THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY NOVEL (PART 1)
by Martin Ade-Onojobi-Bennett
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Last edited: Saturday, January 24, 2009
Posted: Saturday, January 24, 2009
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This essay presents a brief overview of the development of the nineteenth century English novel.Transition and Transformation:One could be forgiven for believing that the words ‘fiction’ and ‘novel’ ...view middle of the document...
In this sense, novelists can be seen as mediators between their characters and their audience, as this is the only way through which they can convey to us their attitude towards their characters and the total situation they are rendering. The Victorian novel reflected the pressing social problems and philosophies of a complex age, which was prevailingly one of social restraints and taboos, relatively reminiscent of the Puritan period and authors were in the main didactic, moral and purposeful. One of the most important differences between the novelists of the first half of the century and those of the second was that to a significant extent the former were at one with their Age. They drew from it their strengths and weaknesses. They were its mouthpiece and accepted the notion of progress without much argument. The latter were more or less highly critical against their age and in this sense it is easy to view them as being rebellious. One of the greatest achievements of the age was the universal acceptance of respectability. This idea accommodated all classes of the society irrespective of social position, wealth or learning, mainly because it applied to anyone who exploited clean and tidy habits and who was honest and decent in behaviour. Though in reality the ‘respectable’ may not have been numerically large, nevertheless they did perform the role of informing public opinion. In the main, they made up the reading public and it was to them that the greatest novelists of the age addressed themselves. The notion of ‘respectability’ could also be viewed as a worthy attempt to do something about the vices and weaknesses of the age and the novelists were the mouthpieces of their audiences. Prevailing attitudes towards sex also changed in respect of taboos relating to the candid recognition and expression of it. There was indeed a double standard of morality and it affected both sexes differently. However, by the time of Samuel Butler and John Conrad, these attitudes had drastically changed, mainly because the vices of the age existed in too high a level to be ignored. No longer was the novelist out to please only his public. In fact, public acceptability of his works was no longer a great concern. After the Forster Education Acts of 1870, the reading public grew larger and thus it was harder to please everyone, as unlike for novelists such as Dickens and Thackeray, it was beyond their universal command. Inevitably, this sense of alienation led to a stratification of the novel. This, coupled with the demands of the new reading public, led to the breakdown of the Victorian novel into sub-genres like the psychological novel, the novel of adventure, the picaresque novel, the detective and thriller novels and other such classifications. The traditional three volume novel disappeared to be replaced by the single volume works, thus reducing the content to about a third of the normal length. This streamlined the novel and imposed on the novelist the...