In the late eighteenth century a moment in art and literature started known as romanticism. Towards the end of the period, prose writing gained momentum especially the novels. Moreover, from 1837 to 1901 novel became the most distinctive and lasting literary achievement of Victorian literature. The rise of the novel in this era was mainly associated with Ian Watt’s influential study “The rise of the Novel” which focused on the rise of fictional realism and it distinguished prose narratives from novel (Stefan, 2019).Additionally, Dickens’s monthly publication of Pickwick papers greatly contributed to the rise of novels in this century. Therefore, this paper aims to evaluate how the novels become the leading literary genre of Victorian era through popularity, use of distinct theme, and availability.
The Victorian age literature was laden with novels. Novel is a narrative in prose with a specific setting, plot; rising action, conflict, climax, falling action and denouement to portray it. The term “novel” didn’t come to existence until 1740’s with the publication of Pamela by Samuel Richardson which consist the components of full fetched novel .Following that in 18th century, English novel was formally introduced as a new genre in literature. Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding and Geoffrey Chaucer were the prominent writers of those era focused on prose writing discarding the classic style of verse and constructing a base for the future novel to rise through it. Following this trend in the 19th century the writers like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott continued and closely observed social satire and adventure stories. Due to the rapid industrialization, social, political and economic issues associated with it, many people commented on abuses of government and industry and the suffering of the poor, who were not profiting from England’s economic prosperity. Their works depicted the stories that portraits difficult living situation in which hard work, perseverance, love and luck wins over wrong doers. They tend to be an improving nature with a central moral lesson at heart, mixed with a heavy dose of sentiment and aim to direct middle class to help create sympathy and promote change towards the poor. Thus, the novel gained immense popularity in the 18th and 19th century.
The Victorian themes were more realistic revolving around domestic characters of the society. A legendary writer like Jane Austen is the greatest English novelist of manners who first gave the novel its distinctly modern character through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life. She restrict herself to the society of landed gentry, she is a miniaturist and the feminine Augustan. She developed the novel of manners where the major concern is to present the customs, conventions, manners, and habits of the definite social class at a particular time and place. Characterization and plot had a very important part in the novel. She published four novels during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). She vividly depicted English middle-class life during the early 19th century (Southam, 2019). According to (Brophy, 1992), her novels revealed the possibilities of “domestic” literature. Her repeated fable of a young woman’s voyage to self-discovery on the passage through love to marriage focuses upon easily recognizable aspects of life. It is this concentration upon character and personality and upon the tensions between her heroines and their society that relates her novels more closely to the modern world than to the traditions of the 18th century.
One of her notable work which reveals this theme is Pride and Prejudice. According to (Stefan, 2019)her novel Pride and Prejudice describes the clash between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich and aristocratic landowner. Although Austen shows them intrigued by each other, she reverses the convention of first impression. Pride of rank and fortune and prejudice against the inferiority of the Bennet family hold Darcy aloof, while Elizabeth is equally fired both by the pride of self-respect and by prejudice against Darcy’s snobbery. Ultimately, they come together in love and self-understanding. The intelligent and high-spirited Elizabeth was Jane Austen’s own favorite among all her heroines and is one of the most engaging in English literature. Through the character of Elizabeth and Darcy she depicted the manners and life of England and her women characters particularly showed the restricted life of women of her era. As per the famous critic Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice describes as the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life. He further added that Austen’s social realism includes her understanding that women’s lives in the early 19th century are limited in opportunity, even among the gentry and upper middle classes. She understands that marriage is women’s best route to financial security and social respect (Alexander, n.d).
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century critics and scholars had recognized him as a literary genius. Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction. Dickens has been praised by fellow writers for his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterizations, and social criticism.
As per (Stearns & Burns, 2011), Dicken’s novel became popular with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers. He was famous for his humor, satire, and keen observation of character and society. Like Austen, his novels also depicted the life and society of England of his time. Dickens adopted the style of the picaresque novels and his writing style was marked by satire and use of caricature. Another important thing to be noticed in Dickens’ writing is the catchy names that he had used in his novels. One of his notable works is Hard Times which reflect the society of his time. In this novel he emphasizes on the need of morality in the British educational system and decrease of utilitarianism and Britain’s industrial society in the mid 19th century. Through the characters of Sissy Jupe and Thomas Gradgrind, he points out the negative sides of mechanic world of Britain. Sissy struggles to understand the facts and she is unable to reject fancy demonstration of the system and how people are deprived of their individuality. Dicken’s criticizes how the system based on financial profit robbed many of morality. At the end of the novel, he emphasizes on the need for a balance between mechanized world and human emotions.
An easy availability of novels during that era also contributed to the growth of novels in readers. The novels written by Dickens were published in monthly or weekly installments enabling poor people to purchase it. This pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction that became the dominant mode for novel publication in the Victorian Era allowing the time for audience to review and he could modify the plot and develop the characters depending on the feedback. According to Adelaide, Dickens was extraordinarily popular in his days, with his characters taking on a life of their own he remained one of the most popular authors of this era. His first real novel, The Pickwick Papers, written at only twenty-five, was an overnight success, and all his subsequent works sold extremely well. He worked diligently and prolifically to produce entertaining writing the public wanted, but also to offer commentary on social challenges of the era. Thus, it was believed that most of the novels in those eras were available across all sections of society gaining utmost popularity.
Although the birth of the English novel is to be seen in the first half of the 18th century primarily in the work of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding, it is with Jane Austen that the novel takes on its distinctively modern character in the realistic treatment of unremarkable people in the unremarkable situations of everyday life. Her modernity, together with the wit, realism, and timelessness of her prose style, her shrewd, amused sympathy, and the satisfaction to be found in stories so skillfully told, in novels so beautifully constructed, that helps to explain her continuing appeal for readers of all kinds hence gaining popularity. Novel becomes the distinctive literature because of the unique literary style of Charles Dickens who uses his style to mock the morality of the society. Further, it was easily available for all works of people during Victorian era. (Word count: 1475)
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