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The Victorian Novel

The Victorian Age is marked roughly by the reign of Queen Victoria of England from 1837-1901.
The Victorian reading public firmly established the novel as the dominant literary form of the era.
The novel is the most distinctive and lasting literary achievement of Victorian literature.
Earlier in the century Sir Walter Scott had created a large novel-reading public and had made the
novel respectable. He had also strengthened the tradition of the 3-volume novel.
The publication of novels in monthly installments enabled even the poor to purchase them.

Furthermore, the practice of issuing novels in serial installments led novelists to become
adept at subclimaxes.

The novelists of the Victorian Era:

Accepted middle class values
Treated the problem of the individual's adjustment to his society
Emphasized well-rounded middle-class characters
Portrayed the hero as a rational man of virtue
Believed that human nature is fundamentally good and lapses are errors
of judgment corrected by maturation

The Victorian novel appealed to readers because of its:

Impulse to describe the everyday world the reader could recognize.
Introduction of characters who were blends of virtue and vice.
Attempts to display the natural growth of personality.
Expressions of emotion: love, humor, suspense, melodrama, pathos
(deathbed scenes) moral earnestness and wholesomeness, including
crusades against social evils and self-censorship to acknowledge the
standard morality of the times.

The Victorian novel featured several developments in narrative

Full description and exposition
Authorial essays
Multiplotting featuring several central characters

Major Victorian Novelists


Dickens was the most successful of the English Victorian novelists, a master of
sentiment and a militant reformer.
We admire Dickens for his:

fertility of character creation

depiction of childhood and youth
comic creations

Major Works:

A Christmas Carol (1843), most popular Christmas story in the English

speaking world
David Copperfield (1849-50), essentially autobiographical and Dickens'
own favorite novel
Bleak House (1852-3), the first Dickens novel with a carefully-knit plot


Thackeray's chief subject is the contrast between human pretensions and
human weakness. He excelled at portraying his own upper middle class social

His major work is Vanity Fair (1847).


Eliot is considered to be the first modern novelist, a creator of psychological
fiction. She is known for her penetrating character analyses and convincingly
realistic scenes.
In Eliot's novels plot did not need to depend upon external complications; it
could rise from a character's internal groping toward knowledge and choice.
Major Works:

Adam Bede (1859), a love triangle set in pre-industrial agricultural


Silas Marner (1861), the nearest thing to a perfect George Eliot novel with a plot
about a miser who adopts a foundling and the theme of the regenerative power
of humanity and love

Middlemarch (1871-72), the first English novel concerned with the

intellectual life, the story of a city during the agitated era of 1832

reforms, the Industrial Revolution, the Evangelical movement, and the

new scientific outlook.
THOMAS HARDY (1840-1920)
The characteristic Victorian novelist such as Dickens or Thackeray was
concerned with the behavior and problems of people in a given social milieu
which he described in detail.
Thomas Hardy preferred to go directly for the elemental in human behavior
with a minimum of contemporary social detail. He felt that man was an alien in
an impersonal universe and at the mercy of sheer chance.
Though readers assume he is a pessimist he called himself a meliorist,
yearning hopefully for a better world.
Major Works:

Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)

Jude the Obscure (1895)

The revolt in Jude the Obscure against indissoluble Victorian marriage (of Jude
to Arabella and Sue Bridehead to Phillotson) aroused such a storm of protest
over its religious pessimism and sex themes that Hardy turned thereafter
exclusively to poetry.

Collins is considered the father of the modern detective novel.
Major Works:

The Woman in White (1860)

The Moonstone (1868), the novel which G.K Chesterton termed
"probably the best detective story in the world"

A mathematician, Carroll sublimated his anti-Victorianism in his writing.

Major Works:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which remains one of the bestloved children's books in the English speaking world
Through the Looking-Glass (1871)