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General Vic Era Discussions > What are common characteristics of Victorian Literature?

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message 1: by Carolyn (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:13PM) (new)

Carolyn Fitzpatrick (carolyn_fitzpatrick) What do you think that Victorian Literature has in common? If someone mentions a book to you and says it is Victorian Lit, what would you expect to happen in the book? This question just occurred to me and I haven't come up with an answer yet. I know I like Victorian fiction, but currently I couldn't explain why...

message 2: by Darcy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:17PM) (new)

Darcy | 232 comments hmmm, I'd probably say a pretty heavy emphasis on plot. I'd also say that most Victorian novels are about how people interact in their community. 18th century novels, for me at least, are about what happens to you when you leave your community and go somewhere else (Pamela, Moll Flanders, Humphrey Clinker, Robinson Crusoe), but I think Victorian novels are more concerned with how an individual's actions, no matter how seemingly small or significant, can affect a much wider group of people. Even in a Dickens novel, where individuals can get lost so easily in the busy London crowd, a community of characters is developed and those characters always seem to be encountering each other over and over again.

But perhaps that is true for only the big names in Victorian fiction (Eliot, Thackeray, Dickens, Trollope, etc.)?

message 3: by Gail (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:17PM) (new)

Gail I agree with Carolyn about interaction (I'd add conflict there) within the community. Another characteristic that I expect in Victorian lit. is lots of dialogue, sometimes to the point of windiness. And perhaps more author interaction with the reader than is common today.

message 4: by Inder (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Inder | 27 comments What can you expect to find in a Victorian novel?

1) Relationships, relationships, and more relationships.

I think this is what prior commentors have been getting at. It could be interaction within communities, as described above, or between members of different communities/classes/sexes/walks of life (though often in the same town). The latter interactions are where much of that fun conflict arises. Many of the most common types of conflicts in Victorian novels - all that stuff about manners and propriety, for example - can be traced back to more basic class/gender conflicts. Manners reinforced the class system in England. They also provided a language through which men and women could speak to each other, in a society that did not allow free social intercourse (ha ha) between the sexes. I think that's why manners are so important in these novels.

2) Money. The industrial revolution, the new cash economy, the decline of the land-based aristocracy and the rise of corporations, the bourgeoisie, and the mercantile classes. The fundamental basis of wealth was radically changing during the 19th century (from land to consumable products), and you'll find these themes in almost every single Victorian novel.

3)Class. See money, above. The old class order died a long slow death during the 19th and early 20th century, with the aristocracy becoming increasingly impoverished as the century wore on. At the other end of the scale, the industrial revolution changed the peasant classes into the working urban poor, and it wasn't pretty. Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Gaskell are some of my favorites for addressing this major change head-on.

4) Gender politics. Women and power. Women and marriage. Women who have sex outside of marriage and then have to die at the end of the book to pay for their sin. Men who seduce women. Women who seduce men in order to manipulate them into marriage. Women who kill their illegitimate babies. Old maids. Women who, against the odds, get a husband and live a "respectable" life. Sexual fidelity and infidelity. It's all here, folks.

For a fun take on the "extreme adventure" of finding a husband, I highly recommend reading (at least) the first chapter of "Leave Me Alone I'm Reading" by Maureen Corrigan.

Of course, you can't separate those gender politics from class or money. In fact, the search for a husband was often a very pragmatic affair. Poor but aristocratic girls were often encouraged to marry rich merchants. Rich merchant girls were encouraged to marry dukes and earls, in order to buy a title for the family. All of this inter-marriage contributed to major changes in the class system (which used to be a bit more exclusive) in England during this time, and also made great fodder for fiction.

At the same time, you do see the blossoming of the idea of marrying for love during the Victorian era. In fact, it's very likely that Victorian novels contributed to the birth of the ideal of a love match. Sorry to keep citing other books, but "Marriage, a History," by Stephanie Coontz, gave me some great perspective on this.

Those are just a few major themes I see. Because large, sweeping, expansive novels were the fashion back then, their themes were really as varied as life.

message 5: by Darcy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Darcy | 232 comments lol. Yeah, I agree with you Gail! Henry James wasn't kidding when he called the Victorian novel a "loose, baggy monster." There's definitely a lot of talking going on!! That probably should be the first characteristic on the list--a Victorian novel is not a 2-hour read.

