The twenty months between 1847 and 1848 were decisive for the English Novel. These months marked a new kind of consciousness, related to the ‘new and unprecedented civilisation in which it took shape.’ Williams attributes this consciousness to certain major changes which were taking place at this time. He lists the ever expanding influence of the Industrial Revolution, the struggle for democracy, the growth of cities and towns and Chartism (political and social reforms in the mid - 19th century, largely related to the working classes) as some of the factors. By the end of the 1840s ‘the institutions of an urban culture were decisively established.’ The sense of crisis was acute and writers responded to these changes. A particular kind of literature took on new life ‘in response to a new and varied but still common experience.’
Among the more immediate reasons, for the enhanced importance of the novel, were: increasing readership, serial publication of fiction in newspapers and magazines which were popular, cheaper books due to cost effective binding and new cheap libraries. However it was not a mere equation of demand and supply. The crisis of the society and the expansion of reading were related. As customary ways broke down, more and more people felt the need for more relevant knowledge and experience.
People became more aware of great social and historical changes which altered not only outward forms but also feelings, experiences and self-definitions. The novel was used to explore, in unprecedented ways, these facts of change lying dormant in almost every imagination.
Society was now perceived in a different way. It was no longer a framework but an agency, not an aggregate of known relationships, but an apparently independent organism. It became not just a code to measure, an institution to control, a standard to define or to change but a process that entered lives to shape or to deform, ‘personally known but suddenly distant,...