Lecture 30: Victorian Literature: The Novel

Victorian Literature: The Novel

Setting the Scene

The Monarchy was not very popular.
There were many social problems: poverty, unemployment, education, labourers, double standards etc.
The Indian Mutiny of 1859 showed that all was NOT well in the colonies.
The beliefs of the age were questions by Darwin in his book “On The Origin of the Species”
Charles Dickens (1812-1870), George Eliot, the three Bronte sisters, and Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) are the most famous novelists

Charles Dickens: “Oliver Twist”,

Dickens’s novels’ main concerns were social problems.
His fist successful novel was the humorous “The Pickwick Papers”, often described as a light comedy.
In “Oliver Twist”, Oliver is born an orphan and is mistreated by the institution for the poor people.
“Please, sir, I want some more.” Oliver Twist.
When Oliver runs away to London, he was taken care of by a gang of thieved led by a Jewish man, Fagin.
Despite the tough circumstances, Oliver finds out who he is, becomes rich, and the story ends happily.

Dickens: “Nicholas Nickleby”,

In “Nicholas Nickleby”, Nicholas suffers at school terribly at school.
The sufferings of children were a major theme of Dickens’s.
Dickens wanted education and care for all children.
Dickens criticises the city especially London and shows that poor people had no chance to share the success and wealth of the nation.
His novels often tell the stories of the victims, the poor, the children to engage the readers in the Victorian problems.

Dickens: “David Copperfield”

“David Copperfield” is the most positive of Dickens’ novels.
It’s about David who grows up and becomes the kind of success the Victorian admired—he is rich, he marries, and a general sense of a happy ending is given.
The novel is partly autobiographical as it is in part based on Dickens’s childhood and his success.
It’s unlike “Great Expectations” where there is disappointment and frustration.
So the title itself is ironic; no great things happen.

Dickens: “Hard Times”

“Hard Times” (1854) shows the worst sides of the new industrial society
It also exposes the terrible education system of England.
“Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts,” Mr. Gradgrind.
In contrast, the circus teaches fancy and imagination.
The novel presents a very pessimistic picture of England.


“A Tale of Two Cities” (1859) is a historical novel about the French revolution.
This is one of the most famous novels of all time.
The two cities are London and Paris.
“A Christmas Carol” gives the traditional picture of the Victorian family values.
Dickens’ range of writing: comedy, social, historical, journalistic.
Dickens’s name is always associated with that of Shakespeare.

Thomas Hardy

Hardy is the novelist who best reflects the problems of the last years of the 19th century.
Many of his novels caused offense.
Some of his novels were even burned in public and not bought by private libraries.
The tone and vision of Hardy’s novels is tragic and dark.
Hardy shows the older truths and the conflict between the traditional and the modern.
His characters are often victims to “destiny” and double standards.

Thomas Hardy: “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”

“Tess of the D’Urbervilles” (1891) is a about a young girl, “a pure woman”, is sent by her parents to work for a rich family.
She is raped by Alec, the rich man.
She gets pregnant, gives birth and names the baby Sorrow who soon passes away.
Tess falls in love with another man, Angel, who leaves her when he knows her story.
She goes back and kills Alec, the rapist, and then is sentenced to death.
The novel ends with “Justice was done,” which is irony. Why?

Thomas Hardy: “The Mayor of Casterbridge”

Henchard in “The Mayor of Casterbridge” sells his wife and his daughter.
He rises to become a rich man and eventually the mayor of Casterbridge.
He looks for his wife and daughter.
But he can not have them back.
The wife and the daughter die at the end.

Thomas Hardy: “Jude the Obscure”

Jude’s crime is to have the ambition to go study at Christminster (Oxford) university.
But he belongs to the working class.
He has a complex relation with Sue, whom he can not marry. At the end Jude’s & Sue’s children commit suicide.
The struggle between ambition and human weakness makes this Hardy’s most tragically disturbing novel.
Hardy exposes the successful society that keeps out “outsider”: women & ambitious working-class men.