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Realism: Victorian novel (BL2-L4)

Lecture 4 in British Literature 2 Course

Irena Księżopolska

on 27 June 2015

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Transcript of Realism: Victorian novel (BL2-L4)

Realism: Victorian novel
William Makepeace Thackeray
George Eliot
Charles Dickens
Wilkie Collins
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Thomas Hardy
Elizabeth Gaskell
Robert Louis Stevenson
Realism and realities
Victorian developments of the convention
Psychological novels
Sensational fiction
Detective fiction
Vanity Fair
The Woman in White
The Moonstone
The Mill on the Floss
Daniel Deronda
Lady Audley's Secret
Mary Barton
Tess of the D'Ubervilles
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Close relationship between literature, society and politics:
Victorians are always conscious of society, economy, politics, etc.
Literature has a purpose, even if it is indirect: by reflecting the realities of the contemporary society to appeal for a change in social structure or in the hearts of men.
Literature for and by middle class
Literary marketplace
40 000 – 50 000 novels by 3500 authors published between 1830-1900
714 novels per year
125 000 periodicals
The publishing boom:
Victorian Periodicals
Published essays, poetry and serialized fiction
Common practice of anonymity of authors
Before 1862 – cheap periodicals, mostly publishing serialized fiction: Bentley's, Ainsworth's, and All the Year Round.
After 1862 – illustrated weeklies: Once a Week (1859), The Cornhill (1860), Good Words
Some survivors in the old format: Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine
Muddie's Circulating Library
A commercial venture established by Charles Edward Muddie in 1842 and extremely popular till 1894.
Based on a yearly subscription (1 guinea) allowing to borrow an unlimited number of books one volume at a time.
Large selection of non-fictional works as well as fiction; often purchased the entire stock of a publication.
The first best-seller list in history: "the principal New and Choice Books in circulation".
Favored fiction well suited for the middle class family reading (nothing immoral, nothing controversial).
Introduced and made popular 3-decker novels: long works usually published in 3 volume format (all plot lines are organized accordingly).
as a result, the venture controlled the subject, scope and morality of the novel for 50 years!
Fictions are either very short (stories to be published in periodicals) or very long (to be published in monthly installments or 3-deckers)
Feature great variety of characters often connected with a very large number of secondary characters
Complex plots, complete with cliff-hangers (at the end of every installment) and dramatic endings (death or marriage)
As not the entire book would be written before the beginning of its publication, there are often inconsistencies in the plots
Some sub-plots may be entirely unconnected with the main plot of the book
Publication is often lavishly illustrated
Stylistic features of Victorian Literature
The period is characterized by:
Dynamic change in every aspect of life
Politics: shift of power to the middle class
Science: theory of evolution
contrasts of poverty and prosperity
Struggle for the women rights
A period of extended peace
growing stability and prosperity
self-confidence, sense of accomplishment
"a novel without a Hero"
A satirical mirror to be placed in front of the society with its preoccupations, delusions and hidden or obvious problems and ills.
Society as a Hero of the novel
Extraordinary talent, tragic life, literary fame and a single novel to be remembered.
"trying to hold together a universe which was exploding"
18th century literary techniques combined with realism free from sentimentality
The Luck of Barry Lyndon
One of the first unreliable narrators in the history of British novel
A panorama of society, reflecting historical events (Napoleon wars) as well as small incidents of individual fates.
Unreliable narrator
A first person narrator who cannot be trusted:
speaks with a bias, makes mistakes, or deliberately lies
Unreliability may be caused by inexperience / naivety, mental disturbances or self-interest of the narrator
A narrator whose account of events appears to be faulty, misleadingly biased, or otherwise distorted, so that it departs from the ‘true’ understanding of events shared between the reader and the implied author. The discrepancy between the unreliable narrator's view of events and the view that readers suspect to be more accurate creates a sense of irony. The term does not necessarily mean that such a narrator is morally untrustworthy or a habitual liar (although this may be true in some cases), since the category also includes harmlessly naïve, ‘fallible’, or ill-informed narrators.
A classic case is Huck in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884): this fourteen-year-old narrator does not understand the full significance of the events he is relating and commenting on. Other kinds of unreliable narrator seem to be falsifying their accounts from motives of vanity or malice.
In either case, the reader is offered the pleasure of picking up ‘clues’ in the narrative that betray the true state of affairs. This kind of first-person narrative is particularly favoured in 20th-century fiction: a virtuoso display of its use is William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929), which employs three unreliable narrators—an imbecile, a suicidal student, and an irritable racist bigot.
Definition from The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (3 ed.)
