The Nineteenth Century English Novel

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      Introduction: The History of the Novel in the nineteenth century presents exceedingly difficult problems in discrimination and clarification. An extremely large number of novels achieved wide popularity with an ever growing audience of readers. While certain well-established types of novels continued to appear, numerous new combinations of the basic fictional elements — plot, character, and setting - and of the possible tones — realistic, romantic, satirical and didactic - make classification difficult.

      Three Distinct Generations: A first step towards elucidating the history of the nineteenth century novels is the demarcation of three fairly distinct generations of novelist:

i) Jane Austen and Scott,
ii) Dickens and Thackeray
iii) Meredith and Hardy

      Each of these generations can be distinguished from the other by the types ‘of novels written’ the degree of purity with which the types were preserved, and the extent to which novelists confined their activity to a specific genre or experimented with a number of forms of the novel.

1. The First Generation or the Novel of the Romantic Period

      The first three decades of the 19th century, known as the period of Romantic revival, were notable for the poetic productivity. It was the period of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley. Nevertheless, its contribution to the prose fiction is extremely valuable. The two central novelists of this period are Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen. Richly gifted and talented they succeeded in widening the scope and technique of the novel as a literary form.

The Literary Features of the Age:

      (i) Three distinct types of novels: During the first generation of the century, three distinct types of novels emerged — the romantic - historical strengthened by the increasing sense of the past of the distant and of nature. (Sir Walter Scott) the realistic - reformist novel - reinforced by knowledge and methods made available by science, especially biology, sociology and psychology and by the pressing nature of the social and political problems implicit in the Industrial Revolution and French Revolution and the Novel of manners (Jane Austen)

      (ii) Changes in each of these type of novels: Each of these types underwent a modification. The romantic novelist for example, found in the increased knowledge of the past and of alien cultures material which the vogue of realism encouraged him to treat, with something of the historian’s cautious fidelity to fact. Similarly, the novelist of manners tended to abandon the treatment of the circumscribed lives of the upper-middle-class or the aristocracy, and to extend his canvas to include the life of the army, the church, politics and industry.

      Finally the social or the reformist novelists found rich material in the growing awareness of the economic evils of the time. But their zeal for reform was itself a romantic concept and hence it is not surprising to find many of the social novels containing a strong infusion of romanticism even while they depict the harsh realities of life.

      (iii) The Rise of the Pure Novel: Jane Austen is the first novelist in England who wrote the pure novel. Before her time, inspite of the great examples of prose fiction produced by Bunyan, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding and Smollett, the novel had not yet formed a proper genre. The work of none of these novelists is capable of yielding a novel formula and lacked truth to nature in character and dialogue and suffered from extravagant and clumsy plotting, neglect of historical colour, and unreal and unobserved descriptions. The writers for most part were too serious and too desirous to instruct and hardly ever projected characters properly. Moreover, description which is an important element in a novel had rarely been attempted even by the great masters. It was Scott and especially Jane Austen who enhanced the novel to a repectable art form by paying great attention to the formal qualities of composition, design, subordination of the parts to the whole and characterisation and its relation to the central situation or theme.

      (iv) Development in plot and characterization. Before Jane Austen and Scott started writing, the reading of novels had fallen into disrepute on account of the repulsive themes and artificial plots of the novel of terror and Gothic romances. It was through Scott’s and Jane Austen’s contribution to the technical aspects of plot and characterization that the novel gained a firm footing in English literature. It is in their novels that for the first time we see perfectly constructed intricate plots and Scott was the first novelist in Europe, who made the scene an essential element in action. Jane Austen excelled in characterization and introduced into the novel human sympathy and affection and ordinary feelings of everyday life unlike the extravagant sentiments of the Gothic novels, while Walter Scott presented characters of greater complexity reflecting his perception of the human wholeness.

      (v) Traditional view of Individual and Society: The novels of both Scott and Jane Austen reveal a love for tradition. Both attach great importance to the values of settled society rooted in tradition. Unlike the Romantic poets of the day, Scott and Austen face life squarely and accept the restrictions and limitations which society imposes upon the individual.

      (vi) Romance and Realism brought together: A peculiar characteristic of this period was that it combined both the opposing ideas of romance and realism. Walpole and Mrs. Radcliffe stood completely for the extravagance of the medieval romance, while Jane Austen shunned romance for realism. It was Scott who combined these two conflicting trends of his age in the form of the Historical novel. The historical novel as created by Scott was therefore an entirely fresh departure in literature. Scott projected the present into the past, and by using his knowledge of contemporary life he humanised the characters of the past.

