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823 S847e. 

Stevenson 

The English novel 



66-10365 



823 S847e 66-10365 

Stevenson $4.00 
The English novel 




K^Mv^-f-^ k&- 



3 1369 



Under the General Editorship of 
GORDON N. RAY 

The University of Illinois 




English Novel 



A PANORAMA 



Stevenson 

DUKE UNIVERSITY 



HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY BOSTON 
iJDfte Xiibersfibc $tess Cambttbge 




Copyright , I960, by Lionel Stevenson. 
All rights reserved, including the right 
to reproduce this book or parts thereof 
in any form. 

The 'Riverside Press 

Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Printed in the U.S.A. 



Contents 



Introduction: What Is a Novel? 3 

I. Pastoral and Picaresque (to 1600) 1 1 

II. Romance, Allegory, and Scandal (1600-1700) 29 

III. The Discovery of Realism (1700-1740) 54 

IV. The First Masterpieces (1140-1155) 79 
V. Establishing the Tradition (1155-1115) 120 

VI. Terror and Edification (1115-1800) 148 

VII. Recovery of Prestige (1800-1820) 177 

VIII. Expansion of Scope ( 1820-1 830 ) 205 

IX. Humor and Melodrama (1830-1845) 229 

X. Social Consciousness (1845-1850) 258 

XI. The Domestic Scene (1850-1855) 283 

XII. Intellectual Maturity (1855-1860) 318 

XIII. Realism Dominant (1860-1870) 348 

XIV. Recognition of Technique (1870-1 880) 374 

XV. Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 

(1880-1895) 397 

XVI. The Anatomy of Society (1 895-1915) 425 

XVII. Exploring the Psyche (since 1915) 456 

Bibliography 495 

Chronological Summary .-518 

index KMKAS Uit UU.) ru^u UBKAKT 
66103S5 




INTRODUCTION 



What Is a Novel ? 



THE TELLING OF STORIES is the oldest of all the arts. And ever 
since its earliest stage it must have taken two forms, One 
is the brief narrative that can be recounted on a single occasion. 
Thence emerged the fairy tale, the folk ballad, and eventually 
what is now called the short story. The other form is longer 
and more complex, requiring a series of sessions for its delivery. 
From it descended the saga, the epic, and finally the novel. 

When a primitive man told a story, it could have no permanent 
survival in its original form. If it was effective enough to be 
remembered beyond the first utterance, the gist of it would 
have to be put into new words each time it was repeated, 
whether by its originator or by a hearer. With the development 
of poetic forms, however, the memory was aided by various 
devices rhythm, tune, and such patterning of words as rhyme 
and alliteration; and thus a story could be transmitted with 
little alteration from place to place and from one generation to 
another. Hence the only "literature" that acquired permanence 
was embodied in verse. For centuries narrative poetry was the 
basic form of literary art. 



4- The English Novel 

The invention of writing at last made possible the perpetuat 
ing of extensive compositions in prose; but as long as this 
vehicle remained restricted to a scholarly minority, the material 
that was written in prose was mainly of an intellectual nature 
history, philosophy, oratory, and so forth. The stories that 
gave pleasure to the masses of people, on all social levels, were 
still recited and listened to, and therefore continued to be in 
verse. 

In addition to the monotonous recitation of a single enter 
tainer, however, a more complex process emerged the drama. 
When city life developed, so that large groups could easily and 
frequently assemble, the drama evolved as a vehicle that made 
stories more vivid than straight narration could. In ancient 
Greece and Rome, and again in western Europe during the 
Renaissance, the stage became the medium by which the greatest 
creative authors presented their stories to the largest number 
with the maximum of effect. The audience, by responding 
emotionally to the physical presence of the actors, entered into 
the reality of the events. 

Nevertheless, drama had limitations. Because of its ritual 
istic origins, it only gradually freed itself from traditions of 
formality and dignity. Not until the late sixteenth century did 
English drama begin to present stories with anything approach 
ing resemblance to real human experience. And other, more 
insuperable handicaps remained. Only certain types of situation 
could be shown upon the stage, owing to its physical limitations 
of space, the restricted personnel of a theatrical company, and 
the brief time in which the whole plot must be deployed. Its 
expensive, immovable mechanism meant that the theater could 
be enjoyed only by the relatively few people who were in the 
right place at the right time to attend a performance. 

The drama, therefore, though it achieved an immense im 
provement over other forms of narrative in structure and charac 
terization, could not deal with the wide range of time and place, 
and the complicated relationship of events, which are often 
essential for the presentation of a story. The dramatists of the 
Elizabethan age struggled valiantly against these restrictions, 
but could not vanquish them; and by the time the theaters were 
closed by the Puritans in 1642, the great creative age of English 
drama was already at an end because there was nothing new 
for a playwright to accomplish. 



What Is a Novel? 5 

There remained the need for a form of narration that could 
encompass all sorts of action with a maximum of vividness, so 
as to rival the drama in its illusion of reality, and yet be available 
to every person everywhere. After the invention of printing 
this was gradually made possible by the large-scale distribution 
of books and the concurrent extension of literacy. A story could 
now have wide circulation and popular appeal when embodied 
in prose. For purposes of listening, verse had been easier than 
prose; but on the printed page its patterns distracted the reader's 
attention, and verse came to be regarded as an artificial and 
difficult form of communication. 

The adoption of prose, in turn, produced a change in the 
handling of narrative material. Familiar details could be included, 
and the natural phrases and rhythms of everyday speech could 
be reproduced. Prose began to perform the same function in 
promoting the illusion of reality that had been contributed to 
drama by the physical presence of the actor, his gestures and 
inflections, and the costumes and stage settings. Prose narrative 
moved out of the realm of historical exposition, which it had 
held from the time of Herodotus to that of Clarendon, and 
started to talk to readers about themselves and their surround 
ings. It is more than a coincidence that the history of the 
English novel begins at the same time as the history of journal 
ism. 

I have been discussing "story-telling" without mentioning the 
word "fiction." The discrimination of fact from invention is 
a comparatively recent idea. No matter how much of the super 
natural or the incredible occurred in his tale, every early story 
teller claimed to be reporting only the truth. Probably each 
story did originate in an actual event, but in the course of trans 
mission it became expanded and exaggerated by superstition, 
confusion of memory, and the sheer artistic instinct to make a 
good story better. Honestly convinced that he was repeating 
the tale essentially as he first heard it, the narrator would neverthe 
less contribute his share of elaboration and distortion. Yet Homer 
and Virgil were accepted as strict historians, Sir Thomas Malory 
cited sources for his tales, the compiler of travelers' yarns who 
called himself Sir John Mandeville insisted that he was soberly 
reporting his own observation. "The old chronicles tell us" or 
"I found it in an ancient book" was the conventional opening 
for a story and sanctioned any sort of fantastic episode. Even 



6 The English Novel 

Shakespeare and his fellow-dramatists set no store by "origi 
nality"; the author would feel flattered rather than embarrassed 
if he could see modern editions of his plays which demonstrate 
how faithfully Richard 111 followed Holinshed, or Julius Caesar 
followed Plutarch, or Romeo and Juliet followed Brooke (who 
followed Bandello). 

The theory that a story-teller should invent his own plot and 
characters is an outgrowth of the past two or three centuries. 
Previously, though it was in days when popular stories were 
at the furthest remove from probability and familiar experience, 
the gravest insult to a story-teller would be the accusation of 
inventing his tale: this would imply that he had run out of 
material and was too ignorant to find more. Nowadays, though 
the objective of almost every author is to achieve "realism" by 
any possible device, the unforgivable affront is to charge him 
with lack of originality. No matter how often a standard plot 
has been used, each author must pretend that it is altogether 
his own. The concept of "fiction," then, is essentially a modern 
development. 

The foregoing discussion provides the elements for a definition 
of what is ordinarily understood to be "a novel," namely, that 
it is a long, fictitious, prose narrative. The word "long" is 
necessarily relative. As a pragmatic distinction, a "short story" 
can be heard or read at a single sitting, whereas a "novel" 
extends through an indefinite number of sessions. This original 
difference came to be reinforced by later influences: a short 
story is usually one of several items in a magazine, which satis 
fies its customers by providing as much diversity as possible, 
whereas a novel has to be long enough to make a volume by 
itself, of sufficient bulk to justify its cost. Through these external 
pressures, two clearly unlike techniques were developed: the 
short story has a single action, with unity of mood and strict 
limitation of characters; the novel is expected to have a slower 
tempo, a wider range of character and scene, and a more com 
plex action. In practice, the maximum length of a short story 
is perhaps 10,000 words; the minimum length of a novel, perhaps 
70,000. Various authors have experimented with works in the 
intervening area, and some of these have proved to be excellent 
achievements; but they are so few in proportion to the other two 
types, and their media of publication are so restricted, that not 



What Is a Novel? 7 

even a satisfactory name for such stories has been accepted. 
The term "novelette" has acquired a contemptuous connotation, 
and "long short story' 1 is absurd. 

The inclusion of the word "prose" in our definition of the 
novel is also pragmatic. Some historians of fiction insist that 
Chaucer displayed all the talents and techniques of the novelist 
and that his Troilus and Criseyde should be termed the first 
English novel. In the past century a few competent writers 
have produced what they described as "novels in verse," some 
of which enjoyed temporary success, such as Elizabeth Bar 
rett Browning's Aurora Leigh and Owen Meredith's Lucile. 
But, in the long run, the assumption that a novel is an imitation 
of experience is incompatible with the formalities of phrase and 
patterning that are inherent in verse. At its best, a novel in 
verse is unconvincing; when not at its best, it is ludicrous. With 
the sole exception of Don Juan, it must be regarded as a bastard 
genre inheriting the worst traits of both parents. 

The description of a novel as "a long, fictitious, prose narra 
tive" is adequate for the purposes of a publisher classifying his 
trade list, a bookseller arranging his counter, a librarian assign 
ing shelf numbers. In terms of literary history and critical 
evaluation, however, further criteria have emerged. These can 
be understood only by tracing the process of their development, 
as will be done in the subsequent pages of this book. 

The essential quality for an acceptable novel is the illusion 
of "reality! This does not mean the exclusion of everything 
fantastic or supernatural; when such elements are present, the 
author merely faces a severer test of his ability to induce the 
"willing suspension of disbelief." Acceptance of the require 
ment does demand, however, the subordination of ulterior pur 
poses. If a work of fiction is obviously intended primarily for 
didactic or satiric ends, the author does not want his reader's 
attention misled by too much illusion of reality. Gulliver's 
Travels and Erewhon, though among the masterpieces of prose 
fiction, are not novels. None the less, a writer's creative imagi 
nation sometimes takes hold so tyrannically that in something 
intended for parody, such as Don Quixote, or for moral in 
struction, such as The Pilgrim's Progress, the original purpose 
is almost obliterated by the sheer plausibility of the events. 

This plausibility in its turn depends upon the portrayal of 



8 The English Novel 

character. No matter how believable the action may be in itself, 
it does not win the reader's full credulity unless it is performed 
by distinct individuals who are recognizable in terms of our 
experience. Conversely, he will believe in action that is in 
herently impossible, so long as the participants behave in a nat 
ural manner. The supremacy of characterization had long been 
recognized in drama before novelists discovered that they could 
handle it more effectively because they were not confined to 
external manifestations only and to a few brief disconnected 
scenes. 

Considered as a work of art, a piece of fiction cannot be re 
garded as a novel unless it has unity of structure. Many stories 
that possess lifelike characterization are invalidated by being a 
series of episodes, each virtually complete in itself, which could 
be rearranged in any order without diminishing the effect. Here 
again the novel learned from its predecessors, for not only the 
drama but also the epic had achieved structural unity long before, 
and from Aristotle onward the critics had talked about conflict, 
suspense, and climax. When the writers of fiction became aware 
of these principles they ceased to string together picaresque 
adventures and began to build the vast and complex fabric of the 
novel with architectural proportions. 

When these specifications of structural unity, individualized 
characters, and the pre-eminent illusion of reality are added to 
the basic traits of long, fictitious, prose narrative, we realize that 
the novel cannot be considered a distinctive literary genre until 
the eighteenth century. There still remains the question why 
it immediately became and has continued Tbf two hundred 
years to"6e^-the most appropriate vehicle for giving artistic 

^^ii^^wa^^^^a^tt^CT^--"^ tmmrwv, rj>w^ J ^fe4yr^ t Firifri.J ' "" '"? *"" ' * " " >-"*""""- O , G7 

expression to human experience. 

Several reasons combine to explain this phenomenon. Fp. 
one thing, a large jiew ; j^adi^^ into existencejas the 

middk^assjn^^ These 

were mainly lit^n^^ 

background nor the imaginative^ ap 

preciating poetry witK i^omj^^ 

Practical men and women preferred to read something that was 
easj to^jind^^nd bo3TT)ecause it used simple language and 
because it dealt w^^atenaT "tliaT was familiar to them. Tiey 
werejess interested jnj^Jhtt^ than 



What Is a Novel? 9 

in the difficulties of people with whom they could identify them- 

^ _ _ __ ~. __ ,, ' ~t.'^ -*--~uLto..-' 

s ^L?Ll^^^li5^'Sl ?H9frj? 1 ? Pamela or a well-meaning blun 
derer such as Tom Jones. They were particularly gratified when 
the st6ry"en < 3e'd with tne obtaining of wealth and domestic happi 
ness, which were their own major goals in life. It is not an 
overstatement to say that the novel is primarily the literary 
medium of a bourgeois culture. 

Secondly, the range of everyday experience was growing 
wid^^ 

the establisfim^oF newspapers, and many other factors resulted 
inajm^t^^om The average man or woman 

encountered a greater variety of people and faced a gfeater B a- 

' ~ l ^ 



sortment of problems than ever before. ' ~K l 
porary life was no longer recognizable unless it embraced a throng 
of diversified characters and events, conveyed in the language of 
ordinary speech. In this sense, the novel can be described as the 
literary manifestation of modern urbanized relationships and so 
cial complexity. 

A third reason for its emergence was impKcitHLthejiitellectual 
climate of tfre eighteenth century^ JJhe^^^ 
mh<^ APtonly i& tto various physical 

sciences but^aJ^Q^in, a scientific attitude of inquiry, toward the 
workings of the mind and the structure of society. John Locke 
had promulgated his pragmatic theory of the human understand 
ing, and Thomas Hobbes had analyzed politics and government 
as an anatomist would dissect a laboratory specimen. People 
thus became adjusted to the scientific procedures of diligent ob 
servation and precise records. This is just what Richardson or 
Fielding was doing when he accumulated an enormous hoard of 
details, many of them seemingly trivial, which added up into a 
revealing investigation of human nature and of the whole social 
system. The novel is thus the literary counterpart of the scien 
tific rationalism that has dominated the thought of the modern 
era. 

Paradoxically, then, whilst story-telling is the most ancient 
form of literary art, the novel is a very recent one. Until the 
invention of cinema, radio, and television, it was the most recent. 
They, in their turn, are now in the process of detaching them 
selves from the novel and other earlier forms of narration. It 
is one of the most interesting aspects of the history of the 



10 The English Novel 

novel that we can observe the whole process of its evolution, 
instead of having to infer early stages for which no evidence 
survives. The first three chapters of the present study will 
scrutinize the varieties of long prose fiction in English prior to 
1740, with a view to identifying the separate elements that 
gradually coalesced into what can properly be termed the novel. 

A backward view over any historical process is bound to be 
distorted. Knowing the later developments, we select arbitrarily 
the beginnings and the influences that proved significant; and we 
sometimes perhaps become impatient with the slow and awkward 
functioning of the trial-and-error method by which the new 
form shapes itself. But the vitality of the novel derived chiefly 
from the fact that it was evolved by many authors of utterly 
different personalities and purposes, and that they were not 
handicapped by any prescribed critical canon. We should not 
make the mistake of beginning with a rigid present-day definition 
of the novel, by which we would measure all earlier works of 
prose fiction. Instead of the deductive fallacy, which adopts 
an absolute prototype and accepts or rejects every specimen on 
the basis of its conformity thereto, we must try to use the in 
ductive approach; by examining the phenomena we can hope 
to arrive at a valid grasp of the general principle. 




I 



Pastoral and Picaresque 

(to 1600) 



PROBABLY THE MOST SUCCESSFUL of the books printed by William 
Caxton in the closing years of the fifteenth century was Sir 
Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur. This fact substantiates the 
hypothesis that the preliminary conditions for the development 
of prose fiction in England came into existence with the introduc 
tion of the printed book. Though Malory may have been merely 
a conscientious historian, compiling material from the huge mass 
of Arthurian romances, he seems to have worked rather in the 
manner of a modern historical novelist, following his sources as 
far as they were available and effective, but feeling free to in 
vent details and to elaborate characters in order to give artistic 
as well as factual validity. 

Another popular work of prose narrative at the end of the 
middle ages was The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. This 
purported to be the actual experiences of an English knight who 
ranged over most of Europe and Asia in the middle of the 
fourteenth century. It was first written in Norman-French, sup 
posedly in 1356, and the authorship remains uncertain. It was 

11 



12 The English Novel (to 1600) 

translated into English about the beginning of the fifteenth cen 
tury, and the first printed English edition was in 1496. Like 
Malory, the author derived most of his information from earlier 
sources in this case, from travel narratives of varying degrees 
of authenticity; but there can be little doubt that he was con 
sciously writing fiction, in his creation of the hero-narrator and 
in his invention of further adventures. The author's skill lay in 
his use of plausible detail to support even his most fantastic 
episodes. 

It must be remembered that until recent times both Malory 
and Mandeville were read as genuine records of history and 
travel, in just the same way as John Froissart's Chronicle and 
other books of authentic history, all of which served to foster 
the taste for vigorous narrative of action and adventure. 

Better recognized as artistic creation was the prose fiction 
written by Italian authors who were addressing themselves to 
cultivated audiences. The term "novella" to describe a prose 
story was in use early in the thirteenth century. The word 
is equivalent to the modern English "news" and the stories were 
not unlike the sensational items in a present-day newspaper, 
recounting concisely and impassively some shocking crime or 
some scandalous intrigue. Whether or not the early examples are 
indeed reports of actual occurrences, they are at any rate told 
in the matter-of-fact manner of a reporter. But before long 
the creative imagination entered into the grouping and linking 
of the stories and probably also into the invention of plots. Of 
the many such collections the most famous is Boccaccio's De 
cameron, written about 1350. Dealing with contemporary life, 
the stories departed from the flowery style and idealized plots 
of medieval romance, but their realism was limited by the arti 
ficial conventions of the courtly society they depicted. Stories 
of this type were known to Chaucer, providing him both with 
plots and with techniques; but he was not influenced by them 
to the extent of using prose for his narratives. The novelle 
cannot be regarded as closely akin to the novel of later centuries; 
because of their brevity and their simplicity of structure, they 
can be better classified as short stories. 

With the coming of the Renaissance the writing of prose 
fiction on the Continent rose to greater prominence. The 
Novelle of Matteo Bandello were published in 1554; the Heca- 



Pastoral and Picaresque 13 

tonmitU of Giraldi Cinthio in 1565; and the Heptameron of 
the French queen Marguerite of Navarre (probably assisted by 
men of letters at her court) was written before 1550 and printed 
in 1558. One hundred and one tales from these sources were 
brought out in English by William Painter in his Palace of 
Pleasure (1566-67). The success of this book led to pthers: 
Tragical Discourses, by Geoffrey Fenton (1567), contained thir 
teen tales from Bandello; A Petite Palace of Pettie his Pleasure, 
by George Pettie (1576), derived its twelve tales from classical 
myths but portrayed the gods and goddesses in a Renaissance 
court atmosphere. 

The stories were erotic and sadistic, full of violent crime and 
abnormal passion. Such themes have universal appeal, especially 
when they are provided with sophisticated, aristocratic characters 
and a picturesque, exotic setting. The compilers, to be sure, 
claimed the worthiest objectives. Fenton interlarded his lewd 
passages with puritanical commendations of chastity, and Painter 
said in his preface that 

the contents of these novels . . . offer rules for avoiding of vice 
and imitation of virtue to all estates. This book is a very court 
and palace for all sorts to fix their eyes therein, to view the devoirs 
of the noblest, the virtues of the gentlest, and the duties of the 
meanest. 

In spite of such protestations, the popular response evoked a 
startled protest from the serious-minded. Roger Ascham, Pro 
fessor of Greek at Cambridge and tutor of Queen Elizabeth in 
her girlhood, wrote bitterly in The Schoolmaster (1570): 

These be the enchantments of Circe, brought out of Italy to mar 
men's manners in England; much by example of ill life, but more 
by precepts of fond books, of late translated out of Italian into 
English, sold in every shop in London, commended by honest titles 
the sooner to corrupt honest manners, dedicated over boldly to 
virtuous and honorable personages, the easilier to beguile simple 
and innocent wits. Ten sermons at Paul's Cross do not so much 
good for moving men to true doctrine as one of those books do 
harm with enticing men to ill living. 

Such condemnations probably did more to arouse interest in 
the "fond books" than to suppress it. The vogue for these 
stories is illustrated by what happened to George Gascoigne, a 



14 The English Novel (to 1600) 

dissipated Cambridge graduate, soldier, and duelist, whose writ 
ings were remarkably original and diversified. One of them was 
a short and witty novel, The Adventures of Master F. J. (1573), 
influenced by the Italian novelle but with a realistic setting in the 
north of England and a convincing fidelity to everyday life. 
The torrid love story would have been acceptable enough if 
presented with an Italian background, but the shock of its sudden 
localization was more than the reading public could stand. Gas- 
coigne was obliged to rewrite the story as The Pleasant Fable of 
Ferdinando Jeronim and Leonora de Valasco, "translated out of 
the Italian riding tales of Bartello." 

Prose fiction, it is apparent, was not yet naturalized in England. 
Its arrival happened to coincide with the flowering of the drama, 
and therefore the Italian stories were used as sources of plots 
for plays rather than as models for imitation. The theater could 
reach a far wider audience than the printed page, and a successful 
playwright could expect more direct financial profits than a pub 
lished author. Hence the most creative minds of the Elizabethan 
age devoted themselves to writing drama, whether or not their 
natural talent was particularly suited to that form of expression. 
The insatiable demand for new plays led them to ransack all 
available narratives and borrow from them the episodes and 
characters best suited for the stage. 

As the Italian novelle have to be regarded as short stories, a 
different model can be identified as leading to the writing of 
long works of prose fiction. This was the leisurely and fanciful 
pastoral romance, which came into England from two sources. 
One was the Greek writers of the second century A.D. and their 
Latin imitators: The Golden Ass, by Apuleius (translated in 
1556), An Ethiopian History, by Heliodorus (1569), and Daphnis 
and Chloe, by Longus (1587). The other source, a conventional 
ized outgrowth of the romances of chivalry, was the work of 
Italian and Hispanic authors of the sixteenth century. The best 
known of these books, Arcadia, by Jacopo Sannazaro, and Diana 
Enamorada, by Jorge de Montemayor, were familiar to many 
cultivated Englishmen before they were translated into English. 

The outcome of these influences was a group of long prose 
stories that can be regarded as precursors of the novel. The 
earliest was The Golden Aphrodite, by John Grange, a law 
student, published in 1577. The scene is ancient Greece, and the 



Pastoral and Picaresque 15 

deities of Olympus mingle with the wooings and duels of 
mortals; but the characters and their manners are recognizably 
English and Elizabethan. The style of writing is ornate and 
learned. 

A more pretentious book was published the next year. This 
was Euphues, or The Anatomy of Wit, by John Lyly. The 
author was a good specimen of the new type of clever young 
man produced by the universities: well-read, confident in his 
literary ingenuity, and eager to win advancement through au 
thorship. He had fixed his ambition upon the post of master of 
the revels, a court appointment that was gaining in importance 
with the burgeoning popularity of the drama. Undoubtedly 
his chief motive in writing Euphues was to call attention to his 
originality and brilliance, and in this he thoroughly succeeded. 
The subtitle of the book could be rephrased in modern parlance 
as "How to be Clever." Ostensibly, however, his purpose was 
to study human psychology and to set up models for the im 
provement of both manners and morals. In his dedicatory epistle 
he announced his intention of being sternly realistic: 

In all perfect works as well the fault as the face is shown. The 
fairest leopard is set down with his spots, the sweetest rose with 
his prickles, the finest velvet with his brack. Seeing then that in 
every counterfeit as well the blemish as the beauty is colored I 
hope I shall not incur the displeasure of the wise in that in the 
discourse of Euphues I have as well touched the vanities of his 
love as the virtues of his life. . . . For as every painter that shadow- 
eth a man in all parts giveth every piece his just proportion, so he 
that deciphereth the qualities of the mind ought as well to show 
every humour in his kind as the other doth every part in his 
color. 

The plot of the story is a simple triangle situation, and there 
is some evidence that it was based on an occurrence in Lyly's 
life at Oxford. Two friends fall in love with the same girl and 
go through much heart-searching before she solves their prob 
lem by marrying someone else. But this plot is a mere thread 
on which hang interminable conversations and letters on love, 
friendship, conduct, education, and religion. The author in 
veighs against drunkenness, atheism, sexual incontinence, and 
other immoralities. The characters are little more than mouth- 



16 The English Novel (to 1600) 

pieces for Lyly's ideas; there is no effort to give them individu 
ality. The setting is equally vague. It is nominally Naples, and 
the hero is a Greek who is visiting Italy; but most of the 
names are Greek, in Latinized forms, and the locality is seldom 
described. To complicate the matter, part of the author's in 
tention was to criticize contemporary English life, and so Naples 
was to be equated with London, and Athens with Oxford. It is 
not surprising that a modern reader is baffled in the effort to 
visualize either the places or the persons. 

The success of Euphues was due partly to its being based on 
the "courtesy books" of Italian origin that were in great demand 
because the English were modeling themselves on the Continental 
ideal of the gentleman. Lyly was one of the first writers to 
realize that fiction can exert a social influence because it illus 
trates precepts in action instead of merely stating them in general 
terms. Specific proof is the vogue aroused by Lyly's artificial 
style. To display his cleverness he frolicked spectacularly with 
vocabulary, syntax, and metaphor. Almost every sentence was 
built upon antithesis or parallelism and adorned with similes or 
analogies. This florid, redundant style appealed so strongly to 
the Elizabethan love of color and extravagance that "Euphuism" 
became a fad among courtiers and their imitators. 

In fact, the author discovered that his book was being enjoyed 
as an entertaining pastime rather than as a moral treatise. The 
mannerisms and the sentimental theme outweighed the self- 
proclaimed didacticism. On the other hand, the unfavorable re 
flections upon contemporary behavior aroused some annoyance. 
Lyly hastened to adjust himself to both reactions. Within two 
years he brought out a sequel, Euphues and his England, which 
was more romantic than moralistic and in which the praise of 
everything English was fulsome. In particular, Lyly had come 
to realize that an important segment of his public was feminine. 
Fifty years later Edward Blount wrote that "all our ladies were 
then his scholars, and that beauty in court who could not parley 
Euphuism was as little regarded as she which now there speaks 
not French." The second book, therefore, retained no trace of 
the diatribes against women that had been prominent in the first. 
Instead, Lyly addressed a special preface to "the Ladies and 
Gentlewomen of England," assuring them that 



Pastoral and Picaresque 17 

it resteth, Ladies, that you take the pains to read it, but at such 
times as yoii spend in playing with your little dogs. And yet 
will I not pinch you of that pastime. For I am content that your 
dogs lie in your laps, so Euphues be in your hands. . . . Euphues had 
rather be shut in a lady's casket than open in a scholar's study. 

Another change was an increased attention to plot. In the 
early part the interweaving of several strands is awkward; but 
for a while in the middle of the story some scenes between 
Philautus and the coquettish Camilla are in the true vein of draw 
ing-room comedy. The general effect, however, is no more 
realistic than before. The supposedly English characters have 
classical names Fidus, Surius, Martius, Camilla and even an 
old Kentish beekeeper philosophizes on love and politics in the 
purest Euphuistic rhetoric. 

In spite of the success of his two volumes, Lyly found himself 
no nearer to the hoped-for court preferment, and so he deserted 
fiction for playwriting, which was beginning to give promise as 
a professional career. It is pleasant to know that before the end of 
his life he served four terms as a Member of Parliament. The 
composing of prose romance passed into the hands of others, 
who avoided his egregious mannerisms of style but otherwise 
remained as remote from any sense of coherent structure or 
portrayal of actuality. 

In the year when the second part of Euphues was published, 
an episode that might have figured in its pages was being enacted 
in real life by Philip Sidney. The most brilliant and versatile of 
the gifted young men surrounding the queen, Sidney fell into 
disfavor by objecting to her project of marrying a French prince, 
and by quarreling in public with one of her favorite councilors 
during a tennis match. Refusing to apologize, he withdrew 
temporarily to the country estate of his sister, the Countess of 
Pembroke; and bored by the rural quietness, he occupied some 
weeks in writing a long story for the amusement of his sister 
and her lady friends. 

Sidney was a very different sort of person from Lyly. Though 
only twenty-six, and not yet knighted, he had served on foreign 
embassies and had become the admired friend of leading authors 
of the day. Secure in his kinship with influential noble families, 
he had no need to seek fame through publication. Besides, being 



18 The English Novel (to 1600) 

a serious poet and critic, he regarded the story as a frivolous 
pastime that would impair his reputation. In his letter transmit 
ting the manuscript to his sister he wrote disparagingly: 

I could well find in my heart to cast out, in some desert of forget- 
fulness, this child, which I am loth to father. . . . Now, it is done 
only for you, only to you; if you keep it to yourself, or commend 
it to such friends who will weigh errors in the balance of goodwill, 
I hope, for the father's sake, it will be pardoned, perchance made 
much of, though in itself it have deformities. For indeed, for 
severer eyes it is not, being but a trifle, and that triflingly handled. 
Your dear self can best witness the manner, being done in loose 
sheets of paper, most of it in your presence; the rest by sheets sent 
unto you, as fast as they were done. 

In accordance with this wish, the story was circulated only 
in manuscript among his eminent friends; and not until 1590, 
four years after his death, did it appear in print, under the title 
of The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. The printed version, 
however, differs extensively from the surviving manuscripts; 
Sidney had begun to rewrite the book about 1582, but had not 
been able to complete the revision before his premature death. 
It was this version, extending about half way through, that was 
printed in 1590. A second edition (1593) added the final half 
as it had been in the original form. 

Evidently, after he finished the first writing of the novel, 
Sidney began to realize that it was not such a "trifle" as he had 
thought. It insisted on remaining in his mind. His experience 
was the converse of Lyly's: Lyly offered his book to serious 
masculine readers, and then wrote the sequel for a more congenial 
audience of frivolous ladies; Sidney wrote his book for frivolous 
ladies, and then revised it to make it more acceptable to serious 
gentlemen. 

His changes show two main intentions: to add touches of 
psychological subtlety in the characterization, and to elaborate 
the plot and style according to the accepted rules for the 
heroic poem. Statements in his Apology for Poetry, which he 
wrote about the same time, show that in his mind there was no 
essential distinction between prose and verse; and the revised 
Arcadia has much in common with the great poem that was 
subsequently written by his friend Edmund Spenser. As late 



Pastoral and Picaresque 19 

as 1649 John Milton, in his Eikonoklastes, spoke of "the vain 
amatorious poem of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia" 

Sidney's original version, though slow-moving and digressive, 
had a fairly well unified plot, and closely resembled the classical 
pastoral fiction and such recent imitations as Montemayor's 
Diana. The heroines of those tales had been intelligent and 
energetic girls, refreshingly different from the conventional ladies 
of chivalry, and Sidney must have pleased his sister and her 
friends by the independence of spirit that his feminine characters 
displayed. His setting was the traditional Greek province, which 
the poets had converted into a sort of wonderland where 
shepherds sang songs of their own composition to graceful 
damsels amid perpetual blossoms. Unlike Euphues, which was 
supposedly laid in contemporary Europe but contained little 
description of scenes, the Arcadia is full of long lyrical p.or- 
trayals of its imaginary landscape. 

In the revised version, this idyllic simplicity of the classical 
pastoral is subordinated to material more akin to the romances 
of chivalry. The additions extended it to such length that 
the central story almost vanishes. The eighty-eight characters, 
though varied as types of human personality and studied with 
some attention to psychological analysis, are still so little differen 
tiated by individual detail that a modern reader has trouble in 
keeping the names attached to the proper persons. It has not 
lacked admirers, however, even at the present day. "In the 
Arcadia" said Virginia Woolf, "as in some luminous globe, all 
the seeds of English fiction lie latent." 

Whereas the plot of Euphues was almost static, that of the 
Arcadia is overcrowded with violent action. It is full of dis 
guises, battles, disappearances, dangerous accidents, cross-pur 
poses, coincidental meetings; and it is retarded by accounts of 
masques, tournaments, and hunts. The main theme, of course, 
is a protracted series of love-makings. The happy ending comes 
arbitrarily as though the author had finally felt impelled to bring 
the intricate tale to a positive stop. As in The Faerie Queene, 
the reader can enjoy it best if he allows himself to become lost 
in its enchanted mazes without looking for coherent structure. 

Although allegory is not emphasized as strongly as in Spenser's 
poem, Sidney was a zealous Protestant and a dedicated Platonist, 
and both creeds obliged him to consider the deeper . meanings 



20 The English Novel (to 1600) 

of human experience. The gist of his Apology -for Poetry was 
that the objective of all literature must be "virtuous action," 
and that poetry (i.e., epic and drama) is the highest form of 
literature, "for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, 
[the poet] giveth a perfect picture of it in some one, by whom 
he presupposeth it was done." In his "poem," the Arcadia, he 
bodied forth his ideals of loyalty, constant love, and courageous 
action. Some critics find also in the book a connection with 
Elizabethan politics, and certain episodes may be based on actual 
occurrences in Sidney's own life and the lives of his close rela 
tions. 

The style is less mechanical than Lyly's perpetual antithesis 
and analogy, but it is almost as remote from natural speech. If 
Lyly's style is excessively rhetorical, Sidney's is excessively poeti 
cal. The sentences move rhythmically under a load of metaphors, 
personifications, and "conceits"; and Sidney loved to juggle 
with a word through all its possible meanings and paradoxes 
so that it produced a pattern as formal as rhyme. Extended 
narrative fiction was making a tentative transition from verse 
to prose, but had not yet recognized this new form as a separate 
genre. 

Though neither Lyly nor Sidney continued the writing of 
prose fiction, there was the usual contingent of professional 
authors ready to profit by the success of someone else's experi 
ment. They were brazen in their efforts to float their imita 
tions upon the wave of the two best sellers. In the very year 
of Lyly's second Euphues, Anthony Munday published Zelauto: 
The Fountain of Fame, "given for a friendly entertainment to 
Euphues at his late arrival into England." Don Simonides, by 
Barnabe Rich (1581-84), followed the plot scheme of Euphues 
and his England and introduced Euphues' friend Philautus as 
an incidental character. Written about 1586, though not printed 
until 1590, was Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, "Euphues' golden 
legacy, found after his death in his cell at Silexedra." Robert 
Greene followed in 1589 with Menaphon, subtitled "Camilla's 
alarm to slumbering Euphues in his melancholy cell at Silexedra." 
And as evidence of impartiality, Greene changed the affiliation 
of his novel in later editions by dropping the subtitle and re 
naming the book Greene's Arcadia, or Menaphon. This was 
nearer the truth, as the story was closely modeled on Sidney's 



Pastoral and Picaresque 21 

Arcadia, which Greene must have read in manuscript. The 
vogue of Lyly, however, was not yet ended; as late as 1594 John 
Dickenson brought out Arisbas: Euphues amidst his Slumbers. 

Other novels of the group, while not so openly claiming 
descent from Lyly or Sidney, were even closer in their affinity. 
Greene's first novel, Mamillia: A Looking Glass for the Ladies of 
England (1583), took the plot of Euphues and reversed it by 
depicting a man making love to two women at once. During 
the next few years Greene wrote Givydonius: The Card of 
Fancy and Arbasto: The Anatomy of Fortune, revealing a grad 
ual transfer of allegiance from Lyly's type of story to Sidney's, 
a process that culminated in Pandosto: The Triumph of Time 
and Menaphon. He also published half-a-dozen books in which 
pastoral romance formed a framework for short stories. 

Thomas Lodge's first romance was a short tale, Forbonius 
and Prise eria (1584), written in Euphuistic style but dedicated 
to Sidney and resembling Sidney's work in its adherence to 
Greek pastoral tradition. His Rosalynde, which is better handled, 
is also a combination of Lyly's style with Sidney's pastoralism. 
Relatively short, with an uncomplicated plot and a charming 
open-air atmosphere, Rosalynde was widely popular in its day 
and remains the most readable example of its genre. Lodge's 
final novel, A Margarite of America, is long but fairly well con 
structed, and is unique among the pastoral romances in having 
a tragic ending. 

By the end of the century the writing of heroic romance had 
degenerated into hack-work. Cultured taste had moved on to 
other interests, but the ever-growing middle class was avid for 
these tales of high nobility. An industrious professional named 
Emanuel Forde used all the established formulas and wrote in a 
flat style with little literary pretension. His Parismus, the Re 
nowned Prince of Bohemia, published in 1598, went through 
countless editions and was finally condensed into a chapbook 
for sale to the semi-literate. Forde ground out other potboilers, 
which delighted his undiscriminating audience well into the 
seventeenth century. 

It is ironical that most of these authors led lives more eventful 
than the stories they wrote. Anthony Munday began as an actor, 
became an apprentice stationer, traveled to Paris and Rome in 
disguise to spy on the activities of English Catholic refugees, 



22 The English Novel (to 1600) 

and returned to England to spend five more years on the stage 
before being appointed a royal messenger as a reward for his 
anti-Catholic propaganda. Robert Greene was a dissolute univer 
sity graduate who traveled as far as Spain, Denmark, and Poland, 
consorted with the rascals of the London slums, deserted his 
wife and child and lived in sin with the sister of a notorious 
thief. Thomas Lodge, son of a Lord Mayor of London, gave 
up the study of law in favor of dissipation, and then went to 
sea with freebooting expeditions. His Rosalynde was actually 
written during a voyage to the Canary and Azores Islands, and 
his Margarite of America during a dangerous venture as far 
as Brazil and the Straits of Magellan. If these authors could have 
conceived the possibility of making fiction out of the real hard 
ships, intrigues, and excesses of their own experience, they would 
have produced something totally unlike the elegant courtships 
and high-souled heroism that formed their stock in trade. 

This is not to be taken to mean that all Elizabethan fiction 
ignored the cruder side of real life. During the years when the 
heroic romance was flourishing, another type of narrative 
emerged, utterly different in subject and style. Some Elizabe 
thans were fascinated with the violence, the ingenious trickery, 
and the salty speech of the contemporary underworld. Several 
authors compiled handbooks of thieves' slang. Others w r rote 
pamphlets on the art of "cony-catching" the underworld term 
for confidence tricks. Greene was one of those who drew from 
their intimate experience to expound the knavery of the cony- 
catchers. 

Even more successful were the jest books, which had begun 
with A Hundred Merry Tales in 1525. Later these collections 
of rowdy anecdotes were sometimes given a semblance of unity 
by being attributed to some popular buffoon, such as John 
Scoggin or Richard Tarlton. They were the unpolished reader's 
equivalent for Painter's Palace of Pleasure and the other elegant 
story anthologies that pleased the genteel class. 

The jest books were related to the mass of chapbook litera 
ture, the only reading matter which both in price and in sim 
plicity of style was within the reach of people on a minimum 
level of literacy. Most of the chapbooks offered vulgarizations 
of the romances of chivalry, like Palmerin of England and 
Guy of Warwick, or tissues of supernatural marvels, like Mother 



Pastoral and Picaresque 23 

Shipton. The naive outlook and elementary style of these bro 
chures made them precursors of children's literature: such nurs 
ery favorites as Tom Thumb and Jack the Giant Killer and 
Dick Whittington originated thus. Some of the chapbooks, how 
ever, were comic and realistic, appealing to the universal love 
of laughter and even implying a sort of primitive social criti 
cism in the zest with which they recounted successful de 
fiances of law and order. 

While the upper-class stories came into England from the 
Renaissance culture of Italy and France, some of the most popu 
lar chapbooks were adapted from the earthy low-life reading 
matter of Germany. A favorite comic book of this type was 
based on the story of Til Eulenspiegel, widely circulated in 
several European languages at the beginning of the sixteenth 
century. The English version was printed before 1550 as A 
Merry Jest of a Man 'who was Called Howleglass. The un 
scrupulous peasant hero cheated and played pranks on respectable 
people of all ranks from innkeepers all the way up to princes. 
The humor was scurrilous and sometimes obscene. 

Something of the same spirit permeates the greatest work of 
prose fiction written on the Continent during the Renaissance, 
Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Frangois Rabelais, published in 
1533-35. This cannot be regarded as coming within our defini 
tion of the novel: it is episodic and digressive; it is a fantasy as 
regards plot and is equally fantastic in its exaggerated style, pre 
cluding any illusion of reality; and it is obviously controlled by 
its ulterior purpose of attacking scholasticism and asceticism. 
On the other hand, by introducing lusty humor and earthy 
satire into a long prose narrative, it exerted a lasting influence on 
novels of later centuries. 

As well as the chapbooks, another type of literature also set 
an example for the portrayal of the characters and speech of 
common people. Early in the sixteenth century the interlude 
had developed as an effective stage vehicle for gaining comic 
effect from anecdotes of everyday life. Such interludes as The 
Four PP not only led naturally into the vulgar farce of Gam- 
mer Gurtotfs Needle but also improved upon the use of similar 
material in the jest books. An interesting specimen intermediate 
between drama and fiction is A Dialogue Against the Fever 
Pestilence, by William Bullein (1564), a grimly comic adap- 



24 The English Novel (to 1600) 

tation of Boccaccio's device. In this short book a rich Londoner 
and his wife, fleeing from the plague, are entertained with folk 
tales by their manservant and with wild travel yarns by chance 
acquaintances. The typographical arrangement makes it look 
like an interlude, but it was manifestly not intended for the 
stage. 

In addition to native interludes and jest books, and translated 
chapbook tales, another foreign model had an immediate effect 
in lending prestige to the comic portrayal of low life. Lazarillo de 
Tormes, published in Spain in 1554 and translated into English in 
1576, established a type that came to be known as the novella 
picaresca (rogue novel). A kind of burlesque of the romance 
of chivalry, it was a farcical and disillusioned tale of a social 
outcast and his disreputable devices for making a living. 
Though not much more than a series of episodes, it derived a 
sort of unity from the personality of the central character, as 
in the modern comic strip. So many books of this sort followed 
the lead of Lazarillo that the term "picaresque novel" gradually 
acquired a definite connotation, implying not only a cynical 
narrative about amusing scoundrels but also a loose, episodic 
type of structure, usually based on the hero's wanderings over 
a wide territory. 