Along with that, I'd also add (going back to the community issue) that national identity and national expansion are big issues in Victorian novels--even (or especially) when they seem to be invisible. Great Britain's imperialist project is always lurking about. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Vanity Fair are great examples of this.

message 6: by Carolyn (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Carolyn Fitzpatrick (carolyn_fitzpatrick) I agree with the idea of class being very important. Money and gender are big themes in modern (and previous) books as well. I think what gives them a unique twist in Victorian literature is that Victorian characters have a strong sense of their place in society. In modern books, everything is either right for everyone or wrong for everyone. In Victorian literature, there was not one universal set of societal rules. You had to (1) figure out what the rules were for your class, station, gender, etc., (2) figure out the rules for the person you are interacting with, (3) negotiate a method of communication that fits both sets of rules as much as possible. These intricacies are what gives Victorian literature a lot of its flavor.

message 7: by Inder (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Inder | 27 comments Well, money, class, and gender politics have always been important to some extent, and are just as important in modern fiction as they ever were. But then, there are also a lot of modern, plot- or character-driven, dialogue-heavy, sprawling novels! For example, the Harry Potter books clearly meet that criteria!

So it's definitely difficult to make broad generalizations about the differences between Victorian novels and other novels - Victoria was alive for a long time and the world changed radically in those 70 years. There is a big difference, stylistically and theme-wise, between Jane Eyre and the Forsyte Saga.

So I guess all you can say is that Victorian novels describe gender and class politics at a certain moment in time. In the mid-19th century, the "woman question" was really becoming an issue (fueled by abolitionist and Christian revival movements, interestingly), and the class-makeup of Britain was going through some major changes. So discussions of money and gender, while universal, had a different meaning and tone in Victorian times than they do now.

I don't know if class roles were really that secure in Victorian England - I think the heavy discussion of them in Victorian novels was a sign that they were actually breaking down - after all, by the end of WWII, the aristocracy of England was almost extinct, so a lot happened, very quickly. Absolutely, the Aristocracy put a lot of value on knowing your place. They clung to those old roles precisely because they was changing, and change is scary. But of course, the importance of this theme varies from novel to novel - Trolllope was always writing about it, but you don't see it nearly as much in the Brontes. Of course, there were 20 important years and some geographical distance between the two.

I do think it's interesting that despite the presence of the British Empire, and slavery and the Civil War here in the states, Victorian novels don't seem to directly address issues of race very often. Have any of you read Victorian novels that really get into issues of race?

message 8: by Darcy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:23PM) (new)

Darcy | 232 comments I think class issues in Victorian fiction can be a bit deceptive. Definitely much of Western Europe was experiencing major upheavals in the class systems (the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the various revolutions in 1848), but England was largely excluded from that. Class changes in England were much more gradual, and occurred largely through (failed) social movements such as Chartism, industrialization, or through legislation (the various Reform Bills, for example). However, even then, those changes generally affected only the middle class, not the laboring poor. So while Victorian novels register a lot of anxiety concerning class structure, it seems like it is predominately about the middle class (professional, home-owners, businessmen, etc.--i.e., not land-owners), rather than about all the classes. That the Victorian novel is all about the middle class is not really surprising, though, given that they were the largest section of readers; primary education was not made available (or mandatory) by the state until 1870, and so literacy rates among laboring poor, factory workers, or rural working classes would have been extremely low (not to mention, reading material would have been too expensive).

I think I'd have to disagree just a bit about class tension in the Brontes, Inder, although I think you are right that Trollope is engaging with class differently. Jane Eyre seems to be very much about class distinctions (Jane is more or less marrying "up" socially, which is why it seems to be necessary that Rochester is blinded at the end of the novel--he's taking on a poor governess in place of the more aristocratic Blanche Ingram). And Wuthering Heights is all about the conflict of marriage within one's class versus love matches outside of the middle class: Heathcliff is a no-name orphan picked up from Liverpool and is regularly contrasted with the daintier, whiter, and wealthier Edgar Linton. Catherine eventually chooses Edgar instead, but with the motive of helping Heathcliff financially rather than for love. This all gets even more complicated because the story is being told by Lockwood--a financially independent young gentleman--who is hearing the whole history from a servant (i.e., a working class woman). The class tensions eventually balance out in the final marriage of the book.