      The Novelists and Novels of the Period: The history of the English novel in the 18th century, after Richardson and Fielding, and Smollett and Sterne, is the story of its disintegration. With the solitary exception of Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), no good and important novels were published. The increase in the reading public consequent upon the advent of circulating libraries gave rise to variety of tastes. To satisfy this demand countless novels of varied types came into existence. Le Sage’s Gil Blas, Marivaux's Marianne, Abbe Prevost’s Cleveland, Rousseau’s Heloise - supplied models for cheap writers. Sarah Fielding, Mrs. Lennox, Mrs. Sheridan, Mrs. Brooke, Mrs. Griffith — wrote novels in profusion, novels of domestic manners or romantic adventure. Colman sums up ironically the tendencies of the novel of that time thus:

Cassandra’s folios now no longer read,
See two neat pocket-volumes in their stead place
And them so sentimental is their style,
So chaste yet so bewitching all the while!
Plot, elopement, passion, rape and rapture,
The total sum of every dear - chapter.

      The Gothic Novel as originated by Horace Walpole (Castle of Otranto, 1765) and practised by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe, (A Sicilian Romance, 1790, The Romance of the Forest, 1791, and the Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794) and by other writers such as Clara Reeve (The Old English Baron, 1778), Mrs. Charlotte Smith (The Old Manor House 1763), and Mathew Geogory Lewis (The Monk, 1795) - deserves mention. The Gothic novel was a conscious protest against the rational, realistic creed of the earlier novelists. It is a new species of romantic fiction which drew its inspirations from the general revival of interest, during this period, in medieval life and art, in pseudo-gothic castle and artificial ruins, in ancient ballads, and in Gothic Chippendale chairs. The writers of this type of novel sought to supply the reader’s perennial craving for mystery and violent emotion with narratives remote in time and place, with ghosts, portents and romantic forces, and with descriptions of old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago. To quote the words of a distinguished critic:

      “The Gothic Novel in England which grew out of the medieval day-dreaming of the 18th century, encouraged by the precedents of French fiction, developed in due course stock characters and situations, and partial emotional effects.” A sombre, restless villain is the central figure. The heroine, beautiful, innocent and full of sensibility, always waits to be rescued by a chivalrous lover. The scene is invariably laid in a haunted castle or a dark cloister of a ruined abbey equipped with secret passages and private chambers. Wild and desolate Nature provides the congenial landscape. Supernatural forces and incidents of physical violence and mental anguish occur. The thread of romantic love runs through all this melodramatic matter. In his essay The Gothic Revival (1928), Kenneth Clark observes: “The Gothic was the fashionable melancholy ... The immensely secure society of the 18th century indulged in day-dreams of incredible violence. Their classical heroes seems flat and unenterprising, and the medieval ballads popularised by Addison, provided a new world of heroes, reckless, blood-thirsty and obscure. Any ruin might inspire melancholy, but only a Gothic ruin could inspire the chivalry of the crusader or the pious enthusiasm of a monk. The Gothic Novel along with the Oriental Tale which gave rise to such novels as Dr. Johnson’s Rasselas and William Beckford’s Vathek, made fiction walk along the road of romance. Some of the minor novels of the last decade of the 18th century contain the germs of ideas and methods which appear in their fullness in the novels of Dickens and Thackeray later on. It may be said that on the whole the English novel in the 18th century came into its own as a ready vehicle for the transmission to vast body of eager readers of a variety of good causes, popular protests, and panaceas. It proved a potent instrument to arouse and inform the popular mind in a democratic area, though not yet powerful enough, as it was to become in the hands of Dickens, to effect beneficent changes in legislation.”

      The two shining peaks in the English Fiction at the early 19th century are Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen. Scott came to his work as a novelist after achieving popularity as a poet. A lover of nature, of medievalism, of feudalism and of romanticism, Scott brought to his work as a novelist his entire personality. With him, novel-writing was not a trade or business but a fundamental necessity of his character and genius. With his Waverly (1814), Scott gave birth to a new kind of fiction—the Historical Novel. For nearly twenty years after he published novels in quick succession. Guy Mannering (1815), Old Mortality (1816), The Heart of Midlothian (1817), Rob Roy (1818), The Bride of Lanunermoor (1819), Ivanhoe (1820), Kenil-worth (1821), The Fortunes of Nigel (1822), Quentin Durward (1823), Red Gauntlet (1824), The Talisman (1825) - are some of his well-known novels. The rapidity with which Scott produced his novels and the interest and excitement with which the public received each new book by him, constitute a romance in the history of literature.