One of the cleverest critics and most facile writers among 
the "university wits" was Thomas Nashe, who earned a pre 
carious living among the London pamphleteers and playwrights. 
Opinionated and combative, he plunged into the paper wars over 
religion and literature; one of the plays that he helped to write 
was so seditious and scurrilous that the authorities closed the 
theater and imprisoned some of the collaborators, and his verbal 
battle with a distinguished family of scholars incurred the in 
tervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In books like The 
Anatomy of Absurdity and Pierce Penniless he attacked with 
humorous bitterness the social follies and intellectual fads of the 
time. 

Naturally, with his robust common sense, he had nothing but 
scorn for the writers of sentimental romance, declaring that 
they were trying to revive 

that forgotten legendary licence of lying, to imitate afresh the 
fantastical dreams of those exiled abbey-lubbers, from whose idle 



Pastoral and Picaresque 25 

pens proceeded those worn-out impressions of the famed nowhere 
acts of Arthur of the Round Table, Arthur of Little Britain, Sir 
Tristram, Huon of Bordeaux, the Squire of Low Degree, the Four 
Sons of Aymon, with infinite others. 

This appeal to current prejudice by associating the romances 
with the hated Catholics represents a method of controversy that 
still survives. 

When Nashe turned to fictitious narrative, his contempt for 
the romances impelled him to write in the vein of the picaresque 
novel. In The Unfortunate Traveller, or The Life of Jack 
Wilton (1594), he proved that the sordid occurrences of real 
life could yield as much of adventurous excitement as the most 
fanciful exploits of traditional princes and knights. He used the 
most potent device for making his story vivid and plausible 
the first-personal point of view. The book purported to be the 
autobiography of a scapegrace English page with an insatiable 
love of practical jokes. For some reason Nashe chose to set it 
in the reign of Henry VIII, eighty years before the date of 
writing, and he took some pains to consult authentic sources 
in order to connect his hero's fictitious feats with the events of 
that era, thus enhancing the illusion of reality. To this extent 
the book can be classified as the first historical novel. 

Beginning at the siege of Tournay in France, where Jack in 
dulges in hoaxes at the expense of sundry officers and camp 
followers, the story comes back to England at a time of epi 
demic, and then goes abroad again for the battle of Marignano 
and a religious massacre in Germany. Taking service under a 
real historical celebrity, the Earl of Surrey, Jack wanders with 
him over much of Europe, meeting Sir Thomas More, Erasmus, 
Luther, and Pietro Aretino. They have adventures with a Ger 
man magician and a Venetian courtesan; in Florence, Surrey 
organizes a tournament which is described with outrageous bur 
lesque; later, amid the horrors of the plague in Rome, Jack be 
comes involved in the melodramatic atrocities of various Italian 
scoundrels. The unflagging gusto and frank sensationalism of the 
whole story are not handicapped by any trace of sensitive 
squeamishness or moral judgment. 

While Nashe was thus exploiting the picaresque novel as an 
antidote to sentimental romanticism, another kind of. realism 



26 The English Novel (to 1600) 

also made its appearance in prose fiction. The tradesmen and 
their apprentices in London and other towns were gaining self- 
respect as they became an important element in society, and 
had acquired a degree of literacy that enabled them to delight 
in stories glorifying their own virtues. Toward the end of the 
sixteenth century they were flocking to the theaters to see plays 
celebrating the deeds of people representing their class. 

This new theme was injected into prose fiction by Thomas 
Deloney, a silk weaver from Norwich who had followed his 
trade in various towns before setting up as a ballad-writer in 
Cripplegate, a poor part of London. Unlike such brilliant young 
university men as Greene and Nashe, he had always known the 
seamy side of life and so he took it for granted. In their books 
the sordid material was in violent contrast with their elaborate 
style and intellectual complexity. Deloney, on the other hand, 
presents the life of humble people with good-natured sympathy 
and humor; and the harsher elements, when they occur, are 
accepted as a matter of course. His vocabulary is simple and the 
dialogue rings true to everyday speech, sometimes lapsing into 
local dialect. 

Deloney laid the scene of most of his stories in the past, but 
his motive was different from Nashe's. He chose traditional 
heroes, in the spirit of the chapbooks; he did not consult refer 
ence works, and the locating of a story in an earlier century 
merely gave the sanction of time to the significance of the 
achievements. Whatever the nominal date of the action might 
be, the way of life depicted was that of the Cheapside shops 
among which Deloney and his readers plied their callings. 

This points to another difference between his realism and 
Nashe's. Nashe was striving for the shock effect that results 
when gruesome or violent actions are invested with the illusion 
that such things may be going on around the reader without his 
knowing it. Deloney, on the contrary, exploited the appeal of 
recognition. He offered his readers their own environment, 
slightly idealized, and they enjoyed it because they could partici 
pate in the story with a minimum of imaginative effort. 

Deloney seems to have made the shift from ballad mongering 
to prose narrative for the purpose of propaganda. The textile 
trade was suffering from a depression, and the workers blamed 
certain government restraints that survived from the old guild 



Pastoral and Picaresque 27 

system. Strikes and unemployment were prevalent, and a food 
shortage aggravated the crisis. It has been suggested that Deloney 
was subsidized by the cloth manufacturers to write his first book 
in order to present their case to the public. 

The Pleasant History of John Winchcomb, in his Younger 
Years Called Jack of Newbury was published in 1597, and told 
the life story of a real man who had lived a century before. 
It used one of the eternally popular plots the poor youth's rise 
to wealth. Jack begins as a hard-working prentice, honest but 
actuated by strictly practical self-interest. His master's widow 
falls in love with him and marries him, and he ends as a powerful 
industrialist. His character is clearly drawn, and the story moves 
through a series of both comic and pathetic episodes. Jack's 
wealthy wife proves intractable and gives him much discomfort 
before she dies and leaves him free to marry a pretty country 
lass. In the later part of the book, after Jack is established as a 
magnate, the author throws in a series of broadly comic oc 
currences in his household, contributing nothing to the story 
of his career. The influence that Jack gains with Henry VIII, 
and his successful opposition to Cardinal Wolsey's legal re 
straints of trade, were not introduced merely to prove how 
great a man he had become, but were intended to warn the 
government of Deloney's own day that it must recognize the 
significance of English industry. 

Thus established as the spokesman of business, Deloney turned 
from the clothiers to the shoemakers. His next book, however, 
must be classified as a collection of short stories: The Gentle 
Craft reviews the history of cordwainers from the days of their 
patron saints down to recent times, in a series of comic incidents 
intermingled with sentimental love intrigues. In a third book, 
Thomas of Reading, Deloney returned to the cloth-workers and 
to their troubles with the authorities, setting his time as far 
back as the reign of Henry I, and interspersing two or three 
genuinely tragic episodes among the hearty humorous scenes. 

Deloney was not the only writer catering to the new self- 
conscious bourgeois customers. Writing the same sort of fic- 
tionized history, but with little of Deloney's humor or power 
of characterization, were Richard Johnson, author of The Nine 
Worthies of London and The Pleasant Conceits of Old Hobson, 
and Henry Roberts, author of Haigh for Devonshire and other 



28 The English Novel (to 1600) 

commonplace tales. Many books, such as The Pinner of Wake- 
field, were anonymous. One feature of all these books, as 
indicated often in the titles, was the plentiful local color. The 
readers must have enjoyed identifying the very streets and build 
ings that were mentioned. 

Within a scant period of twenty years, the last two decades 
of the sixteenth century, prose fiction not only had come into 
existence in England but also had developed the several distinct 
species that were to prevail until the present day. These may be 
regarded in two main classifications, best labeled as the "mascu 
line novel" and the "feminine novel." The masculine novel is 
tough-minded, pragmatic, ribald in its humor and grim in its 
frank presentation of sordidness and cruelty. The feminine 
novel is tender-minded, idealistic, and inclined to be didactic. 
Within each category can be seen various subtypes, and also 
a wide range of artistic merit, depending both on the abilities of 
the authors and on the sort of reader for whom the book was 
intended. At its best the feminine novel is a moving presenta 
tion of the highest visions the human mind can conceive and of 
the noblest conduct that men and women are capable of achiev 
ing. It can be graceful, witty, and poetical. At its worst the 
feminine novel is sentimental, wordy, and shallow, distorting the 
actualities of life to arouse easy sympathy or to force a happy 
ending. The masculine novel at its best is a sturdy acceptance 
of man's destiny, seeing deeply into the truths of experience 
and recording factual observation with an accompaniment of 
tolerant humor or of ruthless satire. At its worst it is rowdy and 
violent, seeking to shock the sensibility of respectable readers 
or to titillate the sadism of impressionable ones. In sum, the new 
literary genre of prose fiction took its place in the permanent 
tradition of literature by aligning itself with both the fundamen 
tal philosophical attitudes the idealistic line that extends back 
through St. Augustine to Plato and the rationalistic line extending 
through Thomas Aquinas to Aristotle. 




II 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 

(idoo - 1700) 



THE LARGE OUTPUT of prose fiction between 1580 and 1600 did 
not establish the novel as a literary type. After the turn of the 
century several forces militated against it. For one thing, the 
theater was still flourishing and monopolized the best writers 
and the best plots. The Arcadian fiction of Sidney and Lodge 
was absorbed into the tragicomedies of Beaumont and Fletcher, 
the realism of Nashe and Deloney into the bourgeois comedies 
of Thomas Dekker and the satirical plays of Ben Jonson. A 
few years later, the growing power of puritanism opposed not 
only the drama, but fiction also, as mere worldly frivolity and 
lies. Thus a large proportion of the middle-class audience was 
discouraged from reading for entertainment. 

On a higher level of education, another type of serious-mind- 
edness was equally inimical to fiction. As the scientific ration 
alism of Bacon gained currency, intelligent minds could no 
longer find satisfaction in the idealistic dream-world of Lyly 
and Sidney. Factual observation and analysis won the day. 

Nevertheless, the apparent interruption proved in the long run 

29 



30 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

to have a vital influence on the development of the novel. The 
new inductive methods were applied not only in the physical 
sciences but also in the realm of human behavior. Attempts to 
classify people according to types, and to determine the prin 
ciples governing their relationships, were essentially concerned 
with the materials out of which fiction is made. Robert Burton's 
Anatomy of Melancholy was a treatise on psychology that 
probed almost clinically into one special form of aberration. 
The collections of short "characters," notably Characters of Vir 
tues and Vices, by Joseph Hall, Witty Characters and Conceited 
News, by Sir Thomas Overbury and his friends, Microcosmog- 
raphy, by John Earle, and The Holy State and the Profane State, 
by Thomas Fuller, were brief sketches of varied human types, 
classified sometimes by vocation, sometimes by psychological 
traits. Though modeled on the work of the Greek moralist 
Theophrastus, whose essays were intended to teach lessons in 
ethics, these studies of behavior were much influenced by the 
scientific theories of personality which also affected Jonson's 
characterization by "humours"; and they had something in com 
mon with the realistic pamphlets on criminals and their victims 
by Greene, Nashe, and Dekker. Even within this limited genre 
the two basic attitudes of the novel can be detected: Hall's 
Characters are solemn and moralistic, Overbury's are satirically 
humorous. 

After the middle of the century the writers of biography and 
history furthered the trend toward psychological analysis. 
Thomas Fuller's Worthies of England and Izaak Walton's Lives 
showed real insight into human nature and recognized the value 
of trivial details in building up a portrait. The Earl of Clarendon 
filled his History of the Rebellion and the Civil Wars with 
incisive character sketches of the public men of his time. 

If these books can be regarded as being ancillary to the novel 
by their attention to individual psychology, another type of 
seventeenth-century prose used some techniques of fiction for 
exploring the structure of society. A series of "utopian" treatises, 
following the example set by Sir Thomas More a century earlier, 
invented imaginary countries to illustrate their sociological the 
ories. Francis Bacon's unfinished New Atlantis included a cir 
cumstantial narrative of the adventurous voyage of his travelers. 
Subsequent books of the same sort, some of them more con- 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 31 

cerned with satirizing contemporary society than with proposing 
reforms, were The Man in the Moon, by Francis Godwin, The 
Commonwealth of Oceana, by James Harrington, and many 
others. In all these books, however, the narrative and descriptive 
elements are merely a frame for the expository discussion, and 
therefore none of them can be included within our definition 
of the novel. 

During those years the most notable developments in prose 
fiction were taking place outside of England. In Spain the new 
rationalistic spirit found utterance in the masterpiece of Miguel 
de Cervantes. Earlier in his career he had written a pastoral 
romance, Galatea (1585); but in the next twenty years his fi 
nancial troubles, including terms in jail, made him all too familiar 
with the unpleasant realities of life, and he set out to prove the 
absurdity of the romances of chivalry by means of a parody. Ap 
parently he started Don Quixote with the intention of writing 
only a short story; but soon the central characters took on 
such living reality that he could not dismiss them. The imagina 
tive knight of La Mancha grew into something more than a 
grotesque old man who had gone crazy with too much reading 
of chivalric fiction. He became an embodiment of all the im 
practical ideals and noble visions that have inspired and frustrated 
mankind, while his servant Sancho was the very essence of blunt 
common sense. For many readers the book is merely a series 
of riotously comic predicaments. For others it is an ironical 
analysis of the social conflicts of Renaissance Spain. Others read 
it as a spiritual autobiography. It can also be viewed as a sym 
bolic picture of man's eternal dilemma between idealism and 
pragmatism, with passages that are profoundly serious probings 
of the nature of reality. 

The story had unmistakable affinities with the picaresque 
novel, in its gallery of rogues and vagabonds and also in its 
loose episodic structure. Its string of incidents might be re 
arranged in almost any order without damage to the book's con 
tinuity, and the climax is not clearly prepared for. Therefore, 
in spite of its immense influence on subsequent fiction, Don 
Quixote cannot be classified as a novel. It lacks not only a uni 
fied plot but also a primary purpose of creating an illusion of 
reality. The reader can seldom forget the author's intention of 
ridiculing the old romances, because to produce this effect the 



32 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

events are usually exaggerated beyond the bounds of probability. 
Cervantes' great contribution was the creation of two central 
characters endowed with the vividness and consistency that 
make them "round" rather than "flat" characters, and the explora 
tion of their minds through dialogue. 

Though Don Quixote was soon being read in many parts of 
Europe, it did not strike a death-blow to fanciful romance. 
In France, particularly, the romance was blossoming into fresh 
vitality. A French-born Scotsman named John Barclay, whose 
life was divided between Paris and London, wrote Argents in 
Latin and published it in Paris in 1621. Following the Lyly- 
Sidney tradition, this long story had a conventional Arcadian 
setting and a solemn moral purpose of condemning political in 
trigue. Prominent people of the time could be identified as 
originals of the characters. The book was immensely popular, 
as was Astree, by Honore d'Urfe, which appeared at intervals 
between 1610 and 1627. The type became standardized in Polex- 
endre, by Marin le Roy de Gomberville (1632), who discarded 
pastoral settings and supernatural characters such as giants and 
enchanters, replacing them with pseudo-historical events in re 
mote times and nations, in imitation of the epic. This new 
species is known as the "heroic romance." 

A strong vogue for everything French prevailed at the court 
of Charles I through his marriage to the French princess Hen 
rietta Maria. The fashionable world flaunted its ability to read 
French fluently, and the new heroic romances proved to be the 
French books most enjoyable to read. Through the middle years 
of the century, while the English courtiers were living in exile 
at Versailles, more of the interminable stories were being written 
by Gauthier de la Calprenede (Cassandre, Cleopatre, Faramond), 
by Georges and Madeleine de Scudery (Le Grand Cyrus, Clelie, 
Ibrahim), and by many others. Often extending to ten volumes, 
they came to be known as romans a longue haleine "long- 
winded novels." The settings were in ancient Greece or Rome 
or in Asiatic countries, but there was no attempt at historical 
accuracy, and usually the characters were unmistakable portraits 
of individual contemporaries. Their behavior was invariably 
noble and they indulged in endless debate on moral problems. 
In spite of the high-flown sentiment and allegory, however, 
violent action burst in at frequent intervals battles, shipwrecks, 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 33 

capture by pirates, recognition of disguised princes. The exotic 
settings were described with florid baroque decoration. Dozens 
of complete short stories, or "histories," were inserted, by the 
simple device of having each character recount his past adven 
tures or those of his friends. The discussions of abstract topics 
often reached the dimensions of separate essays embedded in 
the narrative. Long letters also occurred frequently. The fem 
inine characters were intellectual and formidably modest an 
idealized version of the precieuses of the salons where this cult 
of Platonic love and playful conversation flourished. The real 
merit of the books was in this polished dialogue, which ap 
proximated the talk of cultivated people of the time. With ample 
leisure on their hands, the ladies of society and many of their 
gentleman friends were not appalled by the vastitude of the 
witty and subtle conversations. 

The absence of the court from England did not halt the 
vogue of these books. The royalist families used them as a sort 
of symbolic cult to maintain aristocratic values in the midst of 
defeat. It is true that the bluestocking Duchess of Newcastle 
had no use for them: 

I never read a Romancy Book throughout in all my life, I mean 
such as I take to be Romances, wherein little is writ which ought 
to be practiced, but rather shunned as foolish amorosities, and 
desperate follies, not noble love's discreet virtues, and true valor. 

But when James Philips and his wife Katherine established a 
royalist salon at their country house in Wales, they and their 
friends adopted pseudonyms from the romances "Orinda," 
"Antenor," "Poliarchus." The witty Dorothy Osborne devoured 
the French books and forwarded them volume by volume to 
her eminent friend Sir William Temple: 

Have you read Cleopdtre? I have six tomes on't here that I can 
lend you if you have not; there are some stories in't you will like, 
I believe. But what an ass I am to think you can be idle enough 
at London to read romance. ... If you have done with the first part 
of Cyrus, I should be glad Mr Hollingsworth had it, because I 
mentioned some such thing in my last to my Lady. ... To en 
courage you, let me assure you that the more you read of them you 
will like them still better. 

Mrs. Samuel Pepys was equally addicted to the romances, 
though her husband made it plain in his diary that he had no 



34 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

use for them. One Sunday, it is true, weakened by an upset 
stomach, he wasted his time with some of her books: "Took 
physic all day, and, God forgive me, did spend it in reading of 
some little French romances." But this was the only time he 
lapsed. When she was devouring Le Grand Cyrus until midnight 
one night, he remained immersed in Fuller's Church History; 
and he bought her a copy of Ibrahim only because he was in 
the bookshop to have a learned work rebound. He once re 
duced her to tears by "checking her in the coach in her long 
stories out of Grand Cyrus, which she would tell, though noth 
ing to the purpose, nor in any good manner." The romances, in 
fact, were the only subject on which Mrs. Pepys could rank as a 
scholarly expert; at a new play by Dryden she recognized it as 
based on an episode in Ibrahim, and she proved the point to her 
husband next day by reading him the source passage. 

Being French, Mrs. Pepys presumably read the romances in 
the original language; but most of her neighbors lacked this 
aristocratic accomplishment, and so during the Commonwealth 
many of the romances were translated into English, thus becom 
ing available to middle-class women. Miss Osborne was scornful: 

I have no patience either for these translations of romances. I 
met with Polexendre and Ulllustre Bassa both so disguised that I, 
who am their old acquaintance, hardly knew them; besides that, 
they were still so much French in words and phrases that 'twas im 
possible for one that understands not French to make anything of 
them. 

Feeble though the translations were, they could not destroy 
the appetite for such fascinating fare. A natural outcome was 
the writing of original fiction in imitation of the French model. 
The earliest was the anonymous Gloria and Narcissus, or The 
Royal Romance, "written by a person of honor," of which the 
first volume came out in 1653. The preface explained that the 
actual theme was the current state of international politics, and 
that identification of the real people, places, and events should 
offer no difficulty to "any who have been but indifferently versed 
in the affairs of Europe; and for others of the more vulgar sort, 
a bare romance of love and chivalry, such as this may be esteemed 
to be at the worst, will provide entertainment enough for their 
leisure." Similarly the history of England from Elizabeth to 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 35 

the death of Cromwell was fictionized in 1659 in another "royal 
romance," Panthalia, probably by Richard Brathwait. 

In 1654, by issuing the first three volumes of his Parthenissa, 
Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill (later Earl of Orrery), showed that 
it was not beneath the dignity of an aristocrat to write a romance. 
Dorothy Osborne was not over enthusiastic: 

'Tis handsome language; you would know it to be writ by a 
person of good quality though you were not told it; but, on the 
whole, I am not very much taken with it. All the stones have too 
near a resemblance with those of other romances, there is nothing 
new or surprenant in them; the ladies are all so kind they make no 
sport, and I met only with one that took me by doing a handsome 
thing of the kind. . . . And though he makes his people say fine 
handsome things to one another, yet they are not easy and naive 
like the French, and there is a little harshness in most of the dis 
course that one would take to be the fault of a translator rather 
than that of an author. 

The mania for romances was intensified when Charles II was 
restored to the throne in 1660 and his courtiers brought French 
tastes back from their exile. Not only did the romances lead 
to a new type of drama the heroic plays of Dryden and 
Howard but during the next quarter-century ponderous vol 
umes of this prose fiction were written by a lawyer, a clergyman, 
even a scientist, as well as by the inevitable professionals. And 
yet, as the acute Dorothy Osborne had perceived, the English 
writers never felt wholly confident in practicing the imported 
genre. A lingering trace of puritan conscience nagged them 
with doubt as to the value of the romance, no matter how noble 
its sentiments; and most of them prefaced their books with 
profuse explanations or apologies. 

George Mackenzie, a law student, gave his Aretina (1660) 
a subtitle, "The Serious Romance." "I am confident," he pro 
tested in the preface, "that where romances are written by 
excellent wits, and perused by intelligent readers, that the 
judgment may pick more sound information from them, than 
from history." The modern reader can scarcely believe his eyes 
when he finds Mackenzie justifying his novel by boasting that 
it is not like real life: "Whereas romances present to us virtue 
in its holy-day robes, history presents her only to us in these 
ordinary and spotted suits which she wears whilst she is busied 



36 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

in her servile and lucrative employments." Mackenzie quickly 
became absorbed in the "servile and lucrative employments" of 
his own career, in which he enforced the royal authority over 
the Scottish Covenanters so rigorously that he earned a knight 
hood and the nickname of "Bloody Mackenzie." He never 
found time for composing the subsequent volumes that would 
have brought Aretina to the proper bulk. 

The Reverend Nathaniel Ingelo, D.D., was definitely offering 
a religious allegory in his romance, Bentivolio and Urania 
(1660-64), and a superlatively tedious romance it was. With 
many scholarly citations, his preface dealt with "the writing and 
reading of romances" as one of "the impertinencies of mankind." 
After condemning Homer and other ancients because they 
"made the fabulous rind so thick that few can see through it 
into the useful sense," he went on to assert that some romances 
of a later date are 

most to be blamed because . . . their chief design is to put fleshly 
lust into long stories, and sometimes not without very unhandsome 
mixtures, tending only to the service of brutish concupiscence, the 
nourishment of dishonorable affections, and by exciting in the 
readers muddy fancies, to indispose them for their attendance 
upon God by their better part. 

The professional authors followed the trend set by such ama 
teurs as Mackenzie and Ingelo. John Bulteel's Birinthia (1664), 
which was composed, he explained, "in my greener youth, and 
most of it during the intervals of a sharp distemper," laid strong 
claim to realism: 

Such as can relish no romance that is not forced with extravagant 
impossibilities (no less ridiculous than improbable) will find little 
gusto and cold entertainment here . . . for I have endued my heroes 
with no greater strength or courage than may reside in generous 
persons; nor do I fill their veins with streams of blood greater 
than those small channels should contain. . . . This is a romance 
accommodated to history, to whose text I have added those auxil 
iary embellishments rather to illustrate than disguise or corrupt it. 

Lord Broghill, too, when he resumed his Parthenissa after a 
ten-year interval, insisted that the value of his book lay in its 
inclusion of historical material, which might tempt some readers 
into studying the subject: 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 37 

I may say that this way of writing romances is less ill than any I 
have yet seen originally in our language; for all that have been 
presented to the world first in English have been purely fabulous. 

Though Parthenissa was never completed, because Broghill 
worked on it only when attacks of gout interrupted his social 
and political career, it was the only English romance that came 
anywhere near the French models in length, complexity, ornate 
settings, and number of persons 143 who play individual roles 
in the action. 

Lord Broghill's brother, the Hon. Robert Boyle, the eminent 
physicist, also had succumbed to the temptation of romance- 
writing. When his Theodora and Didymus was published in 
1687, many years after its composition, he explained lengthily 
that 

the nature of the subject refused me most of those embellishments 
which in other themes, where young gallants and fair ladies are the 
chief actors, are wont to supply the deficiencies of the matter. 
Besides, my task was not near so easy as it would have been, if I 
had been only to recite the intrigues of an amour, with the liberty 
to feign surprising adventures, to adorn the / historical part of the 
account, and to make a lover speak as passionately as I could, and 
his mistress as kindly as the indulgent laws of decency would permit. 
But I was to introduce a Christian and pious lover, who was to 
contain the expressions of his flame within the narrow bounds of 
his religion; and a virgin, who, being as modest and discreet as 
handsome, and as devout as either, was to own an high esteem for 
an excellent lover, and an uncommon gratitude to a transcendent 
benefactor, without entrenching either upon her virtue or her 
reservedness. 

Boyle's short book is a precursor of the historical novel, for he 
used the recorded facts as far as available, and then added "such 
supplements of circumstances, as were not improbable in the 
nature of the thing, and were little less than necessary to the 
clearness and entireness of the story, and the decent connection 
of the parts it should consist of." 

It will be seen that these writers were wrestling with a contra 
diction. On the one hand, they were insisting that, whereas 
previous romances had dealt with impossibilities, theirs presented 
strict truth; on the other hand, they were equally positive that 
their books would not cater to sensuality by portraying human 



38 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

nature in any of its lower manifestations. Nor was their diffi 
culty confined to the dilemma of entertainment vs. morality; 
they were bothered also with problems of style. While they 
all paid tribute to Sidney as their great progenitor, they were 
aware that his florid figures of speech and long rambling sen 
tences were no longer usable. In their day English prose was 
undergoing a transformation. The need for precise expression of 
scientific thinking impelled the newly founded Royal Society 
to recommend a simplified kind of expository writing, "a close, 
naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions, clear senses, 
a native easiness, . . . and preferring the language of artisans, 
countrymen, and merchants before that of wits and scholars." 
Besides, the clarity and elegance of French prose made Eliza 
bethan English seem intolerably old-fashioned; in Mackenzie's 
preface to Aretina he found fault with "the first writers of ro 
mance" not only because "they stuffed their books with things 
impracticable," but also for 

the style, which because of its soaring pitch was inimitable. Where 
fore the famous Scudery has written so as that his invention may 
suit well with our practice, and his style with our discourse, and 
especially in his Clelia, wherein he professes that he hath adapted 
all to the present converse of the French nation, and that is really 
the mould wherein all our romances should be casten. 

Similarly, John Crowne's preface to his Pandion and Amphigenia 
(1665) declared that an author should not "bolster up a crooked 
invention with fungous words" and that a romance should not 
be "an hospital of lame conceits" precepts that were vio 
lated throughout the book. In diction, therefore, as well as in 
purpose, the English heroic romances were uncomfortably 
stranded between past and present, between elaborate rhetoric 
and conversational ease. 

The justifications and compromises so profusely offered by 
the writers indicate an awareness that they were shaping a new 
literary medium, but at the same time they were unable to break 
away from the dominance of a moribund genre, the heroic 
poem. Sir William Temple in 1691 remarked that "the last kind 
of poetry in prose is that which in later ages has overrun the 
world under the name of Romances." A viable art of prose 
fiction could not emerge so long as the authors were seeking 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 39 

to serve two masters. Therefore the vogue of the heroic ro 
mance lasted barely twenty years, exactly coeval with that of 
its dramatic equivalent, the heroic play. 

It remained for an author who was totally ignorant of liter 
ary tradition, who had never read Aristotle or Julius Caesar 
Scaliger, to use prose for a kind of fiction that told its story 
bluntly and colloquially and therefore achieved a full illusion 
of reality in spite of a burden of moral preachment. While 
the elite of England were absorbed in the refinements of French 
romances, they were oblivious to the momentous development 
that was obscurely occurring at the other extreme of the social 
scale. 

John Bunyan was the son of a tinker in a village near Bedford, 
and he received only a rudimentary schooling. In his young 
days he delighted in the popular chapbooks, such as The Seven 
Champions of Christendom and Revis of Hampton, which he 
later condemned as "beastly romances, and books full of ribaldry, 
even such as immediately tended to set all fleshly lusts on fire." 
A vivid imagination tormented him with dreams of fiends trying 
to kidnap him, and even in childhood he was afflicted by fits 
of remorse and despair. At sixteen he was conscripted as a 
trooper in the Parliamentary army, in which he served for more 
than two years. When he was twenty he married an earnestly 
religious woman, whose only dowry was two pious treatises, 
and she took pains to improve his conduct. After an agonizing 
period of doubt and mental torture he was converted to re 
ligious devotion, and before he was thirty he became an itinerant 
preacher for one of the innumerable little evangelical sects of 
the time. Soon he gained such a reputation that crowds flocked 
to listen to him. Using simple words that were within the com 
prehension of his hearers and illustrative anecdotes drawn from 
both his imagination and his experience, he held their attention 
and moved their emotional response. 

As early as 1656 he began writing controversial tracts, but the 
spoken word was easier for him than the written and so he had 
no thought of becoming an author. With the Restoration, how 
ever, he was arrested for refusing to suspend his itinerant preach 
ing; and from 1660 to 1672, with short intervals on parole, he 
was a prisoner in Bedford Jail. Here he read and reread the 
Bible and Foxe's Book of Martyrs until every sentence had sunk 



40 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

into his mind. Preaching to his fellow-inmates having proved 
an inadequate outlet for his zeal, his inner compulsion drove 
him to writing, and a series of didactic and controversial works 
ensued. 

The most important of these was an autobiography, Grace 
Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, published in 1666. It showed 
a gift of straightforward narrative and an effortless choice of 
exact words within the limits of a small vocabulary. In the 
preface he defended his style with the doubtful claim that 

I could have stepped into a style much higher than this in which 
I have here discoursed, and could have adorned all things more 
than here I have seemed to do; but I dare not. God did not play 
in convincing of me; the Devil did not play in tempting of me . . . 
wherefore I may not play in my relating of them, but be plain 
and simple, and lay down the thing as it was. 

As a matter of fact, it seems certain that he seldom did "lay 
down the thing as it was," but exaggerated his youthful follies 
and his spectacular conversion; but the exaggeration was due 
to his spiritual intensity rather than to any calculated artistic 
effect. 

After his release in 1672 he was licensed to preach, but he 
was briefly imprisoned again four or five years later. During 
one or other of his terms in jail he accidentally discovered his 
real genius. His tracts were beginning to show touches of 
humor and imagination, with use of brief character sketches 
and snatches of dialogue; but he was not aware that these 
techniques might be used as anything more than incidental de 
vices. Then one day while composing a tract he happened to 
compare the Christian life to a pilgrimage. The trite analogy 
seized upon his imagination, as he tells in a doggerel report of 
the event: 

And thus it was: I writing of the way 

And race of saints, in this our gospel-day, 

Fell suddenly into an allegory 

About their journey, and the way to glory, 

In more than twenty things, which I set down; 

This done, I twenty more had in my crown, 

And they again began to multiply 

Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly. 

Nay then, though I, if that you breed so fast 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 41 

I'll put you by yourselves, lest you at last 

Should prove ad infinitum, and eat out 

This book that I already am about. . . . 

Thus I set pen to paper with delight 

And quickly had my thoughts in black and white. 

For having now my method by the end, 

Still as I pulled, it came; and so I penned 

It down, until it came at last to be 

For length and breadth the bigness that you see. 

The book wrote itself so easily that he was suspicious of its 
merit. Apparently he suspended it midway for a fairly long 
interval, and when it was finished he insisted that he had worked 
on his "scribble" only in "vacant seasons," and with no inten 
tion of publishing: "I did it mine own self to gratify." When 
he experimentally showed the manuscript to his friends, some 
of them were horrified by his use of worldly episodes to 
symbolize spiritual truths. Others, however, approved of the 
story because of its moral teaching, and in 1678 it was pub 
lished with the title, The Pilgrim's Progress from this World 
to that which is to Come. 

The versified preface admitted that Bunyan expected many 
of his godly fellow-Baptists to disapprove of the book because 
it was "feigned" and lacked "solidness"; and he tried to justify 
it by pointing out that many religious authors had used both 
similitudes and dialogue, and that "Holy Writ in many places 
hath semblance with this method." He argued further that his 
concrete episodes would be easy to remember: "Then read my 
fancies, they will stick like burrs." Finally he adduced his simple 
style: 

This book is writ in such a dialect 
As may the minds of listless men affect: 
It seems a novelty, and yet contains 
Nothing but sound and honest gospel strains. 

The author must have been agreeably surprised by its un 
precedented popularity. Under the Puritan regime literacy had 
been widely extended, with the intention that even the humblest 
person should be able to read the Bible and thus find his own 
salvation; and within the comprehension and the purse of this 
new reading public no material was available beyond the 
Bible except chapbooks and the dreary tracts of Puritan evange- 



42 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

lists. Bunyan's book, crudely printed on cheap paper, could be 
bought even by the poor; its short words and simple sentences 
offered no obstacle to the slowest reader; and in view of its 
religious orthodoxy it could offend none but the most austere 
of Puritans by its admixture of fiction. 

Though most of its readers accepted The Pilgrim's Progress 
ostensibly for its moral allegory, their real enjoyment of it was 
for other reasons. The hazards and enemies encountered by the 
trustful hero supplied enough excitement and suspense to rivet 
attention. Bunyan's own spiritual conflict made the book ring 
with emotional sincerity. The fascination of the marvelous was 
provided by the monster Apollyon and Giant Pope and Giant 
Despair with his grim dungeon, figures out of the folk tales 
that Bunyan had heard in childhood and the chapbook romances 
he read in his unregenerate youth. But the essential appeal of 
the story was in its portrayal of familiar scenes and people. 
The setting was the English countryside, with its muddy lanes 
and flowery meadows, its lonely hillsides and busy market 
towns. Most of the characters, in spite of their allegorical 
names, were ordinary human beings such as Bunyan had seen 
during his military service, or on his preaching missions among 
the hamlets, or later when he had his own chapel in town and 
had to contend with troublesome parishioners. Arrogant squires, 
greedy merchants, hypocritical clergy, slow-witted bumpkins, 
brawny thieves, they parade through the pages and talk in 
recognizable tones for one of the strongest merits of the book 
is its constant use of dialogue. 

This realism of characterization, which makes the persons of 
the story something more than pale materializations of virtues 
and vices, extends to the hero also. Christian is no priggish 
figure of perfection, but an anxious, blundering man who suffers 
and weakens, boasts and despairs. In contrast, certain minor 
characters Faithful and Hopeful are simple, unimaginative 
souls without problems, who meet no major hazards as they 
journey toward the Heavenly City. These, and evil figures also, 
such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman, are really separate aspects of the 
total personality. Seen thus, the book is an analysis of the com 
plex human individual, and the conflicts are an objectivized 
record of what goes on inside him. 

Although The Pilgrim's Progress thus embodied many 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 43 

qualities that later came to be characteristic of the novel, it 
cannot be admitted into the canon. An illusion of unity arises 
from the fact that a final climax Christian's triumphant arrival 
at the Celestial City is innate in the story from the outset. 
But otherwise the structure is essentially episodic, and Christian 
is the only character who is carried through from start to finish. 
Furthermore, the didactic purpose obtrudes persistently through 
the realistic surface, not only in the descriptive names of the 
characters but also in the rhythmical recurrence of the reminder, 
"I saw also in my dream," and in long, dull passages of doctri 
nal debate. Bunyan no doubt sustained these features throughout 
in order to demonstrate that the book was to be used for re 
ligious instruction, not realizing that its incredible circulation 
was due less to the public's desire for spiritual guidance than to 
their hunger for literary entertainment. 

He was quite ready, however, to take advantage of his success. 
The book went through four large editions in its first two years, 
and in each edition he made revisions and expansions, adding 
several episodes and smoothing out some of the colloquialisms 
and lapses of grammar. At the same time he was writing his 
second book of didactic fiction, The Life and Death of Mr. 
E adman, which came out in 1680. Its theme, as he explained in 
the preface, occurred to him as the logical converse of the pre 
ceding book: 

As I was considering with myself what I had written concerning 
the Progress of the Pilgrim from this world to glory, and how it 
had been acceptable to many in this nation, it came again into my 
mind to write, as then of him that was going to Heaven, so now of 
the life and death of the ungodly, and of their travel from this 
world to Hell. 

Bunyan's increased self-confidence resulting from the fame of 
The Pilgrim's Progress sounds clearly in this preface, though 
veiled by a decent show of Christian humility: 

The butt therefore, that at this time I shoot at, is wide; and 'twill 
be impossible for this book to go into several families and not to 
arrest some, as for the King's Messenger to rush into an house full 
of traitors and find none but honest men there. I cannot but think 
that this shot will light upon many, since our fields are so full of 
this game; but how many it will kill to Mr, Badman's course, and 



44 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

make alive to the Pilgrim's Progress, that is not in me to de 
termine; this secret is with the Lord our God only, and he alone 
knows to whom he will bless it to so good and blessed an end. 
However, I have put fire to the pan and doubt not but the report 
will quickly be heard. 

Whereas The Pilgrim's Progress had emerged from the author's 
imagination unbidden, Mr. Badman was carefully preconceived 
with full awareness of literary technique. 

The story was more realistic than its predecessor. Instead of 
spiritual symbolism through incarnations of forces of good and 
evil, it offered the biography of an average worldly citizen. "To 
the best of my rememberance," Bunyan declared, "all the things 
that here I discourse of, I mean as to matter of fact, have been 
acted upon the stage of this world, even many times before 
mine eyes," It was confined to the sordid details of the small 
town, middle-class environment that Bunyan knew well. Proba 
bly most of his congregation recognized one another somewhere 
in the book. 

Yet, paradoxically, Mr. Badman makes a less concrete im 
pression on the reader's mind than does The Pilgrim's Progress, 
in which even the most fantastic occurrences seem real and 
vivid. The difference is partly due to a technical experiment 
in the new book, foreshadowing the present-day concern with 
problems of time sequence and point of view. "I have put it," 
Bunyan explained, "into the form of a dialogue, that I might 
with more ease to myself and pleasure to the reader perform 
the work." The entire book consists of a conversation between 
two of Mr. Badman's neighbors, the day after his death; the 
story is gradually built up out of their reminiscences of his 
behavior and their analysis of his character. Ingenious though 
the device was for supplying unity and plausibility, it deprived 
the story of immediacy and suspense. The end is known from 
the outset, and the two narrators are so relentless in condemning 
all the dead man's deeds that the reader never acquires that 
sense of identification with the action which is the first requi 
site for enjoying fiction. In a picaresque novel such as The 
Unfortunate Traveller the author's gusto in his hero's misdeeds 
soon infects the reader; but Bunyan allows no hint of such un 
hallowed sympathy. His severity tends to defeat its purpose: 
a nonpuritan reader begins secretly to champion Badman against 
his intolerant neighbors and to feel gratified that no matter 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 45 

what the eternal destiny of his soul might be at least in this 
life he lived to a ripe age and died snugly in his bed. 

The Pilgrim's Progress had been equally ruthless toward 
sinners, but it was sustained by a spiritual fervor that is scarcely 
perceptible in Mr. Badman. In spite of tirades about the deadly 
sins and the will of God, the story's theme is social rather 
than religious. It preaches the prudential ethics of a commercial 
society and thus reveals the practical common sense that was 
so strangely mingled with the Puritan otherworldliness. 

Bunyan's next book was a more ambitious undertaking; he 
turned back to religious allegory, but this time on an epic 
scale rather than through the adventures of individuals. The 
Holy War Made by Shaddai upon Diabolus (1682) is much more 
elaborately planned than The Pilgrims Progress, with a wider 
range of literary background that may have included Paradise 
Lost. Its several levels of interpretation brought in contempo 
rary political and sectarian issues as well as its cosmic theme 
of the struggle between the armies of God and the devil. The 
military scenes were based on recollections of Bunyan's years 
in uniform. There are some impressive imaginative passages, 
but the attempt to present a crisis in the destiny of the whole 
human race left little scope for the development of individual 
characters. The book's affinity is therefore with the fictionized 
Utopias rather than with the precursors of the novel. 

Bunyan probably became aware that neither his second nor 
his third work of fiction appealed to the public as strongly as 
his first one. He knew too that other writers had tried to trade 
on its fame by issuing spurious continuations. Accordingly he 
made a final effort to repeat his original triumph by writing a 
sequel of his own. At the beginning of The Pilgrifrfs Progress 
Christian had somewhat callously left his wife and family when 
he set out on his journey. The second part, published in 1684, 
narrates the parallel adventures of Christiana and her children 
when they in their turn go in search of the Heavenly City. 
They pass through the same scenes and encounter some of the 
same characters, so that the reader has a comfortable sense of 
familiarity. Several effective new personages are introduced 
the Giants Grim and Maul, Mr. Brisk and Old Honest, and 
especially Christiana's protector, Greatheart, a probably unin 
tentional self-portrait. 

The writing shows how much ease and flexibility Bunyan had 



46 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

gained in six years: there are touches of grace and humor, and 
the grim urgency of Christian's pilgrimage has given place to a 
leisurely and almost sentimental atmosphere of feminine socia 
bility. As a famous author and efficient church administrator, 
Bunyan looked at the world in a different mood from that of 
the obstinate prisoner who had written the first part. His com 
placency shows in the preface, which scolds certain rigid doctri 
naires for attacking his books. This relaxing of tension contributes 
to the sense of anticlimax that haunts the second part; but 
mainly the reason is that the completeness of the original 
story had left no suspense to carry over into the sequel, which 
merely repeats the well-known pattern. 

When Bunyan died in 1688, the generation of militant Puri 
tans was ending, and so there was no writer to carry on his 
line of work. Sophisticated literary men knew nothing about 
these vulgar books that were selling by thousands and were 
being read to shreds by the respectable middle class and the 
literate segment of the poor. And yet The Pilgrim's Progress 
gradually infiltrated into the very texture of English literature. 
In a time when few books were written expressly for children, 
the simple language and marvelous adventures of The Pilgrim's 
Progress suited it ideally for young readers, while its well-known 
moral purpose recommended it as wholesome for them. Thus 
it came into the hands of generations of children, even in the 
upper class, who absorbed it avidly with little or no awareness 
of the allegory. When a few of these children, a century or two 
after Bunyan's time, grew up to write fiction themselves, scenes 
and characters and phrases from The Pilgrim's Progress were 
as much a part of them as the real experiences of their youth. 

