Victorian literature – something like a foreword …




by Christiane Wilms

Victorian literature – something like a foreword …




by Christiane Wilms

…which makes no claim to completeness, but is merely intended to give a rough outline of the novel genres and writers and to provide a first impression.

Because: Victorian literature, the English literature of the 19th century, has been almost unjustly forgotten in our country.

In this great and exciting epoch with its groundbreaking technical and scientific inventions and discoveries – which led to serious social upheavals – many literary genres were further developed, refined or even newly created. And so the entertainment literature of the Victorian era is characterised by an equally wide and exciting range of themes.

The romantic horror novels à la Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), the Gothic novels, were initially continued by authors such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Wilkie Collins or Robert Louis Stevenson, gradually “enriched” with criminals and investigators, until the forerunner of the modern detective novel was created in the form of the detective novel.

Historical novels were very popular with the Victorians (Sir Walter Scott), as were social and educational novels that dealt with social ills, the social upheaval caused by industrialisation or the foibles of English society. This was partly accusatory (Charles Dickens), partly mocking (W.M. Thackeray), partly psychological (Emily Brontë), partly realistic-naturalistic (Thomas Hardy).

The utopian novels also emerged in the 19th century (E. Bulwer-Lytton) and cleverly transferred criticism of current social, scientific and political developments to a distant future.

England became a world power and dominated distant continents – so it is not surprising that adventure stories from distant lands enjoyed great popularity (Henry Rider Haggard).

It is all the more surprising that in times of child labour and child poverty, the youngest citizens of the Empire of all people were discovered as a literary target group (Lewis Carroll) – children’s literature conquered its market.

Well, and then there was “embarrassing” literature. How outraged the strict Victorians reacted to the scandalous novels about “fallen” girls or emancipated women, and how gladly and much these books were then read (Mary Elizabeth Braddon).

Religious writings and tracts were also very popular – this contrast illustrates the double standards of the era. High moral standards were demanded of women, while a blind eye was turned to men.

Speaking of women, it is worth noting that women played a large part in shaping Victorian literature. The works of Jane Austen (pre-Victorian, but influential in the era), the Brontë sisters, George Elliot, Elizabeth Gaskell (to name but a few) made their mark on the era. They had to publish their works mostly under male pseudonyms, because – like so many things – writing was considered unseemly for women. However, there was one male writer who used a woman’s name in order to attract more female readers…

What distinguishes (almost) all Victorian novels: their creators are extremely imaginative, they conjure up three-dimensional images and scenes, describe their characters, objects and landscapes in detail, in all shades, they take time for their works. We hear the wind howling and beams creaking, smell the refuse of the streets or the fresh hay in the fields, feel the warmth of the sun’s rays – we are reading a film.

These are just a few points that fascinate me so much about Victorian literature that I would like to introduce it to you and many people and revive interest in it. And that’s what I’m going to try to do on this site, maybe you’ll join me.

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