      As a novelist, Scott is the creator of a world of events and characters. His novels are pieces of reconstructed history, invested with life and flavoured with humanity. His characters move against a background of nature and manners, and astonish us by their robustness and diversity. His art combines humanity with humour, amusement with sympathy, and irony with kindness. Some of the charges levelled against Scott are — that the plots of his novels are weak, that he does not deal much with love, that his characters are automatons speaking for him, that he does not unlock the intimacies of personality, that he sees the pageant of life and not its mystery and that he lacks literary art. While admitting the partial truth of some of these it must be said that his drawbacks pale into insignificance before his meritorious contribution to English fiction. His canvas is wide, his scope is large, and his imaginary world colourful. Scott’s novels are a symphony of cosmopolitan and sovereign breadth. He gave life to historical movements, personages and events, and raised the historical novel to a permanent place in fiction. He created for it a vogue on the continent — France, Germany, Italy and even in distant America. Notwithstanding the sarcastic sneer of Carlyle that Scott wrote “for idle men on sofas”, it must be admitted that Scott had a real significance to his age. His art represents the triumph of the imaginative intuition which Romanticism had stimulated. Scott gave Romanticism an average and normal value by bringing it near to the real and complete life of every day, and a soundness that is of estimable value.

      Offering a sharp contrast to Scott, Jane Austen has as important a place as he has in the history of the English Novel. Scott widened the scope and range of the novel, and went to one extreme. Jane Austen narrowed and restricted the range, and went to another extreme. Scott is grand, sweeping, daring, historical. Jane Austen is simple reserved, social, domestic. All her novels are centered round simple social themes. She confines herself to the country side, to the middle class, to very ordinary men and women in short, to the household. Home life is the centre of activity. There are no extremes, no surprising ups and downs, no breath-taking shocks, no hair-raising adventures, no thrilling sensations.

      Jane Austen has only six novels to her credit - Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816) and Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both of them published post humously in 1817. In quantity the novels of Jane Austen are meagre, but in quality they are great. And that is the reason for her abiding place in English literature. Without passion or prejudice, without emotion or obsession, she gives exquisite psychological studies of men and women. She sees into the very depths of human nature, and presents her experience with delicacy of touch, sense of balance and sweet reasonableness. The moral purpose in her novels which is unobtrusive is a result of her inherent wisdom. Her view of life is primarily clear and clean in perception. With an art that is magical, Jane Austen is a jeweller-among novelists. Her works are small cameos, not massive sculptures. Jane Austen is a great novelist because of the simplicity of her themes, the purity of her style and the queenliness of her craftsmanship.

      But Scott and Jane Austen do not exhaust the whole of English fiction in the early 19th century. A host of minor writers continued to practice the three types of fiction — the novel of manners, the novel of reform (or propaganda) and the Gothic (or romantic) novel — prevalent in the 18th century. “It is well to beware.” say Lovett and Hughes, “of hard and fast distinctions, and to remember that the same writer or novel may belong to more than one category. Nevertheless, these three attitudes afford a basis for classifying nineteenth century fiction: the realistic, reinforced by knowledge and methods made available by science, especially biology, sociology and psychology; the reformist, stimulated by the pressing nature of social problems implicit in the Industrial Revolution; the romantic, strengthened by the increasing sense of the past, of the distant and of nature.” Among the minor novelists of this period may be mentioned—Miss Maria Edgeworth (The Absentee, 1811), Miss Jane Porter (The Scottish Chiefs, 1810), Miss Susan Edmondstone Ferrier (Marriage, 1818, Destiny. 1831), John Galt (The Ayershire Legatees 1820, The Annals of the Parish, 1821), and Mary Godwin Shelley (Frankenstein 1817).

2. The Second Generation or the Pre-Victorian Novel

      1832, the year of Scott’s death, marks a turning point in English history. The Reform Bill passed in that year extended the franchise and gave political power to the middle-classes. This paved the way for further developments. The Poor Law of 1834, the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the activities of the Chartists in 1839 and 1848, the National Education Act of 1852, and the Reform Bill of 1867 and 1888 — all contributed to an unprecedented awakening among the English people in the 19th century. Add to these the political philosophy of the Liberals, the Economic doctrine of Laissez Faire the spiritual gospels of Carlyle and Ruskin, the religious romanticism of the Oxford Movement, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and the discoveries of Science. A great change came about in the intellectual outlook of England, and influenced her literature. Literature, in general, descended from her heights of romance to the plains of common life - though the lure of romanticism was persistent.