At the time of Bunyan's death, however, the tone of most 
prose fiction was the antithesis of his. In France, as in England, 
the vogue of the high-minded heroic romance was declining. 
Satirists had plastered it with ridicule. A French novelist, Paul 
Scarron, revitalized the picaresque genre in Le Roman comique, 
a realistic story about a troupe of strolling actors; and Antoine 
Furetiere followed with Le Roman bourgeois, in which a middle- 
class girl makes herself absurd by affecting the grandiloquent airs 
and ideals of Mile, de Scudery's heroines. Then the Comtesse de 
Lafayette published several novels, notably La Princesse de 
Cleves, which were unpretentious and reasonably brief studies 



Romance y Allegory, and Scandal 4-7 

of natural human behavior. Also current in France were short 
prose books of a less respectable description, known as cbroniques 
scandaleuses, giving lurid reports of illicit love affairs and other 
misconduct in the highest social circle; the most notorious of 
them was UHistoire amoureuse des Gazelles, by Bussy-Rabutin 
(1660). For additional plausibility they often took the form 
of letters supposedly exchanged between the lovers, as in the Five 
'Love-letters from a Nun to a Cavalier, which was translated by Sir 
Roger L'Estrange (1687). While these books were perhaps closer 
to modern sensational journalism than to fiction, the writers 
had little scruple in making a good story better, and so the 
border line between fact and invention was not clear. 

As the French influence continued to be strong in England, 
such books became well known there. In an attempt to revive 
the picaresque novel, a ne'er-do-well Irishman named Richard 
Head published in 1665 The English Rogue, Described in the 
Life of Meriton Latroon, which was based partly on his own 
exploits. It was a racy story and so indecent in places that the 
censor banned it and copies had to be peddled surreptitiously. 
Its success encouraged Francis Kirkman, a London bookseller 
and hack writer, to compose several additional parts for it, a 
tedious jumble of tales from earlier sources, crudely colored 
with obscene details from the London underworld. 

This work had something in common with numerous cheap 
books that purported to give the true life-stories of notorious 
criminals. Writers seized upon any court trial that attracted 
general interest, and embroidered the evidence with sensational 
details of their own devising, while maintaining a pretense of 
strict truth. In 1663, for instance, when Mary Carleton, a hussy 
who masqueraded as a German princess, was tried for bigamy, 
a batch of little books exploited the case; and ten years later, when 
she was executed as a thief, the writers vied with each other in 
creating biographies of her. Kirkman, in particular, produced 
one that was largely his own invention. The significance of 
such books is not in any literary merit, but in the fact that 
their claim to be factual reports forced the writers to strive for 
the illusion of reality as their primary aim. 

This kind of publication resulted from the emergence of 
authorship as a distinct profession. Previously the only writers 
who had been able to make a living solely by their pens had 



4-8 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

been dramatists; and this vocation had terminated with the clos 
ing of the theaters in 1642. During the Civil War both sides 
made wide use of printed propaganda, and various periodical 
bulletins of events were established. By the time of the Resto 
ration the public had become accustomed to reading topical 
reports. As the trades of printing and bookselling expanded, 
another trade became needed for supplying them with wares. 
Hence developed "Grub Street," where underpaid hacks ground 
out the necessary product. Unconcerned with artistic values, 
they sought only to write in a manner that could be understood 
with a minimum of effort and on subjects that would have the 
most direct appeal. The outcome was a new corps of writers, 
a new class of readers, and a new sort of relationship between 
them. 

A conspicuous sign of the change was an abrupt shortening 
of prose fiction. The colossal, sluggish romances were not im 
mediately abandoned, but they met strong competition from 
stories that moved quickly and ended promptly. By 1670 these 
short prose fictions, dealing with less exalted themes, were being 
described by the booksellers as "novels" to distinguish them 
from the "romances." The word was, of course, a revival of 
the old term "novella," and some of the novels that flooded the 
market were translations or adaptations of those earlier works. 
A selection from the Exemplary Novels of Cervantes had been 
translated by James Mabbe in 1640, and a volume containing 
five from Cervantes and five from Solorzano was brought out 
by Sir Roger L'Estrange in 1687. With examples of this sort 
before them, professional writers had little trouble in following 
the formula. 

Averaging from 10,000 to 20,000 words (but sometimes 
shorter) and selling for one shilling, the stories had little com 
plexity of plot or vividness of detail. The plots usually centered 
upon love intrigues, and the settings were in foreign countries. 
Their readers were probably predominantly feminine, and 
women soon began to write them as well as read them. 

A new freedom for women to participate in literature and 
the theater was a result of the Restoration. Distinguished ladies 
like the Duchess of Newcastle and Katherine Philips were writ 
ing copiously, though in an elegantly amateur manner, and 
women of lower rank found that they could enter the field 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 49 

professionally, just as others were appearing for the first time 
on the stage. 

The Duchess of Newcastle's contributions to fiction were 
short and didactic, but in her contempt for the heroic romances 
she did make some effort to depict actual life, as indicated by 
the title of one of her books, Nature^s Pictures by Fancy's 
Pencil; and in another one, the CCX7 Sociable Letters, she 
achieved some plausibility by using the epistolary form for 
imaginary characters and actions. 

On a lower social level, the first professional authoress was 
Mrs. Aphra Behn, whose life seems to have been as eventful 
as any of her writings, though her talent for fiction was so 
often applied to her statements about herself that the plain facts 
have been hard to disentangle from her embellishments. Her 
early life is unknown, even her maiden name is disputable, and 
if she ever had a husband named Behn, said to have been a 
Dutch merchant in London, the marriage must have been a 
brief interlude early in her career. At about the age of twenty 
she went to Surinam, in the West Indies, and lived there for 
several years, perhaps as the mistress of an antiroyalist plotter 
who fled from England at the Restoration. Later she spent 
some time in Antwerp, engaged in mysterious negotiations be 
tween this same refugee and the British government. After 
returning to London, she failed to collect a reimbursement that 
she expected from the authorities, and fell into such straits that 
she was committed to the debtors' prison. In 1670, however, 
she wrote a successful play, and for the next fifteen years she 
was known equally well for her bawdy comedies and for her 
promiscuous love affairs. Handsome, generous, and good-na 
tured, she was liked by her fellow-writers, who followed the 
current fad of borrowing names from heroic romances by calling 
her "the incomparable Astrea"; but she believed nevertheless 
that there was prejudice against her plays because of her sex, 
and several of them got her into trouble for their indecency, 
even by the lax standards of the time. Eventually, debt-ridden 
and crippled, she abandoned playwriting in favor of fiction. 

Her first narrative was in the epistolary form, Love-letters 
between a Nobleman and his Sister (1684), supposedly trans 
lated from the French but believed to be based on a scandal 
concerning Lord Grey and Lady Henrietta Berkeley. About 



50 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

this time she also started writing short novels, and a batch of 
them were published in 1687 and 1688. Upon her death in 
1689 she was honored with burial in Westminster Abbey. Several 
additional short novels appeared posthumously. 

Mrs. Behn was apt in the invention of alluring titles, and 
most of them indicate the melodramatic, woman-centered nature 
of her fiction The Adventure of the Black Lady, The Wander- 
ing Beauty, The Unhappy Mistake, The Unfortunate Happy 
Lady. She tried to make the stories seem authentic by claiming 
that she had witnessed the occurrences or that they had been 
reported to her by a participant; but most of them used standard 
plot situations which she manipulated with so many coincidences 
and impostures that credulity soon breaks down. Nor could she 
wholly escape from the despotism of the heroic romance, which 
demanded that the characters express intolerably noble senti 
ments in speeches of flowery rhetoric. Only a few of the 
briefer stories had English settings; and these, in spite of their 
stock devices, contain agreeable touches of humor and natural 
ness. 

The stories in this group end happily; for her tragedies Mrs. 
Behn preferred foreign settings, in Spain, Portugal, Italy, or 
France. The Dumb Virgin is a painful story in which the son 
of a Venetian nobleman is lost at sea in infancy, is rescued by 
an English ship, visits Venice when he grows up, and unwittingly 
commits incest with his sister, a beautiful mute. The Nun, or 
The Perjured Beauty depicts a coquette whose simultaneous 
love affairs with three men bring death to all three, as well 
as to herself and to another girl. A longer and better-handled 
story is The History of the Nun, or The Fair Vow-breaker. 
In it a lovely votaress elopes from the convent to marry the 
brother of a fellow-nun; later, believing him killed in battle, 
she marries his best friend; and when the first husband returns, 
she murders both men and is executed for the crime. In Agnes 
de Castro, based on a famous fourteenth-century event in Portu 
gal, a virtuous prince, with an equally virtuous wife, falls in 
love with her lady-in-waiting, who is quite as noble as either 
of them; a jealous woman forges a letter to convince the wife 
that her husband is unfaithful to her, and she dies of grief; 
Agnes is finally murdered by a rejected suitor. The Fair Jilt, 
being less sentimental, comes nearer to the amoral vigor of 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal 51 

Mrs. Behn's own life and era. A beautiful nymphomaniac plans 
the murder of her sister and gets three men condemned to 
death for crimes of which she falsely accuses them or to which 
she has instigated them; yet through it all she expresses the 
loftiest sentiments, and she retains her reputation unspotted for 
a serene old age. 

None of these distressful stories possessed enough vividness 
or naturalness to survive; but Mrs. Behn wrote one novel that 
became a minor classic. This was Oroonoko^ or The Royal 
Slave. Here again she represented herself as an onlooker upon 
actual events, and this time she was successful in maintaining 
the illusion. The scene was Surinam, and her early sojourn in 
that colony not only provided touches of local color (though 
apparently she refreshed her memory by reading travel litera 
ture) but also inspired a personally biased picture of the adminis 
tration, using the real names of residents. This adds emotional 
impact to a tale that would otherwise be as conventional as her 
others. The hero is a young African chieftain brought to the 
West Indies by a slave trader. Through one of Mrs. Behn's 
typical coincidences he meets his boyhood sweetheart; later he 
leads an unsuccessful revolt of the slaves and is recaptured by 
the governor's false promise of amnesty. To save his wife from 
rape he cuts her head off, and then stoically endures a slow 
death by torture. 

In his magnificent physique, his princely rank, his honorable 
nature, and his eloquent speeches, Oroonoko resembled dozens of 
the heroes of romances, who had already represented every 
race and nationality that the authors could think of. Mrs. Behn 
was lucky enough to find a new one. The sufferings of Oroon 
oko and Imoinda gave plentiful opportunity for harrowing the 
reader's feelings; and their simple virtues were an excuse for 
diatribes against the vices of civilization. After Mrs. Behn's 
death the story won new fame when dramatized by Thomas 
Sotherne. In the eighteenth century the romantic cult of "the 
noble savage" adopted Oroonoko as one of its favorite works, 
and later the humanitarian crusade used it for antislavery propa 
ganda. 

No new writer replaced Mrs. Behn as a purveyor of fiction, 
though one candidate appeared briefly. In 1692, under the ro 
mantic pen name of "Cleophil," a short novel was published by 



52 The English Novel (1600-1700) 

William Congreve, a twenty-two-year-old law student. Like such 
diverse predecessors as Sidney and Bunyan, Congreve insisted 
that his "trifle" was not the result of serious effort but had 
been "began and finished in the idle hours of a fortnight's time." 
The book's title was Incognita, or Love and Duty Reconciled, 
and in spite of a conventional Italian setting the characteriza 
tion and the use of informal conversation lent some natural 
ness, while its playful irony of manner was a welcome change 
from Mrs. Behn's emotionalism. The preface stated how the 
new type of fiction differed from the heroic romance: 

Romances are generally composed of the constant loves and in 
vincible courages of heroes, heroines, kings and queens, mortals of 
the first rank, and so forth; where lofty language, miraculous con 
tingencies and impossible performances elevate and surprise the 
reader into a giddy delight, which leaves him flat upon the ground 
whenever he gives off, and vexes him to think how he had suffered 
himself to be pleased and transported, concerned and afflicted by 
the several passages which he has read, . . . when he is forced to 
be very well convinced that 'tis all a lie. Novels are of a more 
familiar nature; come near us and represent to us intrigues in 
practice, delight us with accidents and odd events, but not such 
as are wholly unusual or unprecedented, such which not being 
so distant from our belief bring also the pleasure nearer to us. 
Romances give more of wonder, novels more delight. 

After pointing out that no mere narrative can rival the illusion 
of realism in an acted play, Congreve stated his technical 
innovations: 

I resolved ... to imitate dramatic writing ... in the design, con 
texture, and result of the plot. I have not observed it before in a 
novel. ... I leave the reader at his leisure to consider . . . whether 
every obstacle does not in the progress of the story act as sub 
servient to that purpose which at first it seems to oppose. In a 
comedy this would be called the unity of action; here it may 
pretend to no more than an unity of contrivance. The scene is 
continued in Florence from the commencement of the amour, and 
the time from first to last is but three days. 

In its exact symmetry the structure perhaps goes too far in 
the direction of controlled form. If Congreve had continued, 
however, to apply his keen sense of technique to prose fiction, 
he might have brought the novel to artistic maturity; but his 



Romance, Allegory, and Scandal $3 

praise of drama showed the direction in which his preference 
lay, and he soon became the leading figure in the brilliant group 
that raised the comedy of manners to its apogee. 

Congreve's choice was symptomatic. As long as the sophis 
ticated theater flourished, the novel remained in the hands of 
hacks, with only an occasional example rising above the mediocre 
average. Probably the best of these was The Adventures of 
Lindamira, a Lady of Quality, published in 1702. It was described 
as "revised and corrected" by Thomas Brown, the prolific 
journalist. If Brown wrote it himself, he was successful in dis 
guising his facetious style under what he termed in the preface 
"the natural softness of the female pen." It consists of a 
series of letters, with greater realism and suspense than in the 
other novels of the time. While the theme and situations were 
derived from the heroic romances, with an admixture of Resto 
ration stage comedy, the author stayed within the bounds of 
plausibility. Equally unusual are the use of an English setting 
and the moral probity of attitude; it was a novel of domestic 
life intended for respectable middle-class readers. 

Elements of realism are to be seen also in The Generous Rivals, 
an anonymous short novel of 1711, in spite of the retention of 
classical names for the characters Phylastratus, Panaretus, and 
so forth. The setting is contemporary London, the characters 
are drawn with some individuality and even subtlety, and there 
are touches of earthy humor in a few of the minor figures. 
Incognita, Lindamira, and The Generous Rivals suffice to prove 
that by the beginning of the eighteenth century prose fiction 
was on the threshold of becoming a valid literary genre. All 
that it lacked was authors of first-rate talent to put the new 
principles into effect. 




Ill 



The Discovery of Realism 
(1700 - 1740) 



UPPER-CLASS ENGLISH LIFE in the last quarter of the seventeenth 
century had been characterized by artificiality in dress, manners, 
and conversation an elaborate surface of formality and grace 
covering a certain amount of vice and a great deal of plain 
silliness. The same description can apply to most of the prose 
fiction of the period, which was neither sincere in its assumed 
dignity nor frank in its underlying crudity. 

By 1700 a more sensible era was setting in. The decent com 
mercial class was increasing in prosperity and influence. The 
Restoration fashion of elegant depravity wore itself out and 
was replaced by the roistering and ribaldry that were chronicled 
in ruder but more honest fashion by Grub Street humorists. 
In the theater the brilliant outburst of sophisticated comedy had 
passed its peak by 1700, and gave way to the respectable, senti 
mental plays of Colley Gibber and Richard Steele. John Locke's 
empirical philosophy appealed to thoughtful readers. The best 
writers of the time were geniuses in the art of satire, which 
attacks pretension with the weapons of common sense. Journalism 

54 



The Discovery of Realism 55 

contributed to the change in literary modes by proving that the 
reading public enjoyed plain facts straightforwardly expressed. 
The separate ingredients for realistic novels were developing in 
miscellaneous forms. 

Three of these semi-fictional modes are important. One was 
a revival of the Theophrastian character writing. A new edition 
of Theophrastus in English was followed by a translation of 
La Bruyere's Caracteres, and in 1702 came The English Theo 
phrastus, or The Manners of the Age. Tom Brown's characters 
of women in A Looking Glass -for Married People were typical 
of the trend. Another device of fiction, the imaginary conversa 
tion, in a tradition dating back to Plato, had been used by 
Dryden in prefaces, and was reinforced by translations of the 
dialogues of Lucian, the colloquies of Erasmus, and other such 
works. Thirdly, the pseudo-letter was used in dozens of pam 
phlets and periodical articles to provide a focus for expressions 
of opinion. Sometimes these were combined with fantasy for 
satiric effect, as in Brown's Letters -from the Dead to the Living, 

The periodicals furthered the use of these devices of fiction 
to lend variety or to heighten interest. Sir Roger L'Estrange's 
Observator in 1681 employed dialogue to break up its expository 
text. John Dunton's Athenian Gazette in 1691 was attributed to a 
fictionized editorial committee. Peter Motteux cast each num 
ber of the Gentleman's Journal (1692-94) in the form of a letter 
to a friend in the country, and the contents usually included 
complete "novels" (i.e., short stories). Ned Ward in his monthly 
London Spy (1698-1700) not only gave a lively description of 
everyday life in the city but achieved definite point of view by 
presenting it as the experiences of a Londoner showing the sights 
to a visitor from the country. The prolific Tom Brown used 
the structure of a walk through London with an American In 
dian for his book, Amusements Serious and Comical (1700), 
which, like much other writing of the era, was borrowed from 
a French original but was skillfully adapted to the English scene. 

Ward and Brown were using the same sort of material as 
The English Rogue, but they dispensed with the lurid narrative, 
realizing that their readers were sufficiently interested in the 
description of actual places and atmosphere. Fiction had tem 
porarily retreated in favor of fact, and its retreat proved that 
readers did not have to be lured with violence and abnormality. 



56 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

if the familiar facts were reported in such a way as to arouse 
imaginative identification. The pages of Ward and Brown read 
like the settings for novels, waiting to be populated with in 
dividual characters and to be linked together by means of a plot. 

The portrayal of individual characters soon ensued. Several 
serials by Ned Ward, such as The Weekly Comedy, are cast in 
the form of conversations among persons representing various 
social vocations and psychological types. These are in the Theo- 
phrastian tradition, and are also reminiscent of Jonson's comedy 
of "humours," as indicated by their names: Madam Manlove, 
"a buxom widow who lately buried her husband"; Cant, a dis 
senting tailor; Allcraft, a turncoat; Scribble, a newswriter; and so 
forth. Ward boasted that "I'll wager a man cannot go twenty 
yards in any street in London but he will meet some original 
or other, whose likeness he will find so well preserved that he 
may know them by their pictures." 

Out of such antecedents as these, two better written periodi 
cals emerged. The Tatler was begun in 1709 by Richard Steele, 
an improvident Irishman who had made a literary success 
with three comedies and had learned journalism as editor of the 
official Gazette. As fictitious editor of his new paper he invented 
the personality of Isaac Bickerstaff . His purpose was to amend 
the morals and manners of the day "to expose the false arts 
of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, 
and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our dis 
course, and our behavior." He hoped to appeal to women as 
well as to men, and so he avoided the violence and coarseness of 
previous journalists, and wrote with gentle satire about current 
upper-class life, in drawing rooms, in coffee-houses, at the 
theater. Character sketches, letters from imaginary correspond 
ents, and sentimental short stories were scattered among the 
essays. 

By the time the Tatler was well established, Steele was joined 
by his friend from school and college days, Joseph Addison, 
whose more polished and ironical style lent variety; he produced 
several neat vignettes of social types Ned Softley, the poet 
aster, and Tom Folio, the book collector, and the "political 
upholsterer" and his cronies. Steele's character studies were more 
sympathetic glimpses of everyday people, such as Mr. Bicker- 
staff's sister Jenny Distaff and her husband, his three nephews, 
and an old friend and his family whom he visits. Of such pieces 



The Discovery of Realism 57 

Steele remarked, "it has been a most exquisite pleasure to me to 
frame characters of domestic life." 

The Tatler was suspended at the end of 1710; but two months 
later the pair of friends started a new journal, the Spectator. 
Expanding the fictional element from the Tatler, "Mr. Spec 
tator" started off with a group of characters supposedly asso 
ciated with him in the enterprise Sir Roger de Coverley, Sir 
Andrew Freeport, Will Honeycomb, and others, including their 
lady friend Leonora. Whenever there was a dearth of news, the 
editors could fill a whole issue with another scene from the 
lives of these people. Some modern reprints give a false im 
pression of unity by making a separate book of the "De 
Coverley Papers." It must be remembered that Sir Roger and 
his friends appeared at irregular intervals, without any com 
prehensive scheme. But Sir Roger, in particular, was soon in 
vested with so much individuality and humor that both Steele 
and Addison enjoyed every opportunity to bring them into their 
pages. If happy-go-lucky Dick Steele had been gifted with 
enough foresight and persistence, or if dignified Mr. Addison 
had been less occupied with affairs of state, one or other of 
them might have invented a plot for these static characters, and 
might thus have become the first English novelist. 

Although long romances had not been written in either France 
or England for nearly half a century, the durable volumes sur 
vived in every gentleman's library, and many had been reprinted 
in successive editions. Much of the comedy in Steele's play, 
The Tender Husband (1705), centered upon Biddy Tipkins, 
who was so steeped in them that, as another character remarked, 
"the young lady, by being kept from the world, has made a 
world of her own. She has spent all her time in reading romances, 
her head is full of shepherds, knights, flowery meads, groves and 
streams, so that if you talk like a man of this world to her, you 
do nothing." In 1710 Addison' s list of a typical lady's library 
included Cassandra, Astraea, The Grand Cyrus (with a pin 
stuck in one of the middle pages), and Clelia (which opened of 
itself in the place that describes two lovers in a bower). In 
1714 Pope described the hero of The Rape of the Lock as 
possessing "twelve vast French romances, nicely gilt"; and in 
real life Pope presented a five-volume set of The Grand Cyrus 
to his friend Martha Blount (who liked to call herself "Parthe- 
nissa"), with a playful letter saying that "it is usual with un- 



58 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

fortunate young women to betake themselves to romances, and 
thereby feed and indulge that melancholy which is occasioned 
by the want of a lover." Clearly the romances were far from 
defunct; everyone knew something of them and regarded them 
with mild but affectionate amusement as old-fashioned and vi 
sionary. In the course of two generations they had established 
a permanent effect by conditioning women to the habit of 
reading for amusement. 

Steele's decision that his paper should "have something which 
may be of entertainment to the Fair Sex" was justified by the 
increasing prominence of women both as readers and as writers. 
The success of the Tatler impelled a rival journalist to start the 
Female Tatler. Most of it was cast in the form of conversations 
among the guests at the salon of the fictitious editor, Mrs. Phoebe 
Crackenthorpe, ranging "from his Grace, my Lord Duke, to 
Mr. Sagathie, the spruce merchant, . . . from the Duchess to Mrs. 
Topsail, the sea captain's wife at Wapping." The purpose of 
giving a survey of social types is evident. 

The real woman hidden behind the disguise of Mrs. Cracken 
thorpe was Mrs. Delariviere Manley, who had inherited the repu 
tation of Aphra Behn both as an authoress and as an adven 
turess. Of higher social origin than Mrs. Behn, she was the 
daughter of a cavalier who had been knighted for his loyal 
services and who had some talent as a writer. After his death 
his daughter's reputation was tainted at an early age when she 
was drawn into a bigamous marriage with a cousin, and was left 
with a child to support. For a while she was attached to the 
household of the Duchess of Cleveland, former mistress of 
Charles II, but was dismissed when the Duchess suspected her 
of designs upon her son. Her first book, entitled simply Letters 
Written by Mrs. Manley (1696), was a lively report of a stage 
coach journey to Exeter, with descriptions of the passengers and 
with short stories introduced as being told by the fellow-trav 
elers. About the same time she produced a comedy and a 
tragedy. For several years she was mistress of an unscrupulous 
married lawyer and helped in some of his financial maneuvers. 
Always a Tory partisan, she wrote her first long piece of fiction 
during the 1705 elections, The Secret History of Queen Zarah 
and the Zarazians, an attempt to discredit the Duchess of Marl- 
borough and the Whig politicians by depicting them, under 



The Discovery of Realism 59 

transparent disguises, as indulging in disreputable love affairs. 
In the preface she explained that she merely "sweetened" the 
real circumstances to procure the greater credit. Acknowledg 
ing that "the romances in France have for a long time been the 
diversion and amusement of the whole world," she expressed 
satisfaction that the "vice" of reading romances was diminishing 
"that fury is very much abated." In offering some of "the 
little histories" that "have taken the place of romances" she 
claimed that they were "much more agreeable to the brisk and 
impetuous humour of the English, who have naturally no taste 
for long-winded performances, for they have no sooner begun 
a book but they desire to see the end of it." Whatever of truth 
may have been in her scandalous narrative, the series of bed 
room scenes had the vividness and psychological intimacy of 
fiction. 

After four years of play writing and journalism, hounded by 
bill collectors and hopefully launching new schemes for en 
riching herself, Mrs. Manley returned to the technique of 
Queen Zarah and published Secret Memoirs and Manners of 
Several Persons of Quality of Both Sexes, from the New Atalantis, 
an Island in the Mediterranean. She acknowledged her allegiance 
to Mrs. Behn by introducing Astrea as the investigator who 
visits the Mediterranean island. The book was a confused jumble 
of comment on all aspects of contemporary English life, cast in 
the form of fiction and containing torrid episodes based on 
notorious recent scandals. In case any reader might miss the 
identification of the celebrities, the author issued a key. The 
first volume aroused so much excitement that when the second 
one came out five months later it was suppressed by the authori 
ties, and the author and the publishers were arrested for libel. 
After protracted hearings, at which Mrs, Manley blandly as 
serted that she had used no secret sources of information and 
had been unaware of any resemblance to actual persons, the 
charge was dismissed. She celebrated her victory by adding two 
more volumes, these being entitled Memoirs of Europe Towards 
the Close of the Eighth Century. 

Mrs. Manley assumed a righteous pose as a moral reformer. 
Quoting Dryden's phrase, she claimed that her purpose was 
"scourging of vice and exhortation to virtue." She defended her 
self against the censure of the Tatler by announcing: 



60 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

Whoever is withheld by consideration of fear, danger, spiteful 
abuses, recriminations, or the mean hopes of missing pity, has views 
too dastardly and mercenary for lofty, steadfast souls, who can 
be only agitated by true greatness, by the love of virtue and the 
love of glory. 

The Neiu Atalantis was widely read and enjoyed. Lady Mary 
Wortley Montagu, being as sensual and opinionated as Mrs. 
Manley herself, liked it infinitely better than Steele's gentility. 
Deploring Mrs. Manley's arrest, she lamented: 

Now she will serve as a scarecrow to frighten people from at 
tempting anything but heavy panegyric; and we shall be teazed 
with nothing but . . . false characters, so daubed with flattery that 
they . . . both scandalize the writer and the subject, like that vile 
paper the Tatler. 

Addison included The Ne<w Atalantis in his catalogue of Leon 
ora's library, and Pope praised it ironically in The Rape of the 
Lock, when the Baron exults: 

While fish in streams, or birds delight in air, 

Or in a coach and six the British fair, 

As long as Atalantis shall be read, . . . 

So long my honour, name, and praise shall live! 

In the flush of this fame, Mrs. Manley published her auto 
biography (again in the guise of fiction) in 1714, as The Ad 
ventures of Rivella. The fictitious narrator of her life story, 
Sir Charles Lovemore (believed to be a recognizable portrait of 
one of her real admirers), repeated her claim to merit as a 
conscientious truth-teller: 

She was proud of having more courage than had any of our sex, 
and of throwing the first stone, which might give a hint for other 
persons of more capacity to examine the defects and vices of some 
men who took a delight to impose upon the world, by the pre 
tense of public good, whilst their true design was only to gratify 
and advance themselves. 

Her final work of fiction was The Power of Love, in seven 
novels (1720), adapted from Painter's Palace of Pleasure and 
other Renaissance novelle. Though by 1712 Swift could describe 
her as "about forty, very homely and very fat," she was securely 
established as the mistress of a rich printer and London alderman, 



The Discovery of Realism 61 

and thus she lived till 1724, cherishing the ideal of herself that 
she had presented in The Adventures of Rivella: 

. . . the only person of her sex that knows how to live, and of 
whom we may say, in relation to love, that she has so peculiar a 
genius for, and has made such notable discoveries in that passion, 
that it would have been a fault in her, not to have been faulty. 

Though Mrs. Manley was blatant in her publicity-hunting and 
monotonous in her series of salacious stories, she has a place in 
the development of the novel. She made a real effort to differen 
tiate the personalities of her characters. Breaking with the high- 
flown elegance of the heroic romance, she depicted the kind of 
contemporary life she knew best, which happened (as she 
boasted in her autobiography) to be sex: 

She has carried the passion farther than could be readily conceived. 
[Many of her erotic scenes] are such representations of nature 
that must warm the coldest reader; it raises high ideas of the dig 
nity of human kind, and informs us that we have in our composition 
wherewith to taste sublime and transporting joys. After persuing 
her enchanting descriptions, which of us have not gone in search 
of raptures which she everywhere tells us, as happy mortals, we 
are capable of tasting. 

Thus she flaunted her belief that fiction, if vivid enough, can 
directly influence the behavior of readers. 

In basing fiction squarely upon contemporary events Mrs. 
Manley was the female counterpart of another writer who 
emerged from the same cut-throat turmoil of Grub Street jour 
nalism and political propaganda. Daniel Defoe, as he came to 
call himself, was a dozen years older than Steele and Addison 
and Mrs. Manley, but he had come slowly to authorship after 
failure in other vocations. Until he was thirty he had been satis 
fied with the name of "Foe", which had been that of his father, 
a London tallow chandler; then some obscure claim to ancient 
Norman blood impelled the future author to adopt the aristo 
cratic prefix "de." The family were strict dissenters and respect 
able citizens; during Daniel's boyhood the father branched into 
the business of butcher and prospered in it. In the hope that 
the boy might enter the Presbyterian ministry he was sent to a 
good academy, where he received a grounding in science, mathe 
matics, and terse English, as well as a smattering of the classics. 



62 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

Upon leaving school he went into business in London, and for 
some years made an ample income by trading in tobacco, wines, 
and liquors as well as haberdashery, which was his chief staple. 
He traveled over England and Scotland on business trips, which 
seem to have taken him sometimes as far as France and Spain. 
By the time he was twenty-four he had married a girl with an 
ample dowry, and during the next five years he could afford a 
country house as well as his London residence alongside his 
warehouse. 

He lost money, however, in ambitious speculations, and was 
involved in a series of lawsuits which indicate that his financial 
methods were not too scrupulous. The cases involved not only 
normal business transactions but such bizarre ventures as a civet- 
cat farm and a stock company to exploit a newly invented div 
ing apparatus. In 1692 the unlucky speculator went bankrupt 
for a staggering sum. 

Making a fresh start as a manufacturer of brick and tiles, 
he was successful enough during the next twelve years to pay off 
much of his debt. But in the same years he was giving more and 
more of his time to political activity. He held minor government 
appointments, and in some mysterious way he was advising the 
Whig officials in financial policy. Apparently he was acting also 
as a secret investigator in various parts of the country. 

Before his bankruptcy he had written a few commonplace 
poems, and afterwards his restless interest in new inventions 
and social reform expressed itself in a book proposing such 
radical ideas as an income tax, pension and insurance systems, 
good roads, hospitals for the feeble-minded, a military academy, 
and higher education for women. Some of the schemes were 
not put into effect until two hundred years later; but Defoe 
presented them not as Utopian visions but as clearly reasoned 
plans, complete with methods of financing and administration. 
This Essay upon Projects, published in 1697, revealed Defoe's 
unique genius, which may be termed "practical imagination" 
the ability to develop existing facts in original directions with 
out sacrificing plausibility. The book is notable also for its 
prose style, which is clear, positive, and sensible, free alike from 
the embellishments of the romance-writers and from the witti 
cisms of the journalists. It was the prose of a businessman, con 
cerned only with making himself understood. 



The Discovery of Realism 63 

As a political partisan with a flair for writing, Defoe was soon 
drawn into producing propaganda pamphlets. Through these 
he gained skill in emphasis and in the use of vivid examples and 
analogies. Being a devout dissenter, be could not bring himself 
to write the obscenities that were usual with Brown and Ward 
and most of the other professionals; but apart from this he tried 
every current literary mode, only to prove that for the two that 
were most prevalent poetry and satire he had little talent. 
His verse was pedestrian, and his most notorious piece of satire 
was so inept that his political enemies were able to accuse him 
of seditious libel and to have him imprisoned, fined, and exposed 
in the pillory. During his months in jail his brick business col 
lapsed; and when he was pardoned, at the age of forty-three, deep 
in debt, penniless, with seven children to support, he finally 
committed himself wholly to the profession of letters. 

His output was incredible. From 1704 to 1713 he conducted 
a newspaper, the Review, which for most of the time came out 
three times a week, and which he wrote almost wholly himself. 
His pamphlets, being anonymous, are not all identified with cer 
tainty, but may have reached a total of four hundred. As he was 
subsidized by politicians, he wrote almost exclusively about 
national affairs, but an occasional gleam of interest in individual 
human behavior broke through. The most notable was a pam 
phlet called A True Relation of the Apparition of one Mrs. 
Veal (1706). Public interest had been excited when a woman 
in Canterbury reported a visit from a friend who had died 
twenty-four hours before. Defoe's narrative was so matter-of- 
fact in manner and so photographic in detail that it made the 
supernatural episode uncannily convincing. 

During most of these years he was traveling over England and 
Scotland, under a false name, as a government spy; and thus he 
sharpened his naturally keen faculty for observing details of 
psychology and conduct, and enriched his fertility of invention 
whenever he had to offer plausible evidence to conceal his iden 
tity. Not until he was almost sixty, however, did he stumble 
on the kind of writing that produced his masterpieces. By that 
time, in spite of having shifted his allegiance to serve whatever 
party was in power, sometimes to the extent of writing for 
papers of both parties at once, his political prestige was waning, 
and twice more he had been convicted for libels. His rugged 



64 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

health was beginning to crack, and his enemies were exulting 
over his downfall. 

Without being aware of it, he was uniquely qualified to write 
in a new way. He had studied human nature from many angles: 
in politics, as adviser to ministers of state, and also as a devious 
agitator and spy; in business, as a prosperous trader and also as a 
ruined bankrupt. Twenty years of journalism gave him mastery 
of a supremely readable style. Nevertheless he seems to have 
arrived at the change of material by a process of elimination, 
rather than by choice. And he found the first of his new subjects 
almost accidentally. 

Travels to remote and primitive regions were among the 
best-selling books of the early eighteenth century. Sea captains 
published meticulous records of their voyages; men who had been 
captured by Barbary pirates or Asiatic natives were sure of eager 
readers when they escaped to civilization; the buccaneers of the 
Spanish Main were popular heroes. Defoe had always shared 
this interest in geography and exploration, but not until 1719 
did he think of making a book on the subject. 

Six years earlier, the public had been fascinated with the 
adventures of Alexander Selkirk, who had lived alone for four 
years on a remote island. In 1718 the interest was revived by a 
new edition of the book that recounted his rescue. It is possible 
that Defoe had interviewed Selkirk in person. At any rate, he 
probably thought first of doing a short, factual report like the one 
on Mrs. Bargrave, who had seen the ghost of Mrs. Veal. The 
Veal pamphlet had been reprinted again and again. But as Defoe's 
"practical imagination" dwelt upon Selkirk's experiences, he be 
gan to visualize ways of giving them a stronger hold upon readers. 
He could lengthen the period on the island; he could add de 
tails suggested by the narratives of other castaways. Obviously, 
since Selkirk's real tale was well known, Defoe could not make 
these improvements without changing the protagonist's identity. 
Once this was done, the account grew far beyond the dimen 
sions of a literal report. 

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson 
Crusoe, of York, Mariner, published in 1719, contained all the 
elements of popular appeal. It was a story of wild adventure 
and yet it was told with the coolness of everyday routine. No 
other theme, perhaps, has as strong a psychological impact as 



The Discovery of Realism 65 

the struggle of an individual to survive in hostile surroundings. 
67 the simple device of telling it in the first person, Defoe 
gave an incomparable sense of actuality. The narrator was such 
an average unimaginative specimen of humanity that most read 
ers identified themselves with him completely and automatically 
before they finished the first chapter. Matter-of-fact tradesmen 
and artisans, approving all Crusoe's efficient contrivances, rev 
eled vicariously in his triumph over primitive hardships, and 
perhaps secretly envied him his remoteness from the counter 
and the workbench. 

On the artistic side, the story's inherent requirements guaran 
teed unity and climax. Undeniably the opening narrative of 
Crusoe's early years of perils by sea and land is episodic; but 
this part is kept brief and can be justified as establishing his 
self-reliant character. Once he sets foot on his island, the tempo 
slows to that of his daily life; the scene contracts to the few 
square miles of his domain; the action moves without digression 
toward its only possible climax his rescue. Though thoughtful 
readers had in the back of their minds the comforting certainty 
of this happy outcome, since Crusoe lived to tell his tale, there 
was terrific tension at each stage along the way, as he faced the 
crises of starvation, of sickness, of insanity, and then the unfor 
gettable moment of the footprint in the sand. 

Defoe's readers had no idea that they were being offered a 
work of fiction. The title page said that Crusoe's narrative was 
"written by himself," and the unsigned preface assured them that 
"the editor believes the thing to be a just history of fact; neither 
is there any appearance of fiction in it.' 7 This guarantee was in 
tended to allay the doubts of religious-minded readers, who had 
been brought up in the belief that fiction was identical with 
lying, and thus was a device of Satan to tempt men's minds from 
virtue. Such readers were further reassured that "The story is 
told with modesty, with seriousness, and with a religious appli 
cation of events to the uses to which wise men always apply 
them, viz., to the instruction of others by this example, and to 
justify and honor the wisdom of Providence in all the variety 
of circumstances, let them happen how they will." 

Luckily Defoe did not let this latter purpose dominate the 
story to the extent of making it tiresomely didactic. Crusoe's 
occasional religious moralizing rendered hinuall the more plausi- 



66 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

ble as a typical lower-middle-class Englishman. It was the au 
thor's other concession to his readers' austerity the necessity 
of convincing them that this was "a just history of fact" that 
made it a milestone in the history of the novel. Under the 
compulsion of his market, he produced the first long piece of 
prose fiction that had the primary purpose of giving the illusion 
of reality. After years of hiring his pen to politicians in order 
to impose their views upon the public, he must have been amazed 
to find that far more readers could be secured by simply enabling 
them to merge their identity in that of a fictitious character. 

Though the book was ignored or despised by intellectual 
authors and cultivated readers, it gained unprecedented success. 
A satirist of the time describes Defoe as telling his friend 
Crusoe, 

I have made you, out of nothing, famed from Tutle Street to 
Limehouse Hole; there is not an old woman that can go to the 
price of it but buys the Life and Adventures, and leaves it as a 
legacy with the Pilgrim's Progress, the Practice of Piety, and God's 
Revenge Against Murder, to her posterity. 

The businesslike author did not delay in exploiting this un 
foreseen triumph. Apparently, however, he failed to realize that 
the book's effectiveness had resided partly in its artistic unity. 
As with The Pilgrim's Progress, this quality had been inherent 
in the theme, rather than conceived by the author. When Defoe 
rushed into print with The Farther Adventures of Robinson 
Crusoe, four months after the first part, he took Crusoe back 
on a casual visit to his island and then on an interminable busi 
ness sojourn in the East Indies, followed by a rambling journey 
homeward across China and Siberia. Worse still, the next year 
came The Serious Re-flections of Robinson Crusoe, a volume 
of moralizing with no action at all. 

The progressive anticlimax of the three parts not only illus 
trates the usual ineffectiveness of sequels, but specifically proves 
how little the author recognized what had given the original 
book its novelty. Seemingly he considered his readers to be 
attracted by geographical information rather than by the thrills of 
danger. Besides, he was worried by attacks upon the first part. 
Adversaries had pointed out a few inconsistencies of detail, such 
as that Crusoe filled his pockets with biscuit after swimming 



The Discovery of Realism 61 

naked to the wrecked ship, an episode cited by Benjamin Hoadley 
to support his blunt charge that the book was "a most palpable 
lie from beginning to end." Even more disturbing was Charles 
Gildon's charge that the story did not teach a lesson: "To render 
any fable worthy of being received into the number of those 
which are truly valuable, it must naturally produce in its event 
some useful moral, either expressed or understood." In the pref 
ace to Part II Defoe emphasized the moral value of the first 
part, even at the expense of admitting that some portions were 
not literally true: "The just application of every incident, the 
religious and useful inferences to be drawn from every part, 
are so many testimonies to the good design of making it public, 
and must legitimate all the part that may be called invention 
or parable in the story." By the time he wrote the Serious 
Reflections he followed this idea to the absurd extreme of 
asserting that the first two parts were to be read as "parable or 
allegoric history," of which "the just and only good end" is 
"moral and religious improvement." On this basis he defended 
his use of exotic settings: "Facts that are formed to touch the 
mind must be done a great way off, and by somebody never 
heard of." 

As soon as he finished The Farther Adventures, Defoe looked 
for other stories of strange experiences. His next three dealt 
with characters so picturesque that no veneer of invention was 
needed: a dumb man who suddenly gained powers of speech 
and prophecy at the age of fifty-eight, another deaf mute who 
was currently astonishing London as a fortune-teller, a pirate 
captain who established a temporary kingdom in Madagascar. In 
the same year with these three literal biographies, Defoe brought 
out two books which were entirely fictitious, but which derived 
enough precise detail from authentic sources to sound utterly 
convincing. One of them, The Memoirs of a Cavalier, was used 
by historians as a reliable first-hand record of the Civil War 
period until modern research attributed it to Defoe; the "editor" 
had explained plausibly that the manuscript came to light among 
the papers of a deceased cabinet minister. The other book, 
The Life, Adventures, and Piracies of the Famous Captain 
Singleton, fell into two loosely related halves. The first half was 
largely occupied with the hardships of a party of mutineers, 
abandoned on the east coast of Africa, who made their way 



68 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

across the heart of the continent to the west coast as their only 
chance of being rescued. Little was known about the interior 
of Africa at that time; but so thoroughly did Defoe absorb such 
information as he could find, and so fully did he visualize every 
detail, that his descriptions were not seriously invalidated by 
later explorations. After this epic trek, the second half of the 
book falls somewhat flat, though it deals with Singleton's excit 
ing exploits of piracy, and includes a voyage around Australia, 
which was then as totally unknown as the central Africa of the 
earlier chapters. The book was an outgrowth of Defoe's re 
search when he was writing the biography of the real pirate, 
Captain Avery; and he discovered a new device for plausibility 
when he made Captain Singleton fall in with Avery's gang. 
Anyone who had recently read The King of the Pirates would 
feel an immediate conviction of truth, as well as a pleasant sense 
of familiarity, when he met the same pirate leader figuring in 
another book especially as no one suspected that both books 
were by the same author. 

