Literary Background—Trends in the Victorian NovelWhen we speak of the Victorian novel we do not mean that there was a conscious school of the English novel, with a consciously common style and subject-matter, a school which began creating with the reign of Queen Victoria and which came to an end with the end of that reign. The English are too individualistic for such conformity. However, there can be no denying the fact that the English novel during second half of the nineteenth century, with the exception of one or two novelists, shows certaincommon characteristics. We have now to study those common characteristics. The Conventional Plots
For one thing, the Victorian novel continues to be largely in the Fielding tradition. The plot is generally loose and ill-constructed. The main outline of the Victorian novel is the same. The story consists of a large variety of characters and incidents clustering round the figure of the hero. These characters and incidents are connected together rather loosely by an intrigue, and the ending is with ringing of wedding bells. Secondly, the Victorian novel makes an extraordinary mixture of sentiment, flashy melodrama and lifeless characters. There is much that is improbable and artificial in character and incident. Speaking generally, the Victorians fail to construct an organic plot in which every incident and character forms an integral part of the whole. Entertainment Value
Still, the Victorian novel makes interesting reading. The novelists may not construct a compact plot, but they tell the story so well. They are so entertaining that children still love to read and enjoy a novel of Dickens or Thackeray. The plot may be improbable, but there is enough suspense, and the readers’ attention is not allowed to slag even for a single moment. They do not like to give it up unfinished. Panoramic Nature
The Victorian novelists may miss the heights and depths of human passion, there may be no probing of the human heart and no psycho-analysis—we do get such probing in George Eliot—as in the modern novel, but they cast their nets very wide. Novels likeVanity Fair, David Copperfield, etc., are not, like most modern novels, concentrated wholly on the life and fortunes of a few principal characters; they also provide panoramas of whole societies. In the Victorian novel, “A hundred different types and classes, persons and nationalities, jostle each other across the shadow screen of our imagination.” —(David Cecil) Immense Variety
The Victorian novelist is a man of varied moods. His range of mood is as wide as his range of subject. Just as he deals with all aspects of society, so also he renders human moods in all their manifold variety. He is not a specialist in any one mood or temper. The novelists of the age cannot be categorised. As David Cecil puts it, “They write equally for the train journey and for all time; they crowd realism and fantasy, thrills and theories, knock-out farce and effects of pure aesthetic beauty, check by jowl on the same page; they are Mr. Galsworthy and Mr. Huxley and Mrs. Woolf, Mrs. Christie and Mr. Woodhouse, all in one.” A book like David Copperfield is a sort of vast school boy hamper of fiction with sweets and sandwiches, pots of jam with their greased paper caps, cream and nuts and glossy apples, all packed together in a heterogeneous deliciousness. Creative Imagination
Not only have the Victorian novelists width and range of subject and mood, not only are they entertaining story-tellers, they have also creative imagination in simple measure. Their imagination works on their personal experiences and transforms and transmutes them. Their renderings of the real world are not photographs, but pictures, coloured by their individual idiosyncrasies, vivid and vital. Often the picture is fanciful and romantic. At other...
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