The Literary Features of this period:

      (i) Expansion and Serialization of the Novel: In the middle of the 19th century to some extent, and little later to a greater extent, the English novel underwent immense expansion. That was due to “the new material and interests added by science, exploration, modern invention, and the systematic study of condition in various departments of life: war, the sea, the church, the factory, mine or rail road, the school or university, business art, society, politics and crime.” Side by side with this expansion and specialization of the novel, there was a corresponding growth of the reading public. To cater to the increasing reading habit of the public, novelists took to the serial devices in popular periodicals.

      (ii) Increase in the number of Major and Minor Novelists: In the early Victorian period the novel made a rapid progress. Novel reading was one of the chief occupations of the educated public and material had to be found for every taste. A number of brilliant novelists showed that it was possible to adapt the novel to almost all purposes of literature. The novels produced during this period took various shapes - sermons, political pamphlets, philosophical discourses, social essays, autobiographies and poems in prose.

      (iii) Popularity of the social novel and novel of manners: In this period the popularity of the historical novel declined giving way to social novels and novel of manners. Yet, nearly every major novelist felt some compulsion to attempt at least once this difficult genre — for eg. Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii, Thackeray’s, Henry Edmond. It was Benjamin Disraeli who popularised the social novel. His novel Vivian Grey (1826) presents a new type of hero — the man of the world who is unlike the romantic rebel of the earlier novels. Disraeli mainly satirized contemporary politics, emphasized the importance of the church and defended the Jews.

      The novels and novelists of the period: Among the forerunners of the Victorian novelists may be mentioned - Bulwer Lytton, the writer of historical novels and novels of crime, Mrs. George, the writer of “silver-fork” or aristocratic novels, Pierce Egan, the writers of novels of low life, Benjamin Disraeli, the writer of social and political novels, William H. Ainsworth, the writer of historical and romantic novels, Thomas Love Peacock whose novels exemplify broadly his characteristic philosophy summed up by Friar Tuck in Maid Marian: “The world is a stage and life is a farce, and he that laughs most has most profit of the performance. The worst thing is good enough to be laughed at, though it be good for something else, is good for nothing better”; Captain Fredrick Marryat the novelist who specialized in naval affairs, and William Carleton, the writer of realistic novels.

3. The Early Victorian Period

      The two most outstanding novelists of the period were Dickens and Thackeray. Besides them there were a number of other novelists among whom the important ones were the Bronte Sisters, Mrs. Gaskell, Charles Kingsley, Charles Reade, Wilkie Collins and Trollpe. All of these novelists have a number of points of similarity.

The Literary features of the age:

      (i) The Novelists identified with the age: The novelists of the early Victorian period identified themselves with their age and were its spokesmen, whereas the novelists of the later Victorian age were critical and even hostile to its dominant assumptions. The sense of identity with their time is of cardinal importance in any consideration of the early Victorian novelists. They accepted the society in which they lived without question and even when they criticized they are much less radical than Meredith and Hardy. They believed like the common Victorians that the presence of mass poverty and accumulation of riches in a few hands would prove to be temporary evils.

      (ii) Its Morality: The sixty years (1830-90) commonly included under the name of the Victorian age may present dissimilar features but on the question of morality, nearly all observers agree that the Victorian age showed an extreme deference to conventions and morals. The idea of respectability was paramount. It was thought indecorous for a man to smoke in public and much importance was attached to superficial morality in business as well as in domestic and sexual relations. Their attitude to sex underwent a great change and the expression of sex became a taboo. This was reflected in the novels of the period and is evident also from the fact that Fielding’s Tom Jones was frowned upon and censored versions of Shakespeare were published as ‘Family Shakespeare’.

      (i) The major Themes: The novels of the period dealt with the religious ferment - the challenge which conventional religions faced from natural science; the fear of death found expression in the highly wrought and moving scenes in many of the novels; a, distrust of sex and puritanical morality made them reticent on the subject of sex in novels though they wrote great scenes in which love was glorified; the social question which turned on a fear of revolution was also a major theme of the novels of that period. Success in business and the accumulation of property became motives which were duly celebrated in fiction; material comfort, particularly in eating and drinking, gave an air of good cheer to novels and Christmas stories. Yet beneath the surface of comfort and ease was a mass of misery and discontent which threatened eruption and these two became the subject of the social reform novels (Dickens) which often sacrificed art at the altar of social justice.

      (iv) Swing from Cold description of life to depiction of heart and affections: During the early Victorian period there was a swing from romance or a coldly picturesque treatment of life to depicting heart and the affections. The novels which during the Romantic period had passed through a phase of adventure, reverted in the hands of Dickens to the literature of feeling. His novels are full of pathos and there are many passages of studied and extravagant sentiment.

