The novel is usually written in prose. It gives high priority to the narration of events and is sensitive to the realities of material life. Unlike the romance, the genre tends to avoid the unnatural in favor of recognizable social worlds and credible action.
At the start of the Romantic period, novels were very popular especially among women who comprised the larger population of both readers and novel writers. Critics tended to view the genre as an inferior form of writing requiring fewer skills than genres with literary prestige like drama and poetry. Many also viewed its popularity among women as an indicator of its inferior quality.
This variety of criticism reinforces Wollstonecraft's concern with man's treatment of women as "subordinate beings," by undermining their faculty for reason (Norton, 171).
Around 1814 owing to positive reviews for a series of historical novels and the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma deemed “a new style of novel,” the genre gains recognition as an esteemed literary form.
In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen satirizes the inferior style of the gothic genre—primitive forerunners of the modern novel—as she establishes new standards for the developing and still ridiculed novel form. Gothic novels like Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho could be up to 900 pages long full of tedious descriptions, unnatural events, and based in unrealistic or far-away places. Northanger Abbey’s heroine fancies herself to be the protagonist of a gothic romance but is continually confronted by the normalness of reality such as in the scene with the lanundry bill.
Austen reinforces the need for the novel to reflect realistic events in her digression at the end of chapter 5. Describing the novel as she understands it she writes:
“work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties…effusions of wit…are conveyed in the best-chosen language.”
Not only does she emphasize the importance of the integration of human-nature or naturalness in characterization and plot development, she calls for the use of the “best-chosen language.” Austen demonstrates her own model of quality by providing necessary information in a matter-of-fact voice. Ironically referencing her method and satirizing the romance’s tendency for verbosity, the narrator says, “This brief account of the family is intended to supersede the necessity of a long and minute detail…of her past adventures and sufferings, which might otherwise be expected to occupy the three or four following chapters.”
Her rhetorical approach places her in the Neoclassical era but her insistence on using a conversational narration recalls Wordsworth's Preface in which he asserts, "describe...in a selection of language really used by men."