Two heroines
Sweet, kind, passive, naive Amelia
Wicked but intelligent and active Becky
a manipulator who fails
an insipid angel who wins
it is Becky who makes the book entertaining, even while the reader abhors her amoral manipulations
a picaresque novel about the (mis)adventures of a young man who ends up dying in prison, written as a memoir
published in monthly installments in 1844
a panoramic view of society, a satire of war and aristocracy
A sensation novel, built around a specific mystery (theft of the diamond) which is properly solved by the end of the novel, even though the diamond itself is never recovered.
published in "All the Year Round" in 1867
Set in 1848-49 - the years of the second Anglo-Sikh War, the Prologue relates events of the 1799 Storming of Seringapatam, mostly seen as the beginning of British domination in India.
Collins's contemporaries would have in mind the horrific events of the 1857 Indian Mutiny
Complex plot based on a mystery rooted in supernatural...
which, as it turns out, can be explained through rational means
supernatural mystery of the stone
the mystery of the 3 Hindu janglers
the mystery of the stone's disappearance from Lady Verinder's house
the mystery of Jezra Jennings
the hidden life of Godfrey Ablewhite
the mystery of Frank Blake's actions
the mystery of Rachel Verinder's behavior
the mystery of Rosanna Spearman
"The best detective story in the world"
a novel that illustrates the common guilt of the British
a text that reinforces imperial imagery by pointing to the divide between cultural values
a text that deletes the distinction between the domestic (safe, predictable) and foreign (exotic, exciting, dangerous)
The theme of Imperialism
The novel represents an archive of statements written for the purpose of clarifying the mysterious events surrounding the Moonstone, the cursed diamond.
The narrators of the novel vary in social status and intelligence, as well as in their own understanding of the events, thus providing elements of humor, satire, pathos and contributing points of view distinct from each other.
A multi-voiced narrative
"Here was our quiet English house suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian Diamond — bringing after it a conspiracy of living rogues, set loose on us by the vengeance of a dead man. . . . Who ever heard the like of it — in the nineteenth century, mind; in an age of progress, and in a country which rejoices in the blessings of the British constitution? "
The Curse of the Diamond
The Moonstone is a symbol of wealth and power that no mere mortal should possess, but which, despite its curse, immoral warriors of various nations have sought to acquire
Owning what no one should possess merely adds to the Moonstone's allure
The diamond not only affects the lives of the people who possess it, but all who come in contact with it.
However, as it turns out, the grief is caused not be the foreign protectors of the diamond who strive to reclaim it, but by the British themselves, the beneficiaries of the colonialism who are not directly concerned with it.
Empire as the real curse and "family scandal"
Philip V. Allingham, The Moonstone and British India (1857, 1868, and 1876) (http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/collins/pva30.html#gothic)
Melissa Free, "Dirty Linen" : Legacies of Empire in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 48: 4(Winter 2006), pp. 340-371
Rashmi Sahni, Collins's 'detective business': The Moonstone as a Detective Novel (http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/collins/sahni1.html)
Maitrayee Roychoudhury, Rent Hearths and Fragmented Selves: Disordered Spaces in The Moonstone (http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/collins/roychoudhury.html)
Kathryn Hughes, "Rereading: George Eliot's Mill on the Floss", The Guardian, Saturday 27 March 2010 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/27/eliot-mill-floss-biography-tulliver)
James A. W. Heffernan, "Cruel Persuasion": Seduction, Temptation, and Agency in Hardy's Tess (http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/hardy/heffernan.html)
Thomas Hardy's Wessex Research Site (http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~bp10/wessex/index.shtml)
written in 1859
Declamatory style
Authoritarian politics
Didactic prose – moralists all and one
Naive though elaborate plots where everything is worked out through coincidence (of birth, of action, of events)
Different understanding of the social problems
Language problems (dialects, old-fashioned grammar and syntax)
Attachment to somewhat doubtful poetry
Victorian style vs. contemporary mentality
Condition of England question:
„A feeling very generally exists that the condition and disposition of the Working Classes is a rather ominous matter at present; that something ought to be said, something ought to be done, in regard to it.” (Thomas Carlyle)
First novel Mary Barton published anonymously in 1848
Later published as Mrs. Gaskell (respectable matron)
Mary Barton
North & South
Sylvia’s Lovers
Wives and Daughters
Wrote „industrial fiction” and ghost stories
Was a friend of Charlotte Bronte and her fist biographer
Used local dialect words to portray discourse of the poor
Other writers also reflected the miserable conditions of the poor, but Gaskell was the first to make a worker her hero, while middle class characters stayed in the background
Use of dialect and local accent – an attempt to give an authentic voice to the working class characters
A working class hero
Subject matter:
Social injustice, poverty, prostitution, crime
The murder of Harry Carson is the central event of the book, unifying the domestic and the industrial / political story line
Contemporary review of Mary Barton
„The writer of ‚Mary Barton’ seems still under the influence of the very common misapprehensions entertained respecting the laboriousness of occupation in the factories… The fact is, that the labour in a cotton-mill, especially for the women and young people, is extremely light.”