      (v) Idealism: The novels of the early Victorian period all present an idealistic view of society. Inspite of all the misery and suffering the novelists shared a view that this was merely temporary and things would improve. Dickens believed that the world was still a very good world to live in and all his characters come out of the pit of suffering and distress as better men, uncontaminated and purer than before.

      (vi) Realism: Despite idealism, there is also realism in the novels of this period and it came as a check to the medievalism of the Romantic period. Dickens novels follow a reported air and are full of personal experiences, anecdotes, stories from friends and are based upon what he had actually seen. His characters too are the ordinary people from real life - agricultural labourers, miners, tailors and paupers. Thackeray too is a realist and he avoids heroic figures and moments in his novels. He gives a thorough realistic description of characters and does not shirk from the cruel truth, morally judging by observation and reflection. He gives a true picture of the society of his day.

      (vii) The influence of the Humanitarian Movement: Humanitarianism is the keynote of the works of the period and is especially evident in the novels of Dickens, who championed the cause of the weak, the oppressed and the outcast.

      The Novels and Novelists of the Period: Charles Dickens is the foremost representative novelist of the Victorian era. Born in lower-class society, Dickens was brought up in an atmosphere of adversity and educated in the school of suffering. He made his debut as a writer in 1833 with Sketches by Boz. Then followed Pickwick and fame! The next few years his literary output was simply prodigious. Pickwick Papers (1836-37), Oliver Twist (1837-38), Nicholas Nickleby (1838- 39), Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41), Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44), David Copperfield (1849-50), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1861) - are some of his well-known novels. Dickens became the most popular novelist of his time.

      A pioneer-writer of lower middle-class society and of the life of the town-folk in their varied ways, Dickens is a social novelist as well as a social reformer, a writer who moralises with a smile on his lips. Portraying the quivering image of the anguished soul of poverty under the grab of realism, Dickens helped to intensify the suggestion of active charity. This is what made Dickens an apostle, and his work a gospel of humanitarianism. It is in this respect that Dickens’ work contributes to the idealistic reaction of the time. A staunch believer in progress, in a moderate outlook and in an optimistic turn of mind, Dickens is also a prophet of sentimentalism taking his stand against the advocates of rationalism. He is a representative writer too not merely because in some of his novels he portrays contemporary problems, but because his opinions and ideals were in complete accord with the middle-class opinions of his day. While the background of his novels conforms with the life of the middle class, his character-delineation finds itself in harmony with typical English temperament. Humour and humanity are two other outstanding characteristics of Dickens as a novelist. No other writer has touched with pity and tenderness the springs of English national life as Dickens has done. Dickens is not a great and consummate literary artist, not a great psychological writer, not a thorough going realist, not a seductive tale-teller, but he is the greatest of the national novelists of England. A man of the people who wrote for the people, Dickens is the spokesman of the masses and the creator of the democratic novel. Happy benignity, radiant humanity, and intense sympathy mark off the novels of Dickens as great.

      In some respects a contrast to Dickens, William Thackeray is an equally great novelist. Whereas Dickens dealt with the lower middle-class society, Thackeray concerned himself with the upper-class society. Where as Dickens used humour to great advantage, Thackeray wielded satire with delicate art. This contrast apart, both Dickens and Thackeray enlarged the scope and possibility of the art of fiction. Both are masters of prose, dialogue and narration; and both are creators of immortal characters.

      Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair (1848), Pendennis (1848), Henry Esmond (1852), Newcomes (1854), — is often regarded as the founder of what may be called the philosophic school of fiction. That is to say, he is a novelist with a certain view of life and with a definite philosophy of his own. Thackeray’s fiction is an intimate product of his temperament. Behind the characters he creates, the situations he invents, the events he narrates, is the subtle and pervasive element of his own personality. Thackeray is not a cynic as he is generally taken to be. On account of his sensitiveness to the tragedy of common things, and on account of his love for such things as virtue, honour, courage and magnanimity, Thackeray constituted himself the censor of his age. He did so in order to expose corruption and sham and vice and evil. That is why throughout his novels there runs a genuine vein of religion. More than any other novelist he touches those chords of sweet and reverent feeling which compose the religious sentiments. Thackeray is also a master of style whose characteristics are simplicity, ease, unaffected eloquence and nervous strength.

      Among the other eminent novelists, contemporaries of Dickens and Thackeray, may be mentioned — Charles Kingsley, writer of Novels of Purpose, Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell who employed the novel as an instrument of social reform, Charles Reade, Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope (Barchester Towers, 1857, Farmley Parsonage, 1861, Orley Farm, 1862), Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre, 1847), Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights, 1847), George Borrow (Lavengro, 1851, The Romany Rye, 1857), Richard Blackmoore (Lorna Doone, 1869), Charlotte Mary Yonge (The Daisy Chain, 1856).