message 9: by Gail (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:23PM) (new)

Gail Well, I don't know. Austen seems to have some class issues, but on a more limited scale than perhaps we're used to. Dickens is, of course, full of working class characters, and some who are in the Victorian underworld. I agree with Darcy about "Wuthering Heights": it's all about class. Trollope does deal with class issues in many of his novels; I think Hardy would qualify here as well, although he's so in love with the Wessex landscape that other ideas sometimes take a back seat.
As for racial issues, only Kipling comes to mind. I'd be interested if anyone has any additional information on that area.

message 10: by Inder (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:24PM) (new)

Inder | 27 comments Darcy, I completely agree with you. Class factors large in the Brontes - especially class and marriage. I was talking about something else (perhaps not that clearly). In those earlier Northern novels, the aristocracy seems pretty secure - they're not having trouble paying their servants' wages, at any rate. Fifty years later, reading "The Way We Live Now," you see members of the aristocracy scrambling to find enough cash to hold on to their property. But it's not clear that this was NOT a problem before - after all, it's Anne's family's bad financial management that requires them to let their family seat and move to Bath in Jane Austen's "Persuasion."

Certainly, class changes were much more dramatic in France and Russia and elsewhere in Europe. In England, change was slower, and it was primarily economic - land became less and less valuable as industry became more and more valuable, slowly undermining the wealth of the aristocracy. By the time Waugh was writing "Brideshead Revisited" just after WWI, most of the aristocracy were broke, and the National Trust started buying up those old houses.

Some of my favorite Victorian novels, especially Dickens, Trollope, and Gaskell, feature story lines from members of all different classes. But because most of these writers were middle class, it definitely makes sense that the middle class would feature most prominently.

Thanks for engaging on one of my pet topics!

message 11: by Inder (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:24PM) (new)

Inder | 27 comments Also, I adore Hardy, but I agree, his themes are more spiritual and moral (and landscape-obsessed) than material. His focus was agrarian communities, so the industrial revolution does not feature quite as prominently (although it's there).

Another Victorian novel about race: "Daniel Deronda." That is, if you consider Judaism to be a racial identity, which the Victorians obviously did. Also, there are always those creepy references to Jamaica and south seas slavery in "Jane Eyre" and "Mansfield Park." Still, not as much as you'd think, given the national obsession with imperialism! Only after Victoria died, do you see "A Passage to India," etc.

message 12: by Gail (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:24PM) (new)

Gail Oh yeah; I forgot "Deronda". Given that Judaism was a racial identity for the Victorians, that would certainly qualify. And didn't Disraeli write something to do with that? And what about Melmoth the Wanderer...or am I in another time zone?

message 13: by Carolyn (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:25PM) (new)

Carolyn Fitzpatrick (carolyn_fitzpatrick) I think that if we are going to define race in Victorian terms, then novels that deal with Judaism should definately be included. Incidentally, has anyone else read the graphic novel "Fagin the Jew"? It takes the story of Fagin from Oliver Twist and creates a whole back history for him, including a lot of actual law and history of the time period. I recommend it!

I know that a lot of Victorians, especially early in the era, saw the Irish as a separate and inferior racial group, and I think the Welsh were included in this category as well. One of the most interesting things I find in Louisa May Alcott books is how German immigrants are portrayed, but I don't think that they were regarded as a separate race like the Irish were, for some reason.

message 14: by Darcy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:27PM) (new)