A bleak novel about bleak times
Working class problems through Gaskell's eyes
Supply of work (market) vs. needs
Long hours (mostly shown through Mary who is not even a factory worker)
Trade Unions – mostly shown in a negative light, especially the Trade Union leaders from London
Parliament’s indifference to the plight of the workers
Child labor – a real dilemma
Lack of welfare system of almost any kind
A rather naive view of worker / master relationship – constant insistence on showing the two groups in striking contrast
Working women – a negative view (it spoils women by giving them money of their own and it robs the men of the home life)
Female Figures
beautiful and kind, but too independent, needs to be thought a lesson
the fallen woman who also must be a drunkard – „the noble prostitute”, punished for her independence
an angelic figure, though not physically beautiful, with a lovely voice and blindness that gets healed in the fairytale ending of the novel
simple but very kind and wise in her own way (a herbalist)
The novel is considered to provide a realistic picture of industrial England of Victorian times yet…
Bad (or damaged beyond repair) characters die off,
Good folks get paired off nicely and get some money to live on
The angelic sufferer is graced with miraculous healing
everybody emigrates to Canada
a fairytale of realism?
every Victorian's dream: a double identity
Dr. Jekyll
Mr. Hyde
handsome and distinguished- looking
A highly respectable and wealthy gentleman,
Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Civil Law (professional training),
Doctor of Laws (honorary degree),
Fellow of the Royal Society (highest sign of intellectual ability)
"a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness"
small and "trogloditic"
inspiring hatred and fear in everyone he meets
the loathing others feel towards him seems to have a transcendental nature - a sentiment of being in the presence of pure evil...
evil even before any crime is actually committed - by his very nature
"Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him. "There must be something else," said the perplexed gentleman. "There is something more, if I could find a name for it... the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic... or is is the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through and transfigures, its clay continent?.. if ever I read Satan's signature upon a face, it is on that..."
predestination to evil
the evil second self who gradually grows and takes over
The most distinguished Victorian gentleman
The question of sanity:
Redefining sanity as goodness
The dangerous lure of science
"Playing God"
Hypocrisy vs. Idealism
desire to "be as you wish to seem"
Versatile and ingenious
Campaigning for social reform
(1812 - 1870)
Often publishing his novels in serialized form – writing simultaneously with publication, without pre-planned plots, pressured by the expectations of the audience
“The great entertainer”: combining the Gothic element, sentimental scenes and comic moments
The peculiar combination of comic sketches and excessive sentimentalism valued by the Victorian readers
The quintessential Victorian writer
Inaugurated the sensation sub-genre, connecting it firmly with detective fiction.
innovative use of convention, ambitious approach to novel as a mirror of the entire society
A friend - and a rival - of Dickens, and even a collaborator (co-writing a play and a novel with him).
A thoroughly unconventional mind:
an innovator and a provocateur

the disadvantageous legal position of married women
One of the first detective novels, in which the reader follows the hero who attempts to solve a central mystery, intertwined with crime.
While clearly a sensational novel, it may also be considered one of the first feminist writings:
depicting the multiple problems of women in contemporary England
the lack of opportunities for women to exercise their talents
Social problems
A great commercial success, though contemporary critics were rather hostile...
Science Fiction
Gothic novel
Condition of society fiction
An actress, a poet and a novelist, authoring over 80 novels
Wrote sensational fiction with complex plot lines
Lived an unconventional life
A novel of sensation
"Designed to unsettle, the genre caused moral alarm among critics. Not only did it revel in the dubious subject matter of murder, bigamy, illegitimacy and madness, it seemed to pathologise the very act of reading itself, since its narrative method - which foreshadows that of modern detective fiction - turned readers into addicts, titillating them with a series of withheld secrets and startling revelations."
(Lucasta Miller, "Sweet Sensation")
Features of Sensation Novel
exposure of hypocrisy: pattern of "criminality and passion beneath respectable surfaces"
frequently featuring a beautiful and highly intelligent woman, devious in her possession and use of secret knowledge, which generates social instability and engenders the conventional status quo
featuring an attractive and eccentric gentleman-villain
melodramatic dialogue and plotting
rigorous realism in depiction of detail
the doubles / multiple or substitute identities / mistaken or hidden identity
the nature of crime
madness at the core of life
subversion of boundaries
sharply delineated characters
each at first seems different than his true nature
characters are often developed through contrast
Lucy - the heroine - appears a perfect angel but turns out to be harboring dark secrets and ends up dying in the madhouse
The heroes that succeed in the novel are obsessive, manipulative, lukewarm...