A year later Defoe displayed another burst of energy. In 
1722, in addition to a long book of sanctimonious dialogues on 
marriage, he published two of his best fictitious biographies and 
also an amazing work of fiction that was not a narrative at all. 
England was terrified that year by a serious recurrence of 
plague in France. Defoe, as usual, exploited the public interest 
with a pamphlet, Due Preparations -for the Plague, which told 
about the last great outbreak in London in 1665; and he followed 
this with a more remarkable book on the same subject. As he 
had been scarcely five years old at the time, he could have 
retained only the dimmest recollection of it; but in A Journal 
of the Plague Year he constructed what purported to be a first 
hand account of the calamity, so successfully that the book 
was accepted for more than a century as the authentic diary of 
a saddler who was in London throughout the weeks of the crisis. 
Not even the chronicler, however, can be described as a char 
acter, since he is not accorded so much as the bare identifica 
tion of a name; and unlike Robinson Crusoe he makes no effort 
to contend with circumstances, but merely records stoically 
from day to day the conditions that he observes around him. 
And yet his anonymity increases the effect, by making him a 
typical specimen of the thousands constituting the helpless 



The Discovery of Realism 69 

population of London. His acceptance of the facts becomes an 
emotional atmosphere in its very lack of emotion: one feels that 
it reproduces the numb fatalism that would be the only possible 
way of enduring the horrors of the pestilence. Even statistics 
acquire artistic validity in this context. 

Among the books that Defoe brought out in 1722, the one 
now regarded most highly is The 'Fortunes and Misfortunes of 
the famous Moll Flanders. It can never rival the fame of 
"Robinson Crusoe (Part I), which has been read for over two cen 
turies by millions in virtually every language of the world be 
cause of its unsurpassed appeal to children. Even the least book 
ish of boys can absorb Crusoe and be impelled to act out the 
castaway's exploits in the nearest patch of woods. Moll Flanders 
is emphatically not a story for children, but its essential theme 
is much the same as that of Crusoe: the resourceful heroine, cast 
on the world in childhood without family or money, manages 
to conquer every mischance through a long lifetime, by her 
stubborn refusal to yield. Defoe's knowledge of the criminal 
class, and his realization of the ruthlessness of the struggle for 
survival, provide unity of impression in spite of the episodic 
structure. 

He was aware that the autobiographic method was dangerous 
here. Readers might doubt whether Moll could tell her story 
with the clarity and restraint that were inherent in his style. 
His preface therefore explained that the original manuscript 
("written in the year 1683") had been modified by the editor: 

The world is so taken up of late with novels and romances, that 
it will be hard for a private history to be taken for genuine, where 
the names and other circumstances of the person are concealed, 
and on this account we must be content to leave the reader to pass 
his own opinion upon the ensuing sheets. ... It is true that the 
original of this story is put into new words, and the style of the 
famous lady we here speak of is a little altered; particularly she 
is made to tell her own tale in modester words than she told it at 
first, the copy which came first to hand having been written in 
language more like one still in Newgate than one grown penitent 
and humble, as she afterwards pretends to be. 

The problem was not confined to plausibility of style, but ex 
tended also to morals. Moll's clearest trait was the complacency 
with which she chronicled her lawless career, and Defoe knew 



70 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

how repugnant this must be to the decent citizens who were 
his best customers. He fell back on the obvious excuse that 
the sordid tale would render crime disgusting and that Moll's 
belated repentance justified the ugly details: 

As the best use is made even of the worst story, the moral 'tis 
hoped will keep the reader serious, even where the story might 
incline him to be otherwise. To give the history of a wicked life 
repented of, necessarily requires that the wicked part should be 
made as wicked as the real history of it will bear, to illustrate and 
give a beauty to the penitent part. 

The title page gave generous promise of viciousness by an 
nouncing that Moll "was born in Newgate, and during a life of 
continued variety for threescore years, besides her childhood, 
was twelve year a whore, five times a wife (whereof once to her 
own brother), twelve year a thief, eight year a transported felon 
in Virginia, at last grew rich, lived honest, and died a penitent." 
The preface dropped further tantalizing allusions to gaudy mo 
ments in the story, but the "editor'' smugly explained: 

There is not a wicked action in any part of it but is first and 
last rendered unhappy and unfortunate; there is not a superlative 
villain brought upon the stage, but either he is brought to an un 
happy end, or brought to be penitent; there is not an ill thing men 
tioned but it is condemned, even in the relation, nor a virtuous, 
just thing, but it carries its praise along with it. 

The deft mixture of lewd particulars and moral strictures was 
exactly suited to the taste of Defoe's readers. Being of their 
own class and temperament, Defoe may have been sincere in his 
attitude; but if the book had been no more than this it would have 
small claim to survival. Its basic importance rests neither upon 
Moll's sins nor upon her repentance, but upon the tolerance and 
insight which belie the author's conventional censure and which 
link him with Chaucer and Shakespeare and other great humane 
writers. Moll is revealed as a normal human type whose behavior 
and standards were shaped by circumstances. Driven by an un 
controllable urge to become a "lady," she has no alternative but 
to drift into a life of sin; and as soon as she and her fifth husband, 
after their transportation to Virginia, succeed in acquiring a 
profitable plantation, her economic status enables her to fulfil 
her lifelong ambition and turn respectable. 



The Discovery of Realism 11 

Moll Flanders is the best of Defoe's novels because it is dom 
inated and unified by the personality of the heroine. Whether by 
a feat of imaginative identification or by his innate possession of 
the same traits, Defoe creates a consistent and convincing por 
trait of a human creature whose reactions are totally materialistic, 
never either imaginative or spiritual. Though sensual, she has 
not an iota of sensibility. She never challenges the respectable 
middle-class standards in which she was brought up; but they 
are in ironic contrast with her life of crime. Financial prosperity 
and physical possessions are her only goal. 

The narrative pattern is as loose as in Defoe's previous books, 
sometimes with long periods of the heroine's career summarized 
in a single sentence. In fact, if the reader can ever detach 
himself from the immediate vividness of the separate episodes, 
he must realize the exaggeration of the total record. The same 
love of excess is observable in Robinson Crusoe, where Selkirk's 
four years on the island were magnified to twenty-eight. Thus 
Moll enjoys some twenty lovers and gives birth to about the 
same number of children, along with all her other activities. But 
the circumstantial details, reinforced by "documents" such as 
bills and inventories, carry such conviction that one is seldom 
able to gain the perspective necessary for skepticism. In spite 
of this advantage of the single-line structure, however, a com 
ment in the preface shows Defoe's glimmering of recognition 
that more complex effects might have been achieved if he had 
departed from it: 

There are two of the most beautiful parts still behind, which this 
story gives some idea of, and lets us into the parts of them, but 
they are either of them too long to be brought into the same vol 
ume, and indeed are, if I may call them, whole volumes of them 
selves, viz.: 1, the life of her governess, as she calls her. . . . The 
second is the life of her transported husband. 

This half promise of sequels was not fulfilled; instead of con 
tinuing with a Moll Flanders cycle, Defoe invented a sort of 
masculine counterpart for her in The History and Remarkable 
Life of the Truly Honourable Colonel Jacque, which came out 
in the same year. An illegitimate son of aristocratic parents, 
Jacque was brought up by a baby-farmer and became a child 
pickpocket. The first section of the book is a sympathetic ac- 



72 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

count of a youngster living by his wits in the London under 
world; but after Jacque grows up the interest wanes. After a 
long series of disjointed adventures as a highwayman, a deserter, 
a slave and an overseer on Virginia plantations, he reforms, about 
the middle of the book, wins promotion by bravery in the 
French army, and assists the Old Pretender in the rebellion of 
1715. All this is interlarded with his business ventures and his 
marriages to five women of ill fame. The historical events in 
this later part are based on research, and real celebrities of the 
time are introduced, in the same manner as in the Memoirs 
of a Cavalier. 

The last of Defoe's books with any claim to be classified as 
a novel was The Fortmate Mistress, more often known as 
Roxana (1724). In it he created a heroine as unprincipled as 
Moll Flanders, but placed her in the higher social plane of 
Colonel Jacque's later life. He may have taken hints from the 
notorious Mary Carleton, and the book has some affinity also 
with Mrs. Behn's Fair Jilt and Mrs. Manley's Adventures of Ri- 
vella. Defoe's heroine, deserted by a bankrupt husband, grows 
rich in several European countries as mistress to a succession of 
business magnates and aristocrats, sets up her establishment in 
London and moves in court society as a French lady of title. 
Toward the end of the book, when Roxana is in danger of being 
identified by one of the daughters of her early marriage, Defoe 
achieves unwonted suspense and the reader hopes that for 
once there will be a strong climax. But the author tires of the 
situation, eliminates the daughter without explaining what be 
came of her, and ends the book with a few perfunctory sentences. 
One can only surmise that when he had written enough pages 
to make a volume he saw no reason to do another hour's work. 

In the remaining six years of his life he wrote no more 
fiction. This was not due to any lack of success with his books 
in this genre. The satirists continued to point them out as the 
favorite reading matter of the servant class. As one lampoon 
said in 1729: 

Down in the kitchen honest Dick and Doll 

Are studying Colonel Jack and Flanders Moll. 

Defoe's pen remained as active as ever, but apparently he had 
no inkling that his half-dozen books of fiction were to be his 



The Discovery of Realism 13 

lasting monument. After 1724 he withdrew from political jour 
nalism and settled down in the country to devote himself to 
gardening and book collecting, along with a new partnership 
in a brick and tile business, which was no more successful than 
his earlier venture. The main result was that he wrote a text 
book on how to make money in business. 

The other writings of his final years included biographies of 
real people who were currently notorious, chiefly criminals 
(Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild) and seamen (Captain George 
Roberts and Captain Robert Drury). Only one of them, The 
Military Memoirs of Captain George Carleton, seems to have 
been a fictitious compilation from historical sources, like the 
Memoirs of a Cavalier. He also wrote several treatises on the 
supernatural, a subject that had always fascinated him. 

The illusion of actual experience in Defoe's six novels is 
directly associated with the absence of customary artistic re 
sponsibility. In real life we are usually so close to our experi 
ences that they lack proportion and logical correlation; but in 
fiction we expect the irrelevant to be excluded, the significant 
to be intensified, and an underlying pattern of causation to be 
revealed. In Defoe's stories, however, the events are unselected: 
an inventory of furniture or the menu of a meal is recorded 
as fully as a life-and-death crisis; elaborate preparations are often 
left without fulfillment, whereas a major event may occur with 
neither cause nor consequences. Defoe's own career with its 
extremes of fortune had left him no opportunity to gain the 
perspective that sees a logic in events. 

A similar comment applies to his characterization. Because 
of the episodic structure, it is seldom that any character except 
the narrator appears at sufficient length to be fully portrayed; 
the large and ever-changing cast of subsidiary persons remain 
little more than type figures. By contrast, the narrator in each 
book seems to have a thoroughly developed personality; but this 
is simply because through all vicissitudes of fortune and all perils 
and strange adventures each hero or heroine persistently remains 
an ordinary individual, and therefore the reader automatically 
projects his own personality into the character and enriches it 
with complexities not actually stated in the narrative. This 
utter normality results in its turn from the fact that Defoe em 
bodied himself in each of the central characters. Colonel Jacque's 



14 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

determination to rise to the social level of his forebears is a 
reflection of the author's adding of "de" to his surname and 
applying for a coat of arms and buying country houses. Moll 
Flanders is impelled by a psychopathic dread of Newgate Prison 
such as Defoe had acquired from his own months in jail. Roxana 
keeps a meticulous ledger of her earnings and investments as 
Defoe must have done in his business dealings. 

All this points to the final reason why Defoe's six works of 
fiction are not in the category of major novels. They are based 
upon no analysis of life. Defoe is a chronicler of phenomena, 
not an interpreter of them. Hence there could be neither true 
comedy nor true tragedy in his stories. Their only ideological 
element is the revelation of the mentality of the author's time 
and class. His ^ work epitomizes the newly influential bourgeoisie 
with their social aspirations, their financial acquisitiveness, their 
materialistic code of values, their utilitarian ethics, their puritan 
righteousness superimposed upon a primitive taste for violence 
and eroticism. His epitome is authentic because it is uninten 
tional. He was not seeking either to condemn or to justify. He 
wrote about things as he understood them, and his readers were 
satisfied because it was thus that they understood things too. 

Neither Defoe's materials nor his methods were entirely new 
in English. Four centuries earlier, the author of Mandeville's 
Travels had similarly fitted together details from other writers to 
construct a plausible first-personal narrative of adventures in 
distant lands he had never seen. Defoe's work was even more 
reminiscent of the "cony-catching" pamphlets of Greene. Several 
of Greene's best revelations of villainy had been made plausible 
by the device of autobiography, and Nashe had refined upon the 
same technique in Jack Wilton. In simple vocabulary and com 
mon-sense attitude Defoe's forerunner was Deloney. The differ 
ence resided in Defoe's imaginative identification. When readers 
were thus provided with the wherewithal for actually sharing 
the ^experiences of the imaginary performers, the one essential 
attribute of the novel had at last been discovered. 

Since Defoe himself so readily relinquished his new literary 
genre after only five years, it is not surprising that no other 
writer went on with it. In the opinion of more cultivated 
authors, only the semi-literate could be satisfied with the simple 
interest of objective realism. The sole major work of prose fie- 



The Discovery of Realism 15 

tion of the decade, although it borrowed technical hints from 
Robinson Crusoe ^ remained loyal to the axiom that realism must 
be the handmaid of an ulterior purpose. Jonathan Swift had 
been a competitor of Defoe in political journalism for twenty 
years, and had despised him as "so grave, sententious, dogmatical 
a rogue, that there is no enduring him." Swift had used imaginary 
characters and action in his early satires, The 'Battle of the Books 
and A Tale of a Tub, and when he decided, in his embittered 
later life, to compose an all-inclusive condemnation of human 
nature, prose fiction offered itself as the most suitable vehicle. 

The main problem of a universal satirist is that he must 
entice readers to accept a piece of writing that ruthlessly attacks 
themselves and their most cherished assumptions. Swift sought 
to lull suspicions by presenting what seemed to be a harmless 
specimen of a currently popular type of book and to stimulate 
interest so promptly that by the time his true purpose emerged 
the reader would be too firmly captivated to desist. Accord 
ingly he invented a Defoe-like hero, a commonplace ship's officer, 
and wrote in an appropriately homespun style. He even studied 
a treatise on navigation to ensure technical accuracy in the ac 
count of the voyage. When these plausible elements were con 
joined with the first-personal point of view, readers were bound 
to fall into the author's trap by identifying themselves imagina 
tively with the narrator. 

Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel 
Gulliver, was published in 1726 in exactly the format of genuine 
narratives of exploration, and with no hint that the real author 
was the brilliant Dean Swift. An unsuspecting reader, upon 
reaching the second chapter and finding Gulliver a captive of 
the six-inch Lilliputians, would realize that the work was a fan 
tasy, but would read further in expectation of an amusing 
burlesque upon exaggerated tales of adventure. And even the 
satire throughout the first voyage would gratify readers rather 
than infuriate them. By being identified with Gulliver, we 
share his calm self-confidence, his superhuman forbearance, his 
benign amusement at the Lilliputians' petty politics and petty 
wars. Intellectually we are aware that when we laugh at the 
vainglorious midgets we are laughing at our own pretensions; but 
emotionally we enjoy the delight of rising above human limita 
tions with Gulliver's secure sense of wisdom and power. 



16 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

In the second voyage all this abruptly changes. Inescapably 
identified now with the narrator, the reader has to become help 
less and terrified, struggling to maintain his self-respect by pitiful 
bragging. At the same time, seeing the Brobdingnagians as mag 
nified human beings, we realize that physical strength and 
beauty can be loathsomely coarse. The third voyage similarly 
destroys our faith in man's highest endowment, his brain. The 
way has now been prepared for the final voyage, when, still shar 
ing Gulliver's emotions, we regard mankind as lower than animals. 
By no other technique than that of imaginative identification 
could Swift have succeeded in subverting all our inmost criteria 
of human superiority. 

If Defoe never achieved a full-scale novel because his books 
lacked interpretation of life, Gulliver's Travels falls outside of 
the canon for the opposite reason. Its greatness resides in its 
meaning, not in its story. In external pattern it consists of four 
separate episodes, each complete in itself. The final powerful 
climax is in the mind of the reader, and not in Gulliver's career. 
The significance of Gulliver's Travels in the development of the 
novel is simply the fact that Swift, to accomplish his special 
purpose, was obliged to borrow the new realistic method as the 
best means of capturing the greatest number of readers. And 
the ultimate irony of his career is that his subordinate device 
came to obscure his ulterior purpose. The book was too clever 
to be ignored, yet too painful to be accepted. By an instinct 
of self-defense, posterity solved the dilemma by shutting their 
eyes to the intolerable satire, labeling the book a pleasant fan 
tasy, and then eliminating the second half of it in order to make 
it suitable reading matter for children. Robbed of its intel 
lectual meaning, it took its place alongside three earlier master 
pieces, the Morte Darthur, The Pilgrim's Progress, and Robin 
son Crusoe, as a juvenile classic. 

Apart from Defoe and Swift, the writers of prose fiction be 
tween 1720 and 1740 were undistinguished hacks, predominantly 
female. The most industrious was Eliza Haywood, who began 
to write a few months before the death of Mrs. Manley and 
sought to become her successor. The daughter of a London 
shopkeeper, she was married early to a clergyman who was 
many years older. After an unsuccessful debut as an actress, 
between 1719 and 1725 she published half-a-dozen short and 



The Discovery of Realism 77 

melodramatic "exemplary novels," after the model set by 
Mrs. Behn. These were repeatedly reprinted and reached the 
eminence of a collected edition in 1725; perhaps it was the suc 
cess of her first books that encouraged her to run away from her 
husband in 1721. In 1725 she turned to the scandal-mongering 
type of roman a clef, and imitated Mrs. Manley in two books 
that gained some notoriety, Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent 
to the Kingdom of Utopia and The Secret History of the 
Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania. For many years 
she continued with a flood of books and pamphlets, but her chief 
reward was an exceptionally brutal allusion in Pope's Dunciad. 

Like Mrs. Manley, Mrs. Haywood kept up a srnug pretense 
of morality as justification for her erotic scenes. In her preface 
to Lasselia she rejected "that aspersion which some of my own 
sex have been unkind enough to throw upon me, that 4 I seem to 
endeavor to divert more than to improve the minds of my 
readers.' Now, as I take it, the aim of every person who pre 
tends to write (though in the most insignificant and ludicrous 
way) ought to tend at least to a good moral use." Most of the 
other women writers of the time went further and actually wrote 
tediously proper fiction. These well-meaning ladies included Jane 
Barker, Elizabeth Rowe, Penelope Aubin, and Arabella Plantin, 
The best of them, Mrs. Mary Davys, displayed some realism 
and humor, and sought to follow Congreve's example in adapting 
the unified structure of comedy. A little later Elizabeth Boyd, 
with The Female Page (1737), reverted toward Mrs. Behn's 
raffish lewdness. 

Knowing what the novel was soon to become, we are apt to 
wonder at the obtuseness of the writers from 1700 to 1740 in 
failing to achieve the final synthesis of their material. Characters 
existed without plots, as in the De Coverley Papers; settings ex 
isted without characters, as in the Journal of the Plague Year; 
plots existed without either definite settings or believable char 
acters; potentially effective situations were allowed to fade out in 
muddled anticlimaxes. Fact and fiction were inextricably con 
fused in the "secret histories" that claimed to reveal actual in 
trigues under false names, and in the fictitious biographies 
wherein Defoe used all his skill to deceive his readers into be 
lieving that Singleton and Moll Flanders had really existed, as 
well as in the biographies of real people that heightened their 



18 The English Novel (1700-1740) 

interest by exaggerating the adventures. The best prose writer 
of the time, Jonathan Swift, practiced fiction only as a vehicle for 
philosophical satire, while the man with the potential talent of a 
great novelist, Alexander Pope, never wrote prose at all 

Nevertheless, the half-century marked a vital stage in the 
process by which the novel came to birth. The old fantastic 
trappings of the romances were discarded. Prose style became 
simple and flexible enough to be appropriate for reproducing 
everyday experience. Natural dialogue was used for many pur 
poses of exposition and ridicule. A huge new reading public 
was being purged of the old suspicion that fiction was either 
a waste of time or an incitement to sin, and was becoming con 
ditioned to enjoy the pleasure of identifying themselves with 
the characters and events that an author invented. Equally 
essential was the expansion of the book trade to a point where 
substantial books could be distributed in large numbers at a 
reasonable price. Not until all these conditions had developed 
was it possible for writers to conceive that long fiction might 
be practiced as a form of art. 




IV 



The First Masterpieces 

(1740 - 175?) 



IN ALL BRANCHES of history, important developments occur when 
by accident the right person is in the right circumstances at 
the right moment. When the novel was ready to emerge from 
its long prenatal development, no single individual had enough 
foresight to envision the opportunity clearly; but by a set of 
curious chances two separate men, antithetical in every trait of 
personality, blundered into the new genre from opposite direc 
tions and were intelligent enough to recognize what they had 
found. 

The man who first served as catalyst for the suspended ele 
ments of the novel was not unlike the two who had come nearest 
to distinction in the preparatory era. Both Bunyan and Defoe 
originated in the tradesman class and reached middle age before 
external pressures impelled them to start writing fiction. Samuel 
Richardson differed from them only insofar as the lower middle 
class had become stabilized during the two generations since 
Bunyan's time. He was more prosperous than Defoe in the same 
ratio as Defoe had been more prosperous than Bunyan; and he 

79 



80 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

was less devout than Defoe in the same ratio as Defoe had been 
less devout than Bunyan. Bunyan had been a preacher for an 
evangelical Puritan sect; Defoe's parents had dreamed of making 
him a Presbyterian minister; but Richardson's parents dreamed 
of making him an Anglican clergyman. The moral earnest 
ness remained, but economic improvement brought a steady 
trend toward orthodoxy. 

Richardson's father was a London cabinet-maker who was 
living somewhere in Derbyshire when his son was born. The 
boy's schooling did not go beyond the average training for a 
tradesman's son. At school, where he was nicknamed "Gravity" 
and "Serious," he was popular for his facility in telling stories, 
some derived from his reading and others from his own inven 
tion. By the time he was thirteen, various young women were 
confiding their secret love affairs to him and asking him for help 
in revising their letters to their sweethearts. At seventeen he 
chose to be apprenticed to a printer in London, in the hope that 
this vocation would allow opportunity to indulge his fondness 
for reading. After his seven years of apprenticeship he spent 
further years as typesetter, proofreader, and foreman, until when 
he was thirty he was able to set up his own business, and two 
years later he married his former employer's daughter. Cautious 
in his business dealings and tactful in his personal relations, he 
prospered steadily until he could afford the luxury of a second 
house in the suburbs as a week-end retreat from the printing 
shop. 

Short, fat, and rosy-faced, fond of good food and drink until 
he began to worry about his health and submit to rigid diets, 
he was apparently a typical businessman who dabbled in author 
ship only because it was part of the routine of his particular 
trade. He compiled indexes, wrote dedications and prefaces, 
edited and revised manuscripts. His first independent book was 
a brief manual of advice to young workmen, The Apprentice's 
Vade Mecum. 

A commission for a similar book came to him from two 
leading booksellers in 1739. This, as he reports, was to be "a 
little volume of letters, in a common style, on such subjects as 
might be of use to those country readers who were unable to 
indite for themselves." He set about composing the usual form- 
letters that could be adapted for use in typical situations, such 



The First Masterpieces 81 

as paying a bill, hiring a worker, and expressing congratulations 
or sympathy. 

In accepting the assignment, Richardson proposed that the 
letters could be used not only as specimens of form but as 
moral precepts: "Will it be any harm, said I, in a piece you want 
to be written so low, if we should instruct them how they should 
think and act in common cases, as well as indite?" He soon found 
that this obliged him to invent specific circumstances, and his 
boyhood talent for story-telling proved useful. More than once 
he linked several letters together into a longer episode; and he 
relieved the prevailing tone of practicality and earnestness with 
an occasional humorous piece. When he came to compose a 
solemn letter of parental advice, "A Father to a Daughter in 
Service on Hearing of her Master's Attempting her Virtue," 
he was reminded of "the knowledge of the female heart," as he 
called it, that he had obtained in his youthful role as confidant 
to sentimental girls. 

By this time, at the age of fifty, he was able to spend more 
than week-ends at his comfortable house in Fulham, and so 
he had enough leisure to suspend work upon the handbook and 
to start a new series of letters that would deal fully with the 
problem of the imperiled servant girl. His point of departure 
being the father's letter of counsel, the next step obviously was 
to have the girl write her own account of the crisis. 

Once he had undertaken the story, he found that he could not 
restrain its growth. He was dealing with a social environment 
such as he had known since childhood that of the servants in a 
country mansion and with a central character who epitomized 
the naive girls whom he had learned to impersonate when com 
posing their letters for them. Having started with the epistolary 
form, he was committed to the first-personal point of view, with 
its vividness and plausibility. In fact, it gave even more im 
mediacy to the reader's participation than Defoe's method, for 
the events are being reported as they occur, and not in long 
retrospect. And since the narrator was a girl with only a rudi 
mentary education, the simplicity of his prose style was as ap 
propriate as Defoe's had been. In one major respect, however, 
Richardson's initial scheme resulted in an effect that Defoe had 
never perceived. Richardson's story dealt with a single emo 
tional relationship affecting only four or five people and existing 



82 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

only for the working out of its central problem of conduct. 
Therefore, though the book grew to a greater length than any 
of Defoe's, it never became episodic and disjointed, as his always 
did. Defoe's stories, crowded with factual detail, rushed on 
breathlessly from one adventure to the next; Richardson's novel, 
concentrating upon complexities of feeling, moved with ex 
asperating deliberation but with unbroken suspense. Defoe gave 
the illusion of reality by the variety and precision of the ex 
ternal facts; Richardson gave it by the credibility of the internal 
motives and indecisions. 

So far as plot goes, the whole story can be condensed into 
the dimensions of a sentimental stage comedy. Pamela Andrews, 
brought up by God-fearing parents, is a favorite maid of the 

wealthy Lady B . Upon the employer's death the son and 

heir makes advances to her, which she indignantly repels. The 
bulk of the story is taken up with the cajolery, bribes, and threats 

by which Squire B tries to seduce her, until at last he is so 

genuinely in love with her that they are properly married. 

Richardson later claimed that the story was based on an occur 
rence that had been reported to him by a friend fifteen years 
before. The statement may have been made to forestall sug 
gestions that he had borrowed from Pierre de Marivaux's Vie de 
Marianne, which had been appearing in installments since 1731, 
and which also used the letter device. As Richardson could 
not read French, and as there is no evidence that he knew the 
English translation which was still in course of publication, the 
resemblance between the two books is probably due to the fact 
that both authors were adhering to the Cinderella theme, and were 
writing for a sentimental and mainly feminine audience. Stories 
with the same plot were current in broadside ballads, in periodical 
essays, and in chroniques scandaleuses. Richardson's innovation 
was in the psychological subtlety with which Pamela's character 
was revealed. For the first time in English literature a person 
of low social status was portrayed seriously as a complex and 
admirable human being. 

The question remains, whether this illusion of reality can 
be described as the author's primary purpose. The didactic 
moralizing, which had given the incentive, remained persistent 
throughout. The heroine missed no opportunity to reaffirm her 
virtue and to condemn the evil conduct of her master even while 
she was falling in love with him. In a letter to a friend, a dozen 



The First Masterpieces 83 

years later, Richardson explained that "little did I think, at first, 
of making one much less two volumes of it. But when I 
began to recollect what had, so many years before, been told me 
by my friend, I thought the story, if written in an easy and 
natural manner, suitably to the simplicity of it, might possibly 
introduce a new species of writing, that might possibly turn 
young people into a course of reading different from the pomp 
and parade of romance-writing, and dismissing the improbable 
and marvellous, with which novels generally abound, might tend 
to promote the cause of religion and virtue. I therefore gave 
way to enlargement." Beyond a doubt, however, the "enlarge 
ment" was not due primarily to so rational a scheme. Richardson 
was carried away by his emotional involvement in Pamela's ex 
periences and by the delight of probing her feelings. He wrote 
rapidly, completing the long manuscript in two months; and 
when he read it to his wife and three lady friends their enthu 
siasm convinced him that the story would appeal to the public 
by its naturalness rather than by its moral lesson. 

His business connections enabled him to launch the book with 
unusual fanfare. A month before publication date, a long letter 
in a newspaper praised the forthcoming work as "an English 
novel with a truly English spirit of unaffected good sense, and 
yet with a great deal of invention and ingenuity." When it came 
out in November, 1740, it was prefaced not only with two ful 
some letters from friends of the author but also with a fore 
word in which Richardson, posing like Defoe as merely the 
editor of genuine documents, pointed out its merits. The title 
page, too, offered a variety of attractions, moral, realistic, and 
emotional: Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded. In a Series of Familiar 
Letters -from a beautiful Young Damsel, to her Parents. Now 
first published in order to cultivate the Principles of Virtue 
and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes. A 
Narrative which has its Foundation in Truth and Nature; and at 
the same time that it agreeably entertains, by a variety of 
curious and affecting Incidents, is entirely divested of all those 
Images, which, in too many Pieces calculated for Amusement 
only, tend to inflame the Minds they should Instruct. 

Whether or not the devices of publicity contributed to the 
result, Pamela won immediate fame. Alexander Pope sat up all 
night to finish it and declared that "it will do more good than a 
great many of the new sermons." A prominent clergyman 



84 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

(perhaps for a fee) lauded it in the pulpit. The Gentleman's 
Magazine, the most influential periodical of the time, reported 
that it was "judged in Town as great a sign of want of curiosity 
not to have read Pamela as not to have seen the French and 
Italian dancers." The current epigram was that Pamela "like the 
snow that lay last week, covers every other image with her 
own unbounded whiteness." Versified tributes were printed in 
the newspapers. Fashionable ladies flaunted copies of the book 
when they appeared in public, and scenes from it were repro 
duced upon a fan on sale in the smart shops. Letters from en 
thusiastic readers poured into the publishers' office. David Gar- 
rick acted in a dramatic adaptation. Within a year five large 
editions had come off the press, and it was being translated into 
French, German, and Dutch. Soon it gained the distinction of 
appearing on the Papal index of banned books. 

The favor of the fashionable world was not by itself enough 
to bring such large circulation. The book was equally appre 
ciated by people of the lowest class, who gathered in parties to 
hear it read aloud. One such group, in Slough, were so over 
joyed upon finding that Pamela's wedding took place in their 
own village that they trooped off to the church and celebrated 
by ringing the bells. Ten years later the sardonic Lady Mary 
Montagu remarked that Pamela "is still the joy of the chamber 
maids of all nations." 

Delighted with his triumph, Richardson made little effort to 
sustain the disguise of anonymous editor. He was soon basking 
in the flattery of genteel ladies even a few with titles. But he 
found that success also brought problems. The first was that 
hack writers tried to share his profits. One began to issue a para 
phrase in heroic couplets, while others went to work to com 
pose continuations. Within six months of its debut, a rival firm 
published the first volume of Pamela's Conduct in High Life, 
and Richardson advertised that this impudent imitation had forced 
him unwillingly to begin writing a sequel himself. Before the 
end of 1741 he brought this out in two volumes, doubling the 
length of the whole novel. A dull series of letters between 
Pamela and her sister-in-law, the continuation is mainly taken 
up with comments on such topics as current operas and Locke's 
educational theories and the advisability of employing a wet- 
nurse for the baby, though some action is dragged in when 



The First Masterpieces 85 

Pamela has to recapture her husband from the wiles of a flirta 
tious countess. A few scenes show that Richardson had some 
talent for writing comedy of manners. 

As troublesome as the imitators were the attackers. Among 
prominent writers of the day Pope was almost alone in praising 
the book. The others treated it with ridicule or disgust. To men 
of classical education and intellectual subtlety it was incredible 
that a fat, middle-aged, ignorant tradesman should receive 
serious recognition as an author. This was the first time that such 
a phenomenon had bothered them. Their predecessors had ig 
nored Bunyan's existence and dismissed Defoe with a sneer; but 
Richardson was not so easily obliterated. Unconsciously they 
may have been actuated by some envy of Richardson's earnings 
and some fear of his competition. But on the conscious level 
they were sincere in their condemnation of his obvious faults; 
and his naive vanity, as shown in his publicity, enabled them to 
regard him as a presumptuous fool. 

As they saw it, Pamela was not virtuous and innocent, but was 
a mealy-mouthed hypocrite and a designing minx. The upper- 
class characters were drawn without knowledge of how gentle 
folk behaved. The language of Pamela's letters was low, and 
her earnest analysis of every mood and dilemma was intolerably 
tedious. Worst of all, the author's own standards must be as 
crude as those of his heroine, for the moral lesson of the whole 
story could be stated as "be good because it pays better." 

The great age of English satire was not yet over, and so the 
handiest weapon against Pamela was ridicule. An Apology -for 
the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews came out five months after 
the first edition of Pamela. According to this impudent parody, 
the heroine is really the bastard of a theater orange-woman; after 
various love affairs, including one with a canting evangelical 
clergyman, she changes her name from Shamela to Pamela and 
feigns piety while entrapping the stupid young squire, whose 
full name is now revealed to be "Booby." Though published 
under a pseudonym, the book was undoubtedly written by a 
clever lawyer and journalist whose character and background 
qualified him admirably to be Richardson's antagonist. 

Eighteen years younger than Richardson, Henry Fielding was 
the great-grandson of an earl and was educated at Eton, where 
he became a competent classical scholar and acquired a circle 



86 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

of friends as witty and aristocratic as himself. At eighteen he 
tried unsuccessfully to elope with a young heiress, and before 
he was twenty-one his first comedy was produced at Drury 
Lane Theater. He then spent a year or two as a student at 
Leyden University, but by 1730 he was back in London for the 
opening of his second play. These first dramatic works were 
sophisticated comedies of manners, after the Congreve pattern of 
thirty years before; but Fielding soon turned to the style of 
drama that was currently popular and wrote a number of bur 
lesques, as well as translating two comedies of Moliere. High- 
spirited and hastily written, his burlesques were ingenious and 
original, but revealed no serious artistic purpose. 

It was perhaps the financial success of these plays that en 
couraged him to marry and enjoy an interval of leisure at the 
country house of his family, until his savings and his wife's 
dowry were spent. Several further burlesques of his contained 
such open ridicule of contemporary politics that in 1737 a 
new Licencing Act established a censorship that could prohibit 
his libelous slats; and so at the age of thirty he was deprived of 
the income that he expected to earn by playwriting. He spent 
the next three years as a law student, occupying his spare time 
with contributing to periodicals, and he was called to the bar 
about four months before the date of Pamela's publication. 

Handsome, witty, and charming, Fielding was the perfect type 
of the young man-ab out-town, with all the assurance that is 
conferred by good birth and education. He indulged his im 
pulses without prudence and uttered his opinions without dis 
cretion. Richardson was not the only person who aroused his 
scorn in 1741. Equally disgusted with the blatant autobiog 
raphy of Colley Gibber, a conceited actor and playwright, he 
echoed the title of An Apology -for the Life of Colley Gibber, 
Comedian in that of his burlesque of Pamela, and the pen-name 
that he attached to it was "Conny Keyber." 

Shamela was certainly better than the other attacks on Pamela 
that came out in the next few months, such as Anti-Pamela, or 
Feigned Innocence Delected, in a Series of Syrentfs Adventures, 
by the egregious Mrs. Haywood, who was still busy with her 
pen. But Fielding must have realized that the elements of 
genuine satire in Shtxmela were weakened by the brutal trav 
esty of Richardson's pathetic scenes and the lewd caricature of 



The First Masterpieces 87 

his erotic ones. Parody enforced a limitation precluding effec 
tive exposure of Richardson's weaknesses, and so Fielding soon 
started all over again. Shamela fulfils the same function in rela 
tion to his next book that Richardson's Letters to and -for 
Particular Friends fulfils in relation to Pamela. 

; For his second onslaught Fielding conceived a more ingenious 
scheme. To his robust masculine mind it seemed that the sen 
timentality and improbability of Pamela's behavior could be 
rendered ludicrous by simply reversing the sexes of the two 
main figures. He therefore invented a brother for Pamela, as 
innocent and pious as herself, and depicted him as repelling the 
wanton advances of his rich employer, Lady Booby, an aunt 
of Pamela's persecutor. This brother he named Joseph, in al 
lusion to the Old Testament youth who rebuffed Potiphar's wife? , 
The first ten chapters of Joseph Andrews took full advantage 
of this comic situation, with fresh jibes at Colley Gibber into the 
bargain. By that point the satirical effect had been achieved, and 
the story had no reason to continue further. But Fielding was 
beginning to feel the strange joy of fictional creation. In order 
to link his book to Richardson's he had used plausible details; 
and Joseph, in spite of a priggish lack of sexual impulses, was 
capturing his sympathy by his manly self-respect. 

' N The satire abruptly ceased to be aimed at Richardson's bour 
geois morality and widened its scope to include jthe injustice of 
class distinctions, the hypocrisy of social codes, and the selfishness 
of human nature. (A complete change came over the book. 
Joseph's personality was transformed by the simple statement 
that he was already engaged to a girl in his home village 
though previously he had explicitly denied having ever been 
attracted by any woman. Dismissed by his frustrated employer, 
he set out to make his way home across England; and thus the las 
civious Lady Booby conveniently faded out of the story and 
a whole new cast of characters entered. 

The change seems to have been accompanied, in Fielding's 
mind, by a perception of kinship between his undertaking and 
Don Quixote. Cervantes, too, had set out merely to ridicule a 
silly literary mania and had gone on to create a masterpiece of 
humor, realism, and wise philosophy. In the generation preced 
ing Fielding, the Cervantes manner had been revived in the 
picaresque novel by Alain Rene Le Sage, Gil Bias (1715-35), In 



88 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

contrast with the exaggerated episodes in Don Quixote, Le 
Sage's,. book had been grimly realistic, and gained its strong-^ 
est effect by the impartiality of the author's attitude. Good 
and bad persons alike were presented with humorous detachment, 
and though the adventures were violent enough, they never took 
precedence over characterization. Fielding also apparently bor 
rowed some hints from another recent French novel, Le Paysan 
parvenu, by Marivaux (1735), in which the humor was gentler 
than in Gil Bias. 

Though the larger part of Joseph Andrews is in simple epi 
sodic sequence, as Joseph moves through a series of mishaps and 
meets a variety of odd characters, the story does have a certain 
structure. He sets oif alone, and progressively the three other 
major characters (by a chain of improbable coincidences) be 
come his companions. He is motivated by the single determina 
tion to get home and marry Fanny, but the theme of his at 
tempted seduction by Lady Booby is farcically sustained by 
means of the similar intention on the part of her hideous at 
tendant, Mrs. Slipslop. These unifying elements, however, do 
not promise a sufficient climax. One feels that the adventures of 
Joseph and his traveling companions could go on indefinitely. 
Near the end, therefore, a second shift occurs in the handling of 
the story, as arbitrary as that which changed it from burlesque 
to realism. Fielding's theatrical experience takes control, and he 
introduces a series of melodramatic surprises, which heighten 
"suspense and result in a strong denouement, but which al 
most; vitiate the relaxed realism of the main part of the book. At 
the endj too, he reverts to his original theme by bringing Pamela 
and her husband in as participants in the climax; but he was so 
affected by the benevolent spirit of the happy ending that there 
is only the faintest touch of satire in his portrayal of them. 

Among the characters the most significant is Parson Adams. 
Joseph and Fanny are little more than the conventional young 
lovers, and Mrs. Slipslop is a stock-type caricature. Mr. Adams, 
on the contrary, is a living human being. Almost for the first 
time in English fiction, a character is simultaneously comic and 
sympathetic. JThe parson is heroic in strength and nobility, and 
lovable in his unselfish kindness; but his unsophistication makes 
him the focus of the basic satiric theme the divorce of modern 
life from its proclaimed Christian ideals. 



The First Masterpieces S9 

One outcome of Fielding's unplanned approach to the novel 
was the point of view that he employed. Unlike Defoe and 
Richardson, he was not subservient to the middle-class suspicion 
of fiction, and therefore he did not need to strive for an illusion 
of authenticity. Instead of the first-personal method he adopted 
that of a superior onlooker, commenting on the characters, di 
gressing to express his prejudices, even pausing to analyze his 
technical problems as inventor and manipulator of the story. It 
is perhaps artistically indefensible for an author thus to project 
himself into the very texture of what is supposed to be an ob 
jective record of actuality. Yet instead of destroying the illusion, 
this somehow gives it a new dimension of significance. The 
reader cannot fully identify himself with the story while the 
author insists on reminding him of its fictitiousness; but as a 
recompense for the loss of identification, one acquires a gratify 
ing sense of superior insight into the meaning of experience. 

A further enrichment that Fielding provided was an intellec 
tual complexity approximating that of real life. Material that 
should logically belong to an essay or a lyric poem finds its 
way into the book. More than once, following the practice of 
the heroic romances, the author coolly inserts a complete short 
story by the simple expedient of having one character narrate 
it to others during a coach journey or in an inn parlor. The 
whole heterogeneous mass could not possibly exist in any other 
artistic genre, and Fielding's accidental production of it revealed 
the value of the novel as the only medium adequate for depicting 
the confused interrelationships of modern society. 

