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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
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:
realism 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
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 technique:
full description and exposition
multiplotting featuring several central characters
The 19th-century social, historical and cultural setting
The key social and cultural influences of the time were:
Ambition: in 1859, Samuel Smiles published his book Self-Help, which told people that
if they worked hard they could improve their station in life. The 19th century was the age
of the 'self-made man'.
Social class: in Victorian times, society was strictly layered - not only into rich and poor,
or even upper, middle and lower class, but hundreds of 'grades'. People were expected to
'know their place', and the Church taught them to be content in their 'station'. Dickens did
not like the effects of social class.
Social problems: at the time, many people were becoming aware of the need to improve
the condition in which the poor found themselves. Dickens was a great supporter of
social reform - especially in education and prisons.
Church and religion: in Victorian times, Britain was overwhelmingly Christian. The
Church dominated religion and the morals of the time. Dickens, however, disapproved of
the power the Church had over people's lives.
Family: family was at the centre of Victorian society. People had large, extended families
- although Dickens was aware that not all families were happy families.
Five main kinds of novel were popular in the mid-19th century:
The 'Silver Fork' novel - stories about rich people fascinated poor
The 'Newgate' novel - people were enthralled by stories about jail,
crime, the criminal underworld and gruesome murders.
The 'Gothic' novel - horror stories, such as Frankenstein, set in bleak
locations or scary mansions.
The 'Romantic' novel - love stories such as Jane Eyre (especially where
the lovers were socially mismatched).
The 'Social-purpose' novel - stories such as Oliver Twist, written to
bring social issues to the notice of the general public.
Charles Dickens’ Biography (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870)
Charles John Huffam Dickens is an English writer who created some of the
world's most memorable fictional characters and is generally regarded as the
greatest novelist of the Victorian period. He is the 19 th century superstar and
beloved author of his age. He was known as “the Inimitable” because of his
He was born in a very important time, ( the decline of the Napoleon Empire and
the horizon of Victorian era – the rise of middle class and the Industrial
He has created a whole gallery full of vivid wonderful characters.
When Charles was 12, his father was imprisoned for debt. John Dickens
was imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison in Southwark London in
1824. shortly afterwards, his wife and the youngest children joined him there
but Charles was not allowed to join them because he was the eldest.
Charles was seen as an economic resource to the family. He was sent to work in a
shoe polish factory. Even when his father came out of prison, Charles' mother made
him continue working in the factory - for which he never forgave her. It was a
disaster to Charles that all his fantasies and dreams suddenly crushed. Charles was
ashamed of this period of time and he kept it as a secret and didn’t tell anybody
about it except his close friend, but he wrote about that experience all the time in a
way or another.
“Crime, sending to jail, losing money, and having guilty secret,”: these issues are
close to the heart of Charles’ novels.
Charles wanted to be an actor but destiny sent him to another direction. He worked
as a reporter in political elections. During that work in elections, he learnt a lot of
things about speech, personality, social conditions, government, and all aspects of
life. The only aspect of life which he was not prepared for was love. In 1830, he fell
in love with Maria Beadnell, but she rejected him
He started the writing process by writing sketches about London daily life in a
newspaper. Then, they were published in a book entitled Sketches by Boz. And this
book put him in the line to be a writer.
His serialized works helped him to be famous because the series were
affordable and this allowed even the poor to buy them.
He wrote his Pickwick Papers under the name Boz and he continued using this
name until he finished writing Nicholas Nickleby which he published it using
his real name along with the penname Boz.
The death of his wife was the tragedy which appeared in most of his works.
David Copperfield is considered as Dickens’ ambitious and autobiographical
After the fame and great achievement of his writings, he started a new thing
which was ‘public reading of his works.’ These readings brought him a good
amount of money.
Being sick and exhausted, he stopped reading on public and started writing a
new book entitled Edwin Droob but he died before completing it.
Though he was born in a poor low class family, Dickens was
buried in one of London’s most honorable places.
Dickens thinks that he was pushed by daemons. They are
“lacks of his childhood, loneliness, disappointment, anger
about political directions the country was taken.”
He believed that these daemons made him what he was.
His notable works are:
The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David
Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities,
and Great Expectations.
Dickens' style of writing
As you work on a particular section of text from Great Expectations, look for the following
characteristics of Dickens' writing:
Dickens was once a newspaper reporter; his descriptions show a wonderful eye for detail.
Great Expectations had to fill ten columns of All Year Round each week, for 36 weeks.
Dickens' style of writing therefore 'filled space', and included lots of repetition and long lists.
Dickens loved words, and liked to produce a 'pretty piece of writing' in different styles. He
included lots of powerful adjectives, and is famous for his use of metaphors and similes. His
descriptions often present people, their surroundings, and even the weather, in ways which
reinforce each other, so that a certain 'feel' is built up through the passage.
From the early 1850s, Dickens gave public readings of his novels. His writing is rhythmic
and designed to be read out loud. He loved to make young women in his audience laugh or
weep, so many of his characters are either hilariously comic or heart-breakingly sentimental.
Dickens was a master of dialect and used what is called 'substandard' speech to add to the
picture of a character he was building up. In 1857, Dickens wrote and acted in a play called
The Frozen Deep. Critics believe this helped him to write the brilliant sections of dialogue in
Great Expectations. Dickens is famous for his exaggeration, which critics have linked to his
love of the stage.