The idea of a fully articulated philosophy of the novel does not really get going until Georg Lukács wrote Theory of the Novel during World War One, though it was not published until 1921 by which time Lukács’ political world view had changed. There may be some large scale work on the philosophy of the novel I have missed before Lukács, but there is nothing which has lasted as a point of reference.
Of course there is important work on the philosophy of the novel before Lukács in remarks by Friedrich Schlegel (as well as other Romantic ironists), G.W.F. Hegel, and F.W.J. Schelling. Going back further there is some work which indirectly addresses the novel. The New Science of Giambattista Vico is the most obviously relevant since he gives great importance to epic, particularly those attributed to Homer. Not only are there ways in which the novel is the continuation of the epic that give Vico relevance: the way in which Vico places the epic in the context of a transition from heroic-aristocratic world to legal-democratic world sets up thinking about the novel and might have been influenced by the early modern evolution of the novel as a literary form.
The whole development of aesthetic philosophy around ideas, sentiment, complexity, judgement, community and sympathy in Alexander Baumgarten, Anthony Ashley Cooper (Shaftesbury), Frances Hutcheson, Edmund Burke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant, even though they do not attach importance to the novel, can be seen in the context of the growing importance of the novel as a form of narrative which incorporates these in the prose of a world of changeable and plural points of view, in which the nature of subjective experience is always an issue.
As the general silence of eighteenth century philosophers on novelistic form suggests, the novel had limited status as an aesthetic type. The end of the century sees some discussion of the novel, with the Romantics tending towards an elevated view, while Hegel and Schelling take a more sceptical view, though Schelling does at least allow some greatness to Don Quixote.
Kierkegaard does not exactly directly suggest that the novel be taken as the aesthetic equal of any literary form, or even devote a major text to that topic, but the novel acquires considerable significance across his writing. Taking the early From the Papers of One Still Living first, Kierkegaard addresses the little known (certainly at the present time in the English speaking world) ‘adult’ novels of Hans Christian Andersen. They suggest a world of uncertainty to Kierkegaard, a world of uncertain judgements and changeable perspectives. This at least establishes the novel as important in the culture of the modern world.
Sometime this work of Kierkegaard is regarded as just judging contemporary novels by the standards of a previously established aesthetic, but as the supposed aesthetic given different sources, including Hegel and Ludwig Tieck, by different commentators, it is perhaps possible to say that Kierkegaard made an original contribution. A contribution that continues a few years later in The Concept of Irony, which is more focused on Socrates than the modern novel, but does have notable discussion of the novel, which amongst other things suggests that thinking about Socratic irony may help understanding of the novel. The discussion of the novel there is also the discussion of German Idealism and Romantics, with Schlegel’s novel Lucinde bringing the theory in relation to aesthetic practice.
Again this is sometimes seems as a not so original discussion, since Kierkegaard often seems to be following Hegel’s Aesthetics including Hegel’s relative endorsement of Karl Solger amongst the Romantics. The Kierkegaardian use of Hegelian references should not be confused with a Hegelian point of view, however, as Kierkegaard continues the earlier discussion of the nature of subjectivity, which is quite distinct from that in Hegel.
More indirect contributions to the understanding of the novel can be found in the slightly later Either/Or in discussions of tragedy and opera. Here Kierkegaard gives a view of the distinction between ancient and modern literary forms, also looking at Mozart’s Don Giovanni in terms related to his earlier understanding of the novel.
He returns to the novel as a form a bit later in A Literary Review, in which he discusses the contemporary novels of Thomasine Gyllembourg, which he touched upon in his earlier discussion of H.C. Andersen. Here Kierkegaard suggests both that the novel is a limited form in dealing with the absolute, but also that it does show important features of modernity including a longing for the absolute in the opposition between monarchist and revolutionary politics.
The issue of Kierkegaard and the philosophy of the novel must also take account of the novelistic nature of some of his own writing. This is most clearly the case in Repetition, which is a short novel, but also applies to Either/Or and its sequel Stages on Life’s Way. These are not unified narratives on the lines of Repetition, but they are presented as fictional products containing a large amount of narrative mixed in with the essays by characters in these works. ‘Diary of a Seducer’ in Either/Or can be taken as a discrete novel within the book as a whole and is indeed often published separately. The status of literary aesthetics is not the guiding issue of Kierkegaard’s writing, but it plays an important role, particularly with regard to the status of the novel as an object of philosophy and as a way of writing philosophy.