Darcy | 232 comments Hmm, well, I definitely agree that Dickens, Gaskell, and others (especially Disraeli) are interested in the working classes. Hardy would fit into this category too. But generally I think that even those novels that directly address the crossing of classes (like Disraeli's Sybil) are still about the middle class, and the ways it is affected by the working classes. In other words, a book like Oliver Twist is all about what happens when a middle-class little boy is taken out of that sphere and placed into another. It is the story, essentially, of the triumph of middle-class values. Yes, Dickens' novels are filled with the working classes, but they are there typically as a back-drop to the middle class protagonists and are never the hero/heroines themselves. All too often, I think that Victorian novelists sentimentalized their portrayal of the working poor (with the possible exception of Gaskell), even as they demonstrated an ability to make very round, realistic middle-class characters. Dickens gets away with this because he sentimentalizes everything. But writers like Hardy struggled with it--the mummers in The Return of the Native are hardly real figures, but rather types who kind of wander around the Heath, providing some great opportunities for the socially distant main characters to interact with one another. I think this is probably why Tess is generally considered to be Hardy's greatest novel--that is a story in which Tess is always in danger of slipping back into the working class. The novel opens by claiming that she's actually of noble ancestry, then she marries up, and then she spends the rest of the novel hanging on by her fingertips. But I think Hardy is particularly prescient in suggesting that at the heart of Tess' conflict is not her economic background, but her sexuality (or, the way in which those two overlap--Alec sees Tess as sexually available because she is of a lower economic class). Angel is able to overcome Tess' working class background quite easily, but he cannot overcome his sexual prejudices at all.

message 15: by Darcy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:27PM) (new)

Darcy | 232 comments I almost forgot--some novels about race (or in which race/empire is a particularly important issue):

"The Octoroon; or, The Lily of Louisiana," by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
"The Moonstone," by Wilkie Collins
"The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands," by Mary Seacole ("autobiography" of a Jamaican woman who became a nurse during the Crimean War--this was published by James Blackwood as part of Seacole's attempts to raise money for herself)
"She," H. Rider Haggard (boy adventure fiction)
"King Solomon's Mines," H. Rider Haggard (boy adventure fiction)
"Heart of Darkness," by Joseph Conrad (or the really great short story, "Outpost of Progress" about similar issues)
"Anna and the King of Siam," by Anna Leonowens (the basis for the musical, The King and I. This is supposedly an autobiographical account of Leonowens' stint in Siam, but she made up quite a bit of it.)
"Uncle Tom's Cabin," by Harriet Beecher Stowe (obviously not a British novel, but easily one of the top best-selling novels in England during the 19th century).

There was also quite a lot of poetry written that deals with race, especially of the kind written in support of the abolitionist movement, such as Elizabeth Barret Browning's "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point." In Victorian novels, though, empire is usually pushed to the background, rather than the foreground. That said, it was the topic of a lot of visual art (paintings, sculpture, woodblock engravings) and a lot of non-fiction prose (such as Mary Kingsley's "Travels in West Africa" or Richard Burton's "Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Meccah"). Quite a few of the Sherlock Holmes stories also deal with race and empire in interesting ways.

The issue of Ireland and England is really interesting, but I don't know much about it. Other great Irish novelists out there, besides Bram Stoker or Maria Edgeworth (too early, though). Maybe Sheridan Le Fanu?

message 16: by Inder (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:29PM) (new)

Inder | 27 comments Anthony Trollope was a clerk in Ireland for years, and wrote several novels based loosely on his experiences there, which I haven't read yet. I have read the first couple volumes of the Palliser series, where Phineas Finn features as an Irish member of parliament.

But I think Trollope purposefully avoided dealing with any "difference" between the Irish and the English, real or perceived. There are only the slightest hints about the English relationship with Ireland in those books, imperial, racial, or otherwise - I remember there one part of Phineas Finn where Trollope says that England views Ireland as its wife, or as a woman generally. That is, England felt that it should take care of Irish, but didn't want to give them too much freedom, either. It was his mildly misogynist way of saying that England saw itself in a paternal relationship with Ireland. But don't quote me on this, I'd have to look it up. I just remember thinking it was interesting at the time.

message 17: by Inder (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:29PM) (new)

Inder | 27 comments A new question - How many Victorian novels were actually "historical fiction" and how was that device used in Victorian fiction?

I was thinking of this recently in connection with Middlemarch, which took place in the 1830s, about thirty years before George Eliot wrote it. I've always thought it was interesting that she wrote about an agrarian community just on the verge of the industrial revolution. In her case, there seems to be a political purpose behind the choice of setting, beyond simple nostalgia.

Come to think of it, were all of George Eliot's books set in the past? The ones I've read were - Silas Marner, Adam Bede, Middlemarch. But there are a couple of her novels that I know nothing about - yet! I'd be curious to hear whether her other novels were similar in that way.

