The term ‘roman-fleuve’ is used in modern fiction for a series of novels, each of which exists as a separate novel in its own right but all of which are inter-related because the characters (some or all) reappear in each succeeding work. The vogue for this kind of encyclopaedic and epic chronicle established in the 19th c.
Honore de Balzac planned and in part executed his vast scheme of La Comédie humaine; Emile Zola wrote his twenty volume series Les Rougon-Macquart (1871-93) and the Spaniard Pérez Galdós produced his monumental Episodios nacionales (1873-1912), a cycle of historical novels covering the history of Spain from Trafalgar (1805) to the Restoration (1875). In the 20th c. four Frenchmen have undertaken works on a similar scale. Romain Rolland wrote Jean Christophe (1906–12) in ten volumes. Later he returned to the roman-fleuve scheme with L’Ame enchantée (1922–33) in seven volumes. Marcel Proust’s monumental A la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27) consists of seven inter-related sections and occupied him for at least twelve years. Georges Duhamel began with the Vie et Aventures de Salavin (1920–32) in five novels and followed this with Chronique des Pasquier (1933-45) in ten volumes. Jules Romains was even more ambitious with his Les Hommes de bonne volonté (1932-47), the generic title of a series of twenty-seven novels covering a wide range of French life from 1908 to 1933. John Galsworthy attempted the same sort of thing with The Forsyte Saga (1922). More recently there have been C. P. Snow’s Strangers and Brothers sequence (1940-70), which gives a documentary chronicle of English social history from 1925; Henry Williamson’s A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951-69) in fifteen volumes; and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–76) in twelve volumes. A number of other novelists have used the trilogy and the tetralogy to achieve a comparable continuity.
Also read; Thesis novel; Definition and Examples