By the time Fielding reached the middle of his story he was 
aware of the novelty and importance of what he was doing. He 
therefore began his second volume with a discussion that may 
be termed the manifesto of the modern novel. With witty para 
dox he declared that history should really be classified as "ro 
mance," since no two historians agree in their interpretation of 
events, whereas the "biographers" of fictitious characters tell 
essential truth: "the facts we deliver may be relied on, though 
we often mistake the age and country wherein they happened/' 
As examples he cited Cervantes, Scarron, Le Sage, and Mari- 
vaux. This list of predecessors shows not only that he was trying 
to define a specific literary category but also that he preferred 
foreign models to any previous English authors. After paying 



90 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

sarcastic tribute to "those persons of surprising genius, the 
authors of immense romances, or the modern novel and Atalantis 
writers, who, without any assistance from nature or history, 
record persons who never were, or will be, and facts which 
never did, nor possibly can, happen," he asserted that the authors 
"who are contented to copy nature, instead of forming originals 
from the confused heap of matter in their own brains" can 
produce such a work as Don Quixote, "a history of the world 
in general, at least that part which is polished by laws, arts, 
and sciences; and of that from the time it was first polished to 
this day; nay, and forwards as long as it shall so remain." He 
went on to insist that any resemblance between his characters and 
specific individuals was due only to this universal psychological 
truth, and not to portrayal of actual persons; his aim was "not 
to expose one pitiful wretch to the small and contemptible circle 
of his acquaintance, but to hold the glass to thousands in their 
closets, that they may contemplate their deformity." 7 And lastly, 
he declared that no social generalizations were intended; though 
the "high people" he depicted happened to be uniformly dis 
honorable and heartless, this was not meant as an indictment of 
the upper class as a whole. 

Fielding discussed other aspects of his new technique in the 
preface that he wrote for the first edition. In this he stated 
flatly that Joseph Andrews represented "a species of writing 
. . . hitherto unattempted in our language," and he called 
it "a comic epic poem in prose." He differentiated it from 
the serious epic in that it dealt with the ridiculous rather than 
the sublime, and from stage comedy "in that it has more 
extended action, more incidents, and greater variety of char 
acter." 

In the light of subsequent developments in the novel, his 
phrase was an amazingly apt definition of it. Two of the words, 
however, need fuller explanation, for their implications inhere 
in classical literary theory and practice. By "comic" Fielding 
did not mean merely that the story should provoke laughter, 
or even (as the opposite of "tragic") that it should have a 
happy ending. In Greek drama, comedy was distinctive also by 
dealing with contemporary actuality instead of ancient legend, 
by employing characters of lower rank rather than heroic rulers, 
and by presenting an intellectual analysis of social phenomena. 



The First Masterpieces 91 

Because Fielding, like Aristophanes, was a satirist, he devoted 
much of his preface to discussing satire; but his careful dis 
crimination of comedy from burlesque showed that he was 
conscious of its serious function of social observation: in 
comedy "we should ever confine ourselves strictly to nature, 
from the just imitation of which will flow all the pleasure we 
can this way convey to a sensible reader." 

By u epic poem," also, he meant more than a long narrative 
of varied events. Ever since Aristotle, discussion of the epic 
had dwelt on its well- organized structure. As Fielding re 
marked, it consisted of "fable [i.e., plot], action, characters, 
sentiments, and diction." And, of course, his phrase "poem 
in prose" was not a capricious paradox, but an acceptance of the 
basic meaning of poem as any work of creative imagination, 
as Sidney had regarded it. /Thus interpreted in relation to 
classical precedent, Fielding's words can stand with little modi 
fication as defining what the novel remained for the next two 
hundred years.% 

^It was Fielding's range of knowledge, both of recent Euro 
pean literature and of the classics, that enabled him to give 
the novel for the first time a secure place in the main line of 
English literature. Luckily this did not occur earlier in its devel 
opment, or it would have been stultified by inflexible aesthetic 
theories. Having grown up to this point without attracting the 
notice of academic critics, the novel possessed enough vital 
ity and independence to absorb the classical tradition instead 
of being enslaved by it. 

When published anonymously in 1742, Joseph Andrews 
did not gain the immediate popularity of Pamela-, six months 
elapsed before a second edition was necessary. But men of taste 
and intellect found it well worth reading, as is proved by the 
recommendation it received from Thomas Gray, who was 
already addicted to the French fiction of Marivaux and Crebil- 
lon fils. "The incidents are ill laid and without invention," the 
poet said in a letter to a friend; "but the characters have a 
great deal of nature, which always pleases even in her lowest 
shapes. . . . Throughout he shows himself well read in Stage- 
Coaches, Country Squires, Inns, and Inns of Court. . . . However 
the exaltedness of some minds (or rather as I shrewdly suspect 
their insipidity and want of feeling or observation) may make 



92 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

them insensible to these light things (I mean such as charac 
terize and paint nature), yet surely they are as weighty and 
much more useful than your grave discourses upon the mind, 
the passions, and what not." 

Richardson and Fielding jointly achieved an immense enlarge 
ment of the readership of fiction. The moral middle class was 
finally convinced by Pamela that fiction was not a waste of 
time and a temptation to sin; the intelligentsia was convinced 
by Joseph Andrews that it was not a tissue of silly make-believe. 
Many people, of course, were able to enjoy reading both books 
and thereby to realize how wide a range of effects could be 
included in the genre.) 

Other writers did not delay in exploiting the new market. A 
typical professional, Mrs. Haywood, whose first impulse had 
been to attack Richardson in her Anti-Pamela, quickly realized 
her mistake, and wrote The Fortunate Foundlings, which was 
largely in Richardson's vein, though with some parts reminiscent 
of Defoe. Like Pamela, it was supposed to be "a Genuine 
History" based on authentic documents, unlike "the many fic 
tions which have been lately imposed upon the world under 
the specious titles of Secret Histories, Memoirs, &c"; and the 
title page emphasized that it was "calculated for the entertain 
ment and improvement of the youth of both sexes." Mrs. Hay- 
wood achieved some variety and contrast by following the 
careers of both a brother and a sister. 

Ironically, the best of Richardson's early disciples was none 
other than Henry Fielding's sister, Sarah. Her Adventures of 
David Simple came out in 1744. Using the traditional situa 
tion of an evil brother scheming against a good one, it depicts 
the guileless hero moving through various social environments 
in London, seeking vainly for true friendship, which he finally 
finds in a girl as virtuous as himself. The initial stages of 
David's disillusionment have satirical touches that show the 
influence of the author's brother; but most of the book is as 
moral and sentimental as Richardson. The new literary ideals 
of realism and sentiment are defined in David's assertion that 

the only way of writing well was to draw all the characters from 
nature, and to affect the passions in such a manner, as that the 
distresses of the good should move compassion, and the amiableness 
of their actions incite men to imitate them; while the vices of the 



The First Masterpieces 93 

bad stirred up indignation and rage, and made men fly their foot 
steps; that this was the only kind of writing useful to mankind, 
though there might be embellishments, and flights of imagination, 
to amuse and divert the reader. 

Though David Simple is loosely episodic in structure, with 
irrelevant short stories inserted indiscriminately, its sincerity 
of feeling gives it charm, and some readers even attributed it 
to Henry Fielding himself. He therefore wrote a preface for 
the second edition, disclaiming any share in it, and lauding it 
handsomely: 

As the merit of this work consists in a vast penetration into human 
nature, a deep and profound discernment of all the mazes, windings, 
and labyrinths, which perplex the heart of man to such a degree, 
that he is himself often incapable of seeing through them; and as 
this is the greatest, noblest, and rarest of all the talents which con 
stitute a genius, so a much larger share of this talent is necessary 
even to recognize these discoveries, when they are laid before us, 
than falls to the share of a common reader. 

The rest of this important preface reverted to Fielding's defini 
tion of the "comic epic poem," particularly insisting upon unity 
of action: 

Three different ingredients . . . will be found on consideration 
to be always necessary to works of this kind, viz., that the main 
end or scope be at once amiable, ridiculous, and natural. ... As 
the incidents arising from this fable, though often surprising, are 
everywhere natural (credibility not being once shocked through 
the whole) so there is one beauty very apparent . . . ; that every 
episode bears a manifest impression of the principal design, and 
chiefly turns on the perfection or imperfection of friendship. 

Fielding himself was not in any hurry to produce another 
sustained work of fiction. He was busy with conducting news 
papers and with establishing himself in his belated legal profes 
sion. His Miscellanies, however, published a year after Joseph 
Andrews, contained one fictional tour de -force, which he may 
have partly written at an earlier date and left unfinished when 
he became absorbed in his novel. The History of the Life of 
the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great narrated the life of an 
infamous highwayman who had been written about also by 
Defoe; but Fielding's purpose was very different. A master 
piece of satire almost worthy of Swift, the book gravely depicts 



94 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

the ruthless scoundrel as a hero, whose hanging is the noble 
climax to an illustrious career. Like all major satires, it had 
several levels of meaning, being aimed not only at the glorifi 
cation of criminals in the pseudo-biographies issued by the 
gutter press, but also at the current Whig government, which 
Fielding regarded as unscrupulous, and at the whole human 
tendency to admire success without applying moral judgment. 
Fielding's humane generosity, his hatred of cruelty and self 
ishness, dictated his thesis that no ambitious conqueror or politi 
cian can be more praiseworthy than this atrocious criminal. 
The cold fury of his irony is the complement of his sister's 
sentimental exalting of unsophisticated kindliness. 

Meanwhile Mr. Richardson was working steadily on his next 
novel, which was a far more pretentious undertaking than the 
first. He had been pained by the ridicule of Pamela, and 
especially by the suggestion that his heroine's speech and be 
havior were sometimes vulgar. The sequel had been written 
chiefly to remedy this defect, and for a while he thought of 
revising the first part of the novel to make it more refined; 
but then he decided to concentrate on another book which 
would have a higher social environment throughout. And since 
the story of Pamela was of a girl rewarded because she was strong- 
minded enough to resist evil, the obvious converse was to 
tell about a girl ruined because she succumbed to temptation. 

Having realized the potentialities of the novel, Richardson 
experimented with a larger canvas. Clarissa, or The History of 
a Young Lady was nearly four times as long as the original 
Pamela. Though it had numerous characters and a carefully 
constructed plot, most of its vast length was occupied by analysis 
of personality and motive. Again the whole story was told in 
letters, totaling 547, but variety in point of view was achieved 
by having them written by many of the characters, whereas 
all but four of those in Pamela were from the pen of the heroine. 

Richardson was now aware of the special effectiveness re 
siding in the epistolary technique that he had first adopted by 
sheer good luck. "All the letters," he pointed out in the preface, 
"are written while the hearts of the writers must be supposed to 
be wholly engaged in their subjects (the events at the time 
dubious), so that they abound not only with critical situations, 
but with what may be called instantaneous descriptions and 
reflections." He went on to declare that this is "much more 



The First Masterpieces $5 

lively and affecting . . . than the dry, narrative, unanimated style 
of a person relating difficulties and dangers surmounted can be; 
the relater perfectly at ease; and if himself unmoved by his 
own story, not likely greatly to affect the reader." 

His use of multiple correspondents, moreover, gives a fuller 
complexity to the epistolary technique. In Pamela it merely 
increased the suspense by keeping the reader's knowledge of 
the situation within the framework of the events as they 
developed; in Clarissa it maintains an excruciating anxiety by 
revealing the full meaning of each situation through the cumula 
tive evidence of several points of view. The majority of the 
letters being from the heroine to her friend Miss Howe and 
from the hero-villain to his friend Belford, the reader watches 
with anguished foreknowledge while Clarissa walks unsuspect 
ingly into the trap. Richardson had mastered the device of 
dramatic irony. 

The plot may have been based on incidents in the life of 
a generous but dissolute gentleman who had befriended the 
author in his youth. Richardson's literary renown had by now 
gained him admission to social circles above any he had previ 
ously frequented, and so he felt better qualified to portray 
people of cultivated minds and manners. While working on 
the book he often consulted his admiring friends, though his 
self-esteem usually prevented him from accepting their specific 
suggestions. The higher social milieu was not, however, the 
greatest difference between his new novel and his earlier one. 
It was more important that Clarissa is a tragedy. 

Clarissa Harlowe, a high-spirited beauty, is destined by her 
prosperous and socially ambitious family to marry an elderly 
and repulsive but wealthy neighbor. Meanwhile Robert Love 
lace, a libertine, is courting her for her fortune; and though 
at first she is prejudiced against him, her family's opposition 
arouses her interest in him, and at last she elopes with him as 
the only method of escape from marriage to Solmes. Lovelace 
is genuinely in love with her, but he is determined to seduce 
her in order to have revenge on her family. By deception and 
drugs he accomplishes his purpose, and in an agony of shame 
she dies of a broken heart, after which Lovelace is killed in a 
duel with her cousin, and his accomplices meet with appro 
priately bad ends. 
In this stark outline, the plot is that of a conventional melo- 



96 The English Novel 

drama. Indeed, Richardson termed the book a "Dramatic 
Narrative," and acknowledged its kinship with the domestic 
tragedies of Otway and Rowe, while in the Postscript he 
suggested that he had handled his theme according to the 
principles prescribed by Aristotle and practiced by the Greek 
tragedians and by Shakespeare. What extended the book far 
beyond the scope of the stage was the minute study of the 
two central characters. Superficially, Lovelace was cut to the 
pattern of the cynical rakes of Restoration comedy, and of 
Lothario in Rowe's Fair Penitent. It is scarcely believable that 
a cultivated, intelligent gentleman would discuss his own 
viciousness as candidly as Lovelace did, even with so loyal a 
friend as Belford. But Richardson devoted himself to a doubly 
difficult task to supply adequate reasons for Lovelace's vil 
lainy and at the same time to suggest that he was not totally 
villainous, after all. "The gentlemen are not," he explained in 
the preface, "either infidels or scoffers; nor yet such as think 
themselves free from the observance of those other moral 
duties which bind man to man." Lovelace considers himself 
socially superior to the Harlowes, and therefore resents their 
disapproval of him; an early disappointment in love has given 
him a grudge against women; a vague sense of Clarissa's spiritual 
integrity makes him try to drag her down to his moral level, 
while at the same time he enjoys the "talents for stratagem 
and invention" by which he outwits her. By the standards 
accepted in his frivolous world, he has no doubt that Clarissa 
will marry him as soon as he has gratified his hatred for her 
family by violating her. He is astounded to discover that, once 
ravished, she regards herself as unfit for marriage, even though 
she has loved him deeply. To account for his hold over her, 
Richardson had to equip him with so much charm that the reader 
is apt to succumb to it too, and even to feel something like pity for 
him in his bewildered efforts to comprehend and overcome 
her scruples. 

Daringly, in view of his readers' rigid moral code, Richardson 
set out to show that by losing her innocence a girl might be 
ennobled and not degraded. Indeed, the theme of the whole 
book was subversive to the social laws of the time not only 
to the maxim that by marriage a seducer "protects the honor" 
of the woman he has wronged, but also to the principle of 



The First Masterpieces 91 

parental authority. The lack of understanding on the part of 
Clarissa's parents was primarily responsible for her downfall. 
As the title page stated, the particular theme of the novel was 
"the Distresses that may attend the misconduct of both Parents 
and Children in relation to Marriage." In the preface Richardson 
explained that Clarissa 

is not in all respects a perfect character. It was not only natural, 
but it was necessary that she should have some faults, were it only 
to show the reader how laudably she could mistrust and blame 
herself. ... As far as is consistent with human frailty, and as far 
as she could be perfect, considering the people she had to deal 
with, and those with whom she was inseparably connected, she 
is perfect. 

The same pride and independence that impelled Clarissa to 
loathe the prospect of a conventionally suitable marriage with 
Solmes also motivated her behavior in the later part of the story. 
So far as the plot was concerned, the final one-third of the novel 
could have been condensed into a few chapters; but to the author 
the climax was not Clarissa's seduction but the spiritual martyr 
dom that followed and the saintly abnegation with which 
she forgave all the offenses against her. It was a spectacular 
contrast to the worldly morality that had provoked the most 
damaging criticisms of Pamela. 

The book's power does not depend upon its pathos or its 
puritan morals or its picture of contemporary manners. It takes 
on a more than life-sized magnitude not so much for its 
length as for the symbolic aura that accumulated around the 
protagonists. If Moll Flanders is to be called the quintessence 
of worldliness, Clarissa is the quintessence of emotional idealism. 
Her rebellion against a wealthy marriage and her death from 
shame would have seemed sheer insanity by Moll's standards. 
Clarissa is the archetype of inviolable spiritual purity, and Love 
lace is a very incarnation of the devil, the arch-tempter whose 
power is challenged by the existence of an utterly virtuous 
woman. He wins the contest in terms of the flesh, but she 
triumphs in the spirit. In this view, Clarissa becomes as much 
an allegory of eternal principles as was The Pilgrim's Progress. 

As the main theme was so painfully pathetic, the author 
took care to promise in the preface that there were also "such 



98 The English Novel 

strokes of gaiety, fancy, and humor, as will entertain and divert, 
and at the same time both warn and instruct." In addition to 
these touches of comedy, the book contained a few scenes of 
sordid realism, such as one in a London brothel, more like 
some in Fielding's novels and Hogarth's paintings than in Rich 
ardson's usually genteel settings. 

Clarissa was published over a period of twelve months of 
1747-48. After reading the earlier volumes, many readers 
foresaw that the heroine was doomed to die, and some pleaded 
with the author to change his plans and make Lovelace reform 
as Mr. B had done, so that Clarissa could conscientiously 
marry him. Even Fielding, who published an enthusiastic re 
view of the first two volumes of Clarissa, wrote to Richardson, 
entreating him to spare Clarissa's life. And Laetitia Pilkington, 
a lively Irishwoman of scandalous reputation, reported to 
Richardson the hysterical raving of Colley Gibber when she 
broke the news to him of how the novel was to end: 

When he heard what a dreadful lot hers was to be, he lost 
all patience, threw down the book, and vowed he would not read 
another line. . . . He shuddered; nay, the tears stood in his eyes: 
"What! (said he) shall I, who have loved and revered the virtuous, 
the beautiful Clarissa, from the same motives I loved Mr. Richard 
son, bear to stand a patient spectator of her ruin, her final destruc 
tion? No! . . ." 

When I told him she must die, he said, "G-d D n him, if she 
should; and that he should no longer believe Providence, or eternal 
Wisdom, or Goodness governed the world, if merit, innocence, and 
beauty were to be destroyed: nay (added he) my mind is so hurt 
with the thought of her being violated, that were I to see her in 
Heaven, sitting on the knees of the blessed Virgin, and crowned 
with glory, her sufferings would still make me feel horror, horror 
distilled." 

Richardson himself had been shocked by the way Lovelace's 
character had developed. In the midst of writing the novel he 
confessed to a friend that "my libertine in the next volume 
proves to be so vile, that I regretted the necessity, as I may call 
it, which urged me to put the two former to press." But he 
rejected all appeals for a contrived happy ending, and remained 
true to his conception of the characters. He had learned the 
principle of letting them lead their own lives, instead of manipu- 



The First Masterpieces 99 

lating them for ulterior purposes, whether of plot or moral 
theme. As a result of his epistolary technique, he could not avoid 
discovering that everyone is justified in his own mind. As Clarissa 
expressed it, "There would hardly be a guilty person in the world, 
were each suspected or accused person to tell his or her own 
story, and be allowed any degree of credit." 

A serious objection to the story was its inordinate length. 
William Shenstone, the poet, while plodding through the million 
words of the completed novel, muttered that it "threatens to grow 
extremely tedious: not but that the author is a man of genius and 
nice observation; but he might be less prolix." Here again the 
author forestalled his critics. At an early stage he complained that 
"I have run into such a length! And am such a sorry pruner, 
tho' greatly luxuriant, that I am apt to add three pages for one 
I take away!" Actually, he did force himself to omit a good 
many passages from the first edition, but he reinserted them in 
the third. 

It is one of the paradoxes of Richardson that his moral 
earnestness carried implications of prurience, as was recog 
nized even in the first days of his fame, when Dr. Isaac Watts, the 
devout hymn-writer, protested to him that "the ladies complain 
they cannot read [Pamela] without blushing." More than half 
a century later, Coleridge burst out with exasperation, "I confess 
that it has cost, and still costs, my philosophy some exertion not to 
be vexed that I must admire, aye, greatly admire,^ Richardson. 
His mind is so very vile a mind, so oozy, so hypocritical, praise- 
mad, canting, envious, concupiscent!" It was this side of the 
worthy Mr. Richardson that degenerated into the sewage of John 
Cleland, whose Fanny Hill, or The Memoirs of a Woman of 
Pleasure (1748) combined Richardson's epistolary technique with 
such lavish obscenity that it brought the publisher ^10,000 
for an investment of 21, and survived for two centuries in 
surreptitious editions for addicts of pornography. 

The same year brought proof that the methods of Fielding 
also could easily be vulgarized; but probably because there was an 
element of healthy animalism in his work that served as a safe 
guard against infection, there is nothing repulsive in the candid 
crudity of his vulgarizer, Tobias Smollett. The grandson of a 
Scottish laird, Smollett was educated at Glasgow University and 
qualified for the profession of surgery. At eighteen he wrote a 



100 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

tragedy and set out for London with confident hopes of literary 
success, but when it was rejected by the theaters he joined the 
navy as a surgeon's mate on a man o' war, and saw action at the 
disastrous siege of Carthagena in the Caribbean. The naval 
service at that time was particularly brutal and disorganized. 
Officers were incompetent, food and sanitation loathsome, sailors 
insubordinate, and constant floggings the only method of control 
ling crews largely made up of ex-crirninals. When these con 
ditions were combined with the discomforts of tropical climates 
and the horrors of primitive surgery in a ship's cockpit, it is 
no wonder that Smollett developed a tough hide to shield his 
originally poetic disposition. After the failure of the siege, he 
spent some time in Jamaica, where he fell in love with the pretty 
daughter of a planter, and their marriage brought him enough 
resources to enable him to quit the service and set up as a surgeon 
in the West End of London. 

Unsuccessful again in his efforts to have his tragedy produced, 
Smollett acquired a bitter outlook that intensified his natural 
traits of pride, belligerence, and sarcasm; and he published verse 
satires on contemporary literature and politics. Then, during 
eight months of 1747, at the age of twenty-six, he wrote a long 
novel, The Adventures of Roderick Random, which came out 
anonymously in January, 1748. 

The story closely follows Smollett's own experiences. The 
young hero, a surgeon's apprentice, makes his way from Scotland 
to London, with numerous adventures, some dangerous and some 
ludicrous. The press gang sends him to sea for the Carthagena ex 
pedition; he enjoys a romantic interlude with a beautiful girl 
while employed as a footman by her fantastic aunt, before going 
on to rascally exploits of soldiering on the Continent, gambling in 
London, and a commercial voyage to South America, till at last 
he meets his long-lost father, now a rich Spanish subject, and 
marries the lovely Narcissa. Even Smollett's struggle with the 
theatrical managers is introduced as the interpolated narrative of 
a minor character. 

The book has obvious resemblances to those of Defoe, in its 
autobiographic technique, its expeditions to foreign shores, and 
its disjointed series of adventures among seafarers, soldiers, and 
metropolitan scoundrels. But Smollett differs from Defoe in 
two important respects. The scenes of action derive validity 



The First Masterpieces 101 

from personal experience, and they are interspersed with comic 
episodes. 

The antecedents for the comedy are to be found in Don Quix 
ote and Gil Bias, as Smollett admitted in his preface. Starting with 
the inevitable diatribe against "romance," which "owes its origin 
to ignorance, vanity, and superstition," he lauded Cervantes who 
"by an inimitable piece of ridicule reformed the taste of man 
kind, . . . converting romance to purposes far more useful and 
entertaining, by making it ... point out the follies of ordinary 
life." Le Sage too, he said, "has described the knavery and 
foibles of life with infinite humor and sagacity. The following 
sheets I have modeled on his plan, taking the liberty, however, 
to differ from him in the execution, where I thought his par 
ticular situations were uncommon, extravagant, or peculiar to the 
country in which the scene is laid." The preface repeatedly 
claimed a high moral purpose: to show "the contrast between 
dejected virtue and insulting vice," to inspire "that generous in 
dignation which ought to animate the reader, against the sordid 
and vicious disposition of this world"; and a justification was 
put forth also for the unvarnished depiction of squalor: 

Though I foresee that some people will be offended at the mean 
scenes in which [Roderick] is involved, I persuade myself the 
judicious will not only perceive the necessity of describing those 
situations to which he must of course be confined, in his low 
estate, but also find entertainment in viewing those parts of life, 
where the humours and passions are undisguised by affectation, 
ceremony, or education; and the whimsical peculiarities of disposi 
tion appear as nature has implanted them. 

The same double defense realism and moral correction was 
offered for the profanity in the dialogue: "Nothing could more 
effectually expose the absurdity of such miserable expletives, 
than a natural and verbal representation of the discourse in which 
they occur." 

In claiming to be "representing familiar scenes in an uncommon 
and amusing point of view," Smollett felt obliged to protect 
himself against charges of libel: "I have not deviated from nature, 
in the facts, which are all true in the main, although the cir 
cumstances are altered and disguised to avoid personal satire." 
His method of characterization indeed varied between two ex- 



102 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

tremes. Many of the persons in the story were caricatures of 
living originals, ranging from David Garrick to obscure innkeep 
ers and booksellers; but others were exaggerated embodiments of 
peculiar traits, in a tradition that reached back through Jonson's 
comedy of humours to the personified vices of the morality 
plays. 

Smollett's experiences in surgery and warfare had made him 
callous toward pain and outspoken about the physical functions of 
the human body. His treatment of these matters usually seems 
gross if not positively sadistic, especially in the comic scenes. 
His humor is sometimes sheer buffoonery and at other times 
savage satire, but it usually tends to be brutal or obscene, and thus 
obscures his genuine regard for simple human integrity, his hatred 
of oppression and conceit 

Roderick Random met with immediate success, and several 
large printings were called for. Some readers attributed it to 
Fielding, on the basis of resemblances to Joseph Andrews. The 
comic characterizations were not much more exaggerated than 
Parson Adams, Parson Trulliber, or Mrs. Slipslop; the broad farce 
was not much coarser than the fight at Tow-wowse's inn; the 
episodic structure and contrived ending were not much less co 
herent than those of Fielding's book. The author's angry hu- 
manitarianism, too, had something in common with Fielding's. 
A year later, however, Fielding brought out his own second novel, 
which proved that his genius had matured far beyond the range of 
Smollett's lively but heavy-handed story-telling. 

In the seven years since Joseph Andrews, Fielding had been 
occupied with his professional duties at the bar and with political 
journalism. His reluctance to write another novel was due in 
part to fear that his status in the law would be impaired if he were 
known to be a writer of fiction. His personal life during this time 
was painful: his extravagant habits burdened him with debts; he 
suffered acute gout and other illnesses; one or more of his children 
died young, and the death of his much-loved wife caused him 
violent grief. In 1747 he married his wife's former maid, a plain 
woman who looked after him faithfully. 

With the fading of his hopes for legal eminence, he began to 
think of writing another "comic epic in prose," under the urging 
of his friend George Lyttelton, a prominent politician and author. 
Fielding said that he "employed some thousands of hours in the 



The First Masterpieces 103 

composing," which probably extended over two and a half years. 
In December, 1748, he became a police magistrate in London, and 
his new book appeared soon afterwards, with the title, The His 
tory of Tom Jones, a Foundling. 

Like Richardson, Fielding had profited by his experience with 
his first novel. The new one was three times as long as Joseph 
Andrews; but in contrast with that loose- jointed story it was 
carefully integrated throughout. Coleridge rated it for structure 
besides Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and Jonson's Alchemist, 
calling them "the three most perfect plots ever planned." Thack 
eray termed the book "the most astounding production of human 
ingenuity. . . . There is not an incident ever so trifling but 
advances the story, grows out of former incidents, and is con 
nected with the whole. Such a literary providence, if we may use 
such a word, is not to be seen in any other work of fiction. 
... It is marvellous to think how the author could have built and 
carried all the structure in his brain, as he must have done, before 
he began to put it to paper." 

Superficially Tom Jones resembled Fielding's earlier novel in 
many ways. There is a mystery about Tom's parentage, as 
about Joseph's; both heroes make long journeys across England, 
encountering odd characters and dangerous mishaps; Benjamin 
Partridge accompanies Tom as faithfully as Parson Adams ac 
companied Joseph. Basically, however, the two books are totally 
unlike. One feels that the author chose to rework the same 
material in order to prove how much better he could do it. 
Instead of having the one-line structure inherited from picaresque 
fiction, Tom Jones offers a complex pattern of interaction among 
persons who are kept in conflict with steady tension. Even the 
minor characters contribute directly to the unfolding of the plot. 
Therefore, when the carefully preserved secret of Tom's parent 
age is finally revealed, it has none of the implausibility of an 
afterthought concocted by the author to bring the story to a 
spectacular end. Instead, it seems as inevitable as the "discovery" 
at the climax of a classical Greek tragedy, which Aristotle pre 
scribed as an essential element of plot. Aristophanes, Shake 
speare, and Moliere are among the authors whom Fielding extols 
in his frequent critical digressions; and his handling of the story 
has the tight construction of a well-made play. 

Although Tom's life is narrated from infancy to the age of 



104 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

twenty-one, the first twenty years occupy only about one-eighth 
of the whole, the events of the next year are told somewhat more 
fully, and the remaining two-thirds of the book cover but five 
weeks, with every day and almost every hour accurately ac 
counted for. The proportions are classically symmetrical: the 
first six books take place at the Allworthy manor in Somerset, 
the next six along the road, the last six in London. To enhance 
realism, Fielding provided recognizable details of both time and 
place. The main action occurs during the Jacobite rebellion, 
little more than three years before the book was published; from 
time to time readers are deftly reminded of the atmosphere of 
national danger and public excitement. Similarly, the geographical 
locations are always precise the towns and inns along Tom's 
route from Glastonbury to London, the streets and taverns and 
theaters of the metropolis. While Fielding does not indulge in 
much description of landscape for its own sake he always makes 
the setting recognizable. 

The main power of the book, of course, is in characterization. 
The central character is not the conventionally perfect hero of 
romance. A weakness of Joseph Andrews had been the author's 
inability to depart from his initial concept of Joseph as an absurd 
paragon of moral purity. Tom Jones, on the contrary, is a 
normal young man, good-natured, generous, and brave, but im 
pulsive and sensual. Though he sincerely loves Sophia Western, 
he indulges in casual affairs with three other women. If Fielding 
had been writing a tragedy in the vein of Euripides or Shake 
speare, this would be termed Tom's "tragic flaw." He is cured of 
his incontinence only after the shocking experience of believing 
for a while that one of the women with whom he has had sexual 
relations may prove to be his mother. 

The heroine, Sophia, is in the same predicament as Clarissa 
Harlowe: she is threatened with a repulsive marriage, and yet she 
cannot decide to defy her father and marry the man she loves. 
Though she has more practical sense than Clarissa, her inner 
motives and conflicts are not revealed with the subtlety that 
made Richardson's heroine convincing. Having modeled Sophia 
upon the idolized girl who had been his first wife, Fielding was so 
handicapped by his devotion to her memory that he could not 
portray Sophia quite impartially. 

The other characters were not inherently very different from 



The First Masterpieces 

the old stock types representing "humours." Blifil is the self- 
seeking hypocrite, Squire Western the irascible autocrat, Squire 
Allworthy the honorable benefactor, Partridge the loyal and 
comical servant, and so on. Fielding was able to give them in 
dividuality, however, by several methods. For one thing, he 
borrowed traits from living people. He announced in the dedica 
tion that Allworthy was based partly on his own two generous 
friends, Lyttelton and Ralph Allen. Squire Western may have 
been suggested by a bluff sportsman and landowner in the 
neighborhood where Fielding grew up. The tutors, Square and 
Thwackum, derived traits from two Salisbury worthies. Lady 
Bellaston is said to have some resemblance to a notorious society 
woman, Lady Townshend. 

Secondly, the author gained plausibility by showing some ad 
mixture in every character. Squire Allworthy's magnanimous 
nature has its logical defects in his gullibility and his humorless 
tediousness. Squire Western's obstinacy is offset by occasional 
rough kindliness and by real affection for his daughter. Even the 
two tutors are not merely mouthpieces for opposing prejudices 
in religious dogma, but show glimmerings of intelligence and 
integrity. _ 

Finally, Fielding's success in characterization is enhanced by 
his method of portrayal. He used dialogue more fully and naturally 
than previous novelists had done, and thus the people are gradu 
ally revealed through their own words and actions rather than by 
explicit commentary. Hence Fielding became the first novelist to 
give the impression of frankly and fully recording normal be 
havior. Byron called him "the prose Homer of Human Nature," 
and Hazlitt said that "he has brought together a greater variety 
of characters in common life, marked with more distinct pecu 
liarities, and without an atom of caricature, than any other novel 
writer whatever." 

Fielding was well aware of his momentous achievement. As in 
his previous book, he frequently discussed his own methods; and 
here again he had grown more systematic. Instead of being 
occasional and digressive, the critical passages are complete 
essays, inserted as the opening chapters of all the eighteen 
books; and he composed them with care, confessing, "I can with 
less pains write one of the books of this history, than the pre 
fatory chapter to each of them." He realized that readers might 



106 The English Novel 

be bored by the disquisitions, but justified them as "so many 
scenes of Serious artfully interwoven, in order to contrast and 
set off the rest. . . . And after this warning, if [the reader] 
shall be of opinion that he can find enough of Serious in other 
parts of this history, he may pass over these, in which we pro 
fess to be laboriously dull." 

The personality of the author thus becomes as familiar to the 
reader as are those of his characters. He hovers in the back 
ground, ready to step forward at intervals with his urbane, iron 
ical comments on literary art. If they were extracted and printed 
separately, they would form a treatise on his theory of novel- 
writing. Again and again he reiterated that "our business is 
only to record truth," and "it is our province to relate facts, and 
we shall leave causes to persons of much higher genius." There 
fore he scorned the unrestricted freedom of imagination indulged 
in by romance-writers: "Truth distinguishes our writings from 
those idle romances which are filled with monsters, the produc 
tions, not of nature, but of distempered brains." To compensate 
for this absence of imaginative material, he felt that his style had 
to be saved from dullness by "interspersing through the whole 
sundry similes, descriptions, and other kind of poetical embellish 
ments. . . . Without interruptions of this kind the best narrative 
of plain matter of fact must overpower every reader [with 
sleepiness] ; for nothing but the everlasting watchfulness, which 
Homer has ascribed only to Jove himself, can be proof against 
a newspaper of many volumes." These poetical embellishments 
are usually mock-heroic passages, rich in classical echoes and 
allusions. 

Repeatedly declaring himself a disciple of Lucian, Rabelais, 
Cervantes, and Swift, he poured contempt upon his fiction-writing 
contemporaries for their lack of scholarship and of critical theory: 

The favorable reception which two or three authors have lately 
procured for their works of this nature from the public, will prob 
ably serve as an encouragement to many others to undertake the 
like. Thus a swarm of foolish novels and monstrous romances will 
be produced. . . . To the composition of novels and romances, 
nothing is necessary but paper, pens, and ink, with the manual 
capacity of using them. This, I conceive, their productions show 
to be the opinion of the authors themselves: and this must be the 
opinion of their readers, if indeed there be any such. . . . And it 



The First Masterpieces 107 

is the apprehension of this contempt that hath made us so cautiously 
avoid the term romance, a name with which we might otherwise 
have been well enough contented. 

In spite of his emphasis on literary background, Fielding did 
not doubt that his special advantage was his familiarity with 
people of all classes: "A true knowledge of the world is gained 
only by conversation, and the manners of every rank must be 
seen in order to be known." A mock-epic invocation of his 
muses lists his inspirations as love of fame and need of money, and 
his necessary endowments as genius, humanity, learning, and, as 
the climax, 

Lastly, come Experience, long conversant with the wise, the good, 
the learned, and the polite. Nor with them only, but with every 
kind of character, from the minister at his levee, to the bailiff in 
his sponging-house; from the duchess at her drum, to the landlady 
behind her bar. From thee only can the manners of mankind be 
known; to which the recluse pedant, however great his parts or 
extensive his learning may be, hath ever been a stranger. 

Fielding's glorification of "Truth" and "Human Nature" was 
always accompanied by assertion of serious moral purpose. It 
was announced unequivocally in the dedicatory epistle: 

The reader . . . will find in the whole course of it nothing prej 
udicial to the cause of religion and virtue, nothing inconsistent 
with the strictest rules of decency, nor which can offend even the 
chastest eye in the perusal. On the contrary, I declare, that to 
recommend goodness and innocence hath been my sincere endeavor 
in this history. . . . For these purposes I have employed all the 
wit and humor of which I am master in the following history; 
wherein I have endeavored to laugh mankind out of their favorite 
follies and vices. 

Derived mainly from the Bible, Cicero, and Shaftesbury, his 
ethical creed maintained that "the natural goodness of the heart" 
is more important than rigid righteousness; that the reward of 
virtuous conduct is inward peace of mind; and that, so long as a 
person's innate instincts are right, forgiveness ought to be ex 
tended to the moral lapses to which fallible human nature is all 
too prone. His doctrine thus differs from Richardson's, which 
centered in a standardized code of right and wrong, enforced by 
the sanctions of respectability and prosperity. Richardson's 



108 The English Novel (i?4- I 755) 

ethics were external, Fielding's were subjective. It is not too 
paradoxical to say that Fielding, for all his rowdy realism, was 
ideologically more sentimental than Richardson. The latter in 
sisted on worldly matters of conduct and on inflexible formulas, 
whereas Fielding's sole criterion was "feeling." In the year that 
Tom Jones was published, Jean- Jacques Rousseau won a prize in 
France with an essay in which he promulgated a similar theory. 

Fielding's scholarship and vigorous intellect gave his novel 
prestige with the social sophisticates, who had little respect for 
the piety of Richardson or the violence of Smollett. The great 
William Pitt was one who read some of the manuscript and spread 
praise of the book among his friends before publication. The 
author was paid the substantial sum of ,600, and the sale of 
the first edition was so lively that the binders could not keep up 
with the demand. As usual, hack writers produced spurious con 
tinuations (Tom Jones in his Married State} and imitations (The 
History of Charlotte Summers, the Fortunate Parish Girl). 
Within a year a "Tom Jones" was the current slang for a 
"boy friend," and young gentlemen were using "Sophia" as 
the pet name for a sweetheart or a favorite puppy. 

In spite of its popularity, however, the book was reviled by 
two groups of antagonists by the Tory journalists who hated 
Fielding for supporting the House of Hanover, and by 
Richardson and his coterie who regarded Fielding (in Richard 
son's words) as "a very indelicate, a very impetuous, an unyield 
ing-spirited man." The principal basis of the attack was "lewd- 
ness," and the adverse critics spared no ugly words in abusing 
him as a filthy and immoral writer. This was extended to include 
personal slander of him as a slovenly, drunken, bribe-taking 
magistrate who had married his cook. 

Following the success of Clarissa and Tom Jones, the middle 
year of the eighteenth century may be regarded as the point 
where the novel won recognition as a distinct genre. In February, 
1750, the preface to Charlotte Summers spoke of Richardson and 
Fielding as "the two inimitable moderns." A month later Samuel 
Johnson, then just coming into his power as a critic, devoted the 
fourth Rambler to a study of the new fiction, which he defined 
with his usual clarity: 

The works of fiction with which the present generation seems more 
particularly delighted are such as exhibit life in its true state, 



The First Masterpieces 109 

diversified only by the accidents that daily happen in the world, and 
influenced by those passions and qualities which are really to be 
found in conversing with mankind. This kind of writing may be 
termed not improperly the comedy of romance, and is to be con 
ducted nearly by the rules of comic poetry. Its province is to 
bring about natural events by easy means, and to keep up curiosity 
without the help of wonder; it is therefore precluded from the 
machines and expedients of the heroic romance. 

To Johnson, ever the moralist, the popular appeal of the new 
novels entailed a solemn responsibility: 

These books are written chiefly for the young, the ignorant, and 
the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct and introduc 
tions into life. . . . When an adventurer is leveled with the rest 
of the world and acts in such scenes of the universal drama as 
may be the lot of any other man, young spectators fix their eyes 
upon him with closer attention, and hope, by observing his be 
havior and success, to regulate their own practice when they shall 
be engaged in the like part. 

Obviously referring to Fielding and Smollett, he went on: 

It is therefore not a sufficient vindication of a character, that it 
is drawn as it appears, for many characters ought never to be drawn; 
nor of a narrative, that the train of events is agreeable to observa 
tion and experience, for that observation which is called knowledge 
of the world will be found much more frequently to make men 
cunning than good. 

Johnson's essay is significant, not only as a recognition of the 
importance and influence of the new novels, but as a plain 
statement of the moralistic criterion that continued to dominate 
much criticism of fiction down to the present time. Till the end 
of his life, he retained a preference for Richardson over Fielding. 
He admitted, to be sure, that "if you were to read Richardson for 
the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you 
would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment." 
On the latter ground, he declared that "there is more knowledge of 
the heart in one letter of Richardson's than in all Tom Jones" 
And again, "Richardson has picked the kernel of life, while 
Fielding was contented with the husk." 

Further evidence that the novel had now established itself can 
be seen in the increased output. Publishers took prompt advan 
tage of the vogue, and the neat duodecimo volumes of fiction 



110 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

became a staple in their business. Another commercial develop 
ment was the circulating library, which sprang into existence all 
over England to provide a constant flow of novels to the in 
satiable reading public. A motley brigade of writers hastened 
to supply material to satisfy the demand. 

One was Charlotte Ramsay Lennox, daughter of a British officer 
stationed in New York; she came to England at the age of fifteen,, 
tried unsuccessfully to become an actress, and then turned to the 
profession of authorship. Her marriage to a ne'er-do-well 
merely intensified her need of earning money with her pen. 
The Life of Harriot Stuart was a highly dramatized version of 
her early career. After a childhood on the New York frontier,, 
the heroine (like Clarissa Harlowe and Sophia Western) flees: 
from a domineering father and a hateful suitor, escapes kidnapping- 
by Indians and pirates, and survives varied perils in England 1 
and France. Sam Johnson celebrated the novel's publication in 
1750 with an all-night party for the Lennoxes at the Devil Tavern,, 
and during twelve hours of tea, coffee, and lemonade he crowned 
the guest of honor with a laurel wreath. Lady Mary Montagu,, 
however, found Harriot to be "a jilt and a fool in every page."' 

Sarah Robinson (later Mrs. Scott), sister of the bluestocking- 
Elizabeth Montagu, came out with a serious story in the vein of 
Marivaux, The History of Cornelia. An elderly London attorney,, 
Robert Paltock, contributed a more original book, The Adven 
tures of Peter Wilkins, which combined an imaginary voyage in. 
the Gulliver tradition with a good deal of Richardsonian senti 
ment to produce an eccentric but rather charming effect. The 
Rev. Francis Coventry, an admirer of Fielding, also offered an 
attractive novelty in The History of Pompey the Little, a short 
novel in which the central character is a lap-dog. 

The veteran Mrs. Haywood continued her adherence to Rich 
ardson in The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, her best novel, 
in which a vain, impulsive girl marries the wrong man, nurses him 
through his last illness, and in the end becomes the wife of a rich 
and worthy gentleman. For its placid style and attention to com 
monplace detail it has been termed the first "domestic novel" 
in English. A more unsavory writer, John Hill, a fantastic 
charlatan, brought out two slipshod, salacious works of fiction, 
The Adventures of Mr. Loveill and The Adventures of Mr. George 
Edwards, a Creole. John Cleland, too, produced another novel, 



The First Masterpieces 111 

The Memoirs of a Coxcomb, which was somewhat less indecent 
than his Fanny Hill. 

