The founder of the epistolary novel in English is said by many to be James Howell(1594-1666) with "Familiar Letters", who writes of prison, foreign adventure, and the love of women.
The epistolary novel as a genre became popular in the 18th century in the works of such authors as , with his immensely successful novels (1740) and (1749). In , there was (1721) by , followed by (1761) by , and ' (1782), which used the epistolary form to great dramatic effect, because the sequence of events was not always related directly or explicitly. In , there was 's (1774) () and 's . The first North American novel, (1769) by was written in epistolary form.
There are three types of epistolary novels: monologic (giving the letters of only one character, like ), dialogic (giving the letters of two characters, like Mme 's (1757), and polylogic (with three or more letter-writing characters, such as in Bram Stoker's ). In addition, a crucial element in polylogic epistolary novels like , and is the dramatic device of 'discrepant awareness': the simultaneous but separate correspondences of the heroines and the villains creating dramatic tension.