4. The Later Victorian Period

      The novel in the later Victorian period took a new trend and the novels written during this period may be called ‘modern’ novels. The novelists of the period were Meredith and Hardy. The year 1859 saw the publication not only of George Eliot’s Adam Bede but also of Meredith’s The Ordeal of Richard Feveral. Though they are vastly different from each other, they stand in sharp contrast to the works of established novelists that appeared the same year - as Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Thackeray’s Virginians.

Literary Features of the Age:

      (i) The novel as a serious Art form: The novelists of the early Victorian period — Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and others — had followed the tradition of the English novel established by Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Their conception of themselves was modest, and their conscious aim was nothing more elevated than Wilkie Collins’ - “make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait: Set against this innocent notion of the novelist’s function, the new novelists of England as well as of other countries in Europe, began to have high ambitions of making the novel as serious as poetry. The Russian novelists - Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and the French novelists like Flaubert, all began to look upon the novel as a medium of conveying profound thoughts. The seriousness of these European novelists was both moral and aesthetic, and it came to English fiction with George Eliot and Meredith. Both of them were intellectuals and philosophers and these ideas conditioned their views on fiction and gave a new trend to the English novel and made it ‘modern’. Hardy extended the scope still further.

      (ii) Novel not merely as Entertainment but as a Medium for the Discussion of Serious Problems: In the hands of George Eliot the novel no longer remains a mere form of entertainment but takes a new note of seriousness and even of sternness. The novels are full of arguments and judgements, with an intellectual approach to life and expounding on the fundamental principles of life, theology or philosophy. Meredith one of the most original novelists of England was a poet at heart and like George Eliot he used the novel as a vehicle of his philosophy of life and is interested in the thoughts of his characters.

      (iii) Development of the Unified plot: In George Eliot, the novel touches its modern form. Every story of hers derives its unity from its plot. The different episodes are all related to one another and subordinated to the main story. This unity of plot-construction was lacking in the English novel before George Eliot and it is her singular contribution to the development of the English novel.

      (iv) Novels reflect contemporary thought: Both Meredith and George Eliot used the novel to expound on the contemporary philosophies and thoughts. They especially appeal to the mind which is troubled by religious and ethical difficulties.

      (v) Psychological realism: This is an important feature of the novels of this period and was the precursor of the modern psychological novels. It is the inner struggle of a soul and the motives, impulses and hereditary influences which govern human action that are revealed in these novels. Like George Eliot, Meredith is a psychologist. He tries to unravel the mystery of the human personality and probe the hidden springs there.

      (vi) The poetic element in the novel: There is more poetic element in the novels of Meredith than in those of any other English novelist. His work thus stands apart from the established tradition in the fiction of the century.

      (vii) Women characters: The novels of both Meredith and George Eliot hinged on the characterization of women. Both presented strong women though Meredith used women as protagonist of the comic spirit with which he infuses all his works.

      The Novels and Novelists of the period. The novelists of this period who deserve special mention are George Eliot, George Meredith and Thomas Hardy.

      George Eliot. The intellectual and moral life of the period, reflected in the novels of Kingsley and Mrs. Gaskell, is revealed more fully in the work of Mary Ann Evans, or George Eliot. She was born in 1819 and grew up in the years when, under the influence of scientific speculation, the English mind was casting from its theological moorings. She was for a time assistant editor of the Westminister Review, the organ of the freethinkers; and in this position she met John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, G.H. Lewes, and other liberals. Her irregular union with Lewes and her renunciation of formal Christianity were the two important events of her life, for they imposed upon her the responsibility of counteracting the view held by many that freedom of thought was naturally accompanied by moral laxity. They strengthened her already powerful ethical impulse. In 1857 she wrote: “If I live five years longer, the positive result of my existence on the side of truth and goodness will far outweigh the small negative good that would have consisted in my not doing anything to shock others.”

      Before this she had begun to experiment with fiction, her first story, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton,” appearing in Black wood’s Magazine in 1856. She added to this story two others of moderate length, and republished all three in 1858 as Scenes from Clerical Life. The next year she published her first novel, Adam Bede, and it was evident that a new writer and a great one had appeared. Her next story, The Mill on the Floss (1860), turns on the refusal of her heroine, Maggie Tulliver, to break the social law for the sake of her own happiness. There followed Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), a historical novel of the time of Savonarola, Felix Holt the Radical (1866), Middle march (1872), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Besides these she wrote a number of poems, the longest being The Spanish Gypsy (1868).

