Foreign Influences on Fiction in Late Victorian Era

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      Towards the end of the Victorian era new influences were slowly penetrating into the English fiction. The Dickensian treatment of common life had fallen into disrepute because it was lacking in seriousness and leant to sentimental humour and melodrama. The need for more 'intellectual' subjects was increasingly felt. George Eliot's fiction offers a contrast with that of Dickens or Thackeray because of her systematic sense of the society and the interrelations of men and women within it. In her novels she has achieved a rich realism by her massive accumulation of external facts, which sees into psychology, character and moral values. Her early study of the social sciences reinforced this tendency in her.

      Of all the Victorians she exercised the profoundest influence on the future novel. Hardy and Meredith too gave a new dimension to the novel by introducing speculative and philosophical elements into it. The future fiction, it was felt, must be realistic, treating common everyday life, accurately and in a dry, non-commital or detached manner. This was considered a superior alternative to the Dickensian method. Thus the time was ripe for the foreign influence to enter into the English novel and give it a new structure, pattern and scope.

In end of the Victorian era, slowly penetrating into the English fiction
Victorian Fictional Novel

      This basic and enduring new influence came from the continental novelists, particularly the French and Russian. Among the French writers Zola, Maupassant, Flaubert and Goncourt exercised the more powerful influence on the novelists, dealt within the previous question. The influence of these writers meant in part an aggressively frank realism in the presentation of life (in the manner of Zola) and more importantiy attention to structure and expression (in the manner of Flaubert). Zola's L' Assommoir set the pace. George Moore's A Mummer's Wife (1888) was the first serious attempt in English at a fiction like Zola's. Sommerset Maugham owed much to French example. Arnold Bennett was deeply influenced by the French novelists in his realism and art. As he wrote in his Journals for September 1910 - "I ought during the last month to have read nothing but Goncourt. His Anna of the five Towns was written directly under the leavening influence of the French master. Again, he wrote-"The achievements of the finest French writers, with Turgenev and Tolstoy have set a standard for all coming masters of fiction. Bennett's method of accumulating factual details to produce a rich for the action clearly shows the influence of Zola. Conrad's strict economy of style and use of caretully timed effects in the evolution of his stories have their counter parts in Flaubert (the author of the famous Madame Bovary) rather than in any Victorian novelist.

      The newer and more potent intluence is that of the Russian novelists and this affected the English fiction more deeply than even the French. And it was not a long step trom the realism of Zola or Flaubert to that of Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tchekov, etc. Indeed, Henry James, the great master and literary mentor enmphasised more the importance of the Russian novel than the French in the task of revitalising and renewing the English novel. In the nineties Constance and Edward Garnett began to publish their translations of Turgenev which they followed up with translations of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky. The effect was cumulative and infectious. In these writers the English novelists found a new interest in the investigation of the darker, hidden sides of human nature and a different conception of form and structure. Their probing into the deep darker abyss of human nature, and bringing into light these wonders in an analytical manner was something that English novelists had not attempted before.

      Many felt that in comparison with the works of the Russians, English novel was provincial, soulless and lacking in psychological elements. It is difficult to assess the Russian intluence on the individual novelists of the period. Yet some works of the time bear unmistakable evidence of the profound impact of the Russians. It has been pointed out that in Galsworthy's Villa Rubein and Conrad's Under Western Eyes the influence of Turgenev is clear and unmistakable. Tolstoy's influence dates from the time when Arnold wrote his famous essay on Amiel (a novel of Tolstoy). His radical thinking on art and society, their interrelation was highly influential on the writers of the time. Arnold Bennett despite his admiration tor the Kussians has seldom recaptured their deep feeling, restraint, dignity and poetry. In his analysis ot how his dracters are the creatures of Circumstance, the essential humanity of the character is submerged. The time was thus ripe for a revolutionary change in the English fiction and this came in full in the 'war years'.

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