Victorian Novel

Topics: Victorian era, Victorian literature, Fiction Pages: 27 (9593 words) Published: May 15, 2013




Many associate the word “Victorian” with images of over-dressed ladies and snooty gentlemen gathered in reading rooms. The idea of “manners” does sum up the social climate of middle-class England in the nineteenth century. However, if there is one transcending aspect to Victorian England life and society, that aspect is change. Nearly every institution of society was affected by rapid and unforeseeable changes. As some writers greeted them with fear and others embraced the progress, this essay will guide a reader through an important era in English literary history and introduce with the voices that influenced its shape and development. It was the novel that was the leading form of literature in the 19th century England. The term ‘novel’ itself was a simple narrative form, which in opposition to its forerunner, the ‘romance’ focused on the affairs of everyday life such as scientific discovery, religious debate, politics or colonial settlement. Though there are many arguments among critics which dates frame the period of Victorian literature, it is commonly accepted that it was the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) that saw the novel emerge and flourish, all the more that the 1937 was the year when Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the first major work of fiction. The first readers of both, Dickens and Eliot were not conscious they lived in the ‘Victorian period’. They thought that this was a modern era marked with turbulent transition. However, the most crucial writers of the period grew up in the earlier years, and had been influenced by the age of English Romanticism. Therefore, although Victorian was modern, materialist, factual and concerned with ‘things as they are’, Romantic, associated with Gothic, melodramatic, idealistic influenced the way novelists wrote in the beginning of the 19th century. I

It was the Industrial Revolution that allowed not only cheap printing and papermaking but also rapid book distribution by rail at the time of flourishing reading population. Reading was some kind of a creative act for lower middle class with political connotation. A good example is the one of the pottery worker Charles Shaw who saved a space only for his books in spite of living in poky room. For such people printing was still not cheap enough, that is why reading aloud remained vital. Since 1870, when novel had been stated as a ‘rational amusement’(Trollope), texts became cheaper. They were eagerly bought as a casual recreation and for railway reading. That kind of Victorian novel, for the middle-class was a mixture of old values and images seen now through the prism of science: psychology, evolution, sociology. “ Spiritual and temporal worlds are darkened by the shadows of change” and the country was something compared to the heart of revolutions, which referred to the English heydays in terms of urban, social and cultural changes. What were the most significant signs of progress? Firstly, it is worth mentioning the importance of the expansion of railways. In a short time it greatly influenced not only the landscape of the country but also the perception of the space and time. Books, journals, reviews, magazines, papers became the portion of travelling. Even libraries, like those of Edward Mudie and W.H. Smith, thanks to the railways could send different forms of literature to provinces and overseas. Changes in the industry and society were equal to the changes in the novel. Themes like sea adventures after Napoleonic Wars, concerns with Ireland, rural people, nostalgia for country in urban England, fashionable London life, appeared in the novels of Frederick Marryat, William Carleton, Samuel Lower, Robert Surtees, Mrs Gore, Lady Blessington and even Charles Dickens. Despite many changes, the novel remained as the invariable centre of the...
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