I think Gaskell's "Wives and Daughters" takes place at a similar time in the past (the 1830s), and there as well as in Middlemarch, the beginnings of a rigorous natural science (and medical science) feature quite heavily in the plot. The hero of "Wives and Daughters" is reminiscent of Darwin or another of those early naturalists.

Any thoughts on this?

message 18: by Darcy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:31PM) (new)

Darcy | 232 comments Yeah, I think you're right--I'm having trouble coming up with a Victorian novel that isn't back-dated by a couple of decades. Almost all of Hardy's novels, Dickens, Thackeray and Trollope are historical. And the Brontes, too. Maybe Disraeli? His are really politically embedded, so perhaps they are more contemporary, rather than historical. Austen might be an exception, but she's not technically a Victorian writer (at least, according to dates . . .)

Is Pickwick Papers set back in time? I know the serialization corresponded to the actual seasons of the year (the Xmas number came out during the Christmas season, that kind of thing), but does the story take place earlier than 1836?

I wonder if Scott was responsible for that particular trend. He wrote historical romances . . .

message 19: by Matthew (last edited Jan 22, 2008 01:42PM) (new)

Matthew | 3 comments The Pickwick Papers (or at least the first two chapters) is set in 1827. The first sentence of the second chapter reads: "That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another sun from his slumbers, threw open his chamber window, and looked out upon the world beneath."

Does being set nine years prior make it "historical"? Seems to me to be a little too short a period of time to label it that way.

message 20: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 232 comments Maybe it is more dated than historical? Pickwick wears gaiters--not haute couture for the time--and he travels exclusively by post (trains are notably absent in the book). The whole bit with the Ivy Green and the Dingley Dell Christmas is also pretty old-fashioned. The book is kind of like a grandfather's dream come true--Pickwick travels around and does what he likes, but when he wants company he's surrounded by young people who get thrills out of ice skating and hanging out with their grandparents. ;)

message 21: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 3 comments Trains weren't available generally in 1827, I don't think. The first steam passenger service didn't start until 1830. I believe there was only very limited railway service available in Britain even in 1836/1837 (when Pickwick Papers was written). So, I think, Pickwick not taking trains is accurate.

It occurs to me that I've not read a Dickens novel that mentions railway travel (at least not significantly). Do any of his novels involve railways? He does mention a "locomotive hearse" in A Christmas Carol, but I'm not sure what that refers to.

I don't know about the Ivy Green and the Dingley Dell bits, or how gaiters fit in to the fashions: you certainly know your cultural history!


message 22: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 232 comments Doesn't Dombey and Son have a train death? I haven't gotten around to that one ;)

message 23: by Matthew (last edited Jan 24, 2008 03:08PM) (new)

Matthew | 3 comments I haven't read it either, but searching the etext from I found several mentions of "train" and "railroad". I tried not to read the plot summary at wikipedia, but it does say someone is killed after falling under a train.

Thanks, I figured Dickens had to mention trains somewhere.

message 24: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia To get back to the original question, I think one common characteristic of Victorian novels is they're all ultimately about rules and structure. Even if someone is really naughty or evil, they KNOW they're being naughty and evil and will be Damned in some way or other. I guess that's what I like about, especially, Austen and Trollope: people who follow the rules generally come out okay in the end, and evil people are usually punished. It's like reading Agatha Christie, where the bad guys are always caught and punished, even if they're very clever.

message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 05, 2008 07:22PM) (new)

