The Victorian novel
The Victorian period was considered the golden age of the novel and most capable of reflecting the increasing complexity of the modern world and, was also the main source of entertainment for the educated middle-classes. In this period novelist published their work in installments in literary periodicals, creating expectation in readers, waiting for the next story and therefore giving the idea of linearity which characterized the story (beginning middle and end). This aspect became an important feature of the 19th century novel. An important type of novel was the Bildungsroman which traced the life of the protagonist from infancy to early adulthood. “Jane Eyre”, “David Copperfield” and “Great Expectations” are among the most famous example. This novels talk about the relation of the individual to society, in particular the way the individual finds his or her place in society, through compromise and a little bit of conformism. In this period the novelists, unlike the ones from the 18th century, portrayed a society in rapid transition, and also in a realistic way, denouncing its injustice and unfairness, but also expressing their faith in progress. Normally the plots of Victorian novels centered around money making it and losing it the narrator is typically omniscient being a moral guide and as an instrument for analyzing psychology of the characters. In Late Victorian novels however faith in progress and society begins to recede. Individuals are portrayed as alienated from the world in which they live, and powerless to change their destiny. The characters, dreams, illusions, and despair (interior world), become more important while their reality becomes increasingly alienating and mechanical.
A mirror of life
The Victorian period can be considered the golden age of the novel, which has become the art form most capable of reflecting the complexity of the modern world and the main source of entertainment for the educated middle classes. Novelist frequently published their work in installments, and the readers awaited the following ones to find out what happened next in the story. One of the most popular genres was the Bildungsroman, which traced the life of the protagonist from infancy to earlt adulthood. The narrator of this novel in generally omniscient, serving both as a moral guide and as an instrument for analysing the psychology of the characters. The main concern of Dickens stories, for example, was the relation of the individual to society. The novelist of the Victorian period felt a social and moral responsibility to portray society in a realistic way, denouncing its injustices, but also expressing their faith in progress.
Early Vitorian novelist
Charles Dickens is the most representative literary figure of the whole Victorian age. He is the first truly urban novelist who anticipates the themes and languade of 20th century fiction. He captures the vitality of life and also the depravation of London. Dickens’s characters reflect the whole panorama of social classes and professions. Besides reflecting the vital energy of the city, he criticizes many critical aspects of the Victorian age such as the greed and hypocrisy of the rich and indifference to the problems of the poor.
Late Victorian novelist
The late Victorian novelist represented crisis on the moral religious values, which formed the base of Victorian ideas about society. The most important novelist are Hardy, James and Carrol. In his novels Hardy describes a tragic view of world, and many of its characters are people in conflict with the values of a narrow-minded society. For the writer, society sees human nature as a crime, in fact, in his novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, the protagonist is punished for her sensual and passionate nature, and in “Jude the Obscure”, Jude in punished for his ambition to rise above his social class through education and because his girlfriend wishes to have a family while remaining unmarried. The characters of James’s novel are instead people from the privileged middle and upper classes. In his early novels he is interested to compare American and European ideas. For James art can be considered as a moral force which reveals new possibilities of life. Carroll is a writer of children’s books in which he explores the paradoxes of language and its limits in representing the world.
Women were considered as “an angel in the home”, and for this reason they had rights extremely resricted, for example they could not go to university. The girls were educated to be attractive wives, such as playing the piano, drawing and embroidery. Differently by Jane Austen the Bronte sisters’s novels were Romantic in spirit and explored extrems of passion and violence. The novel of Elizabeth Gaskell was a condemnation of the ostracism of women who had been seduced and abandoned by their employers and expressed a belief in the in the possibility of their moral rehabilitation. The novels of George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) addressed many of the social problems. Because their stories were published, women were forced to use a pseudonym, like the Bronte sisters and Mary Ann Evans.
In many novels of the Victorian period there is little mention on Britain’s colonies. The fiction that is set in Britain’s colonies consists mainly of popular adventure novels for boys, in which the settlers were the heroes who helped the native people. The stories of Rudyard Kipling help us to see some of the obsessions, contradictions and paradoxes at the heart of the imperialist project.
American prose in the 19th century
The main problem for American writers was how to escape from the influence and European traditions, especially English, and how to create an American voice that would be able to express the identity of society. Allan Poe was fascinated by the decay and disintegration of European values. In equating modern beauty with death, he anticipated a current of European writers, the Decadentism.