Novels in The 19th Century

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      The 19th century marked the end of long experimentation in the sphere of the novel. The 18th century novel was by and large tentative — trying to find its way in the maze of artistic formlessness. It would not be correct to say that the novel in the 18th century did not reach artistic conclusions. It did and in doing so, it opened up tremendous possibilities for the novel as a significant art form. The 19th century carried the process further afield and made the novel a deliberate and successful art. In this time there was tremendous growth in the number of the reading public. Some talented artists appeared on the scene and the novel grew in quality and dimensions.

      Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (1818) is another important Gothic novel as well as an early example of science fiction. The vampire genre fiction began with John William Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819). This short story was inspired by the life of Lord Byron and his poem The Giaour. An important later work is Varney the Vampire (1845), where many standard vampire conventions originated: Varney has fangs, leaves two puncture wounds on the neck of his victims, and has hypnotic powers and superhuman strength. Varney was also the first example of the ‘sympathetic vampire’, who loathes his condition but is a slave to it. Among more minor novelists in this period Maria Edge worth (1768-1849) and Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) are worthy of comment. Edge worth’s novel Castle Rackrent (1800) is “the first fully developed regional novel in English” as well as “the first true historical novel in English” and an important influence on Walter Scott. Peacock was primarily a satirist in novels such as Nightmare Abbey (1818) and The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829).

      Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Austen brings to light the hardships women faced, who usually did not inherit money, couId not work and where their only chance in life depended on the man they married. She reveals not only the difficulties women faced in her day, but also what was expected of men and of the careers they had to follow. This she does with wit and humor and with endings where all characters, good or bad, receive exactly what they deserve. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become accepted as a major writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture. Austen’s works include Pride and Prejudice (1813), Sense and Sensibility (1811), Mansfield Park (1814), Persuasion (1818) and Emma (1815). The other major novelist at the beginning of the early 19th century was Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), who was not only a highly successful British novelist but “the greatest single influence on fiction in the 19th century ... (and) a European figure”. Scott established the genre of the historical novel with his series of Waverley Novels, including Waverley (1814), The Antiquary (1816), and The Heart of Midlothian (1818). However, Austen is today widely read and the source for films and television series, while Scott is less often read.

      It was in the Victorian era (1837-1901) that the novel became the leading literary genre in English. Another important fact is the number of women novelists who were successful in the 19th century, even though they often had to use a masculine pseudonyms. The majority of readers were of course women. At the beginning of the 19th century, most novels were published in three volumes. However, monthly serialization was revived with the publication of Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers in twenty parts between April 1836 and November 1837. Demand was high for each episode to introduce some new element, whether it was a plot twist or a new character, so as to maintain the readers’ interest. Both Dickens and Thackeray frequently published this way.

      The 1830s and 1840s saw the rise of social novel, also known as social problem novel, that “arose out of the social and political upheavals which followed the Reform Act of 1832”. This was in many ways a reaction to rapid industrialization, and the social, political and economic issues associated with it. This was a means of commenting on abuses of government and industry and the suffering of the poor, who were not profiting from England’s economic prosperity. Stories of the working-class poor were directed toward middle class to help create sympathy and promote change. An early example is Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837-38). Charles Dickens emerged on the literary scene in the 1830s with the two novels already mentioned. Dickens wrote vividly about London life and struggles of the poor, but in a good-humored fashion, accessible to readers of all classes. One of his most popular works to this day is A Christmas Carol (1843). In more recent years Dickens has been most admired for his later novels, such as Dombey and Son (1846-48), Great Expectations (1860-61), Bleak House (1852-53) and Little Dorrit (1855-57) and. Our Mutual Friend (1864-65). An early rival to Dickens was William Makepeace Thackeray, who during the Victorian period ranked second only to him, but he is now much less read and is known almost exclusively for Vanity Fair (1847). In that novel he satirizes whole swaths of humanity while retaining a light touch. It features his most memorable character, the engagingly roguish Becky Sharp.

      The Bronte sisters were other significant novelists in the 1840s and 1850s. Their novels caused a sensation when they were first published but were subsequently accepted as classics. They had written compulsively from early childhood and were first published, at their own expense in 1846 as poets under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The sisters returned to prose, producing a novel each the following year: Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey. Later, Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) and Charlotte’s Villette (1853) were published. Elizabeth Gaskell was also a successful writer whose first novel, Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848. Gaskell’s North and South contrasts the lifestyle in the industrial north of England with the wealthier south. Even though her writing conforms to Victorian conventions, Gaskell usually frames her stories as critiques of contemporary attitudes: her early works focused on factory work in the Midlands. She always emphasized the role of women, with complex narratives and dynamic female characters. Anthony Trollope (1815-82) was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works are set in the imaginary county of Barsetshire, including The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers (1857). He also wrote perceptive novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters, including The Way with Live Now (1875). Trollope’s novels portrayed the lives of the landowning and professional classes of early Victorian England. George Eliot’s (Mary Ann Evans (1819-80) first novel Adam Bede was published in 1859. Her works, especially Middlemarch (1871-72), are important examples of literary realism, and are admired for their combination of high Victorian literary detail combined with an intellectual breadth that removes them from the narrow geographic confines they often depict.

      An interest in rural matters and the changing social and economic situation of the countryside is seen in the novels of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). A Victorian realist, in the tradition of George Eliot, he was also influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism, especially by William Wordsworth. Charles Darwin is another important influence on Thomas Hardy. Like Charles Dickens he was also highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society. While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life, and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898, so that initially he gained fame as the author of such novels as, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). He ceased writing novels following adverse criticism of this last novel. In novels such as The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Hardy attempts to create modern works in the genre of tragedy, that are modeled on the Greek drama, especially Aeschylus and Sophocles, though in prose, not poetry, a novel not drama, and with characters of low social standing, not nobility. Another significant late 19th century novelist is George Gissing (1857-1903) who published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. His best-known novel is New Grub Street (1891).

      Important developments occurred in fiction in this era. Although predated by John Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River in 1841, the history of the modern fantasy genre is generally said to begin with George MacDonald, the influential author of The Princess and the Goblin and Phantastes (1858). William Morris was a popular English poet who also wrote several fantasy novels during the latter part of the 19th century. Wilkie Collins’ epistolary novel The Moonstone (1868), is generally considered the first detective novel in the English language, while The Woman in White is regarded as one of the finest sensation novels. H. G. Wells’ (1866-1946) writing career began in the 1890s with science fiction novels like The Time Machine (1895), and The War of the Worlds (1898) which describes an invasion of late Victorian England by Martians, and Wells is seen, along with Frenchman Jules Verne (1828-1905), as a major figure in the development of the science fiction genre. He also wrote realistic fiction about the lower middle class in novels like Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr. Polly (1910). The followings are the most important 19th century British novelists and their major novels with the year publication.

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