I think I couldn't write anything about the late Victorian Novel (such as Tess)without considering the impact of the Industrial Revolution--not just economically, but psychologically.
The Industrial Revolution is a manifestation of the conflict between the rural and the urban. Hardy was being ironic, I think, when the "ancient name" of D'Uberviile contains the world "ville" which is "city" (and likewise Alec's acquired name, a product of new wealth) while maintaining the "purity" of Tess through the name "Durbyfield." The domination of nature made inevitable by industry and industrialization could not help but alter the individual's internal human nature, and the way an individual would regard and value others (as objects to be used for personal gain, for example). It was right of Marx, a Victorian, to point out that the capitalist robs the proletariat of his humanity in the commodification of his labor power--he becomes an object to be bought when he submits to authority in order to earn a living. The Victorian period is a period of "takers" and "exploiters" (consider colonialism, for example) and not "givers" or even fair exchangers. I cannot help but think, then, that the relationships between individuals, the values placed on human beings, must have reflected this period of takers and exploiters. I don't mean to impose a Marxist reading on the Victorian novel. Instead, I only find some characters in the Victorian novel to be exploiters of faith and religion, youth and innocence, love and passion, even kindness and benevolence. And then I'm inspired by the heroes and heroines who challenge this exploitation, as if "nature" fights back. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. But I love reading Victorian novels because this tension reveals a great deal about what makes us human at all, universally, yet through a time when humanity and individual moral codes seemed to deteriorate against the more ubiquitous preoccupation with "using" bodies, minds, and souls. As I type this, I am thinking of any Dickens novel, Tess, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights.

message 26: by Gail (new)

Gail Well said and well thought out. I particularly like the exploitation idea, although I'm not sure how much of that is reflective of the political situation of the time, as other ages (Middle Ages, Roman Empire) also were predicated on the exploitation of the masses. I think perhaps what makes the Victorians so compelling is that they were among the first to consider, deep within, whether such exploitation wasn't a terribly wrong idea.

Thanks for a thoughtful, provocative post.

message 27: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 06, 2008 04:31PM) (new)

I think that the Victorian morality where evil people are usually punished and people who follow the rules come out okay is short-lived, though, expecially toward the end of the Victorian period (when the the appearance of Darwin raises the question of there being a Christian God at all). Hardy, I think, pursued this problem more deeply than any other novelist. The "pure woman" is betrayed by the impure world--the temptation to exploit those who DO go by the rules is too great (Dickens, Hardy). And you're totally right, Cynthia--they know they're bad!

You make a great point, Cynthia, about structure and rules as elemental to the Victorians. I want to add that another aspect is maintaining the APPEARANCE of structure and rules since humans fail miserably to uphold the truth and/or the rigors of doing what is right. I think of Rochester who hides Bertha in the attic. Or the detective novel, which became a popular genre during the period and exemplifies this idea of illusions. Or Alec D'Urberville's true identity and his new "estate". Or Pip in Great Expectations. Things not being what they seem is common to the Victorian novel, I think, and readers either like knowing what's behind the ilusion, or "enjoy" being just as unaware as the characters. I think that is one of the reasons I love the novels. And the Victorians have in a sense "caged themselves in" by the strictness of their rules and their rigid societal expectations.

message 28: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Hmm, that was such an interesting comment, why is it from a "deleted member"??? Victorian book police didn't like what was being said?

message 29: by Cathy (new)

Cathy | 38 comments deleted user wrote: "I think I couldn't write anything about the late Victorian Novel (such as Tess)without considering the impact of the Industrial Revolution--not just economically, but psychologically.
The Indust..."

Cynthia wrote: "To get back to the original question, I think one common characteristic of Victorian novels is they're all ultimately about rules and structure. Even if someone is really naughty or evil, they KNOW..."

I agree with the industrial revolution being so often a preoccupation - there is often focus of the natural vs the 'civilised', and man's scientific learning is a part of the growth in new ideas that was part of the Victorian world - ref Frankenstein, and a book set in Victorian times (partly) Possession.

message 30: by Sherien (new)

Sherien Hey, does Jane Austen belong to the Victorians? I've read some sources say that she doesn't because she lives before the victorian era...Some other sources say she does...curious to know...

The Book Whisperer (aka Boof) | 828 comments I'm not sure either to be honest. I'd like to think so, so that we can include her books in the group reads but I'm not sure if she "technically" counts. Anyone know for sure?

message 32: by Ayu (new)

Ayu Palar (atchoo) | 31 comments Yes people said Austen does not belong to the Victorians. I noticed that since I watched the adaptation of her novels. Especially the women's clothes with the low neck line. I think the Victorian women didn't wear dresses like that.

Anyway, reading this post has enriched my knowledge about Victorian novels. So thank you all!

message 33: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 91 comments Most eighteenth century scholars consider Jane Austen "theirs," but so do many nineteenth century and Victorian scholars. Somewhat a territory thing, I think.