      Adam Bede is the most natural of George Eliot’s books, simple in problem, direct in action, with the freshness and strength of the Derbyshire landscape and character and speech in its pages. Its successor, The Mill on the Floss (1860), shows signs of a growing perplexity on the part of the author, of a hesitation between her art and her message. For George Eliot was more than an observer; she was also a scientist and a moralist. She was not content to picture human life as it appears. She tried to pierce behind the shows of things, and to reveal the forces by which they are controlled. Accordingly, she analyzes her characters. In the case of the simple types this analysis takes the form of comment, rapid, incisive, and convincing. She tells us, for example, that Mrs. Tulliver was like the goldfish who continues to butt his head against the encircling globe; and at once the type of cheerful incapacity to learn by experience is fixed before us forever. In the case of the more conscious, developed characters, her analysis is more elaborate and more sustained. For her heroines George Eliot drew largely upon her own spiritual experience, and this personal psychology she supplemented by wide reading, especially in the literature of confessions. In this way she gained an extraordinary vividness in portraying the inner life. Her most characteristic passages are those in which she follows the ebb and flow of decision in a character’s mind, dwelling on the triumph or defeat of a personality in a drama where there is but one actor. Such a drama is that which Maggie Tulliver plays out in her heart, torn between the impulse to take her joy as it offers, and the unconquerable conviction that she cannot seek her own happiness by sacrificing others.

      George Meredith. In his novels (The Shaving of Shagpat, 1856, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, 1859, Evan Harrington, 1861, The Egoist 1879, Diana of the Crossways,1885. The Amazing Marriage, 1895), Meredith gives us what every artist should give, namely, a heightened sense of values—the colour, the light, the warmth, the joy and pain—of life. “By his process of distillation, he gives us the concentrated essence of humanity, and makes it appeal to us as greater and more significant than we had thought. He not only gives us a sense of increased capacity for life, but also he overwhelms us with a sense of its complete fulfillment in comprehension and sympathy.” Meredith’s novels are better understood in the light of his thought expressed in his brilliant essay The Idea of Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit, 1877. “To touch and kindle the mind through laughter,” according to him, is the aim of comedy. His novels serve this purpose exceedingly well. Almost all of them are animated by the contest of intelligence, reason, or commonsense — the Comic Spirit-against tradition or prejudice, social stupidity or individual folly. As a novelist Meredith is engaged in the task of civilization—that of purging humanity of pretentiousness, hypocrisy and conceit. It may also be noted that his novels are written in an elaborately patterned prose, rising to heights of pure poetry every now and then.

      Thomas Hardy: The greatest novelist of the later Victorian period was Thomas Hardy. Thomas Hardy, like Meredith followed George Eliot in treating the novel seriously, as a form of art which should offer not only a representation of human life but also an interpretation of it. This quality of Hardy’s Work, however, was scarcely recognized during his productive years. Like Meredith, he had the appreciation of the intellectuals, and he commanded a considerably larger group of readers but few were aware of his greatness. Only with his last novels. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure, was his distinction generally perceived; and therefore, although he wrote no more novels, his reputation grew rapidly, until at his death in 1928 he held a unique position as the sole survivor of a great age, the last of Victorians.

      Thomas Hardy is one of the venerable of English fiction. He has added might and majesty, greatness and grandeur and breadth and depth to the English Novel. Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895) — are among the imperishables in English literature. Hardy treated the novel seriously, as a form of art which should offer not only a representation of human life but also an interpretation of it. Using the country side as the background and simple, almost primitive, human beings as characters, Hardy presents a vast panorama of the tragedy of life.

      “My art is to intensify the inner meaning of things—so that the heart and inner meaning is made vividly visible” - wrote Hardy. This statement is the best estimate of his work as a novelist. With natural scenes that form the philosophic and aesthetic bases of his novels, with characters that are heroic though not of cosmic importance, with violent crashes of tragic coincidence, and with the black drop-curtain of pessimism constantly present—Hardy has given to the world fiction of enduring interest and value. He missed the award of the Nobel prize for literature, but he has not failed to become one of the ‘Immortals’ in the history of the English Novel.

5. The Closing Period of the Nineteenth Century

      The closing period of the 19th century was an extremely self-conscious one. Changing currents and crosscurrents influenced thought and literature. Expanding science, revival of religious authority, neo-paganistic philosophy, the new attitudes and new poses popularized by the Yellow Book and the Savoy, the aestheticism of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley—all these floated in the air colouring the work of most of the writers of this period. In addition, there was the infiltration of foreign influences, French writers like Balzac, Zoki, and Maupassant; German writers like Sudermann, Schnitzler, and Mann; the Dutch Couperus, the Belgian Maeterlinck, the Scandinavian Ibsen and Hansum; the Italian D’Annunzio and Fogazzaro; and above all the Russian Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevski, Chekov, and Gorky — all these influenced the English writers, especially novelists, in their materials and methods, and also the taste of the reading public.

