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Literary background


Victorian literature


- The triumph of the novel; the leading/dominating/the most popular literary genre/form
- Its success was due to the constant growth/ increase of the reading public who could borrow the books from the circulating/lending libraries or read them in instalments in newspapers/periodicals and magazines
- It reflected the moral and religious values and the contradictions/complexity of the period *
- Writers and readers shared the same interests and opinions: the writers to entertain and to teach lessons (didactic role) and the readers to be entertained and to escape from daily life
- Themes: social problems: injustices, the terrible conditions of the workers, the exploitation of the children and women
- Published in instalments episodic structure:
- To satisfy the reader requirements, he often changed the original plan
- To catch their attention and stimulate their curiosity, he created suspense (like the
Soap operas today)
The Victorian novel’s features:
- Didacticism: the novelist’s role was to make the readers aware of the social problems
- narrator: the 3rd person omniscient narrator provided a comment on the plot judging the characters divided in good and evil making its stories finish with a wise distribution of “punishment” for the evil characters, “retribution” for the good ones.
- The setting was mainly the city: the main symbol of industrial civilization, of anonymous lives and lost identities.
- The plot was long and complex/complicated by sub-plots but linear: it followed a chronological order
- The characters were realistic so the readers could identify with them

Victorian novel


While the 18th century marked the rise of the novel (with D. Defoe, generally considered as the father of the novel) the 19th century or the Victorian Age marked the triumph of of the novel. This literary genre which embodied/ reflected the moral and religious values as well as the many contradictions of this period. It is said that during the Victorian Age there was for the first time a communion of interests and opinions between writers and their readers. This means that the readers, belonging mainly to the middle class, wanted to be entertained with stories which depicted reality offering an escapism from daily life while the writers ( often belonging themselves to the middle class) felt the moral responsability to entertain the readers depicting society as they saw it but at the same time to teach lessons/to instruct (didactic aim/role)
Making the readers reflect on/aware of the social problems/injustices/evils of their society such as the terrible conditions of the workers and the exploitation of the children without offending them and avoiding embarrassing issues and radical criticism [since the historical conditions of Britain was quite different from those of France and Russia, their criticism was less radical than that of the contemporary European writers like Balzac, Flaubert and Dostoyevsky]
Not only, but since the novels were mainly published in serial forms/ in instalments in the pages of the periodicals, the writers adopted an episodic structure:
- constantly had to take into account the reader reactions so often he was led to alter/change the original plan to satisfy the readers requirements;
- At the end of each episode he created suspense which stimulated their curiosity encouraging them to buy the next issues


Victorian novelists/writers are usually divided into two groups:

but sometimes also into three groups: the early Victorians, the mid-victorians and the late victorians

Among these the most important/outstanding writers were WOMEN such as the Bronte Sisters (Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) who wrote jane Eyre (1847) and Emily Bronte (1818-48) who wrote Wuthering Heights 1847: Cime tempestose) George Eliot( 1819-1880 and Elizabeth Gaskell ( 1810-1965). Though the majority of women during the middle period of Victorianism were novel-buyers and readers, when they wanted to see their works in print , they had to use male pseudonyms because writing for the public was considered a “ masculine” activity: they wrote mainly psychological novels in which they explored the daily lives and values of women both in the family and in the community.

Early Victorian Novelists

Optimistic

As said before, the Early Victorian novelists, whose main representative was Dickens, portrayed the Victorian society in a realistic way making the reader aware of its injustices and contradictions but, at the same time expressing their faith in progress and in the possibility of solving the problems through adequate reforms. In other words, the Early Victorians tended to identify themselves with their age. Dickens had a strong moralistic purpose showing how good always triumph over evil. His novels, in fact, dealt with social and humanitarian themes such as poverty, bad housing, inadequate education, exploitation of children and women and have always an happy ending.

Late Victorian novelists


In the last years of the 19th century are characterized by a gradual anti-Victorian reaction which led the novelists to reject the optimistic faith in progress and the Victorian moral and religious values. A growing pessimism started to affect intellectuals and artists who expressed in different ways their sense of doubt about the stability of the Victorian society. The main representatives of these years were 1) Thomas Hardy, 2) Robert Louis Stevenson 3) Oscar Wilde and among these it’s worth mentioning also R. Kipling even though he was a supporter of British Imperialism and colonialism ( REMEMBER: The White’s man Burden)

Thomas Hardy, influenced by the new scientific theories, the most important late Victorian novelist. His novels show a pessimistic tragic view of the world. Many of his novels caused a scandal and one, Jude the Obscure, was even burned and banned.
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