Important Victorian Women Novelists

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      In the development of English novel in the Victorian era, some Victorian women novelists played a very significant part. As a matter of fact, their achievements in many respects were greater than men. The spread of education and the extension of franchise accounted to some extent for the emergence of women as poets and novelists.

In the development of English novel in the Victorian era, some Victorian women novelists played a very significant part. As a matter of fact, their achievements in many respects were greater than men.
Victorian Women Novelist

      The three Bronte sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne, were all novelists and two of them were novelists of genius. Charlotte's three novels are remarkable Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette. Of these Jane Eyre is generally and with justice considered to be the greatest, owing to the power and subtlety displayed in the portrait of the governess loved and finally won by Rochester, the victim of a miserable first marriage, Jane Eyre links a highly exciting and romantic story to a sober and honest realism. Jane is a new creation -  "a free human being with an independent will. Jane is willing to take full responsibility for her life, and with her, modem woman enters fiction for the first time and struggles with the fundamental problems posed by love and sex. Portrayal of passion which was severely limited by the typical Victorian moral bias in Dickens and Thackeray gained force and maturity with Charlotte and Emily.

      Shirley has a greater variety of characters including the delightful heroine. The novel has for its background the Yorkshire moors among which Charlotte had lived, and which she here describes in a masterly fashion. Villette which is in large measure autobiographical describes the wooing of the school assistant, Lucy Snowe by the strange but true-hearted lover M. Paul.

      A fire of passionate feeling burned in her and her novels are warm with the blaze: Charlotte's imagination was of the romantic kind, but the passions that inspire the narrative gain strength from the firm control exercised by the author. Sometimes crude elements of melodrama enter her novels such as swords dripping blood, spectral forms, demons, etc. But from time to time flashes of imaginative brilliance light up the book. Such incidents as Lucy Snowe's wanderings through the city or the last terrible storm that destroys Paul Emmanuel are unforgettable. Despite the limited outlook and occasional crudity, there is a warm colouring of humanity and a passionate intensity of imagination about Charlotte Bronte's best work.

      In sheer genius Emile Bronte far surpassed Charlotte. Wuthering Heights is her only novel, for she died the year after its publication. Here she created a stark passionate worla, reminiscent at times of the storm scene in King Lear. In this novel she wrote a tragedy of love, at once fantastic and powerful, savage and moving. The appeal of the novel and its consummate poetry arise not from a conventional love triangle but from a struggle of archetypes representing universal forces. The ties that bind Catherine to Heathcliff are beyond sex, and from the stormy tumult of their elders young Cathy and Hareton may effect a workable balance in life. The novel is unique in the depiction of destructive passion of Catherine and Heathcliff - their love-hatred and the fury of vengeance. The novel has also a symmetrical pattern - the disintegration, stasis, second cycle of action (Heathcliff's revenge) and the final reconciliation. Symbolism plays its part in the sharp contrasting of the two worlds depicted in the novel and in giving poetic force and intensity to the novel. Wuthering Heights is a unique creation in which passion and poetry are combined. It is the gift of genius.

      Of all the women novelists of the nineteenth century, George Eliot was the most learned. In her novels, we do not find the passionate intensity and ardour of the novels of Charlotte Bronte and Emile Bronte, but she portrayed intellectual and moral passion with consummate mastery. She came under the influence of Herbert Spencer and G. H. Lewis with whom she lived. Her early narrative-Scenes from Clerical Life had an immediate success. This was followed by Adam Bede, Vie Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt, Middlenmarch, and Daniel Deronda.

      In Adam Bede, she created a powerful theme against the background of English rural life. In Hetty Sorrel she shows a young girl, seduced and led to child murder and her imagination plays sympathetically around this lively and pathetic figure. In The Mill on the Floss she deals with the life of a brother and a sister presented with great sensitiveness. Silar Marner is a shorter narrative in which she presents with penetrating insight the torments of a miser. In Romola she writes a historical novel of the Italian Renaissance. Felix Holt, a novel of Radicalism of the Reform Bill shows the penalties she paid for the loss of her early spontaneity. In Middlemarch she constructs one of the great novels of the century. She has returned from the past to contemporary scene and condemns a society that denies ample scope to intellect and culture. The environment permits proper self-realisation and creativity to the solid, non-intellectual Mary Garth, but Dorothea with her absorbing constructive spirit is fated to frustration. George Eliot fills the canvas with a host of memorable minor characters. Her technical ability is proved by her flawless dovetailing of the Dorothea and Lydgate plots originally planned as separate stories.

      George Eliot is described by David Cecil as the first modern novelist. She makes English novel intellectual. Novels before her were instinctive. Secondly, she gives to English novel a depth of psychological realism. She for the first time analyses the characters with a deep penetrating insight. She dissects the motives of the characters in her novels. She makes a philosophical criticism of life in her novels. Her novels show the conflict between her intuition and her intellect. Thus in George Eliot's work one is aware of her desire to enlarge the possibilities of the novel as a form of expression. Novels before her were more or less loose and digressive; she gives to her novels a well-knit structural pattern and a dramatic unity.

      Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell lived for many years in Manchester and knew at first hand the evils of the industrialised districts. Social problems therefore were the sole concern of Mrs. Gaskell who also wrote the biography of Charlotte Bronte. Her first novel Mary Burton published in 1848 remains to this day probably as best known, though not her most perfect book. It deals with the industrial state of Lancashire during the crisis of 1842, and it won, by its vivid and touching picture the applause of the most distinguished literary men of their time. Her other novels North and South and Cranford show very close observation; they are packed with concrete details and at the same time full of pity for the working class victims of financial self-seeking. Cranford, often read and loved as a charming and idyllic period piece shows the repercussion of Big Business on two small-town sisters. In Ruth, Mrs. Gaskell shows the same sympathy for unfortunate girls. She also proves herself to be a tender, gentle and amused humourist in Cranford.

      Besides these important women novelists, other women who practised novel writing during the Victorian period are Mary Russel Mitford, Anna Elizabeth Bray (The Protestant), Lady G. Fullerton, Ellen Middleton, Catherine Gore, Mrs. Trollope. They were popular novelists, but they left little impress on the development of the English novel.

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