      Passing over novelists like Rudyard Kipling (Kim), Maurice Hewlett (The Forest Lovers, Richard Yea-and-Nay), Henry Hudson (The Purple Land, Far Away and Long Ago), Henry Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines, She), Anthony Hope Hawkins (The Prisoner of Zenda), George Gissing (Demos, Thyrza, The Nether World, The Emancipated), George Moore (A Drama in Muslin, Esther Waters, Evelyn Innes), Walter Pater (Marius the Epicurean), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), some brief special attention may be paid to two important novelists—Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson. Both these are novelists with theories of their own, and the novels of both are the best illustrations of their theories. Henry James is a realist, and Stevenson is an incorrigible romanticist.

      Born an American in 1842, James became a British citizen by the time of his death in 1916. He is almost the first English novelist to make aesthetic considerations supreme, and to regard the novel primarily as a work of art. To him the Novel is a personal, a direct impression of life, with a value greater or less according to the intensity of the impression. The supreme virtue of the novel is ‘the air of reality,’ ‘the success with which, author has produced the illusion of reality.’ Decrying the autobiographical and the biographical forms generally adopted by novelists, as well as the omniscience assumed by them, James insisted on the maintenance of an established point of view. He regarded form as of supreme value in fiction. He himself studied the art of fiction at Paris, and devoted a good deal of attention to this problem. His works afford a massive evidence of devotion to his art. In his early days James was not taken seriously by others; in fact, Wells ascribed triviality to him. But time has rehabilitated him to a great extent, and Henry James has come to be regarded as ‘the essential novelist.’ His works — The Bostonians (1886), The Daisy Miller (1878), The Portrait of Lady (1881), The Awkward Age (1899), The Tragic Muse (1890), The Wings of a Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), The Golden Bowl (1904), — make rather heavy reading to the average reader. Euclidean exactness of presentation and verbal music characterize almost all the novels, especially the later ones, which “must be regarded as artistic tours de force, a kind of aesthetic apotheosis of the novel of manners.” But it will be an injustice to regard James as a Mathematician delighting only in pure form. He cultivates form always in the interest of substance, holding it an affair of conscience that his human material should have the finest rendering that art can contrive.

      Stevenson’s is a name familiar to all readers of English fiction. His Travels with a Donkey (1879), Treasure Island (1882), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Kidnapped (1886), The Master of Ballantrae (1889), island Nights Entertainments (1893) — are the ‘dear delights’ of young and old. Romanticism is the most striking thing about all these works. By their strong situations, extraordinary incidents, and striking action, they lure us into a different world beyond the humdrum and work-a-day world in which we live and move. An invalid himself, Stevenson believed in rightness of action and the beauty of conduct as necessary for an aesthetic life. That is why action is Stevenson’s favorite mode of fiction. It is also the revelation of character. He held the opinion that by unusual and surprising situations man’s worth is tested and proved. The function of Romance, according to Stevenson, is to keep alive the dreams of heroism in a mechanized world. In A Gossip on Romance he says: “Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life, and when the game so chimes with his fancy that he can join in it with all his heart...fiction is called Romance.” A Romantic novel, therefore, becomes a successful one only when it lifts the reader clean out of himself. In other words, the story must be something that we can imagine happening to ourselves, it must rhyme with our own desire; it must obey the ideal laws of the day-dream, and it must contain a rhyme-scheme of its own. This is what exactly happens when we read the novels of Stevenson. They have the same effect on us as poetry has. In fact, Stevenson believed that drama is the poetry of conduct, Romance, the poetry of circumstances. The fiction of Stevenson has given the English Novel a new orientation.

      Conclusion: The nineteenth century spanned two major movements - the Romantic and the Victorian. Jane Austen writing at the beginning of the century was untouched by the Romantic revival and was more a classicist in the style of the Augustans she admired. Her contribution, however in terms of plot construction, characterization and technique in the English novel is noteworthy. Scott popularized the Historical novel. The period from 1830s onwards came to be known as the Victorian era and spanned the works of such varied novelists as Dickens, Thackeray, Meredith, George Eliot, Bronte sisters and Hardy. The social novels of the mid-Victorian period gave way to the intellectual, philosophical and psychological works of George Eliot and Hardy and they gave a pre-eminent place to the novel as a serious art form. They were the precursors of the modern novel heralded by the impressionist works of Henry James.

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