The origin of first person novels may be traced back to the ‘I-Novels’; a literary genre in Japanese literature used to describe events in an author’s life. A distinguishing feature of a first person novel is that it is written from the first person point of view and the narrator is usually one protagonist. It is a difficult genre and comparatively a lesser trodden path, because the beauty of first person writing lies in avoiding the repetition or excessive use of ‘I’ that distracts, or at times may turn off the reader. Careful and dexterous use of other first person pronouns like my, me, mine, we, our, and ourselves, helps resolve the issue of ‘I’. This style is more suitable for writing suspense novels, ghost stories, novels in journal format and gothic stories. Gothic is a sort of horror mixed with romance, like in Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto-A Gothic Story.
1. Gulliver’s Travels
Written by Jonathan Swift and published by Benjamin Motte in 1726, Gulliver’s Travels is a representative example of a satire and fantasy novel written in first person. The original title of the novel was Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World In Four Parts by Lemuel Gulliver. First a surgeon, and then a Captain of several ships, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ comprises of the following four parts:
Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput, 4 May, 1699 to 13 April, 1702
Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag, 20 June 1702 to 3 June 1706
Part III: A voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan 5 August, 1706-16 April, 1710
Part IV: A voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms, 7 September 1710-2 July, 1715
The novel gained fame immediately after its publication and has never been out of print since. It is an unforgettable English Classic.
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Narrated by Huckleberry ‘Huck’ Finn in first person, this book is one of the great American novels. Written by Mark Twain, it was first published in England in 1884, followed by its publication in America in 1885. Huckleburry Finn is noted for the colorful description of the local region, its vernacular, the places, and the people along the Mississippi River. In spite of the fact that the protagonist is antiracist, the book has been criticized for its coarse language, racial stereotypes and frequent use of the word ‘nigger’. Written in first person, it is one of the most read and most popular novels.
3. The Catcher in the Rye
J.D.Salinger wrote the novel The Catcher in the Rye in 1951. It gained fame immediately after its publication. Although intended for adults, it found popularity among adolescents on account of its themes of teenage confusion, estrangement and insurgence. The story is narrated by the protagonist Holden Caulfield after his being dropped from a Pennsylvania prep school. Over 250,000 copies of the book were sold in the first year. It has been frequently challenged for its depiction of sexuality and explicit profanity. It is included in Time 2005’s 100 Best English Language novels written since 1923. It is one of the 100 best English Language Novels of the 20th century as evaluated by Modern Library.
4. White Oleander
The novel, White Oleander by the American novelist, Janet Fitch, was first published in 1999 by Little, Brown and Company. It is about a girl named Astrid who is separated from her mother and kept in various foster homes. Astrid Magnussen is a 12 year old girl living with her mother; a poet in Los Angles, California. Astrid’s father, Klaus Andres left her before the age of remembrance. Both the mother and daughter live a solitary life. The mother is self centered and is not concerned much about the daughter who feels insecure for fear of abandonment. Ingrid dates Barry Kolker and being deceived, kills him by poisoning with extract of ‘Oleander’ which is a decorative but highly poisonous plant. She uses a highly absorbing chemical solvent to make the sap effective. After Barry is killed, Ingrid is imprisoned for murder while Astrid is rotated from one foster home to the other.
Rebecca is a famous novel written by Daphne du Maurier, narrated by the anonymous protagonist ‘I’. She wrote most of the novel ‘Rebecca’ in Alexandria, Egypt while her husband was working there. In the story the narrator develops acquaintance with a wealthy English man, ‘Maxmillan’ Maxim’ de Winter’ who is a widower in his forties, and is on vacation in the French Rivera. After a short period of courtship she agrees to marry and accompany him to the beautiful west county state of Manderley. This fictional estate plays a central part in ‘Rebecca’. Maxim and the second Mrs. Winter live in exile and events recalled and narrated in the book are nostalgic.
6. The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Time Traveler’s Wife is the first novel by American writer Audrey Niffenegger.The novel was first published in 2003. It is a love story about a man suffering from a genetic disorder that makes him live in different points in time. His wife has to find him during his absences and has to handle odd situations due to his unpredictable experiences. Time travel is a condition comparable with traveling in space from one point to the next. In the case of space, one travels from one place to the other place while in time travel, one travels from one point in time to another point in time. The novel reviews communication gaps and fluctuations in relationships. Neffenegger was awarded an Exclusive Books Boeke Prize and a British Book Award.
7. Dom Casmuro
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis wrote the novel Dom Casumro and published it for the first time in 1899.It is considered a great work of realistic literature. It is narrated by a greatly upset husband on account of jealousy, which is the main theme of the novel. The story is narrated in first person by Bento, who is the betrayed husband. The narrator speaks about the betrayal of his beloved ‘Capitu’ who betrayed him with his best friend, giving birth to a son. He is jealous like Othello is for Desdemona in Shakespeare’s drama Othello. The novel is considered a masterpiece in Latin American literature.
8. To Kill a Mocking Bird
To Kill a Mocking Bird was written by Harper Lee and published in 1960. It was an immediate success and won the Pulitzer Prize. Soon after its publication, the novel achieved the rank of an American classic. The plot is related to the main character’s family, neighbors and an event which she witnessed in 1936 when she was 10 years old. Dealing with serious issues like rape and racial discrimination, the book is still noted for its warmth and humor. Atticus Fitch- father of the narrator is considered a moral hero by the readers.
Valadimir Nabokov wrote Lolita in English. It was translated later in the Russian language. It was published in Paris in 1955 and in New York in 1958. The novel is noted for its controversial subject of incest and its use of an unreliable narrator. Unreliable narration is a literary device which falsifies facts in order to delay the end of the story. The story is about a middle aged professor Humbert who after becoming step-father of the 12 years old ‘Dolores Haze’ gets involved sexually with her. In the end he tries to get sympathy of readers by declaring himself a maniac. Immediately after its publication, the name ‘Lolita’ has entered pop culture. Lolita is included in Time’s list of the 100 best English language novels from 1923 to 2005. It ranks #4 on Modern Library’s 1998 list of the 100 best novels. It is also included in the World Library’s list of The Best 100 Books of All Time.
10. Coral Island
Written by the Scottish author R.M.Ballantyne during the prime time of the British Empire in 1858, the novel Coral Island is a juvenile fiction much like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. It is written in first person from the perspective of three boys- 15 year old Ralph, 14 year old Peterkin Gay, and 18 year old Jack Martin who are the sole survivors of a shipwreck and happen upon an uninhibited Polynesian island. It ranked in the top twenty Scottish novels at the World Wide Web Conference held in 2006.
The first person style is not suitable in works involving many characters. In order for the potential of this style of writing to be exploited to its fullest, the novelist makes use of and takes advantage of the personal touch and intimate, in-depth knowledge of the protagonist’s innermost feelings thoughts and values without losing external interaction.