,954,300 French words)
2. Gordana (2007) by Marija Juric Zagorka (8,768 pages, 12 volumes, 1,400,000 Coratian words)
3. À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27) by Marcel Proust (3,031 pages, 7 volumes, 1,267,069 French words)
4. Zettels Traum (1970) by Arno Schmidt (1,334 pages, 1,100,000 German words)
5. Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady (1748) by Samuel Richardson (1,534 pages, 984,870 English words)
6. Poor Fellow My Country (1975) by Xavier Herbert (1,463 pages, 852,000 English words)
7. Women and Men (1987) by Joseph McElroy (1,192 pages, 850,000 English words)
8. Sironia, Texas (1952) by Madison Cooper (1,731 pages, 2 volumes, 840,000 English words)
9. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (14th century) by Luo Guanzhong (2,340 pages, 4 volumes, 800,000 Chinese to English translation by Moss Roberts in 1991)
10. Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (1965) by Marguerite Young (1,198 pages, 750,000 English words)
Read related posts: Famous Epic Novels by the Numbers
The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels
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The Most Influential People Who Never Lived
The Power of Literature
The Most Influential Authors
The Most Influential Characters in Literature
For further reading: Mental_Floss: The Book by Ethan Trex, et al. (2011)