The novel seems to build and maintain a conflict between its ostensible morals and the way it engages the sympathies of the readers
1851 - Assistant editor of the Westminster Review
1859 - publication of Adam Bede, a huge popular success
Used a male pen name to ensure that her writings would be treated seriously
Lived with a married man for over 20 years
1860 - The Mill on the Floss
1861 - Silas Marner
1863 - Romola
1866 - Felix Holt, the Radical
1871–72 - Middlemarch
1876 - Daniel Deronda
"my function is that of the aesthetic and not doctrinal teacher"
"opinions are a poor cement between human souls: and the only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring, human creatures."
filial love vs. romantic love
ambition and talent
character and destiny
Concern with provincial society, satire of human motives, focus on courtship
A wide panorama of life in a small town, cutting through all levels of society
Careful orchestration of characters who are connected with each other in various ways
A Buildings Roman: a novel of development, following the gradual evolution of the central characters
"A novel dealing with one person's formative years or spiritual education."
Bildungs-roman: definitions
German term for the novel of personal growth and development whose prototype is generally considered to be *Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795–6), a novel which George Eliot knew well and discussed in her 1855 essay ‘The Morality of Wilhelm Meister’. Goethe's novel is more abstract, playfully ironic, and overtly self-conscious than works in the mode of realism to which George Eliot was committed, but the term Bildungsroman is often used rather loosely for novels in that mode which trace a young man's progress through his formative years up to the point where he adopts a serious role in society... Where the central character of a novel is a woman, as in The Mill on the Floss, this pattern of privileged experimentation and final accommodation to the demands of the social world becomes problematic; and it has led to critical debate in recent years about the female Bildungs-roman (Fraiman, 136–50).
Oxford Reader's Companion to George Eliot:
Generally considered to be George Eliot's greatest novel, published in eight parts between December 1871 and December 1872.
Middlemarch is yet another novel of development - as all Eliot's novels, but it is also a wide panorama of Victorian society, rivaling Thackeray's approach.
George Eliot's last novel, published in eight monthly parts between February and September 1876.
With its near contemporary setting and sympathetic presentation of Jewish life, it represents a bold new departure by a novelist at the height of her powers.
A "challenging experiment in form as well as a challenge to racial prejudice and complacent notions of national superiority".
Eliot creates in the novel an intriguing character of a villain whose "inscrutable evil cannot be understood in terms of the rapacious self-interest"
Still a Bildungs-roman and a panoramic social overview, the novel seems to blend the understanding of English life with a deep curiosity about a culture of the cultural Other.
Victorian ethics of appearances
a puritanical tendency to see all pleasures as sinful
ethics of repression = ethics of concealment
"... the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition... I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public."
"Men have before hired bravos to transact their crimes, while their own person and reputation sat under shelter. I was the first that ever did so for his pleasures." (52)
The temptation of concealment
Deleted passage: "The temptation of my present power can hardly be overestimated. As Edward Hyde... I was secure of an immunity that never before was attained by any criminal. Think of it - I did not exist! Let me but escape into my laboratory door, give me but a second to swallow the draft that I had always standing ready, and whatever he had done, Edward Hyde had vanished like a wreath of smoke, and there, in his stead, quietly at home and trimming the midnight lamp in his laborious study, was the well-known, the spotless, the benevolent and the beloved Dr Jekyll!" (71)
striving to become the ultimate etalon of human virtues
"I learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil"
practice of evil leads to growth of Hyde's strength
suppression leads to explosion
no way out?
Dangerous meddling in the matters of human nature that are beyond the scope of human understanding
Just like Frankenstein's monster Hyde is unnatural and represents the worst qualities of his maker
Jekyll appears as an arrogant and daring scientist not fearing to enter into the sphere of supernatural - interested in more than observable facts
Yet, he is drawn by an accidental discovery, which as it turns out, he cannot replicate
his fatal flaw - his science is not "real"
Scottish novelist, essayist, poet, and traveler
The theme of dualism recurs in his work, as does a fascination with morally ambiguous heroes or anti‐heroes.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written and published in 1886.
The novel vividly explores the duality of human nature, the issue of impure science, power of concealment and madness.