One thing I'd like to mention that I notice more as I read Victorian novels for pleasure rather than study, is that they are leisurely. They are not meant, like many (very good) modern novels, to be gulped. People really enjoyed a book that would occupy a significant amount of time. And I think they read aloud to each other more. I'm trying to read more books simultaneously and slowly, so I have time to think more about them and compare what I'm reading.

message 34: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 232 comments It depends on how the scholar is defining "Victorian." Some people use what is called "the long 19th century" (i.e., 1789-1914, or the French Revolution to WWI). They do this based on the argument that the French Revolution radically changed Europe, ushering in a new era of modern thought. This era ended with the development of WWI. In this case, Austen would be considered as part of the long 19th century.

Technically, though, she's a Regency author (1811-1820); she published all her major novels in that time period. She's such an important figure for 19th century scholars, though, that she's often discussed along with Victorian authors, as well as 18th century authors. That's what you get for falling in the gap between the two periods, I guess ;)

That's a great point about the gowns, Ayu. Victorian women, particularly of a higher social class, might have worn a low cut gown, or even off the shoulder gowns. The typical Regency dress is very different--an empire waistline, loose and flowing around the middle and hips. A Victorian dress includes a lot more parts--a corset, a crinoline, a huge skirt. If any one is interested, you can see pictures and diagrams of the crinoline cages Victorian women wore here.

Thank goodness we don't wear cages anymore, right! ;)

The Book Whisperer (aka Boof) | 828 comments That poor woman who got her cage caught coming out of the coach, LOL! Oh dear.

They look great but what a palava they must have been putting on and taking off every day.

message 36: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 232 comments No kidding. No wonder women had personal maids.

message 37: by Sherien (last edited Apr 10, 2009 10:02AM) (new)

Sherien As much as I love watching those pretty dresses, I can't imagine myself wearing one! lol!
Lets include Austen in our discussion then, I love her novels, if everyone agree...

message 38: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Apr 10, 2009 08:54PM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 628 comments I'm certainly open to a re-read of Miss Austen. (I think the only one of hers I haven't read is Lady Susan. I think.)

message 39: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine | 103 comments Another thing common to many Victorian novels, I'll venture, is death, or Death: The death of someone significant causing a plot twist, lingering illness ending in death, child mortality, ghost stories. Memento mori were big in Victorian times, such as wearing a lock of a dead loved one's hair in a locket. The funeral business seems to be huge, with elaborate funerals and hired mourners. Widow's weeds and mourning bands seem to be in fashion at this time, but not in such prominence before. I gather this all from novels I have read, not from any hard history; it seems to me to hold true, however.

message 40: by SarahC (last edited Sep 05, 2009 05:49PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Darcy wrote: "It depends on how the scholar is defining "Victorian." Some people use what is called "the long 19th century" (i.e., 1789-1914, or the French Revolution to WWI). They do this based on the argument ..."


I wonder though if it is effective to have such a long era designation of literature of 120 years? I haven't studied the time period in that way, so scholars may make some good points with it. However, to teach a class using that division might be hard. Especially thinking about literature of the closing 19th century. Novels had become different -- John Galsworthy is one example I can think of. I am not that widely read, but it seems that to cover Late Victorian and then Edwardian within "the long century" would be squeezing a lot in.

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Sarah wrote: "Darcy wrote: "It depends on how the scholar is defining "Victorian." Some people use what is called "the long 19th century" (i.e., 1789-1914, or the French Revolution to WWI). They do this based on..."

I'm in the group that looks at the Victorian Era as that period that starts about when Victoria was crowned, and then extends to a few years after her death. There is, in my mind, a fairly profound distinction in the authors and books of Regency England (and before, i.e., Fanny Burney), and also those of Edwardian England. Darcy and I have discussed this in the context of the American author Edith Wharton, and I think that Sarah makes a very valid point with Galsworthy. For example, while Galsworthy, in The Forsyte Saga certainly has a major chunk of the novel occurring during the Victorian Era, the novel's writing style is Edwardian, even post-Edwardian in some respects. What this illustrates, to me, is the difficulty in identifying "book ends" for these time periods. Art cross-cuts, and prose and poetry is art, and is no exception. There are shades of grey throughout. This is why I read, study, analyze, and contemplate; it simply doesn't get any better than this. Cheers! Chris

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 628 comments I think the "Long 19th Century" is a concept useful to historians, but I have my doubts about it in regard to literature, frankly.

