The novel has become a crucial interpretive site for global literary studies owing to its status as arguably the first, and most persistent, world genre. This essay marks a critical turn that coalesces around the problem of how to imagine the novel at the world scale. Recent scholarship accounts for this worldliness in different ways: by drawing on the large-scale social sciences to describe the world that the novel circulates in and represents; by assessing the novel’s concerns in relation to global, rather than national, forms of knowledge; by formally describing the novel as a world-making activity. Beginning with the first of these approaches, the essay identifies a renewed interest in world-systems theory and Immanuel Wallerstein’s thought, in part as a corrective to theories of alternative modernities. It then looks at recent books by Jon Hegglund, John Marx, and Elizabeth Anker, which situate the anglophone novel in dialectic with emergent geopolitical forms: the world order of nation-states, postliberal governmentality, and human rights law. Finally, the essay calls for criticism that takes the genre’s formal ability to fashion worlds as a point of departure for grasping its global agency.

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