Born and raised in Bockhampton, Dorset, which later became the heart of his Wessex country
Invented the country of Wessex - a "realistic dream country"
Divided his own writings into 3 categories:
Novels of Character and Environment
Romances and Fantasies
Novels of Ingenuity
Hardy managed to create a kind of trade mark for his fiction that made his works distinguishable from the writings of other professional novelists.
Wessex country was invented as a uniform system of naming places in 1874 (which he retrospectively introduced in subsequent editions of novels that have previously appeared and continued to develop in new novels).
Wessex was supposed to be a rural area in the South of England
The outcome was that from then on Wessex came to be perceived as an existing region (mainly Dorset) into which people can travel
Wessex country
Hardy as a Social Critic
Considered to be the key Victorian author, sharing with his other contemporaries the desire to improve and edify his readers, modify society
Yet, was very active in criticizing not only social evils of the outdated or corrupt system, but also, and primarily, the social constraints that are part of the Victorian status quo
Frequently deals with situations that provoke the crossing of social boundaries (class or customary distinctions)
Hardy as a Mystic
Hardy is deeply pessimistic in his portrayal of human nature and human fate
Coincidence appears in his novel not so much as a structural device to promote plot development, but as a deeply tragic and mystical hand of fate in human lives, inescapable and grim truth of our transient existence
His novels testify to a strange religious stance: a mixture of agnosticism, spiritism and old fashioned Anglican faith
His novels are full of powerful imagery rooted in Nature - it is a primaeval power in his novels, often evil
Hardy often employs heathen symbolism, especially in his rural descriptions
"A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented"
The novel is set during the Long Depression (1873-1896), when England's position as the industrial leader of the world was declining
It takes place almost entirely away from the large cities, in the beautiful country where the evils of industrialization are represented by crude agricultural machinery
The setting is often idyllic, yet filled with signs that turn out to be evil omens...
Hardy modeled his narrative voice on George Eliot, whose fictions he admired
=> Narrative voice highly sophisticated in diction, allusion, syntax, and tone
In Tess of the D'Ubervilles: 3rd person - omniscient narrator, but not transparent or entirely detached: there is a decided sadness in the voice, and the attitude is definitely one of great sympathy to Tess
Lengthy, carefully subordinated sentences -> characters and events are presented in a tone that at once makes them explicit to the reader, and lends them depth and nuance
The backbone of the plot is the seduction of the heroine, whose tragic fate the novel follows.
Phases of Tess's fate - portrayed as cycles of hell through which she descends to her doom
The Pure Woman
Hardy is trying "simultaneously to assert Tess's purity and to revise the meaning of purity itself"
to preserve Tess's purity Hardy cannot make her a desiring or speaking subject
The meaning of "pure":
NOT "the artificial and derivative meaning which has resulted from the ordinances of civilization" but
"the meaning of the word in Nature, together with all aesthetic claims upon it, not to mention the spiritual interpretation afforded by the finest side of . . . Christianity"
unreliable narrator
ulterior narrator
panoramic overview of society
the theme of doubles
the image of the Detective
the mad scientist theme
A broad tendency in literature that emphasizes fidelity to the observable and complex facts of life, in contradistinction to the idealized or simplified representations of romance or melodrama. It is associated particularly with prose fiction and drama since the mid-19th century. Literary realism of the 19th century was a major international tendency
(The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature)
A mode of writing that gives the impression of recording or ‘reflecting’ faithfully an actual way of life. The term refers, sometimes confusingly, both to a literary method based on detailed accuracy of description (i.e. verisimilitude) and to a more general attitude that rejects idealization, escapism, and other extravagant qualities of romance in favour of recognizing soberly the actual problems of life. Modern criticism frequently insists that realism is not a direct or simple reproduction of reality (a ‘slice of life’) but a system of conventions producing a lifelike illusion of some ‘real’ world outside the text, by processes of selection, exclusion, description, and manners of addressing the reader. In its methods and attitudes, realism may be found as an element in many kinds of writing prior to the 19th century (e.g. in Chaucer or Defoe, in their different ways); but as a dominant literary trend it is associated chiefly with the 19th‐century novel of middle‐ or lower‐class life, in which the problems of ordinary people in unremarkable circumstances are rendered with close attention to the details of physical setting and to the complexities of social life.
(The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (3 ed.))
Away from Romanticism:
Call for rationality, clarity and truth
Realism as the most important way of expression
Stricter sense of morality, ideas that go back to Puritanism (conventional and not sincere morality)
Critique of society calls for higher morals but not a revolution
Continuation of Romantic notions:
Appeal to the emotions of the reader
Poetic diction / form of the Romantic age
Gothic themes
Concern with science and progress
Didactic method in narration: persuading the readers on social ideas
Appeal to the goodness of human nature
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