Above the ruck of mediocre fiction of 1750-51, Smollett's 
second novel stands out sharply. In the interval since Roderick 
Random he had graduated from surgery to medicine by receiving 
the AID. degree at Aberdeen, and had translated Gil Bias and 
begun a translation of Don Quixote. The new novel, The 
Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, was much longer than its prede 
cessor, and was further extended by a 50,000-word interpolation, 
"The Memoir of a Lady of Quality," the authentic confessions of 
the notorious Lady Vane. The rest of the book was sprinkled 
with Smollett's personal digressions, reflecting his numerous en 
mities. The more offensive of these attacks on Fielding, Lyttelton, 
Garrick, and others, were eliminated from the second edition seven, 
years later; but even when thus tightened up, Peregrine Pickle 
showed no marked advance over Roderick Random. Obviously 
written in haste, it keeps the picaresque unilinear construction, 
and Peregrine is a more sordid rogue than Roderick. As a 
student at Winchester and Oxford, Peregrine develops his pen 
chant for mischievous pranks; and later, after falling out with his 
parents, he is adopted by a crusty retired naval officer. His 
ramblings in France with the inevitable comic attendant gave 
Smollett a chance to introduce local color obtained during a recent 
trip to Paris. In the background, of course, there is a love story, 
with a conventionally virtuous and beautiful girl whom Peregrine 
tries to seduce, and eventually marries. The story is crammed 
with brutal practical jokes and farcical escapades, but Smollett's 
gift of lively narrative keeps it readable, and several of the 
grotesque characters are richly comic in his usual vein of carica 
ture. 

The author's objective manner gives a callous effect but makes 
even the most exaggerated occurrences seem plausible, and is in 
pleasing contrast with the moralizing that pervaded much fiction 
at the time. This merit Smollett mockingly pointed out on the 
occasion of Peregrine's first sojourn in jail: 

I might here, in imitation of some celebrated writers, furnish out 
a page or two with the reflections which he made upon the stability 
of human affairs, the treachery of the world, and the temerity of 
youth, and endeavor to decoy the reader into a smile by some 
quaint observation of my own, touching the sagacious moralizer. 



112 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

But, besides that I look upon this practice as an impertinent antici 
pation of the peruser's thoughts, I have too much matter of im 
portance upon my hands to give the reader the least reason to 
believe that I am driven to such paltry shifts in order to eke out 
the volume. 

Fielding, meanwhile, had been working hard on his next book, 
which was very different in tone from Tom Jones. His duties 
as magistrate had brought him close to the squalor and depravity 
of the London underworld, and he was advocating drastic reforms 
in law enforcement. Though handicapped by illness, he took a 
prominent and sometimes courageous part in suppressing a serious 
crime wave. This intimate experience with lawlessness modified 
the light-hearted attitude toward misconduct that had been per 
ceptible in Tom Jones. Besides, he could not have been immune 
to the ferocious attacks on the alleged immorality of that novel. 
In the preface to Amelia he sounded his new note of earnestness 
by declaring that 

as histories of this kind may properly be called models of human 
life, so by observing minutely the several incidents which tend 
to the catastrophe or completion of the whole, and the minute 
causes whence those incidents are produced, we shall best be in 
structed in this most useful of all the arts, which I call the Art 
of Life. 

When Amelia was published in 1751, the whole first impression 
was sold in a single day; but a decline in sales soon showed that 
readers were not well pleased on finding that it lacked the humor 
and energy of Fielding's previous books. A month later, in his 
new periodical, the Covent Garden Journal, he portrayed himself 
as Amelia's father testifying in her defense against a charge of 
dullness: 

Of all my offspring she is my favorite child. I can truly say 
that I bestowed a more than ordinary pains in her education, 
in which, I will venture to affirm, I followed the rules of all 
those who are acknowledged to have writ best on the subject; 
and if her conduct be fairly examined, she will be found to 
deviate very little from the strictest observation of all those rules; 
neither Homer nor Virgil pursued them with greater care than 
myself, and the candid and learned reader will see that the latter 
was the noble model, which I made use of on this occasion. 



The First Masterpieces 113 

He ended the plea with an offer of compromise, solemnly de 
claring "that I will trouble the world no more with any children 
of mine by the same muse." 

Unlike Fielding's other fiction, Amelia had a woman as the 
central character, and it offered a predominantly unhappy picture 
of domestic life. The passage of time had deepened his idealiza 
tion of his first wife. In Sophia Western he had portrayed her 
generous, high-spirited girlhood, with himself providing some 
traits of her thoughtless lover; now there was an element of 
penitence in his picture of her as the self-sacrificing wife of an 
irresponsible husband. 

It was the first English novel to deal wholly with the married 
life of a couple. Lieutenant Booth, invalided out of the army on a 
tiny pension, is deeply in debt. At the beginning of the novel he 
engages in an affair with another woman, in the sordid surround 
ings of a London jail, while his wife and children are in the 
country. The rest of the story is a record of ever-increasing 
destitution, with the feckless husband frequently in and out of 
prison and the wife exposed to the evil designs of two un 
scrupulous gentlemen. The atmosphere of gloom points to a 
tragic ending as inevitable; but Fielding was too fond of his 
heroine to doom her to disaster and so he invented an implausible 
happy outcome. Amelia unexpectedly inherits a fortune, and her 
weak-willed husband as a result of reading a volume of sermons 
is converted from skepticism and becomes a respectable citizen. 

The inartistic conclusion is the novel's only flaw. The plot, 
while less complex than that of Tom Jones, is well organized, 
and the emotional unity is firmly sustained. The characters are 
drawn without the touches of caricature that Fielding formerly 
used. The most remarkable feature, however, is his change of out 
look. The dominant purpose is an earnest social crusade, the 
principal mood is tender pathos, and the morality is that of 
orthodox Christianity. 

In spite of his unwonted seriousness, he failed to mollify 
Richardson, who reported to one of his women friends that he had 
been unable to read beyond the first volume: "I found the char 
acters and situations so wretchedly low and dirty, that I imagined 
I could not be interested for any one of them; and to read and not 
to care what became of the hero and heroine is a task that I 
thought I would leave to those who had more leisure than I am 



114 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

blessed with." He went on to prove his thesis that Fielding had 
"little or no invention" by listing characters and settings in his 
three novels that were "all drawn from what he has seen or 
known." In Amelia "he designed to be good, but knew not how, 
and lost his genius low humor in the attempt." 

Amelia was Fielding's last novel. During the next year he was 
busy with the Covent Garden Journal. Then illness obliged him 
to resign his magistracy, and he went abroad for his health, 
dying in Lisbon in his forty-eighth year, in 1754. 

The publication of Amelia marks the triumph of the new 
realistic fiction. This development was signalized in 1752 in 
the theme of Charlotte Lennox's second novel, The Female 
Quixote, or The Adventures of Arabella. Like Biddy Tipkins in 
Steele's play, half a century before, the heroine has grown up 
reading nothing but the old romances and believing that they give 
a literal picture of real life. Absurd misunderstandings and 
deceptions are needed to cure her of her fantasies and persuade 
her to accept a sensible suitor. Since the heroic romances still 
offered some rivalry to the new realism, The Female Quixote 
was welcomed by all the realists. Johnson wrote the dedication 
for her and is suspected of having contributed one chapter to 
the book. Richardson said that "the writer has genius," and 
Fielding reviewed it enthusiastically, terming it "a most extra 
ordinary and most excellent performance." 

Smollett, in his third novel, tried to depart from his estab 
lished pattern. In his previous books he had exhausted the material 
from his own experience; in the later part of Peregrine Pickle 
he had obviously started to repeat himself. Though both of his 
earlier heroes were brazen young rascals, he apparently regarded 
them with indulgent affection. Now in The Adventures of 
Ferdinand, Count Fathom he tried the experiment of writing 
about an unmitigated scoundrel, as Fielding did in Jonathan Wild. 
His preface defended his portrayal of the "disgrace and discom 
fiture of vice, which is always an example of extensive use and 
influence, because it leaves a deep impression of terror upon the 
minds of those who were not confirmed in the pursuit of morality 
and virtue." But this argument is weakened when at the end 
of the story his specimen of vice repents and becomes respectable 
and prosperous. 

The early part is a simple picaresque series of exploits in 



The First Masterpieces 115 

which a self-styled "count" imposes on gullible victims all over 
Europe, especially people who are kind to him. Later the focus 
shifts to some of these better characters in order to achieve a 
complicated climax. The most noteworthy passages are two in 
which Smollett produces genuinely powerful effects of terror, 
once by tricking the reader into believing that supernatural 
forces are at work. 

Ferdinand, Count Fathom is thus an inartistic farrago, and yet 
the preface contains a definition of the novel that suggests a 
clearer sense of form in the author's mind than any he achieved in 
his works: 

A novel is a large diffused picture, comprehending the characters 
of life, disposed in different groups and exhibited in various 
attitudes, for the purposes of a uniform plan. This plan cannot 
be executed with propriety, probability, or success, without a 
principal personage to attract the attention, unite the incidents, 
unwind the clue of the labyrinth, and at last close the scene, 
by virtue of his own importance. 

This statement proves that by 1753 the biographical structure was 
firmly established; thereafter for almost a century it was accepted 
as the only possible pattern for long fiction. 

Richardson, with his usual deliberation, spent five years in 
writing his third novel. As before, he tried to escape from the 
limitations of his previous work. In the preface, with his cus 
tomary air of omniscience, safely based on hindsight, he explained 
that the present novel fulfilled a plan that he had had in mind 
ever since he began to write Pamela. His two earlier novels had 
used different social strata and different plots for the single pur 
pose of inculcating virtue. Precarious health and the pressure of 
business had then led him to fear that he would have to desist; 
but the insistence of his friends had compelled him to "complete 
his first design"; and he warned that "the present collection is 
not published ultimately, nor even principally, any more than 
the other two, for the sake of entertainment only. A much 
nobler end is in view." 

In each of the previous books the central character was a 
woman, and the principal men were selfish and sensual. In social 
status his characters had ranged from the servant level up to the 
country squirearchy and the wealthy upper-middle class. It re- 



116 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

mained for him to show that he could write understandingly and 
favorably about the aristocracy and about a man. His friends 
were pleading with him to provide an antidote both for the 
insidious charm of his own Lovelace and for the moral laxity 
of Tom Jones. His new hero, Sir Charles Grandison, was there 
fore conceived as a counterpart to his saintly Clarissa, but with 
out the feminine helplessness that had led to her downfall. 

Richardson was venturing not only into a higher social sphere 
but into a wider geographical area, for part of the action takes 
place abroad, a fact that the author naively advertised by a pref 
atory roster of the characters divided into "men," "women," 
and "Italians." 

The book inevitably suffers from two handicaps. The hero is 
so immaculately perfect that he repels the sympathy of ordinary 
readers, who find him an intolerable prig; and his combination of 
virtue and prudence renders him so invulnerable to disaster that 
the book lacks the emotional tension arising from the possibility 
of a tragic outcome. This lack of intensity is partly due to the 
persistent goodness of the main characters. Only one secondary 
figure is a roue of the Lovelace type, and his effort to abduct 
the heroine is easily thwarted. Perhaps it is a merit of the story 
that its main conflicts are not between good and evil forces but 
between people who are all equally worthy and altruistic. But 
what it gains in sweetness it loses in contrast and power. 

In spite of its limitations, the book has been regarded by 
some critics as Richardson's masterpiece. By this time he was 
a master of technical skill, and he manipulated a cast of charac 
ters much larger than before. Though not quite so long as 
Clarissa, it replaces the dramatic unity of that book with a more 
panoramic view of society. Nevertheless, as Richardson boasted, 
the structure was carefully planned: "There is not one episode 
in the whole, nor, after Sir Charles Grandison is introduced, one 
letter inserted but what tends to illustrate the principal design." 
In its variety of subplots, its range of secondary performers, its 
minute study of genteel behavior, and its use of social predica 
ments as the basis for the action, Sir Charles Grandison set a 
lasting model for the "novel of manners." 

The dialogue is consistently lively and natural. To sustain the 
atmosphere of sophisticated society, the author gave freer rein 
to his comic talent, which had appeared only faintly in the second 



The First Masterpieces 111 

part of Pamela and in Clarissa*, but it is still incidental, for Sir 
Charles himself is too austere to indulge in wit. 

In the handling of the hero, the epistolary method caused some 
difficulties. Sir Charles is too intelligent to be unaware of his 
own merits, and too truthful to assume a false humility; and so the 
discussion of his conduct and motives is bound to seem ego 
tistical. Tedious repetition ensues when the author tries to offset 
this by having his virtues further extolled through other charac 
ters, chiefly Harriet Byron, a pretty heiress who falls in love 
with him. Though Harriet is the nominal heroine of the story, 
Richardson was in danger of becoming more interested in Clem 
entina della Porretta, an emotional Italian lady whose love for 
Grandison is doomed to disappointment because of their differ 
ence in religion. Her pathetic plight has some resemblance to 
Clarissa's. But as the balance of the book would be disturbed if 
Clementina were to monopolize too much sympathy, she is saved 
from her dramatic determination to become a nun, and meekly 
accepts the suitable Catholic husband selected by her parents. 

The ultimate strength of the book resides in the portrait of 
Grandison himself. No matter how much the reader may rebel 
against the baronet's monotonous perfection, the blame must 
rest on Richardson's purpose and not on his execution of it. He 
succeeded completely in presenting a paragon of integrity in the 
Protestant Christian model, for whom even the most recalcitrant 
reader gradually acquires respect. If one says that Grandison is 
an idealized self-portrait, one is not scoffing at the fictitious 
character so much as extolling the author. The sententious, 
benevolent gentleman, modestly aware that every woman falls 
in love with him at sight, is an authentic projection of the per 
sonality concealed under the deceptive exterior of the fat little 
printer of Fulham with his circle of adoring bluestocking friends. 

The History of Sir Charles Grandison in a Series of Letters 
Published from the Originals came out in seven volumes in 
1753-54. It had been so much talked about in advance that one 
of the hack writers had been able to forestall it by almost a 
year with The Memoirs of Sir Charles Goodville. Before 
Grandison had ended its six months' publication, some critics 
were objecting to the hero's unbelievable perfection, and so 
Richardson added a "Concluding Note" to his final volume, re 
stating his principle: "The Editor thinks human nature has 



118 The English Novel (1740-1755) 

often, of late, been shown in a light too degrading; and he hopes 
from this series of letters it will be seen that characters may be 
good without being unnatural." After defending in detail the 
plausibility of Grandison's conduct, and digressing to condemn 
the practice of dueling, he returned to the charge against his 
contemporaries of having "given success (and happiness, as it is 
called) to their heroes of vicious, if not of profligate, charac 
ters." 

Although some readers complained of the book's wordiness, 
Richardson's admirers pestered him for a continuation until he 
was obliged to issue a public refusal: 

The conclusion of a single story is indeed generally some great 
and decisive event, as a Death or a Marriage; but in scenes of 
life carried down nearly to the present time, and in which a 
variety of interesting characters is introduced, all events cannot 
be decided . . . ; since persons presumed to be still living must 
be supposed liable to the various turns of human affairs. 

Thus Richardson maintained until the end the pretense that he was 
merely serving as editor for actual letters of living people. He 
made no move to start another book. In the full assurance that he 
had outdistanced his hated rival, Fielding, he complacently en 
joyed his fame until his death in 1761. As Dr. Johnson remarked, 
he "died merely for want of change among his flatterers." 

Fielding and Richardson had been absolute antitheses when 
they began writing fiction; but a sort of magnetic attraction drew 
their work steadily closer together, until Fielding's third novel 
might almost have been written by Richardson, and vice versa. 
Amelia told a pathetic story about a noble-souled woman abused 
by a selfish man, while Grandison dealt urbanely and sometimes 
wittily with social mores. The imitators of the two authors 
maintained the distinct styles of their earlier books, and thus 
the "masculine" and the "feminine" types of fiction survived as 
separate species; but the final achievement of both masters 
showed that the essential English novel could stand somewhere 
between. 

The novel emerged in the middle of the eighteenth century 
as the artistic fulfilment of the neoclassical era. For a hundred 
years the major authors had been occupied with precise obser 
vation of facts, with analysis of the structure of society, with 



The First Masterpieces 119 

attempts to understand human personality. But so long as they 
employed traditional literary genres they were handicapped by 
an incompatibility between the material and the form. The new 
genre of the novel had the range, the flexibility, the naturalness 
of style, to be a fitting medium for depicting the new social 
environment that was dominated by industrial and commercial 
expansion, by facilities of transportation, by rapid changes of 
social status, and by conflict of ideas that challenged the old 
simple axioms about religion, government, and even human 
nature. The "age of reason," after striving vainly to cram all this 
into the ancient literary molds of expository treatises, personal 
essays, poems, or plays, finally gave birth to a new medium that 
satisfied the need. 




Establishing the Tradition 

- 1775-) 



THE EMERGENCE OF THE NOVEL as a new literary genre occupied 
only fourteen years, from Pamela to Sir Charles Grandison. After 
that amazing era of experiment and definition a pause ensued, 
as though authors needed to absorb the new principles and decide 
what to do with them. For six years after Grandison, even 
Smollett did not write another novel, being busy with editing 
magazines and composing a massive work on English history. 
And during those same years no new novelist of any stature 
appeared. 

Meanwhile prose fiction was gaming form and prestige in 
France. Alongside the success of Marivaux, even greater popu 
larity had been won by the Abbe Prevost, whose Memoirs et 
aventures d : un homme de qualite came out between 1728 and 
173 1. The last volume contained a short separate narrative, 
Manon Lescaut, which came to be regarded as a masterpiece of 
tender pathos. Having lived in London as a political refugee, 
Prevost chose British settings for his next two books, Le Phil- 
osophe Anglais, ou Fhistoire de M. Cleveland (1733-39) and Le 

120 



Establishing the Tradition 121 

Doyen de Killerme (1735-40). His heroes and heroines suffer 
their way through an incredible series of woeful complications; 
and the reader's emotions are further harrowed by sensational 
perils and nightmare scenes of horror and gloom. 

The prevailing tone of the French novels is usually called 
"sensibility," to distinguish it from the moral sentimentalism of 
Richardson and his disciples. The French authors were not 
trying to inculcate strict ethical principles; they made a cult of 
emotional self-consciousness for its own sake. Hence among re 
spectable English readers their novels gained a reputation for 
immorality; and one of the most successful French writers, 
Crebillon fils, certainly reveled in lewdness in Le Sopha (1740). 
Marivaux and Crebillon wrote comedy, while Prevost preferred 
the pathetic mood; but all three give an illusion of realism by 
their detachment from moral preoccupations. Actually, however, 
their stories are less realistic than Richardson's, because their 
purpose of perpetually keeping the reader at a tense emotional 
pitch impelled them to strain credulity with melodramatic situa 
tions, especially when Prevost's type of story settled into a for 
mula in the hands of his followers, Baculard d'Arnaud and 
Mme. Riccoboni. 

As Richardson's verbose solemnity began to lose its hold on 
the English public, translations and adaptations of the shorter 
and livelier French novels of sensibility gained currency in 
England. Conversely, the English novels, particularly Richard 
son's, were immensely popular in France. Horace Walpole re 
marked that the French u had adopted the two dullest things ^ we 
have, whist and Richardson's novels." Clarissa and Grandison 
were translated by Prevost, and an enthusiastic tloge de Richard- 
son was written by Denis Diderot, the great encyclopedist. The 
interplay between the French and English novel unquestionably 
furthered the artistic development of the form. 

The vogue of prose fiction encouraged the two outstanding 
French thinkers of the mid-century to adopt this form as the 
best vehicle for their most potent opinions. Beginning with 
Zadig in 1747, Voltaire wrote a series of brief contes philo- 
sophiques mainly with oriental settings, and he used fiction also 
for a longer satire, Candide (1759), in which he followed the 
well-worn pattern of Don Quixote and Gil Bias, but made every 
episode of the story contribute to his hero's disillusionment and 



722 The English Novel (17 5 5-177 5) 

reinforce the author's onslaught upon optimism and dogma. 

In contrast with Voltaire's cynical wit, Jean- Jacques Rousseau 
followed Richardson's model in the two books in which he set 
forth his ideals of love and education Julie, ou la nouvelle 
Helo'ise and ?mle. In his preface to Julie he admitted that he had 
chosen fiction as his vehicle because "spectacular shows are neces 
sary in big cities and novels for corrupt publics." To illustrate 
his theory of innate virtue and the evils of sophistication, he 
depicted a pair of high-souled lovers whose impulses broke 
through conventional restraints. The cult of sensibility, already 
launched by Prevost and his disciples, was here expanded into 
a doctrine that exalted emotion at the expense of reason and 
formal morality. The ardor of Rousseau's passionate scenes com 
bined with his radical doctrines to give these books immense 
notoriety. 

The united impact of Voltaire and Rousseau added an impor 
tant dimension to the novel by making it an instrument of propa 
ganda. Earlier writers of fiction had often, indeed, been didactic. 
But in an era of fixed intellectual standards they had merely re 
affirmed familiar dogmas. The whole basis of thought was 
changed in the middle of the eighteenth century by the new 
concept of progress; and along with it came the corollary that 
progress can be guided and accelerated by individual thinkers. 
Immutable laws, whether of God or government, were yielding 
to unstable concepts of human welfare and political action; and 
every theorist with a new panacea, no matter how extravagant, 
yearned to illustrate it in a novel that would appeal to the imagi 
nation and sympathy of the widest reading public. 

An imitator of Smollett wrote the first topical propaganda 
novel in English. Dr. John Shebbeare was a surgeon who turned 
political agitator; when Parliament passed a law regulating various 
abuses of marriage, Shebbeare wrote The Marriage Act (1754), 
attacking the new law in a farrago of episodes that mingled 
Smollett's coarseness with Richardsonian sentiment. Its publi 
cation led to Shebbeare's arrest for disrespect of the government, 
His next novel, Lydia, or Filial Piety, was an indiscriminate 
assault on various doctrines that had roused his Tory ire. The 
remarkable feature of this book was the noble pair of Indian 
lovers, Canassetego and Yarico, used as a contrast with the con 
temptible British characters. Though stolen shamelessly from 



Establishing the Tradition 123 

Mrs. Behn's Oroonoko, the episode foreshadowed the glorification 
of the uncivilized man that was soon to be launched by Rousseau. 

The next English example of the propagandistic purpose is 
one of the most eccentric novels ever written. Thomas Amory 
was a learned old recluse whose demented work of fiction, The 
Life and Opinions of John Buncle, Esq., came out in two 
volumes ten years apart, 1756 and 1766. It is a shapeless jumble 
of crotchety prejudices on all sorts of subjects, written in a pe 
dantic style and equipped with vast footnotes. The hero wanders 
through life with a clear objective: "to see if I could find another 
good country girl for a wife, and get a little more money; as 
these were the only two things united that could secure me 
from melancholy and confer real happiness." Before the book 
ends he has married eight times, winning each bride by the elo 
quence and abstruseness of his philosophical and scientific dis 
courses. In spite of its naive absurdity, the book has charm and 
power in the matter-of-fact vividness of its style and in the 
self -portrayal of a supreme egotist. Buncle writes as extensively 
and enthusiastically about a good meal or a picturesque land 
scape as about the lovely and virtuous girls with whom he falls 
in love. With utter solemnity Amory produced a comic master 
piece. 

A more distinguished writer also turned to fiction as a medium 
for expounding his philosophy. Samuel Johnson at the age of 
fifty had written satirical poems, a poetic tragedy, and numerous 
volumes of essays, as well as compiling his dictionary; but he 
was still an underpaid literary drudge. When his mother died 
he did not have enough money for her funeral expenses and so 
he laid aside his journalistic work during the evenings of one 
week and wrote a short book that he hoped would appeal to the 
public taste. Not bothering to read over the manuscript, he 
sent it off to a publisher and received 100 for the copyright 

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. (1759) is an 
oriental tale in the manner of Voltaire's Zadig. In theme and 
structure it more closely resembles Candide, but Johnson cannot 
have read the French story, as the two books appeared almost 
simultaneously. Less satiric and skeptical than Voltaire's, John 
son's story is just as positive a refutation of the current opti 
mism. His royal Abyssinian hero escapes with his sister from 
the secluded, uneventful luxury of a "Happy Valley" in the hope 



124 The English Novel ( I 755-i?75) 

of learning the true values and aims of life. His experiences 
teach him that imaginative literature, romantic love, philosophi 
cal theories, and scientific discoveries are equally deceptive be 
cause they stimulate false hopes and conceal the essential grimness 
of existence. The story advocates a rational recognition of the 
futility of human wishes and a Christian stoicism under the yoke 
of destiny. This means that although Johnson used the external 
trappings of romance, his philosophical outlook was more uncom 
promisingly realistic than that of Richardson, Fielding, and Smol 
lett, since they subscribed to the principle of "poetic justice" 
with a happy ending in which virtue triumphs and evil is pun 
ished. 

Johnson made little effort to provide local color or even to 
make the story conform with African conditions. As the writers 
of heroic romances had done, he chose an exotic setting as a flimsy 
covering for characters and conversations of his own time and 
country. Although the action appears episodic, it is actually 
well organized to bring out the central theme, working up to 
a climax of the idea rather than of the plot, like the structure 
of Gulliver's Travels. Johnson's style is too formal for lively 
story-telling, but in some passages he achieves a simplicity and 
strength that make Rasselas the most readable of his works. Com 
posed at a time of sorrow, it was bound to be gloomy, but it 
had none of the sentimental melancholy that was fashionable in 
other writings of the period. And in the face of the new-fangled 
concern with human welfare and of the faith that it could be 
promoted by benevolence, Johnson sternly reasserted the ortho 
dox doctrine that earthly life is inherently painful and cannot 
be changed the doctrine that Pope had crystalized in his austere 
dictum, "Whatever is, is right." 

If Rasselas is to be regarded as a step toward the acceptance 
of the novel as a medium for intellectual exposition, an equally 
significant but totally different example of the same tendency 
appeared a few months later. This was the first two volumes 
of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent., by the 
Rev. Laurence Sterne. Sterne was a devotee of sentiment, but 
he differed from the other members of the cult in possessing an 
irrepressible sense of humor and a keen and subtle mind. 

Sterne's father, though a grandson of an Archbishop of York, 
was a penniless army ensign. His son Laurence was born in 



Establishing the Tradition 125 

barracks in Ireland and spent his childhood at military posts in 
various parts of Ireland and England. From the age of ten he 
was at school under the supervision of relations, and saw nothing 
of his parents. As an undergraduate at Cambridge he acquired 
convivial habits and showed first symptoms of tuberculosis. 
Without any perceptible religious bent, he entered the clergy 
and spent twenty years as a rural vicar in the vicinity of York. 
He married an unattractive woman for her money, and their 
home life was unhappy. His local reputation was based on his 
eccentric dress and habits, his mordant wit, and his fund of in 
decorous anecdotes. He developed his conversational skill among 
the guests of a college friend, an amateur author of obscene 
rhymes and a devotee of Rabelais, who kept open house in his 
ramshackle castle near Sterne's parish. 

Not until he was forty-five did Sterne write anything beyond 
a few local newspaper squibs. Then he discovered his literary 
talent when an ecclesiastical squabble led him to compose a 
satirical pamphlet, closely modeled on Swift. The pamphlet 
was suppressed; but Sterne had learned the joy of creating comic 
narrative, and launched into a more ambitious project. In the 
spring of 1759 he wrote the first volume of Tristram Shandy; 
and when York booksellers rejected it on the grounds of its 
erratic form and its libelous local references, he sent the manu 
script to a London publisher. A second installment was written 
in the midst of a flirtation with a pretty concert-singer, and the 
two volumes were published in December. 

Tristram Shandy shows many signs of its capricious origin. 
Caricatures of Sterne's adversaries in the diocesan politics of 
York appear among the characters, and several of his friends 
and relations were also used as models. So far as the "opinions" 
of the retrospective narrator Tristram are concerned, the book 
was intimately personal, and Sterne also introduced an objective 
self-portrait as Parson Yorick. Thus he depicted himself from 
the inside and the outside simultaneously. 

His lifetime experiences had prepared him to be a disillusioned 
onlooker at life. He only dimly remembered his father, and had 
been alienated from his mother since childhood. The incompati 
bility with his wife had grown worse and she was lapsing into 
insanity. His feeble health led him to believe that he would not 
live long, and his beloved only daughter was also sickly. He had 



12 6 The English Novel ( I 755~ I 775) 

been disappointed in expectations of patronage or legacies from 
influential relations. Efforts to gain preferment through the petty 
schemes and jealousies of church functionaries had ended in fail 
ure, and he was still stuck in a dull country parish. Well aware 
of the resemblance between his career and Swift's, he felt ready 
to express himself frankly even though friends warned him of 
the danger to his professional standing. 

His own tastes and interests color every page. Rabelais and 
Cervantes and Robert Burton, his favorite authors, affected the 
digressive technique and the colloquial vocabulary. His other 
favorite, Swift, determined the main purpose, which was to sati 
rize everything in general and current intellectual pretensions in 
particular. "The plan," Sterne explained in a letter to the pub 
lisher, "is a most extensive one, taking in not only the weak 
part of the sciences, in which the true point of ridicule lies but 
everything else which I find laugh-at-able in my way." 

A master of paradox, he was capable of laughing at himself 
and at the main source of his ideas. Since his college days he 
had known John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understand 
ing^ which propagated a theory of the association of ideas: 
"Whenever two or more impressions chance to enter the mind 
simultaneously, they will thereafter always keep in company, 
and the one no sooner at any time comes into the understanding, 
but its associate appears with it." In his fourth chapter Sterne 
points out that the "strange combination of ideas, the sagacious 
Locke, who certainly understood the nature of these things better 
than most men, affirms to have produced more wry actions than 
all other sources of prejudice whatsoever." Sterne set out to 
show how the workings of every individual brain are controlled 
by a different pattern of irrelevant associations and personal 
quirks. 

While borrowing ideas from Locke, however, he ridiculed 
his solemn rationalism. Locke's associative theory had been 
merely a step in his procedure of establishing sound and clear 
communication, but Sterne sees it as an insurmountable barrier 
to any real meeting of minds whatsoever. The very basis of 
Locke's argument is that we can never know the reality of things 
outside our own perceptions of them, and that language merely 
increases the confusion by substituting words for things. Hence, 
Sterne implies, Locke is foolish in believing that any two minds 
can have a dependable point of contact at all. 



Establishing the Tradition 121 

This generalization includes the author and the reader. If no 
accepted logical arrangement of ideas can be justified, Sterne 
offers in its place an "impressionistic" technique that at first 
glance looks like nonsense. He warns his readers not to expect 
any conventional form in the book. "In writing what I have 
set about, I shall confine myself neither to [Horace's] rules, nor 
to any man's rules that ever lived." He ended his first volume 
thus: "If I thought you was able to form the least judgment or 
probable conjecture to yourself, of what was to come in the 
next page, I would tear it out of my book." And later he 
boasted that "of all the several ways of beginning a book which 
are now in practice throughout the known world, I am confident 
my own way of doing it is the best. I'm sure it is the most 
religious, for I begin with writing the first sentence, and 
trusting to Almighty God for the second." 

A mere turning of the pages was enough to show that the 
book was freakish. Italics, capitals, and Gothic type occurred in 
discriminately. Brackets, asterisks, and other visual devices 
abounded, and punctuation was largely by dashes, sometimes 
varied with rows of dots. French and Latin passages were inter 
spersed. One chapter was barely four lines in length. Midway 
occurred a blank dedication that the author offered to fill in with 
the name of the first person who would pay fifty guineas. 

Following the initial effect of typographical novelty, the next 
impression conveyed by the book was incoherence, with its per 
petual digressions and abrupt suspensions. At the end of the 
first two volumes the hero was not yet born. Some readers 
gave up in bewilderment. "You will laugh at me, I suppose," Sir 
Horace Mann wrote to Horace Walpole, "when I say I don't un 
derstand it. It was probably the intention that nobody should. It 
seems to me humbugging" On one level of meaning, Sterne 
was indeed consciously employing nonsense, in order to ridicule 
the biographical structure of current novels, the solemn logic of 
scientific thinkers, and the whole assumption that a writer ought 
to make organized sense out of the confused jumble of experience. 

Many readers, however, were encouraged to dig further when 
they realized that they might uncover a rich vein of indecency. 
Sterne wrote about sex and anatomy quite as freely as Fielding 
and Smollett had done, and the response of readers ranged from 
the horror of respectable folk on finding a clergyman guilty of 
such lewdness to the delight of frivolous folk on recognizing his 



128 The English Novel ( I 755-i?75) 

mastery of innuendo, by which he often left one wondering 
whether the lewdness was actually on the page or merely in 
the reader's prurient inferences. Thus Tristram Shandy won a 
lasting reputation as a "naughty" book. No doubt Sterne relished 
ribaldry and wanted to shock prudes; but again this is only one 
view of the complex structure. 

Other readers were impressed by the author's miscellaneous 
learning, and found a pastime in identifying his allusions. 
Tristram Shandy thus gained favor with scholarly men who had 
felt little interest in previous novels. By most of his contempo 
raries, however, Sterne's claim to a deeper philosophical purpose 
was not taken seriously. The favorable terms applied to his book 
were "whimsical," "fanciful," "quaint"; while Goldsmith cen 
sured it outright for "bawdy and pertness." Richardson, as might 
be expected, called the volumes "execrable," and remarked, 
"One extenuating circumstance attends his works, that they are 
too gross to be inflaming." Nevertheless, he had to concede that 
"unaccountable wildness, whimsical digressions, comical incoher- 
encies, all with an air of novelty, has catched the reader's atten 
tion, and applause has flown from one to another, till it is almost 
singular to disapprove." 

The novelty of the book undeniably made it the season's best 
seller, and two months after it came out the author traveled to 
London to enjoy his triumph. He signed a lucrative contract 
with the publishers for the future volumes of the story, which 
he promised to furnish "as long as he lived." With no apparent 
recognition of inappropriateness, a collection of his sermons was 
brought out as The Sermons of Mr. Yorick. Noblemen vied in 
entertaining him. Lord Chesterfield and Bishop Warburton pa 
tronized him, Garrick sponsored him, Reynolds painted his por 
trait, Hogarth undertook to supply illustrations, the Prime Minis 
ter (William Pitt) accepted the dedication of the second edition. 
Never before had a work of fiction thus brought social prestige 
to its author. Sterne traveled home to York in a new-bought 
carriage and plunged into the next volumes of his story. Thece 
continued to appear at intervals during the eight years of 
life that remained to him. At the time of his death he was also 
in the midst of writing a second book, A Sentimental Journey 
through France and Italy, which claimed to be a literal diary of 
travel but which contained something like the same mixture of 
autobiography and fiction that characterized Tristram Shandy. 



Establishing the Tradition 129 

His original intention of writing a general satire in the manner 
of Swift indicates that he did not start Tristram Shandy as a 
novel. The title and opening scenes were borrowed from the 
current fashion of prose fiction in the same way that Swift 
borrowed from Defoe for Gulliver's Travels. But Sterne soon 
displayed the one talent that is essential for the novelist the 
power to create characters. Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim, 
Mr. Yorick and Widow Wadman, even the grotesque sketches of 
his enemies as Didius and Dr. Slop, were more than lay figures 
for the expression of the author's ideas. He portrayed them 
with a mixture of ridicule and sympathy, recording idiosyncra- 
cies and absurdities that are surprising because they are utterly 
plausible. He had an uncanny knack of catching the fragmentary, 
repetitive movement of everyday speech. He made action come 
to life in the reader's imagination by combining dialogue with 
precise notation of gesture and posture, often inserting these in 
the middle of a spoken sentence. As soon as the characters grew 
distinct and familiar to the reader the book became essentially 
a novel in spite of lacking the accepted sort of narrative conti 
nuity. 

Yet while in this basic sense it is a significant novel, it remains 
also a sort of gigantic personal essay, in which the author chats 
with the reader about everything that interests him, in the 
manner of Montaigne and Burton. As in all other personal essays, 
the ultimate reason for its appeal is the personality that it dis 
closes. Sterne is one of the fascinating eccentrics of literature, 
a tantalizing mocker who leaves us uncertain whether he is a 
cynic wearing a mask of sympathy or a sentimentalist wearing 
a mask of cynicism. He is not in the true category of satirists, 
because he sees both sides of every case. Rather he is a disil 
lusioned onlooker who mocks at himself and the reader as often 
as at the characters of his tale. And the mockery is not an end 
in itself. After demonstrating that logical communication be 
tween minds is impossible, he turns to sympathy as the alternative. 
Even though people cannot understand each other's notions, 
there is no reason why they should not maintain mutual affection 
and tolerance. The reader is constantly drawn into the texture 
of the book and made to realize that he, too, is blindly devoted 
to his particular hobbyhorse and is as deserving of laughter and 
of sympathy as the characters are. 

Sterne, in fact, made a more original contribution to the tech- 



130 The English Novel ( I 755~ I 775) 

nique of fiction than any other single author has ever done. 
His theories were implied in his burlesque of his contemporaries. 
The interspersed tales in Fielding and Smollett are parodied by 
the even more irrelevant ones in Tristram Shandy. Tristram's 
meticulous recording of events preceding his birth piles ridicule on 
the standard autobiographical convention by which a narrator 
assumed the right to chronicle every word of conversations 
occurring years before. And basically Sterne challenged the 
assumption that straight chronological order is the only possible 
structure for narrative. He saw that the meaning of experience 
is revealed only by its subsequent significance in the conscious 
ness of a retrospective analyzer, and that this can be shown best 
by rearranging widely dispersed details into a simultaneous array. 

In spite of all the nonsense and exaggeration in Tristram 
Shandy the book is essentially realistic, not merely for its 
characterization but because in the absence of plot the reader's 
interest is maintained chiefly by the vividness of the trivial de 
tails. Sterne did more than any writer since Defoe to prove 
that a work of fiction could satisfy the reader through his 
recognition of familiar things as fully as by tragic crises or hair- 
raising dangers. 

Of plot, in the usual sense, there could be little, if any; no 
climax was possible so long as the author intended to continue 
writing the book until his death and could not foresee when 
that event might occur. Yet he protested that there was an inher 
ent unity: 

I fly off from what I am about, as far, and as often too, as 
any writer in Great Britain; yet I constantly take care to order 
affairs so that my main business does not stand still in my ab 
sence ... By this contrivance, the machinery of my work is of 
a species by itself; two contrary motions are introduced into it, 
and reconciled, which were thought to be at variance with each 
other. In a word, my work is digressive, and it is progressive 
too and at the same time. 

Modern critics agree that the book has artistic structure of its 
own sort. Whereas previous novels had strung a series of inci 
dents upon the straight thread of a central character's life, Sterne 
interwove an elaborate pattern of themes and persons. In view 
of his knowledge of music it might be compared to a symphony 
or a fugue. He made perpetual use of contrast: between the 



Establishing the Tradition 131 

theorizing Walter Shandy and his matter-of-fact wife; between 
Walter's chilly logic and his brother Toby's sensibility; between 
Toby's impulsiveness and Corporal Trim's stability. These are 
all essential elements because they exist together in the mind of 
Tristram; and if the record could have continued until he reached 
maturity, the significance of the whole complex might have been 
plainer. The interplay of personalities upon each other, the im 
portance of heredity and environment for the understanding of 
character, the irrational vagaries of the human mind these form 
the texture of the book. 

One of the ideas that Sterne adapted from Locke was that time 
is a subjective, relative thing, governed by the succession of our 
ideas, and therefore moving swiftly or slowly in response to our 
moods. At some points he tried to prove this to the reader by 
retarding or hastening the speed of narration. This in turn was 
connected with the assumption of the whole book that external 
things have no actual scale of importance in themselves, but are 
significant insofar as they impress themselves on the observer's 
mind. Sterne created his impressionistic or relativistic method to 
demonstrate his belief that "the circumstances with which every 
thing in this world is begirt give everything in this world its 
size and shape." The truth about the thing itself must be con 
veyed by telling all the begirding circumstances rather than by 
isolating it in a factual description. 

From his reading of Locke, Sterne became a precursor of 
modern pragmatism and the science of psychology. One of his 
central themes used for comic effect but basically a serious 
argument is the absurdity of the abstract deductive logic of 
the Shandy brothers when it encounters the intractable phenom 
ena of real life. He struck a final blow in Rabelais' battle against 
dialectical scholasticism, just as his contemporaries struck a final 
blow in Cervantes' battle against idealized romance. 

Sterne always retained a sort of youthful naivete; his kins 
woman Mrs. Montagu remarked of him that "he is full of the milk 
of human kindness, harmless as a child, but often a naughty boy, 
and a little apt to dirty his frock. . . . He has a world of good 
nature, he never hurt anyone with his wit." Hence, in spite of all 
his equivocation and coarseness, he wore the guise of a senti 
mentalist. The dominating figure in the book, Uncle Toby, the 
military expert who was too tenderhearted to kill a housefly, 



132 The English Novel (17 5 5-1775) 

superficially resembles Parson Adams in his unworldly kindli 
ness; but his mild sensibility is basically different from the 
pugnacious obstinacy of Fielding's parson. Throughout the book 
Sterne was always ready to mingle a tear with a sneer, or to 
insert a paean of platonic love in the midst of bawdiness. He 
declared that his major purpose was to use laughter for the pro 
motion of loving-kindness: 

If 'tis wrote against anything 'tis wrote, an' please your Wor 
ships, against the spleen; in order, by a more frequent and more 
convulsive elevation and depression of the diaphragm, and the 
succussations of the intercostal and abdominal muscles in laughter, 
to drive the gall and other bitter juices from the gall-bladder, liver, 
and sweetbread of his majesty's subjects, with all the inimicitious 
passions which belong to them, down into their duodenums. 

Because of this emphasis upon universal benevolence, Tristram 
Shandy came to be regarded, crammed though it was with in 
decency and farce, as a monument of sentimentalism. Yet each 
passage of sensibility ends so inevitably in an anticlimax or in a 
sly phrase of double implication that one cannot help suspecting 
Sterne of intentionally burlesquing the novel of sentiment just as 
mischievously as he burlesqued deductive logic and the novel of 
virility. 