I say this as someone trained as a historian, mind you!

message 43: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 232 comments Yeah, I totally agree with you, Sarah--I certainly wouldn't want to tackle a class on the Victorian novel or a 19th century survey course using the long 19th century for dates (unless, maybe, it were a year-long course). I think the reason the long 19th century comes up for people who study the Victorian period is because the dates of Victoria's coronation and death don't necessarily make it easy to talk about how influence or historical background affect literature; if you're writing about Victorian female novelists, for example, then discussing Jane Austen is practically a necessity (or, it was for a while) and the long 19th century can be helpful. Likewise, if you study forms of political uprising in the Victorian novel, then 1837 isn't a particularly useful starting date, but 1811 (beginning of the Luddite movement) might be really important. I may be wrong about this, but it seems like academics nowadays tend to define the period in terms of the topic that interests them, not necessarily in using set dates like Victoria's coronation/death or the long 19th century.

Susanna, what period/place did you study?

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 628 comments Modern European.

Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Darcy wrote: "Yeah, I totally agree with you, Sarah--I certainly wouldn't want to tackle a class on the Victorian novel or a 19th century survey course using the long 19th century for dates (unless, maybe, it we..."

Darcy, here are the years and 'bookends' that I kind of use in the application of the term "Victorian Era."

1830, and the publication of Tennyson's Poems, Chiefly Lyrical

1902, and Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbitt.

I am sure that there are other equally valid definitions, but this is what I have used for many years. Cheers! Chris

message 46: by Scott (new)

Scott Ferry | 132 comments Carolyn wrote: "What do you think that Victorian Literature has in common? If someone mentions a book to you and says it is Victorian Lit, what would you expect to happen in the book? This question just occurred t..."

I would also add disease and death into the mixture as important elements in some stories, at least as far as I can tell.

message 47: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Christopher wrote: "Darcy wrote: "Yeah, I totally agree with you, Sarah--I certainly wouldn't want to tackle a class on the Victorian novel or a 19th century survey course using the long 19th century for dates (unless..."

Christopher, do you view Conan Doyle and Potter as a bridge toward new literature or more as closing an era? This is an earnest question because I am very interested, but have not been exposed to lots of viewpoints on the subject - I never studied Late Victorian formally, or early 20th either. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

message 48: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) I have a book here called [Book: Key Concepts in Victorian Literature] by [Author: Sean Purchase], which I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone trying to get to grips with the ingredients of Victorian Literature.

It has lots of short chapters with titles such as...

Architecture Childhood Class Clothing
Death Disease Domesticity Education
Empire and Imperialism Family Gender
Gothic Madness Nation Orientalism Other
Reform Sex and Sexuality Science Slavery
Travel Violence War

For example, the Death Chapter points out the high mortality rates and short life expectancy in the 19th Century meant that Victorians were obsessed with death and explains how Darwin led to a 'slow death' of religious certainties.

Because of this obsession and the changes in society novels of the time tend to include symbols and themes relation to death or methods of coping with death and mourning.

It points to some example novels such as Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop & Great Expectations, Bronte's Villette & Jane Eyre and poetry such as The Charge of the Light Brigade and In Memoriam, which includes the lines 'Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all'.

- For 3 pages it's a chapter packed full of interesting info on how 'death' infiltrates Victorian Lit. - The other chapters are similarly short and informative.


message 49: by Paula (new)

Paula | 1051 comments Ally wrote: "For 3 pages it's a chapter packed full of interesting info on how 'death' infiltrates Victorian Lit. - The other chapters are similarly short and informative. ..."

Oh, that would be a good book to peruse! It seems that the last few Victorian books I've read have a blatant 'death' component, and I'm surprised at how often ghosts figure into the story.

The Book Whisperer (aka Boof) | 828 comments Ally, that sounds really interesting. I have been looking for a good book that expalins the literature of the period as well and this sounds like it may be it! Thanks for posting.

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