Many devoted admirers have found the book inexhaustibly fas 
cinating, but to other readers it is peculiarly offensive, a blend 
of tediousness, egotism, and insincerity. In the paradoxical world 
of Shandyism, both views can be accepted as valid. The inter 
minable talks between author and reader sometimes become 
boresome, and Sterne flaunts his learning and his sophistication 
blatantly. His physical illness, his social ambitions, his dallyings 
with pretty grass-widows contributed to an abnormal tone. Yet 
it is hard to ignore the courage and gaiety with which he defied 
his disease, the cleverness with which he kept pace with his 
eminent friends, and the good nature that seemed to be mingled 
so strangely with his vanity. 

During 1760, while the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy 
were the sensation of the London season, several other successful 
novels came out. In January Smollett began to publish his 
newest work as a serial in the British Magazine the first novel 
ever to appear in this way. Entitled The Adventures of Sir 



Establishing the Tradition 133 

Launcelot Greaves, it had been written during a three months' 
imprisonment for libel. Probably remembering that Don Quixote, 
which he had translated not long before, had also been written in 
prison, Smollett modeled his story directly upon Cervantes' 
masterpiece. Shorter than his other novels, it was obviously 
fantastic in sending a knight in armor out on quests in the con 
temporary English scene. Smollett went Cervantes one better 
by suppling a second knight-errant also, a naval captain who 
provided the opportunity for the author's usual display of sea 
faring lingo. Much of the story is effectively conveyed through 
dialogue rather than by straight narration. The indiscriminate 
satire is aimed at various sorts of political and religious chicanery. 

A more peculiar book, full of scurrilous satire, was Chrysal, 
or The Adventures of a Guinea, by Charles Johnstone. A coin 
which passes through many transactions has a supernatural insight 
into the despicable motives of the people involved, and readers 
could easily identify the characters with prominent personages in 
public life. As the guinea ranges across the world from Peru to* 
London, and through many social groups the church, the army,, 
the law, the government the picture of human depravity would 
seem intolerably cynical were there not indications that Johnstone 
hid a genuine reforming purpose beneath his indictment of 
society. Resembling some other books of the same era, such as 
Pompey the Little, Chrysal represents a type of fiction that was 
tangential to the true course of the novel. Too much of the 
significance was ephemeral, owing to its concern with current 
personalities and scandals; and the use of an inanimate object as 
narrator, though an ingenious variation of the picaresque form, 
obviated any illusion of reality. 

By this time novel-reading had become such a mania that even 
the tolerant Goldsmith, in a letter of 1759, insisted that his 
young nephew should never be allowed to "touch a romance or 
novel; those paint beauty in colours more charming than nature, 
and describe happiness that man never tastes. . . . They teach the 
youthful mind to sigh after beauty and happiness which never 
existed, to despise that little good which fortune has mixed in our 
cup, by expecting more than she ever gave." On a similar basis, 
but with a lighter touch, the flood of sentimental fiction was 
ridiculed by George Colman in his play, Polly Honeycomb, which 
used the same situation as Mrs. Lennox's Female Quixote, except 



134 The English Novel ( T 75 5-1775) 

that after eight years the target of ridicule was no longer the 
implausible romances but the new kind of novel with its seduc 
tive illusion of reality. Colman's heroine, refusing to marry a re 
spectable businessman, compares herself to Clarissa Harlowe 
and Sophia Western, and terms her suitor "as deceitful as Blifil, 
as rude as the Harlowes, and as ugly as Dr. Slop." Colman 
appended a list of nearly two hundred novels representing the 
current staple of the circulating libraries, and in the prologue he 
summed up the theme of the play: 

But now, the dear delight of later years, 

The younger sister of Romance appears: 

Less solemn is her air, her drift the same, 

And NOVEL her enchanting, charming name. 

Romance might strike our grave forefathers' pomp, 

But Novel for our buck and lively romp! 

Cassandra's folios now no longer read, 

See, two neat pocket- volumes in their stead! 

And then so sentimental is the style, 

So chaste, yet so bewitching all the while! 

Plot, and elopement, passion, rape, and rapture, 

The total sum of every dear, dear chapter. . . . 

Miss reads she melts she sighs Love steals upon her 

And then Alas, poor girl! good night, poor honor! 

The writer who had so gaily satirized the old romances, Mrs. 
Lennox, contributed to the new sentimental genre with Henrietta 
(1758) and Sophia (1760-61), in which virtuous heroines undergo 
cumulative misfortunes. A better novel in the same vein is 
Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph (1761), by Frances Sheridan, 
whose husband, a well-known actor and educational theorist, was 
a friend of Dr. Johnson. An epistolary novel, written at the 
instigation of Richardson and dedicated to him, it showed also the 
influence of the French novelists of sensibility. The misery of 
the lovers was so prolonged that Johnson grumbled to the author, 
"I know not, madam, that you have a right, upon moral principles, 
to make your readers suffer so much." In spite of its exploitation 
of pathos, however, the book is an improvement on the others of 
its class. Mrs. Sheridan admitted that it would annoy some readers 
by failing to gratify their expectations of "poetic justice": 

We are disappointed in the catastrophe of a fable, if everybody 
concerned in it be not disposed of according to the sentence 



Establishing the Tradition 135 

of that judge which we have set up In our own breasts. The 
contrary we know happens in real life; let us not then condemn 
what is drawn from real life. 

Like Fielding's Amelia, the heroine is a long-suffering wife and 
mother; and the complexity of a woman's emotional responses is 
shown convincingly enough to make Sidney something more than 
merely the traditional patient Griselda. 

A rival for Mrs. Sheridan's book was The History of Lady 
Julia Mandeville (1763), by Frances Brooke, who had mastered 
the method by translating one of Mme. Riccoboni's novels. Her 
pathetic chronicle of aristocratic lovers, full of refined feelings 
and high-minded misunderstandings, has fewer melodramatic 
incidents than the others of its type. Much of it is devoted to the 
idyllic life of an English country house, until it ends in an out 
burst of tragedy. 

Mrs. Sarah Scott, who had published two other works of 
sentimental fiction since her History of Cornelia, wrote A De 
scription of Millennium Hall (1762), depicting a group of middle- 
aged ladies who have retreated from fashionable life to organize 
an institution for training cripples and misfits to become self- 
supporting. Though lapsing into the usual senrimentalism in 
narrating the ladies' past experiences, the book shows a new 
trend in its didactic humanitarianism. 

The dominance of sentimentalism in the fiction of the time 
cannot be attributed merely to the success of Sterne or to the 
innate softheartedness of the women who were active practi 
tioners. Its affiliation with Rousseau provides the clue to its being 
a symptom of the new romantic cult of the individual. Fielding 
and his contemporaries, adhering to the neoclassical dictum that 
literature should deal with universals, had insisted that their char 
acters must be regarded as representatives of general types; but 
the new school gave precedence to the whims and emotional 
responses of the individual. 

Novels of sensibility, however, did not have a monopoly of 
the market. Following in the footsteps of Rasselas came moralistic 
"oriental tales," such as Almoran and Hamet (1761), by John 
Hawkesworth, a friend of Johnson, and Solyman and Almena 
(1762), by the Rev. John Langhorne, a poet and classical scholar. 
An innovation was provided in 1762 with Longsword, Earl of 
Salisbury, an Historical Romance, by John Leland, an Irish cler- 



13 6 The English Novel ( l 755~-*775) 

gyman, who set the action in the time of Henry II and introduced 
some historical personages in his romantic plot. Not since Nashe's 
Unfortunate Traveller and Deloney's Thomas of Reading had an 
English author established a work of fiction in a specific earlier 
era. Though Leland later wrote treatises on history, he allowed 
his imagination free play in Longsword, and warned readers in his 
preface not to expect either historical accuracy or moral preach 
ment in his tale of adventure. His nearest predecessor, both in use 
of history for a background and in exploitation of exciting in 
trigue, was Prevost. 

In 1764 a distinguished amateur wandered into the field of 
fiction. Horace Walpole was the embodiment of eighteenth- 
century dilettantism. Rich and well-born, the son of a famous 
Prime Minister, he devoted his life to his hobbies, of which the 
chief was the purveying of gossip in both conversation and letter- 
writing. He dabbled in scholarly research, compiling A Catalogue 
of Royal and Noble Authors and Anecdotes of Painting in Eng 
land. When "Gothic" architecture became a fashionable craze, he 
rebuilt his country house near London in the guise of a medieval 
castle and surrounded it with a miniature forest containing a tiny 
"hermit's chapel." After he had spent ten years in this pastime, 
it is not surprising that one night he had a vivid dream about 
glimpsing a giant's armored hand on the stair-rail of an ancient 
castle. The next day, he tells us, "I sat down and began to write, 
without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate. 
The work grew on my hands, and I grew fond of it. ... I was so 
engrossed with my tale, which I completed in less than two 
months, that one evening I wrote from the time I had drunk my 
tea, about six o'clock, till half an hour after one in the morning, 
when my hands and fingers were so weary that I could not hold 
the pen to finish the sentence." 

When the short book was finished, Walpole added a preface 
asserting that "the following work was found in the library of 
an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. It was printed 
at Naples, in the black letter, in the year 1529." He published it 
as The Castle of Otranto, "translated by William Marshall, Gent., 
from the original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the 
Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto." No doubt this disguise was 
partly intended to enhance the plausibility of the fantastic story; 
but one cannot help suspecting that Walpole wanted also to con- 



Establishing the Tradition 131 

ceal his authorship of a work that was so unlike the neat reference 
books he had previously compiled and so remote from the 
world of cultivated wit in which he resided. 

The pretense of a translation further enabled the author to 
praise his own work brazenly. After justifying the "air of the 
miraculous" on the ground that "belief in every kind of prodigy 
was so established in those dark ages," the preface went on: 

Allow the possibility of the facts, and all the actors comport 
themselves as persons would do in their situation. There is no 
bombast, no similes, digressions, or unnecessary descriptions. Every 
thing tends directly to the catastrophe. Never is the reader's 
attention relaxed. The rules of the drama are almost observed 
throughout the conduct of the piece. The characters are well 
drawn, and still better maintained. Terror, the author's principal 
engine, prevents the story from ever languishing; and it is so often 
contrasted by pity, that the mind is kept up in a constant vi 
cissitude of interesting passions. 

While admitting that the book's moral teaching was not forceful, 
Walpole yet insisted that "the piety that reigns throughout, the 
lessons of virtue that are inculcated, and the rigid purity of the 
sentiments, exempts this work from the censure to which ro 
mances are but too liable." 

He was right in claiming that the story's effectiveness was 
chiefly due to its being short and free of ornamentation. As it 
could be read in a few hours, the emotional tension would build 
up without long interruptions to break the spell and arouse in 
credulity. It seized upon the reader's curiosity at the beginning 
and offered no solution to the mystery until the very end. And 
it gained a sort of imaginative consistency from the absence of 
everyday modern details. Although laid in medieval times, it 
lacked even the rudimentary connection with recognizable dates 
and personages that Leland provided for Longsword. The action 
takes place sometime during the Crusades (which lasted for two 
hundred years) and ostensibly in Italy, though some of the names 
are German and Spanish. This vague setting in a past age and a 
foreign scene gave it a certain resemblance to the romances that 
flourished in the preceding century; and a few of the episodes 
abduction by pirates, and recognition of a lost son by a birth 
mark were standard equipment in them; but Walpole's story 
differed in its brevity and in its evocation of supernatural terror. 



138 The English Novel ( I 755~" I 775) 

The author showed some skill in the use of atmosphere pale 
moonlight, shadowy vaults, blasts of wind. For this attempt to 
play on the reader's imagination and superstition the nearest 
antecedent is to be seen in Prevost. 

To a modern reader the portents and apparitions are laughable 
rather than terrifying: a giant in armor, a skeleton perambulating 
in a hermit's cowl, a statue that drips blood, a picture that comes 
to life. But Walpole's contemporaries found them delightfully 
gruesome; "it engages our attention here," his friend the poet 
Gray reported from Cambridge University, "makes some of us 
cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o' nights." 
The book was so well received that Walpole confessed his au 
thorship when the second edition came out, and he wrote a new 
preface to assert that he was not merely harking back to the out 
moded genre: 

It was an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient 
and the modern. In the former, all was imagination and im 
probability; in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and 
sometimes has been, copied with success. Invention has not been 
wanting; but the great resources of fancy have been dammed up 
by a strict adherence to common life. . . . The author of the 
following pages thought it possible to reconcile the two kinds. 
Desirous of leaving the powers of fancy at liberty to expatiate 
through the boundless realms of invention, and thence of creating 
more interesting situations, he wished to conduct the moral agents 
in his drama according to the rules of probability; in short, to 
make them think, speak, and act, as it might be supposed mere 
men and women would do in extraordinary positions. 

These claims to naturalness in characterization were scarcely 
borne out by the story, in which all the persons are thoroughly 
wooden. The real link between The Castle of Otranto and 
the other fiction of the decade was in the prolonged miseries 
endured by the hero and heroine before the happy ending. 
Its prime significance was in the very fact that it did revert 
to the kind of implausible romance that was believed to have 
been exterminated by the realism of Richardson, Fielding, and 
Smollett only twenty years before. Walpole proved that 
reason and common sense had not succeeded in eliminating 
the public craving for the exotic and the marvelous. 

This does not mean that the book at once started a trend. 



Establishing the Tradition 139 

Readers enjoyed the delicious sense of horror that it aroused, 
but only as a momentary escape from the comfortable routine 
of practical life. It was regarded as an ingenious bit of make- 
believe, like the battlements and stained glass of Walpole's coun 
terfeit castle at Strawberry Hill He himself made no move to 
write another book in the same manner; and even the hack 
writers, usually prompt to exploit a new success, did not try 
to imitate it. 

More characteristic of the time was another work of fiction, 
the first volume of which came out in 1766. Henry Brooke 
was just the sort of man to appreciate the new potency of the 
novel as a vehicle for personal theories. An Irish lawyer, he 
had written a long mystical poem on Universal Beauty, a 
tragedy that was withdrawn from the stage at the last moment 
because of its supposed treasonable application to the govern 
ment, and pamphlets counseling tolerance in Ireland's bitter 
conflict of religions. Past sixty years of age, he was a quixo 
tic character with a headful of visionary theories when he began 
to write The Fool of Quality, or The History of Henry Earl 
of Mor eland* 

If the Rev. Abraham Adams or Captain Toby Shandy had 
written a novel, it would have been something like The Fool 
of Quality. It is as crammed with the author's prejudices as 
John Euncle and as digressive as Tristram Shandy; the difference 
is that Brooke has nothing of Amory's arrogance or Sterne's 
lubricity. The theme is the education of an ideal nobleman 
by a rich and equally ideal man of business. Eleven other stories 
are interwoven with the central narrative of Harry Clinton's 
training, and many short tales from history are interspersed to 
illustrate its moral lessons. Besides, all action frequently stands 
still while long discussions of philosophical and social topics 
grow into complete essays, some cast in the form of dialogues 
between the author and a friend. 

The basis of the book is Rousseau's belief in the innate 
goodness of the "natural man." The wise Mr. Fenton develops 
Harry's noble nature by constant appeals to his emotions. The 
good characters weep copiously throughout, either from sym 
pathy with suffering or from admiration of virtue. Harry is 
incredibly magnanimous in his juvenile acts of courage and 
generosity. After the innocent characters have suffered repeated 



140 The English Novel ( I 755~ I 775) 

injustices at the hands of the unscrupulous ones, they emerge 
triumphant at the end. 

In spite of its absurdities the book has genuine merits. The 
author was well aware that it would seem implausible to 
worldly readers, as he indicated in the title and in the inter 
spersed comments. Touches of humor prevent the sensibility 
from becoming mawkish. Furthermore, Harry's excessive 
magnanimity does not hinder his coming to life as a real lovable 
boy. Fortunately he does not grow up until almost the end of 
the story; and Brooke in his sixties was still enough of a child 
to reproduce a boy's outlook convincingly. The spiritual earnest 
ness of the book recommended it to religious-minded readers 
who seldom condescended to read fiction. An abridgment 
was edited by no less a person than John Wesley. 

Such books as John Buncle, Tristram Shandy, and The Fool 
of Quality indicate that the newly established integrity of the 
novel as an art form was in peril of dissolving into the vague 
laxity of a medium for expounding personal fads. In the same 
year as Brooke's first volume and Amory's last one, however, 
a more skillful author brought out a masterpiece of controlled 
art. Oliver Goldsmith had an uncanny knack of accepting the 
current techniques of any literary genre and yet subtly trans 
forming them into something peculiarly his own. He had re 
lieved the tediousness of the periodical essay with humorous 
fictitious characters in The Citizen of the World. Later, in 
his poems, he was able to relax the epigrammatic rigidity of 
the heroic couplet into easy-flowing and mildly idealized recol 
lections of his travels abroad and of his childhood home. 
When he turned to drama he produced the two most spontane 
ous and merry comedies of the century. This very versatility, 
combined with the pressure of hack-writing, prevented him 
from concentrating upon any one literary type as his life work. 
His only venture in the novel was written early in his career, 
and like all his other work it was full of self-portraiture and 
informal reminiscence. 

He seems to have written The Vicar of Wake-field in 1761-62, 
when he was still a harried and little-known hack writer. Sub 
sequently he was threatened with imprisonment for debt, and 
sent a desperate appeal to his friend Dr. Johnson, who came 
to his lodgings, looked over his jumble of manuscripts, and 



Establishing the Tradition 141 

picked out The Vicar of Wakefield as being good enough to 
offer to a publisher. It brought the author what seemed to him 
a magnificent sum sixty pounds; but the buyer was so doubtful 
of his bargain that he withheld it from the press until 1766, 
after Goldsmith had won some fame with his poem, The 
Traveler. 

The reason for the publisher's hesitation is not hard to see. 
The book was shorter than most of the successful novels of the 
time, and was deficient in melodramatic action. The characters 
did not go through tear-compelling agonies. The humor was 
gentle and tolerant, devoid of either satire or obscenity. It could 
not be put into the category of propaganda fiction, for the 
author recommended nothing more remarkable than family 
affection and Christian goodwill. But when it got into print, 
these negative qualities proved to be its positive virtues. Because 
there was little suspense or excitement in the plot, the reader's 
interest was held by the characters. Instead of rhetorical scenes 
of grief and despair there was genuine pathos, all the more 
effective because it was implied rather than exploited. The 
absence of ideology meant that the story was not dated by con 
temporary notions. As a simple chronicle of a good man's forti 
tude in the face of worldly pressures, it had much in common 
with The Pilgrim's Progress, and its difference from Bunyan's 
book is a good measure of how far prose fiction had moved in 
ninety years. 

The author's intentions were set forth honestly in a brief 
preface (signed by Goldsmith but sounding more like Johnson) : 

The hero of this piece unites in himself the three greatest charac 
ters upon earth; he is a priest, an husbandman, and the father of 
a family. He is drawn as ready to teach, and ready to obey, 
as simple in affluence, and majestic in adversity. In this age of 
opulence and refinement whom can such a character please? 
Such as are fond of high life, will turn with disdain from the 
simplicity of his country fire-side. Such as mistake ribaldry for 
humor, will find no wit in his harmless conversation; and such 
as have been taught to deride religion, will laugh at one whose 
chief stores of comfort are drawn from futurity. 

The story was not free of faults. Traces of haste and careless 
ness are easy to see: it has been suspected that one or two 
whole episodes were left out altogether. The climax is as im- 



142 The English Novel ( I 755~ I 775) 

plausible as that of The Fool of Quality. The defects, however, 
are offset by fundamental advantages admirable prose style, 
vivid characterization, an idyllic atmosphere, and the implicit 
idealism and tolerance supplied by the author's personality. 

His main technical coup was his adoption of the first-per 
sonal point of view for a subtle effect. The elderly vicar would 
be a standard comic figure of the Parson Adams model if he 
were seen from the outside; but when he tells the story himself 
his unworldly benevolence becomes convincing and lovable. 
Goldsmith's unaffected prose is natural as Dr. Primrose's medium 
of expression. Beyond this, the appeal of the characters arises 
from their fidelity to the author's experience. His father and 
brothers and sisters, in addition to himself, are represented in a 
whimsically idealized manner in every page. Thus The Vicar 
of Wake-field became the archetype of middle-class domestic 
fiction. 

It is not too much to say that this is the first completely 
"normal" novel The era of experimentation being at an end, a 
man of first-rate talent but little creative originality, such as Gold 
smith, could write a book that had all the essential merits and no 
eccentricities. He derived in almost equal measure from the two 
diverse schools that had originated with Richardson and Fielding. 
He was akin to the former in his moral earnestness, and to the 
latter in his genial humor. The two most serious episodes of his 
plot are likewise divided: the seduction of Olivia Primrose by the 
dastardly Squire Thornhill points back to Pamela and Clarissa; 
the sufferings of Dr. Primrose in the debtors' prison point back to 
Amelia. 

The reward of normality was that The Vicar of Wake-field 
remained for more than a hundred years the most widely read 
of the eighteenth-century novels. When Fielding and Smollett 
came to be too licentious for nineteenth-century prudery, Rich 
ardson and Mrs. Sheridan too emotional for nineteenth-century 
apathy, and Walpole too supernatural for nineteenth-century 
rationalism, Goldsmith's clear and simple style, his convincing 
characters, and his sunny humor continued to appeal to readers 
of all ages and backgrounds. 

For several years after The Vicar of Wakefield the output 
of novels was copious but undistinguished. Feeble imitations 
of Tristram Shandy vied with tearful tales of sentiment. Among 
the better of the sentimental novels were Sarah Scott's Man of 



Establishing the Tradition 

Real Sensibility, or The History of Sir George Ellison, 
Hugh Kelly's Memoirs of a Magdalen, or The History of 
Louisa Mildmay, and Elizabeth Griffith's Delicate Distress. 
Mrs. Sheridan, just before her untimely death in 1766, ex 
perimented with the oriental apologue in The History of Nour- 
jahad, perhaps the most charming specimen of its type. A touch 
of novelty appeared in Frances Brooke's second novel, The 
History of Emily Montague (1769), because of its unusual 
setting. Shortly after her Lady Julia Mandeville came out, her 
husband was appointed chaplain of the forces in Quebec, and she 
spent several years with him in Canada. She therefore provided 
Emily Montague with a regional background, including both 
the picturesque Canadian scenery and the unconventional habits 
of the people. Most other novelists of the time felt no need for 
much description of setting, since their books were laid either 
in the contemporary England that the readers knew familiarly 
or else in remote oriental lands that the authors knew not at all 
Emily Montague can be termed the first novel of local color. 
In 1771 Smollett published his fifth and last novel. Though 
no more than twenty-three years had elapsed since his first 
one, and ten since his fourth, The Expedition of Hwnphry 
Clinker seemed like an apparition from a defunct era. Smollett 
was only fifty years old; but illness, overwork, and bitter 
quarrels had deepened his misanthropy, and the new vogue of 
sensibility was to him merely a broad target for ridicule. He 
had been living in France and Italy for several years, in search 
of health, and in 1766 had published a book about his travels. 
Naturally, then, the new novel dealt with travel and health 
resorts, though the travel was confined to Britain and the re 
sorts were Bath and Harrogate. Not only the itinerary but also 
some of the episodes were based on Smollett's own last visit 
to England and Scotland. Several living people were introduced 
under their real names. Other episodes and characters were 
suggested by a successful recent poem, The New Bath Guide, 
by Christopher Anstey; and from it Smollett derived also the 
technical device of having the same events reported in the let 
ters of several comic characters, who thus reveal their own 
idiosyncracies. His transmuting of his personal experience into 
fiction owed something to Sterne's Sentimental Journey and the 
last books of Tristram Shandy. 
The plot of Humphry Clinker was as disjointed as Smollett's 



144 The English Novel ( I 755~ I 775) 

previous ones, and he still resorted at times to heavy-handed 
caricature. His years as journalist and historian impelled him 
to include factual information about the places visited, which 
was out of keeping with comic fiction. This expository pad 
ding and his borrowing from Anstey's satire suggest that his 
originality was running dry. Yet in some ways this is Smollett's 
best novel. The comic episodes entail less of sadistic violence, 
and the characters are more complex and more appealing. 
Matthew Bramble, the chief letter-writer, is to some degree a 
self-portrait of the irascible middle-aged Smollett, as Roderick 
Random and Peregrine Pickle had been self-portraits of the 
headstrong young one. Bramble's sister, Tabitha, is an aggressive 
spinster; his friend, Lieutenant Lismahago, conceals good sense 
and self-respect under his ungainly appearance and grotesque 
behavior; the maid, Winifred Jenkins, pours out her mud 
dled impressions in phonetic spelling and distorted vocabulary; 
even Miss Bramble's dog Chowder becomes a personality. 
Humphry Clinker, though filling the title role, is a secondary 
character, a loyal servant who finally (in a parody of Tom 
Jones) turns out to be Mr. Bramble's bastard son. The use of 
local color, in descriptions of Bath and Edinburgh, adds a 
dimension of reality. 

In the same year that Humphry Clinker maintained the anti- 
sentimental ferocity of the Fielding school, another novel served 
to represent the reductio ad absurdum of Richardsonian senti 
mentality. The Man of Feeling was composed between the 
ages of twenty-one and twenty-five by Henry Mackenzie, an 
Edinburgh lawyer of good family and education, who^ublished 
it anonymously. When its spectacular success tempted an ob 
scure clergyman to claim the authorship, Mackenzie admitted 
having written the book. 

More clearly than the other novels of sensibility ? Mackenzie's 
reveals a philosophical foundation. At Edinburgh University he 
had encountered the teachings of Francis Hutcheson, who in 
turn was a disciple of the Earl of Shaftesbury in believing that 
a_moral sense is innate in man and impels him to approve vir 
tuous actions and despise vicious _ones, with a corollary that a 
'^public sense" makes us "pleased with the happiness of others 
and uneasy at their misery? r The resemblances between Mac 
kenzie's hero and^t. Preux in Rousseau's Nouvelle Heloise or 



Establishing the Tradition 

Yorick in Tristram Shandy are modified by the Shaftesbury- 
Hutcheson influence, which insisted that sensibility should not 
merely be enjoyed for its own sake but should result in humani 
tarian action.^ 

Among literary antecedents for The Man of Feeling, the most 
immediate was the Contes moraux of Jean Frangois Marmontel, 
who was a follower of Rousseau and whom Mackenzie ranked 
alongside of Richardson. He was not simply imitating earliei 
writers, however, for in his memoirs he confessed that his here 
was in part a self-portrait: 

Some of the incidents I had a certain degree of share in myself, 
I was often the martyr of that shyness which Harley is stated 
as being affected by in his intercourse with mankind, and I had 
likewise the disgust at some parts of the legal profession to 
which I was destined. 

The hero goes to London to pursue humanitarian schemes, and 
investigates criminals, prostitutes, and lunatics. Though end 
lessly imposed upon by the vicious characters he encounters, he 
never abates his generosity to the poor and the oppressed. Tears 
and guineas flow from him in equal profusion. He is so ex 
quisitely modest that he never can disclose his love to the 
girl he adores, except by clinging to her hand when she visits 
him on his deathbed. 

Mackenzie's luxuriating in sensibility shows kinship with 
Sterne, as does his capricious, digressive technique ne pretends 
that his manuscript has been haphazardly reassembled from frag 
ments used as gun-wads; but the effect is totally ^ifferentbecause 
of the absence of comedy. On this point he felt nothmgTmt 
contempt for Sterne, who, he says, "often wants the dignity of 
wit. I do not speak of his licentiousness, but he often is on the 
very verge of buffoonery, which is the bathos of wit, and the 
fool's coat is half upon him." In The Man of Feeling there is 
not even the gentle humor that makes The Fool of Quality and 
The Vicar of Wakefield, with equally naive heroes, endurable 
to the modern reader. 

The spiritual earnestness and humanitarian zeal of Brooke 
and Mackenzie had close relationship with the spread of Method 
ism and of the Evangelical movement within the Church of 
England, which were a reaction against the irresponsible con- 



146 The English Novel ( I 755~ I 775) 

duct of many clergymen of the time. A typical specimen of 
the pleasure-loving vicars, the Rev. Richard Graves, was roused 
to write a novel ridiculing the solemn enthusiasts. In The Spirit- 
ual Quixote he fell back on the hackneyed device of imitating 
Cervantes, with an Oxford-educated country squire as his knight- 
errant and a village cobbler as the inevitable attendant. Geoffrey 
Wildgoose sets out to preach the Methodist gospel, only to en 
counter absurd misadventures and eventual disillusionment. The 
story is more plausible than Smollett's Sir Launcelot Greaves, 
having closer affinities with Fielding and Sterne; but Graves was 
an anachronism in 1772, when the public taste was all for the 
didactic. 

While The Man of Feeling ran through edition after edition, 
Mackenzie made haste with his next work of fiction. Like some 
other novelists, he obviously found the theme for it by invert 
ing the previous one. The Man of the World (1773) centers 
upon a character as selfish and unscrupulous as the other was 
altruistic. This wicked baronet seduces the daughter of a coun 
try vicar, and years later almost repeats the procedure with an 
other girl, who turns out to be his own daughter. There is better 
structure and more dramatic action than in The Man of Feeling, 
but the echoes of Pamela and Clarissa and The Vicar of Wake- 
field are obvious. The most interesting episode, though no 
more plausible than the rest of the book, is a digression dealing 
with a cultivated young Englishman, a misfit in his proper social 
sphere, who is captured by Cherokee Indians while serving in 
the army in America, and finds happiness and wisdom among 
the redskins. 

Mackenzie's third novel, Julia de Roubigne, was intended to 
be more realistic than The Man of the World by having no 
villain whatsoever, but showing a group of virtuous characters 
drawn into a tragic catastrophe through excessive indulgence 
in their emotions. Thus it teaches the Shaftesbury-Hutcheson 
theory negatively, as The Man of Feeling taught it positively: 
the characters in Julia de Roubigne, blameless though they may 
be, are destroyed by their sensibility because it has no humani 
tarian outlet. As a melodramatic tragedy, this is the best unified 
of Mackenzie's three novels; but for this very reason it is the 
worst of them, because it gives least scope for his talent for 
depicting shades of feeling and conduct. 



Establishing the Tradition 

Mackenzie was only thirty-two when he published Julia de 
Roubigne, and fifty-four years of life remained to him; but he 
wrote no more novels, devoting himself instead to essays, poetic 
drama, and literary friendships. The last significant disciple of 
Richardson, he realized that the novel was moving in directions 
that he was not competent to follow. 




VI 



Terror and Edification 
(1775 - 1800) 



WHEN SMOLLETT DIED in 1771, the last of the "founding fathers" 
of the novel vanished from the scene. No one was left to cany 
on the sort of virile, rowdy fiction that had originated with 
Fielding. And in the same year the other major type the 
sentimental, moralistic manner of Richardson reached its apo 
gee in The Man of Feeling. 

Having survived for thirty years, the novel was facing a 
crisis. New lines of development were essential if it was to avoid 
premature decay. The blight of standardization already afflicted 
it. In 1769 the London Magazine accused a publishing firm of 
"keeping in pay a set of needy authors to furnish a sufficient 
supply of new novels for publication," and this evoked an angry 
denial in the preface of the next novel the firm brought out. On 
the contrary, they asserted, many of their novels were "written, 
by persons of rank, property, and fortune, above accepting any 
other return for their labors than a few printed copies for them 
selves and friends." Similarly, one of the minor characters in. 
Humphry Clinker, Tom Cropdale, writes novels at 5 a volume,, 

148 



Terror and Edification 149 

but complains sarcastically of the competition from ladies "who 
publish merely for the propagation of virtue, with so much ease 
and spirit, and delicacy, und knowledge of the human heart, and 
all of the serene tranquility of high life, that the reader is not 
only enchanted by their genius but reformed by their morality." 
Mass production, whether by needy professionals or by incom 
petent amateurs, could result only in mediocrity. 

Meanwhile, the feeble emotional novels were under constant 
fire from two adversaries from satirists for their silliness, and 
from moralists for their deleterious effect on adolescent girls. 
Lydia Languish, in Sheridan's comedy, The Rivals (1775), is 
portrayed as an avid reader of current fiction, which shapes her 
conduct so completely that Sir Anthony Absolute grumbles, 
"A circulating library in a town is as an evergreen tree of diaboli 
cal knowledge! It blossoms through the year! And depend on it, 
Mrs. Malaprop, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves 
will long for the fruit at last." And William Cowper lamented in 
"The Progress of Error": 

Ye writers of what none with safety reads, 
Footing it in the dance that fancy leads: 
Ye novelists, who mar what ye would mend, 
Snivelling and drivelling folly without end; 
Whose corresponding misses 11 the ream 
With sentimental frippery and dream, 
Caught in a delicate soft silken net 
By some lewd earl, or rake-hell baronet: 
Ye pimps, who, under Virtue's fair pretense, 
Steal to the closet of young Innocence, 
And teach her, inexperienced yet and green, 
To scribble as you scribbled at fifteen; 
Who, kindling a combustion of desire, 
With some cold moral think to quench the fire; 
Though all your engineering proves in vain, 
The dribbling stream ne'er puts it out again. 
Oh that a verse had power, and could command 
Far, far away, those flesh-flies of the land, 
Who fasten without mercy on the fair, 
And suck, and leave a craving maggot there. 
Howe'er disguised th'inflammatory tale, 
And covered with a fine-spun specious veil, 
Such writers, and such readers, owe the gust 
And relish of their pleasure all to lust. 



150 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

During the next decade four or five new lines of development 
emerged. Starting points for all of them can be identified in 
books before 1777, but only in that year did the tendencies be 
come positive. The most potent was a delayed reaction to The 
Castle of Otranto. About the same time as Walpole's book, two 
literary works of another type, both intended for a limited 
scholarly audience, had astonished their authors by becoming 
best sellers: James Macpherson's pseudo-translation of primitive 
Gaelic folk epics and Thomas Percy's edition of an old manu 
script of popular ballads. Later a similar success was won by 
Chatterton's imitations of medieval poetry. All of these aroused a 
frenzy of admiration for their atmosphere of a vaguely feudal 
past, which was summed up in the epithets "Gothic" and "ro 
mantic." Richard Kurd, in his Letters on Chivalry and Romance 
(1762), provided critical sanction for the new vogue by defend 
ing the imaginative validity of the medieval romances. 

Past ages had appeared in prose fiction only in Walpole's story 
and in Leland's Longsijoord; and the concomitant mood of mys 
tery and terror had figured to only a minor degree in Smollett's 
Ferdinand Count Fathom and in a few sentimental novels imi 
tative of Prevost. Not until 1777 did another novelist devote a 
whole novel to a historical epoch and to the mood of terror. 

Clara Reeve was a spinster who made her literary debut with 
a "romance" in the earlier sense of the word by publishing a new 
translation of Barclay's seventeenth-century Argenis. This led 
her to defend prose fiction against the critics who, in her view, 
were inconsistent in sneering at it while they exalted the epic. 
She asserted that the old romances "are only epics in prose." 

The business of romance is, first, to excite the attention, and 
secondly to divert it to some useful or at least innocent end. 
Happy the writer who attains both these points, like Richardson! 
and not unfortunate, or undeserving praise, he who gains only the 
latter, and furnishes out an entertainment for the reader. 

Citing Walpole's statement of his objective in The Castle of 
Otranto, she remarked that, in order to combine the merits of 
"the ancient Romance and the modern Novel, . . . there is re 
quired a sufficient degree of the marvellous to excite attention; 
enough of the manners of real life to give an air of probability 
to the work, and enough of the pathetic to engage the heart 
in its behalf." Walpole's book, in her opinion, suffered from "a 



Terror and Edification 151 

redundancy" in the first of these requisites: "The machinery is 
so violent that it destroys the effect it is intended to excite. Had 
the story been kept within the utmost verge of probability, the 
effect had been preserved, without losing the least circumstance 
that excites or detains the attention." 

Miss Reeve undertook to show how it ought to have been 
done, by using a similar setting and the same central plot motif, 
but providing a rational explanation for each apparently super 
natural event. Her book was first entitled The Champion of 
Virtue: A Gothic Story; but when its success led to a second 
edition in 1778, she adopted a name that suggested its historical 
atmosphere: The Old English Baron. The action was laid in the 
reign of Henry VI, and an effect of naturalness was produced 
by occasional everyday details her knights suffer from tooth 
ache and eat bacon-and-eggs. Miss Reeve was as austere a 
moralist as Richardson; the eerie phenomena are used strictly 
for enforcing the lesson that crime never goes unpunished. 

While Miss Reeve was justified in her objection to Wai- 
pole's gross horrors, she adopted the wrong way for correcting 
them. She might have built up a mood of terror by means of 
psychological suggestion; instead she conscientiously follows 
each gruesome moment with the matter-of-fact circumstances 
that produced it. The result is that the reader either is annoyed 
at having been imposed upon or else laughs at the anticlimax. 
If Miss Reeve had intended a burlesque of the tale of terror, 
this method of incongruity would be justified; but apparently 
she was striving for a perfectly serious effect. Walpole, who, 
as might be expected, was not gratified by her attempt to im 
prove upon his method, pointed out its ineffectualness. "It is so 
probable," he grumbled, "that any trial for murder at the Old 
Bailey would make a more interesting story." 

A second type of fiction that emerged in the late seventies 
was the novel of manners. Tentative glimpses of it had ap 
peared as early as Sir Charles Grandison; and several of the 
better novels of sensibility by women writers, notably Mrs. 
Sheridan and Mrs. Brooke, occasionally allowed social comedy 
to mingle with the agonies. Mrs. Brooke's third novel, The Ex 
cursion, in 1777, tried to deal quietly with the everyday experi 
ences of a girl making her first acquaintance with high society 
and finding it less elegant than she expected. 

If Mrs. Brooke had been blessed with greater liveliness of 



152 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

style and vividness of characterization, The Excursion might 
take rank as the first novel of a new type. Actually, however, the 
distinction goes to one that came out a year later, the work 
of a younger and cleverer woman. Like Mrs. Lennox, Mrs. 
Brooke, and Mrs. Sheridan, the author became a member of Dr. 
Johnson's literary circle; but she had the additional advantage, 
as the daughter of a learned musicologist, of having lived among 
literary people all her life. Thus she was indoctrinated from her 
girlhood with wit, common sense, and good conversation. 

In her early teens Fanny Burney composed short tales and one 
full-length novel, which was in the current sentimental mode; 
the heroine married the usual dissolute baronet and died in giving 
birth to a daughter after he had deserted her. Fanny's practical- 
minded stepmother, however, discovering that she was wasting 
her time so frivolously, insisted on a bonfire of all the manu 
scripts. Thereafter Fanny devoted herself to keeping a volu 
minous journal, and thus gained facility in the accurate record 
ing of everyday behavior and talk. She went often to the theater 
to see her friend Garrick perform; and she read many novels, 
finding fault with any that were u very enthusiastick" or "so 
romantick that every word betrays improbability." In her diary 
she stated what she liked in fiction: "I cannot be much pleased 
without an appearance of truth; or at least of possibility I 
wish the story to be natural though the sentiments are refined; 
and the characters to be probable though their behavior is ex 
celling." 

Though she had destroyed her juvenile novel, the subject of it 
lingered in her memory; when she began secretly to write an 
other, she started where it had left off, making her new heroine 
the daughter of her former one. The plot centers upon the 
girl's efforts to prove her legitimacy and upon her dilemmas in 
repelling a profligate baronet and encouraging a high-minded 
nobleman. These sentimental matters, however, are overshad 
owed throughout by the social comedy. 

The novels of Richardson and his disciples had been concerned 
primarily with moral standards; those of the school of sensibility 
with emotional ones. Miss Burney's was the first in which the 
essential standards were social. Her heroine is careful of her 
virtue, to be sure; but she is not passionate enough to incur any 
real danger in that direction. Hers are the comic perils of errors 



Terror and Edification 153 

in etiquette and of imprudence in associating with the wrong 
people. There is much comedy, therefore, throughout the book 
partly mild satire at the expense of vulgarity and pretension, 
partly the inherent absurdity of the contrasts in outlook among 
diversified people in an artificial environment. For this sort of 
writing the author's lack of emotional experience was no handi 
cap. She was a bright girl with a sharp eye for the way people 
behave and a keen ear for the way they talk. Out of this material 
she made a graceful and amusing picture of contemporary 
manners. 

Being a modest young woman, Miss Burney was doubtful as to 
the propriety of publishing a novel, and so she took elaborate 
precautions to conceal her identity, going so far as to copy 
the manuscript in a disguised handwriting to prevent even the 
publisher from recognizing it. Early in 1778, when she was 
twenty-five, the book appeared under the title of Evelina, or A 
Young Lady's Entrance into the World. The preface announced 
her realistic intention: 

To draw characters from nature, though not from life, and to 
mark the manners of the times, is the attempted plan of the 
following letters. . . . The heroine of these memoirs, young, art 
less, and inexperienced, is "No faultless Monster, that the world 
ne'er saw," but the offspring of Nature, and Nature in her sim 
plest attire. 

Favorable reviews appeared, and Fanny was overjoyed to hear 
that the book was being talked about everywhere. When she 
learned that Dr. Johnson had said there were "passages in the 
book which might do honor to Richardson," the news "almost 
crazed her with agreeable surprise," so that she "danced a jig 
without any preparation, music, or explanation." Evelina was 
soon being attributed to various well-known writers; and when 
the publisher was besieged with inquiries as to the author's iden 
tity he concealed his own ignorance by hinting that it was the 
work of a prominent gentleman who could not let himself be 
known. 

The book's popularity was due to its real novelty, even though 
it showed traces of earlier literary models. The epistolary tech 
nique derives straight from Richardson, and several of the serious 
characters follow types that he originated. The comic naval 



154 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

officer, on the other hand, with his nautical vocabulary and his 
crude practical jokes, is a modified borrowing from Smollett. 
Some of the other characterization and action probably came 
from the comedies that Fanny loved to see on the stage. But 
she combined these effectively with her own observation of peo 
ple around her; she wrote the fictitious letters in the lively style 
of her own diary rather than the rhetoric of Richardson and 
Mrs. Sheridan; and her knowledge of the theater enabled her 
to handle the dialogue with neat timing. Another merit was the 
topographical accuracy; she knew London well, and readers en 
joyed recognizing the familiar settings Snow Hill, Hampstead, 
Ranelagh, Kensington Gardens. 

The fundamental appeal, however, was in the naturalness and 
lack of pretension. As Fanny noted in her diary, "I have not 
pretended to show the world what it actually is, but what it 
appears to a girl of seventeen: and so far as that, surely any 
girl who is past seventeen may safely do?" Evelina's agonized 
embarrassment over social blunders that make her conspicuous 
is so convincing that one sympathizes with her sense of irre 
parable tragedy while smiling at it; and the characters insist on 
lingering in the reader's memory like real people. When the 
authorship came to be known among the friends of the Burney 
family, Fanny was repeatedly, though deliciously, disconcerted 
to hear Johnson and Reynolds and Mrs. Thrale and others quot 
ing phrases from the conversations in the novel or remarking 
how mannerisms of the characters appeared in actual people 
they met. 

Finally, Evelina was successful because the time was ripe for 
satirical social comedy. The bourgeois class had reached a stage 
of prosperity and ambition that led them to imitate the behavior 
of gentlefolk, and people like the Burneys and their friends 
were becoming aware of a challenge to their exclusive preroga 
tives. They laughed at the Branghton family in Fanny's book, 
with its bungling efforts to appreciate the arts and to master the 
mysteries of etiquette; but they recognized that the subject was 
adequate as the theme of a novel. Though the word "snobbery" 
had not yet come into use, the phenomenon was clearly to be 
seen. 

For this reason Miss Burney's comedy of manners has an 
underlying connection with another kind of fiction which be- 



Terror and Edification 155 

came prominent about the same time the novel of social theory. 
These were the years when the startling new doctrine of liberty, 
equality, and political democracy, originated by the French 
philosophes, was being put into practical form in the American 
Declaration of Independence and Constitution; and the topics 
were being discussed fervently in England by Paine, Wilkes, 
Burke, and others. Rousseau, the most influential progenitor of 
the doctrine, had set the example of using fiction to popularize his 
theories, and Brooke and Mackenzie had done likewise. Even 
The Vicar of Wakefield, setting out to be a sentimental domestic 
comedy, veered into serious discussion of crime and law when 
Dr. Primrose was committed to prison. In Germany, too, when 
the twenty-five-year-old Goethe wrote his first novel, The Sor 
rows of Young Werther (1774), he took Rousseau as his model 
in giving a highly emotionalized version of his own early ex 
periences and using it as the vehicle for suggesting his social 
philosophy. 

The first thoroughgoing English radical to become a novelist 
was a peddler's son, Thomas Holcroft, who educated himself at 
night while he was a stableboy at a race track, then worked for 
a while as a shoemaker, and later became an actor and playwright. 
His first novel, Alwyn, or The Gentleman Comedian (1780), 
is less occupied with ideology than his later ones, but it is dis 
tinctly proletarian in its portrayal of a company of strolling 
players. The story stays close to the author's own experience, 
and he had known enough of poverty and discrimination to 
give a convincing picture of the seamy side of contemporary 
life. 

Another strongly humanitarian writer, Robert Bage, was a 
paper manufacturer who, like Defoe, turned to authorship after 
a failure in business. He was past fifty when he wrote his first 
novel, Mount Henneth (1781), a rambling mixture of dangerous 
foreign exploits, pathetic love stories, and doctrinaire argument. 
His hero begins as a young adventurer in India and ends as a 
rich nabob with a castle in Wales where he collects his friends 
together and solves their problems for them. This philanthropist 
stands somewhere midway between Smollett's cantankerous 
Matthew Bramble and Mackenzie's maudlin Harley. In the 
course of the book the author campaigns against such varied 
adversaries as sectarian intolerance, the American war, the British 



156 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

exploitation of India, and the ostracism of ravished women. As 
a former businessman, Bage argued always in favor of commerce 
and industry; his opposition to war was based on the practical 
consideration that it hampered trade. 

A fourth new line of development for fiction was exotic 
Eastern fantasy. The oriental tale in its previous form, as repre 
sented by Rasselas and Mrs. Sheridan's Nourjahad, had used a 
picturesque, remote setting merely as a flimsy disguise for a 
moral allegory. By 1780, however, public interest in Asia had 
been stimulated by the British conquest of India, and the colorful 
life of the Middle East was imaginatively familiar through The 
Arabian Nights, one of the most popular of books for children. 

Appropriately, the first fantastic oriental romance was written 
by a man with some resemblance to the Caliph Haroun Al- 
Raschid. William Beckford was the only legitimate child of a 
West Indian planter who became a Liberal politician, Lord Mayor 
of London, and the richest man in England. At the age of eleven 
William inherited his father's fortune and gigantic mansion in 
Wiltshire. Dominated by an aristocratic mother, he was educated 
privately, studying music under Mozart and painting under a 
self-claimed bastard of Peter the Great. It is not surprising that 
the pampered young millionaire rebelled against the formal 
conduct and the rational tenets that he was expected to adopt. 
He vowed himself to Rousseau's gospel of unbridled imaginative 
and emotional indulgence. Just as Walpole had dreamed a medi 
eval ghost story to fit his pseudo-Gothic castle at Strawberry 
Hill, Beckford as naturally dreamed Arabian Nights fantasies to 
fit his gorgeous palace at Fonthill. At the age of seventeen he 
started to write a long prose tale of oriental mystery, but left it 
unfinished. He may have gone so far as to experiment with 
Eastern sorcery before he composed another story, when he was 
twenty-one. This one was written in French and was completed 
with the same sort of creative urgency that had produced The 
Castle of Otranto. Beckford withheld it from publication for 
four years while he made desultory attempts to invent additional 
episodes for it; but in 1786 an English translation of the manu 
script was surreptitiously issued as The History of the Caliph 
Vathek, with the implication that it was a genuine Arabian 
legend. Beckford was then obliged to print the French text to 
establish his authorship. 



Terror and Edification 151 

Vathek, like The Castle of Otranto, is too short and too fan 
tastic to be included in any strict definition of the novel; but 
both books made a distinct contribution to the art of prose 
fiction by their unity of emotional tone and by their strong 
climax. Of the two, Vathek impresses the modern reader more 
deeply; there was a thin streak of genius in Beckford, and the 
morbid weirdness of his tale reproduces his tortured personality 
with uncomfortable power. 

With so many new tendencies appearing in fiction, it is not 
surprising to find some critical discussion of the novel as a 
literary type. The word "romance" was still in general use for 
all prose fiction, rather than the new-fangled word "novel"; 
and Holcroft in the introduction to his Al<wyn tried to differen 
tiate between the two terms. He did not contrast "romance" with 
"realism," as later critics were to do; his stage experience made 
him conscious of structure, and so he proposed applying "ro 
mance" to all loose-jointed, episodic stories, the picaresque 
accounts of real life as well as the artificial ones of remote times 
or places, while he restricted "novel" to stories with "unity of 
design" such as Tom Jones. 

In the eighties the novel had become accepted to the extent 
that several learned historians of literature included it in their 
treatises, notably Lord Monboddo (Of the Origin and Progress 
of Language*), Hugh Blair (Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles 
Lettres), and James Beattie (Dissertations Moral and Critical). 
It remained for Clara Reeve, however, following up the ideas 
she had voiced in the preface to The Old English Baron, 
to write the first book in English devoted solely to the history 
of prose fiction. This was The Progress of Romance, published 
in 1785. 

Miss Reeve was a conscientious scholar, though not a bril 
liant critic; she read widely in preparation for her book, and 
announced that her intention was "to trace Romance to its origin, 
to follow its progress through the different periods to its de 
clension, to show how the modern Novel sprung up out of its 
ruins, to examine and compare the merits of both, and to remark 
upon the effects of them." She points out that the vogue of the 
French heroic romances ended about half a century earlier and 
that "to us they appear dull, heavy, and uninteresting. . . . These 
books are now become the lumber of a bookseller's shop, and 



The English Novel (1775-1800) 

are frequently seen to wrap a pound of sugar from the grocer's." 
She then undertakes to set up a clear distinction between Ro 
mances and Novels, "though they have lately been confounded 
together and are frequently mistaken for each other": 

The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and of the 
time in which it is written. . . . The Novel gives a familiar 
relation of such things as pass every day before our eyes, such 
as may happen to our friend, or to ourselves; and the perfection 
of it is, to represent every scene in so easy and natural a manner, 
and to make them appear so probable, as to deceive us into a 
persuasion (at least while we are reading) that all is real, until 
we are affected by the joys or distresses of the persons in the 
story, as if they were our own. 

This is a competent definition, and Miss Reeve used it intel 
ligently in her survey of realistic novels from Cervantes and 
Defoe through Richardson and Fielding to her own contempo 
raries, her opinions being only intermittently colored by her own 
prejudices, chiefly her concern over the moral influence of litera 
ture and her belligerent defense of women as fiction-writers and 
fiction-readers against the supposedly superior attitude of male 
critics. 

To avoid evaluating current books, Miss Reeve ended her 
survey with 1770; but she could see that even by that date there 
were new trends in fiction that did not fit into her definition of 
the novel. She grouped together Brooke's Fool of Quality and 
several other books as primarily didactic, "to convey to the 
young and flexible heart wholesome truths that it refused to 
receive under the form of moral precepts and instructions." She 
admitted that Longsivord was "a Romance, in reality, and not 
a Novel." And she made a special category for Eastern Tales, 
which "are indeed so far out of the bounds of Nature and 
probability that it is difficult to judge of them by rules drawn 
from these sources." 

Though the levelheaded Miss Reeve was thus baffled by the 
extravagances of the new tendencies, they represented the in 
surgent power of romanticism, against which a losing battle 
was being waged by the comedy of manners which remained 
in the eighteenth-century tradition of rationality and wit. Fanny 
Burney's second novel, Cecilia, or The Memoirs of an Heiress 
(1782), was inferior to Evelina. In spite of her modesty, she 



Terror and Edification 159 

could not escape being influenced by the admiration heaped 
on her both by her literary friends and by the reading public. 
Cecilia was twice as long as Evelina and its theme was handled 
more formally and obviously. Even her style lost its easy spright- 
liness. The conflict of caste prejudice against human feeling 
was displayed in the love story of a wealthy girl and a proud but 
poor young gentleman. The too-numerous characters tended 
to be comic or melodramatic stereotypes rather than individuals, 
and the author ventured beyond her range of experience when 
she strove for intensity, as in the suicide of Cecilia's guardian or 
the apoplectic stroke induced in the hero's mother by his op 
position to her parental control. Cecilia is such a sensible girl 
that her temporary insanity in the later part of the story seems 
an unconvincing attempt at Richardsonian pathos. There was 
enough comedy, suspense, and moral preachment, however, to 
satisfy the public, and so Cecilia added to its author's profits and 
reputation. People took sides and argued angrily about the 
ethical and social conflicts in the situation; and the pathetic 
passages proved irresistible. A friend reported to Fanny's sister 
that 

Cecilia sends us into people's houses with our eyes swelled out 
of our heads with weeping. We take the book into the carriage, 
and read and weep. . . . During Cecilia's delirium, anyone coming 
into the room would have been surprised. . . . The children 
wept and sobbed aloud; my heart was bursting with agony! and 
we all seemed in despair. 

No novel since Clarissa and La Nouvelle Helo'ise had reduced 
readers to such delightful misery. 

All the debate over the social issues in Cecilia proves that the 
public taste was inclining toward didactic fiction. A notable 
example of this genre appeared a year later. Its author was 
Thomas Day, a wealthy philanthropist resembling Bage's Mr. 
Foston. After leaving Oxford, Day had forgathered with the 
political radicals who were agitating for parliamentary reform 
and abolition of slavery, with the scientific experimenters who 
were widening the horizon of knowledge, and with the inventors 
who were inaugurating the Industrial Revolution. A zealous ad 
herent of Rousseau, he flaunted his defiance of social convention 
even in dress and manners; and to put the educational theories of 



160 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

Smile into practice he adopted two little girls from an orphanage 
and set about bringing them up to despise rank and fashion and 
all the false idols of modern culture, with the expectation that 
one of them would turn out to be a suitable wife for him. This 
and various other Quixotic schemes collapsed ludicrously, but 
Day doggedly went on with his campaigns for remaking society. 
In 1783, in the midst of political pamphleteering, he published a 
small volume entitled The History of Sandford and Merton; 
a Work Intended -for the Use of Children. A second volume 
followed in 1786, and a third in 1789. 

It was based partly on mile and partly on The Fool of 
Quality, which was Day's favorite novel. From Brooke's book 
he borrowed the contrast between two little boys one gen* 
erous and manly, the other pampered and selfish and the figure 
of the wise tutor who trains them with tales of noble con 
duct from history and legend. The chief difference from The 
Fool of Quality is Day's intentional catering to youthful 
readers. Previously children had adopted books not originally 
meant for them, such as The Pilgrims Progress and Robinson 
Crusoe. Here at last was one that used the effective techniques 
of fiction directly for the child. There was a naivete in Day that 
gave his writing a genuine appeal to the juvenile mind, and for 
the next hundred years Sandford and Merton was perhaps the 
most popular of all children's books. Some readers, indeed, on 
reaching years of discretion, looked back on Harry Sandford 
as a smug little prig and ridiculed the author's solemn moralizing; 
but actually there was enough lively action in the story to hold 
a boy's interest, and possibly this book did as much as any other 
to shape the standards of ethics and behavior that have prevailed 
in Anglo-American life ever since. Day wrote one other book 
for children, The Story of Little Jack (1788), which traced the 
rise of a poor foundling through honesty and hard work, thus 
initiating all the "rags to riches" stories that culminated in Horatio 
Alger. 

While Day was thus teaching democracy and self-reliance to 
the most impressionable class of readers, other liberals were 
continuing to write propaganda fiction for adults. Bage brought 
out Barham Do f wns in 1784 and James Wallace in 1788, in each 
of which a wise philosopher gives good advice to an assortment 
of people with extreme prejudices. A writer with a more polished 



Terror and Edification 161 

and scholarly style, Dr. John Moore, won renown with Zeluco 
(1786), which had the explicit subtitle, "Various Views of Hu 
man Nature Taken from Life and Manners, Foreign and Domes 
tic." Moore was a Scottish-born physician, a friend and admirer 
of Smollett; he had seen the world as an army doctor in the 
Flanders campaign and as resident physician at the British em 
bassy in Paris. The great impact of his book arose from the 
fact that its central character was a thoroughly evil man. Dr. 
Moore had enough psychological insight to portray his villain- 
hero with touches of subtlety that prevent this vicious Sicilian 
from being an incredible monster of lust, cruelty, and revenge. 
The sadistic scenes link the book with the Gothic tales of horror, 
but it also offers more realistic pictures of contemporary Euro 
pean life, and has a few amusing minor characters. Its main 
ideological targets are the Roman Catholic Church and Negro 
slavery. 

There was a more impelling propaganda theme in Mary, a 
Fiction (1788), by Mary Wollstonecraft, who was a militant 
proponent of both political and emotional freedom for women. 
Largely an idealized autobiography, the story accepted the 
theories of Rousseau to the fullest in showing how a girl of 
strong intelligence defies the tyranny of convention and gradually 
gains a wise and unselfish personality. A sort of feminine counter 
part of Goethe's Werther, it would have been a better novel if 
the author had not indulged so copiously in passionate sensibility. 

Miss Wollstonecraft was not the only woman who used fiction 
as a vehicle for personal vindication. The same motive, in less 
aggressive form, can be seen in the novels of Charlotte Smith, 
who was regarded in her own day as the nearest rival to Fanny 
Burney. Yoked with an irresponsible husband who frittered 
away his inheritance while fathering a dozen children, Mrs. Smith 
finally separated from him and turned to authorship as her only 
means of supporting the large family. She first unburdened her 
heart of its griefs in a volume of sonnets and then had recourse 
to the more profitable medium of fiction. In rapid succession 
came Emmeline, or The Orphan of the Castle (1788), Ethelinde, 
or The Recluse of the Lake (1789), and Celestina (1791). Pri 
marily based on Richardson, these novels show also the in 
fluences of Prevost and of Cecilia. The incidental social satire, 
however, differs from Miss Burney's in being obviously the 



162 The English Novel 

outcome of personal bitterness. Somewhere in each book occurs 
a reproduction of Mrs. Smith's own misfortunes: she herself 
serves repeatedly as model for a high-born, sensitive girl trapped 
into an unworthy marriage; her ne'er-do-well spouse and his 
vulgar commercial family are portrayed with asperity again and 
again. 

The conventional plots and didactic morality in Mrs. Smith's 
stories show that the novel of sensibility was firmly standardized. 
Nevertheless, traces of the new romanticism can be detected, if 
not improving them, at least giving a touch of freshness. 
Though the action takes place in her own time, she occasionally 
uses Gothic castles and gloomy corridors as backgrounds for 
her distressed heroines; and when Ethelinde feels that the spirit 
of her dead father is present to comfort her misery, the author 
is venturing close to the supernatural. Being a poet, she makes 
extensive use of scenery to enhance the moods of her characters. 
The Lake District provides landscapes for her second novel, 
and Provence for her third. Not only for her prolific output, 
but also for her mingling of current tendencies, Mrs. Smith can 
be regarded as the best representative of her period. 

The decade of the eighties was marked also by the full emer 
gence of the Gothic romance. Horace Walpole by this time 
was embarrassed by the renown of his solitary experiment in 
fiction. In a letter to Hannah More in 1784 he apologized for 
The Castle of Otranto: 

It was fit for nothing but the age in which it was written; an 
age in which much was known; that required only to be amused, 
nor cared whether its amusements were conformable to truth 
and the models of good sense; that could not be spoiled; was 
in no danger of being too credulous; and rather wanted to be 
brought back to imagination, than to be led astray by it. 

Walpole's protests, however, could not deflect the trend. The 
Recess, or A Tale of Other Times (1785), by Sophia Lee, 
followed the lead of Miss Reeve's Old English Baron in using 
a specific background of English history. The author's sister 
claimed that it was "the first English romance that blended 
interesting fiction with historical events and characters, embel 
lishing both by picturesque description." This meant that, un 
like Miss Reeve, Miss Lee showed no scruples about mingling 
her imaginary characters freely with real ones: her heroines 



Terror and Edification 163 

are twin daughters of Mary Queen of Scots by a secret mar 
riage, and have love affairs with the Earls of Leicester and Essex, 
respectively. Almost all the celebrities of the era parade through 
the story, but the chronology is sadly mixed the Spanish 
Armada occurs before the execution of Mary Stuart. Though 
the setting is Renaissance rather than medieval, the melodra 
matic tragedies of the plot and the gloomy terrors of dungeons 
and ruins strengthened the Gothic vogue. Miss Lee's book was 
widely admired and imitated during the next five years. Clara 
Reeve, for example, in her next novel, The Exiles, or Memoirs 
of the Count de Cronstadt, departed from the placidity of her 
Old English Baron in favor of emotional despair and terrifying 
perils. 

At this point a younger writer, picking up hints from Wai- 
pole, Miss Lee, and Mrs. Smith, carried the tale of Gothic terror 
to new extremes. The wife of a journalist, Ann Radcliffe was 
twenty-five when she published anonymously her first book, The 
Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789). Its action takes place in 
the Scottish Highlands in a vaguely feudal era, but there is little 
local color or historical connection. The plot is close to that of 
The Castle of Otranto and The Old English Baron, with a young 
hero, brought up as a peasant, who is finally recognized by a 
strawberry mark on his arm as the rightful heir to the estate 
and titles of his wicked uncle. The machinery of trap-doors, 
underground passages, and so forth, was already becoming stand 
ard equipment. There is a certain amount of exciting action in 
the way of clan fights and abducted heroines; but the next 
year Mrs. Radcliffe achieved stronger melodrama in A Sicilian 
Romance, in which the heroine's father has imprisoned his 
wife in the depths of his castle and installed a young mistress in 
her place. There are many mysterious portents and hairbreadth 
escapes before the happy ending occurs. 

By the time Mrs. Radcliffe wrote The Romance of the Forest 
(1791) she was gaining greater skill in producing her effects: her 
heroine is dragged about France and Switzerland, and is involved 
in several mysteries that are all neatly unraveled at the end. 
There are not so many irrelevant adventures as in A Sicilian 
Romance, but suspense is not legitimately sustained because the 
author withholds too many essential facts in order to produce a 
grand final surprise. 

The second edition of this novel revealed the author's name 



164 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

for the first time; but already, with three books in three years, 
the unidentified young woman had established herself as the most 
popular novelist of the epoch. It was not merely the demand 
at the circulating libraries that attested to her power. The critics 
of the Monthly Review and the Critical Review, usually contemp 
tuous of novels, praised her to the skies. Influential men of 
letters joined the chorus: T. J, Mathias called her a "mighty 
magician, bred and nourished by the Florentine Muses," and 
Nathan Drake dubbed her "the Shakespeare of Romance Writers." 
Anna Seward, the leading bluestocking of the day, who adored 
Richardson but said, "I have an absolute horror at the idea of 
wasting my time upon modern novels," raved over Mrs. Rad- 
clifFe's "genius." 

Mrs. Radcliffe had led a sheltered life, and the material for her 
fiction was derived entirely from her reading. Her books are 
virtually identical in plots and characters. Always there is a 
melancholy, swooning, poetry-quoting heroine and a generous, 
headstrong hero who is overshadowed by a gloomy villain of 
superhuman ferocity. They all converse in stilted rhetoric. In 
each novel the heroine or her relations are imprisoned in an 
ancient castle or a ruined abbey, which is on a precipice or in a 
dense forest. The mystery always centers upon the true parentage 
of a main character. Like Miss Reeve, Mrs. Radcliffe avoided 
actual supernatural occurrences: the characters merely misinter 
pret events under stress of terror, and after being deluded for a 
while the reader is finally given a rational explanation for every 
strange phenomenon. 

Probably from Charlotte Smith she picked up the use of 
atmospheric description, but she went much further in the in 
clusion of elaborate detail. Having seen none of the regions she 
depicted, she was not hampered by demands of accuracy, but 
drew upon the gloomy landscapes painted by Claude Lorraine 
and Salvator Rosa. The principal function of the scenery is to 
evoke spiritual rhapsodies from the heroines and heroes. 

In view of her stereotyped plots, characters, and settings, 
her anticlimactic exposures of the supernatural illusions, and the 
schoolgirlish naivete of her outlook, one may wonder why her 
stories so fascinated her public. In part, the answer is that they 
combined in an extreme degree three of the main elements of 
romanticism that had been developing separately during the pre- 



Terror and Edification 165 

vious half-century the melancholy natural scenery first popu 
larized by the "graveyard school" of poetry, the emotional 
excesses fostered by the novel of sensibility, and the savagery 
of feudalism exploited in Macpherson's Qssian and Chatterton's 
Rowley poems and Percy's folk ballads. Yet, like Walpole, Mrs. 
Radcliffe was still a rationalist of the age of enlightenment, and 
she did not discard the Richardsonian tradition: the theme of the 
imprisoned heroine came straight from Pamela and Clarissa. 
The emotional tension is always produced by a well-calculated 
antithesis of two powerful feelings, love and fear. 

This explanation, however, is not fully adequate. The impact 
of her novels was stronger than a mere accumulation of ele 
ments already well known. The further clue must be sought 
through modern psychology. In departing from realism Mrs. 
Radcliffe stumbled upon the whole realm of the unconscious. 
The standard situations in her stories are those which recur in 
everyone's nightmares wandering alone in an unrecognizable, 
eerie place, or trying to flee from unidentified but frightful 
pursuers in an endless tunnel or staircase, or being imprisoned 
in a tiny cell that seems to be closing in. No matter how crudely 
Mrs. Radcliffe described these things, she had the knack of stimu 
lating the reader's own dream-making function, which then took 
over and supplied the private horrors of each individual imagina 
tion. Probably, too, her central theme a pure, pale maiden 
persecuted by a vicious but dominating sadist became a power 
ful sex symbol for both male and female readers. Unuttered 
risks of incest sometimes hover around the heroine through the 
uncertainty of her parentage. Even the heroine's excessive re 
finement, preventing the slightest mention of crime or of any 
strong emotion, helps to strengthen the morbid suggestiveness. 

With her fourth book, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Mrs. 
Radcliffe reached the apex of her fame. The harried heroine is 
imprisoned in a castle high in the Apennines, and she travels 
also through picturesque scenery of Gascony and the Pyrenees, 
thus giving occasion for leisurely descriptions that provide relief 
from the crises of terror and danger. The supposed date of the 
action is 1584, but anachronisms abound. For suspense Mrs. 
Radcliffe still depended upon the indefensible device of con 
cealing vital information, as in the celebrated scenes when Emily 
is horrified by a sentence she reads while burning her father's 



166 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

papers and later when she faints after raising the black veil that 
masks a picture frame. Though the reader is sharing Emily's 
restricted point of view, what she saw in either case is not 
divulged until the end of the book. 

By this rime Mrs. Radcliffe had a flock of imitators, who ex 
aggerated her gruesome details and omitted her touches of poetic 
imagination. Only one of them became a serious rival. This was 
Matthew Gregory Lewis, a clever young man of twenty who had 
all the effrontery and sophistication that Mrs. Radcliffe lacked. 
Resembling Beckford in some respects, he was the son of a rich 
West Indian proprietor, and while an undergraduate at Oxford 
he spent his vacations on the Continent, studying foreign lan 
guages and absorbing current German literature the soulful 
agonies of Goethe's Werther, the gloomy perils of Schiller's 
Robbers, and the blood-curdling horrors of the Schauersromane 
("shudder-novels"). At nineteen he became an attache to the Brit 
ish embassy in Holland, where he read The Mysteries of Udol- 
pho as soon as it was published, and admired it so much that he 
spent ten weeks in composing a book in emulation. 

He went directly contrary to Mrs. Radcliffe's practice, how 
ever, in two respects. Instead of her excessive moral delicacy, 
he offered gross voluptuousness; and instead of her carefully 
rational explanations of her uncanny effects, he indulged in crude 
supernaturalism, rising to a grotesque climax borrowed from 
Dr. Faustus, when a demon rescues the villain-hero from execu 
tion, only to fly high in the air with him and drop him to his 
death on jagged rocks. In the course of the book Lewis intro 
duced some of the most durable horrors from history and legend 
the Wandering Jew, the bleeding nun, and the atrocities of 
the Inquisition. His Teutonic models led him to depend solely 
upon scenes of physical agony and unbridled lust, adorned with 
such properties as rotting corpses. 

When Ambrosio, or The Monk was published in 1796, it 
caused such a sensation that it was banned for immorality, and 
Lewis brought out a revised edition in which he toned down some 
of the lurid details of Ambrosio's abnormalities. Though Mrs. 
Radcliffe must have been outraged by the libidinous and nauseat 
ing elements in Lewis's book, there can be little doubt that it 
influenced her choice of subject for her next one, The Italian, 
or The Concessional of the Black Penitents (1797). The criminal 



Terror and Edification 161 

monk, the girl imprisoned in a convent, the terrors of the 
Inquisition, all reappear here; but Mrs. Radcliflfe's high moral tone 
is maintained, and even Schedoni, the evil monk, eventually re 
pents and helps the noble lovers to escape. Once again the power 
of the book comes from its evocation of a half-suppressed 
dread already present in her readers. Two hundred years of 
militant Protestantism had imbued the average Englishman with 
a vague but deep conviction that the Roman Church encouraged 
secret and frightful vices, and so there was an automatic response 
to the lecherous monk, the tyrannical abbess, the convent dun 
geons, and all the other Catholic paraphernalia of The Italian. 

Apart from Lewis, the only competitor of Mrs. Radcliffe whose 
work is ever remembered is Regina Maria Roche, whose best 
known book, The Children of the Abbey, contains no fewer than 
four Gothic buildings, two in Ireland and one each in Scotland 
and Wales. Mrs. Roche was equally excessive with the tears of 
her heroines, the rhetoric of her love scenes, and all the other 
cliches of the genre. 

While several of the chief components of romanticism were 
combined in the Gothic novels, one other principal component, 
perhaps the most potent of all, which could not be accommodated 
in tales of the feudal past, dominated a separate set of novels. 
This was the doctrine of democracy, progress, and perfectibility, 
which gained fresh impetus after 1789 as a result of the French 
Revolution. 

In Robert Bage's fifth novel, Man as He Is (1792), the author's 
independent mind ranges widely over contemporary life and 
ideas. The American and French republics come in for approba 
tion, and the whole book is based on Rousseau's theory of the evil 
influence of society upon the naturally noble human spirit. The 
hero is an impulsive young baronet, who has been badly brought 
up by a silly mother and who tours Europe, blundering into many 
dissipations before the long-suffering heroine decides to marry 
him in the hope of reforming him. This is perhaps Bage's best 
book on account of its lively comedy of manners and its panorama 
of English and foreign society, with characters ranging from 
doctrinaires to spendthrifts. 

Thomas Holcroft took the social upheaval more seriously than 
Bage did. Since his first novel, he had written some successful 
plays, and in Anna St. Ives (1792) his stage experience is per- 



168 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

ceptible in his vigorous use of dialogue and his strong melo 
dramatic scenes, though he is hampered by adherence to the old 
epistolary method. His intellectual heroine falls in love with a 
man whose social theories are as radical as hers, and who is of 
lowly origin. Unlike the heroes of the Gothic romances, he 
remains the bailiff's son till the end, instead of proving to be an 
aristocrat kidnapped in infancy. His high-born rival remarks in 
contemptuous amazement: 

"He stands as erect, and speaks with as little embarrassment, and 
as loudly as the best of us; nay, boldly asserts, that neither riches, 
rank, nor birth have any claim. . . . Among the most ridiculous 
of what he calls first principles is that of the equality of man 
kind. . . . The savage, the wild man of the woods, is his 
true liberty-boy; and the orangoutang, his first cousin. A lord is 
a merry-andrew, a duke a jack-pudding, and a king a torn-fool; 
his name is man!" 

Thus Frank Henley is the first proletarian hero in an English 
novel; and the man of rank is not allowed the status of an im 
pressive villain, even when, like Lovelace, he is so frustrated by 
the girl's mental and moral superiority that he kidnaps her with 
intention of rape. In his capitulation to two stronger characters 
the long snobbishness of English fiction had its first setback. 
Whereas Lovelace and the many others drawn in imitation of 
him had carried with them the glitter of their social prestige, 
Holcroft represents Coke Clifton as merely pitiable for his mis 
taken values. 

In the same year even Charlotte Smith succumbed to the 
ferment of the new ideas. She was no political theorist, but her 
personal disillusionment with English justice and the English 
social code made her susceptible to the French vision of universal 
equality. Also, she had lived for a while in France and seen the 
oppression of the peasantry. In Desmond her hero travels 
through France and reports his observations in long letters. He 
discusses the political issues with French and English friends of 
all shades of opinion; and thus Mrs. Smith, like Bage, may be said 
to present both sides of the case, though her sympathy is ob 
viously with the revolution, which she terms "the cause of truth, 
reason, and humanity." The story also touches upon problems of 
the relation between the sexes, but in this matter her attitude 
is more conventional. The heroine flees from a depraved hus 
band who wants her to become the mistress of a duke. She is 



Terror and Edification 

sheltered by Desmond and they fall in love. Nevertheless Geral- 
dine returns to nurse her spouse when he is wounded by robbers, 
while Desmond, in spite of his adoration for her, begets a child 
in a transient affair with a French woman, exactly as young Wil 
liam Wordsworth was doing in that very year. Mrs. Smith does 
not question either Geraldine's wifely duty to a brutal husband or 
Desmond's devotion to her, but rewards them at the end with 
a happy marriage. 

Mrs. Smith's next book, The Old Manor House (1793), is her 
best piece of work, containing good social satire and well-drawn 
comic characters. The main setting, a decaying country house 
with the usual sliding panels and suits of armor, shows traces of 
the Gothic vogue; but the supposed ghosts soon prove to be 
smugglers. The author had by this time mastered the technique 
of using description of scenery as an integral part of her effects, 
so that it unobtrusively enhanced the moods of the characters. 
A further merit of The Old Manor House is that the political 
ideology is well subordinated to the story. The change in English 
society is shown in the contrast between the hero's aristocratic 
old cousin, brooding on her family traditions, and his parents, 
who are of the prosperous business class. When he goes to fight 
against the American colonists, the author gives a favorable 
view of the revolutionary cause. And Rousseau's theory of the 
noble savage is illustrated when her hero falls into the hands of 
the Iroquois and makes friends with a young brave. 

The events of 1793-94 shocked aU but the most zealous dis 
ciples of the French Revolution. After the bloody purges of 
the Reign of Terror, and the subsequent military aggression 
against neighboring states, a moderate observer like Mrs. Smith 
had no hesitation in changing her opinion. No doubt she was 
influenced also by the marriage of one of her daughters to a 
French refugee, who probably served as model for the hero 
of her novel, The Bmisbed Man (1794). Mrs. Smith had not 
given up her faith in the ideals that motivated the French Revolu 
tion; her book is devoted to proving that the leaders of the new 
France betrayed those ideals by indulging in cruelty, tyranny, 
and war. Though she holds England up as the only country 
where real freedom exists, she does not unduly idealize the Eng 
lish, but attacks the smugness that makes them intolerant toward 
other nationalities. 
Thomas Holcroft was too deeply dedicated a radical to mod- 



170 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

ify his creed. His activity in a propaganda group led to his 
arrest in 1794 for high treason. After two months' imprison 
ment his release without a trial left him more bitter than ever, 
for he felt that he ought to have been vindicated of the charge. 
The first half of his novel Hugh Trevor appeared in that year, 
and the remainder in 1797. A statement in the preface shows 
that Holcroft had formed a concept of the novel not unlike 
that which Goethe was to exemplify in Germany a year later 
with Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Holcroft remarked that his 
story was intended to reveal "the growth of intellect" through 
"the lessons received by the principal character, the changes 
they produced in him, and the progress of his understanding. 
... In my opinion, all well-written books that discuss the actions 
of men are in reality so many histories of the progress of mind." 

After a boyhood of poverty and overwork, Trevor is sent to 
Oxford by a wealthy grandfather and is soon disillusioned by 
the depravity of students and tutors alike. When he enters pub 
lic life in London he is shocked by the dishonesty of politicians 
and the corruption of church dignitaries. Upon falling out with 
these powerful people he is persecuted until he is unable to 
earn a living. Yet, in spite of the wholesale indictment of 
Parliament and aristocracy, church and university, the book's 
message is Fabian rather than revolutionary. A wise friend per 
suades Trevor to renounce all thought of violence and to work 
for moral betterment and the education of the masses. 

The best-written novel of radical doctrine was by an associate 
of Holcroft who had thought more profoundly about the prin 
ciples of reform. William Godwin's father had been a Calvin- 
istic preacher; and the son, while being trained for the ministry, 
adopted the tenets of an even more rigid sect. After preaching 
for a few years, however, he came across the ideas of the French 
philosophers, gave up his pulpit, and moved to London to be 
come a writer, convinced that by a reasoned exposition of the 
tyranny of all existing institutions social, political, and religious 
he could reform society and promote universal welfare. Among 
his earlier writings were three mediocre works of fiction; but 
he devoted most of his time to composing a monumental book 
on social theory, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, which 
condemned every form of organized control over individual 
liberty, such as taxation, private property, marriage, and any 



Terror and Edification 111 

sort of legal punishment for crime. In reaction from the deter 
minism of his Calvinist upbringing, which taught that the ma 
jority of human souls are doomed to sin in this life and eternal 
torment thereafter, he became just as dogmatic in the new creed 
that believed in the exact opposite the innate goodness of 
human nature and the capacity of mankind to live virtuously by 
the light of pure reason. 

Realizing that his exhaustive and expensive book could reach 
only the minority whose minds were trained to follow abstract 
reasoning, Godwin turned to fiction as a medium that could 
reach a wider public. Caleb Williams, or Things as They Are 
(1794) was identified plainly in the preface as a political tract: 

What is now presented to the public is no refined and abstract 
speculation; it is a study and delineation of things passing in the 
moral world. It is but of late that the inestimable importance 
of political principles has been adequately apprehended. It is now 
known to philosophers that the spirit and character of the Govern 
ment intrudes itself into every rank of society. But this is a 
truth highly worthy to be communicated to persons whom books 
of philosophy and science are never likely to reach. 

The publishers were so terrified by this statement, at the moment 
when Holcroft and his friends had been arrested for treason, 
that they refused to print the preface, which did not appear until 
a year later, when the excitement had cooled. 

The author's unworldliness prevented him from giving a fully 
convincing picture of human conduct, and yet his sheer intel 
lectual power makes the book more than just another propaganda 
treatise in fictional guise. Godwin thought seriously about prob 
lems of technique and left a detailed statement of his intentions. 
For one thing, he realized that characterization is a matter of 
inner processes rather than of visible peculiarities: "The thing 
in which my imagination reveled most freely was the analysis 
of the private and internal operations of the mind." This led 
him to consider the question of point of view. The narrative 
begins in the third person, but changes to the autobiographical 
method as "infinitely the best adapted" to his purpose. 

Secondly, in a day when novels were loose and rambling in 
structure, Godwin was unique in planning the whole thing care 
fully; he first conceived the final climax and then worked back 
ward so that the earlier stages should lead up to it. The plot 



772 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

centers upon a murder and its detection, but the main purpose 
is not to mystify the reader as to who committed the crime but 
is to analyze the psychology of the murderer and the detective, 
and through this to imply a criticism of the inequities of justice 
and social prestige or, as the preface announced, "to com 
prehend, as far as the progressive nature of a single story would 
allow, a general review of the modes of domestic and unrecorded 
despotism by which man becomes the destroyer of man." 

The story starts with a charming aristocrat, Falkland, who is 
so imbued with the ideals presented in the heroic romances that 
he feels compelled to kill a man who has insulted him. Though 
Godwin intended to show here that pride and honor are social 
conventions leading to evil results, Falkland's motives are so 
clearly drawn, and his victim is so thoroughly hateful, that the 
reader's sympathy identifies itself with the murderer. 

Still humanly believable is Falkland's passively allowing others 
to be executed for the crime. Even here Godwin was pursuing 
one of his crusades; disapproving of capital punishment, he at 
tributed Falkland's behavior to his terror of the gallows. Falk 
land thinks he has escaped all suspicion, but his secretary, Caleb 
Williams, ferrets out the secret. The irony of the situation is 
that, instead of being an instrument of justice, Caleb at once 
becomes the victim of Falkland's persecution. The story thus 
arrives at the part which had been Godwin's starting point, "a 
series of adventures of flight and pursuit; the fugitive in per 
petual apprehension of being overwhelmed with the worst 
calamities, and the pursuer, by his ingenuity and resources, keep 
ing his victim in a state of the most fearful alarm." Caleb's hope 
less efforts to evade his enemy establish a mood of painful sus 
pense. Prolonged fear destroys his confidence to the point that 
when he is brought into court, charged with theft, he lacks the 
courage to accuse Falkland of the murder. While thus illustrating 
Godwin's thesis that rank and wealth tyrannize over humble hon 
esty, the book also excels the Gothic tales in their own purpose 
of creating terror by psychological tension. 

While Holcroft and Godwin were publishing their strongest 
novels of radical doctrine, the satirical Bage wrote a brilliant 
survey of the whole clash of ideas. The hero of Hermsprong, 
or Man as He Is Not (1796) is the embodiment of Rousseau's 
primitivism, having been brought up among the Indians of 



Terror and Edification 173 

Michillimakinac. When Hermsprong comes to England his naive 
and rational mind rejects all the absurdities of social convention, 
and he startles the public with his indiscreet truthfulness as well 
as with his personal habits of early rising, water-drinking, 
athletic feats, and frequent baths. In spite of the exposure of 
pride and pretension, however, the book is not aggressively 
proletarian like Holcroft's and Godwin's. Hermsprong is 
wealthy, and at the end when he is on the point of leading 
several like-minded admirers across the Atlantic to found "a 
society of friends" on the banks of the Potomac he proves 
to be the lost heir to a title and estates. He is as outspoken in 
warning the mob against revolution as in unmasking the supposed 
superiority of the upper class. 

Charlotte Smith also moved toward primitivism as the only al 
ternative to political injustice. In Marchmont (1796) she was still 
preoccupied with the excesses of French republicanism: when 
her hero goes to France to escape his creditors he witnesses 
terrible scenes of wartime frenzy and economic collapse. But 
this does not imply satisfaction with the state of her own coun 
try; she is more virulent than ever in her attacks on lawyers, and 
her hero says many angry things about the English Constitution. 
Her last significant novel, The Young Philosopher (1798), is 
her most visionary in its proposal of a Utopian substitute for 
contemporary culture. Her hero begins as a precocious child 
who is trained to believe in individual liberty and the inherent 
dignity of man. At Eton and Oxford he gains influence among 
his fellows by his independence and benevolence. By the time 
he graduates, he is such a devout adherent of Rousseau that he 
cannot adapt himself to any career in England, and repulses the 
bold advances of an heiress who wants to marry him. He finds 
his only acceptable friends in an American family, and finally 
marries the unsophisticated American girl and sets off to find a 
new simple life on the frontier. 

The mediocrity of the English novel in the decade 1790- 
1800 was due mainly to ineffectual characterization. In the 
Gothic novels the characters were puppets adopting attitudes of 
terror or nobility; in the novels of doctrine they were specimens 
of social tendencies or mouthpieces for the author's opinions. 
Mrs. Smith stands out as the most respectable novelist of the 
period, in spite of her badly constructed plots and the distortions 



114 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

resulting from her personal animosities, because she had some 
ability to give lifelike touches to her characters. 

Something of the same talent lent distinction to a less prolific 
novelist of the decade, Elizabeth Inchbald. Like Mrs. Smith, she 
had known hardship and was writing to earn a living. Both 
were opposed to existing social evils less from ideological con 
viction than from personal experience and sympathy for the un 
fortunate. A beautiful, red-headed daughter of a farmer, she 
ran away from home to go on the stage, and married an actor* 
Though continuing to perform for nearly twenty years, she was 
handicapped by a lisp and eventually turned to playwriting and 
then to fiction. She had little idea of how to put a novel together, 
but thanks to her practice in drama she could write effective 
dialogue and develop gripping scenes. 

Her first novel, A Simple Story (1791), tries to teach a lesson 
in prudence through the contrasted behavior of a mother and 
her daughter the one vain and flighty, the other unselfish and 
discreet. To bring out her thesis, the author had to split the 
story into two halves, with a lapse of seventeen years while 
the daughter grows up. Another defect is sectarian bias. As a 
devout Roman Catholic, Mrs. Inchbald insists that the weak girl's 
character had been ruined by attending a Protestant school; and 
she stretches the reader's credulity by having her hero begin as 
a priest and then become free to marry because he is released 
from his vows upon inheriting an earldom. Nevertheless, the 
story is genuinely pathetic, without the worst excesses of the 
novel of sensibility. There is some sound psychology: the 
frivolous girl falls in love with the ex-priest, who is her guardian, 
but after their marriage she cannot live up to his austere moral 
standards and becomes unfaithful to him, so that after agonies 
of conscience he has to repudiate her. There is naturalness also 
in the account of how the daughter gradually weans him from 
the bitterness that her mother's conduct induced. 

The method of contrast and the problem of proper education 
recur in Mrs. Inchbald's other novel, Nature and Art (1796). 
Here she deals with two cousins, representing opposite types, 
in the manner of The Fool of Quality and Sandford and Merton. 
Her hero has been brought up among savages in Africa, and 
comes to England, like Hermsprong, to apply a simple but dev 
astating frankness to all the social conventions in the household of 



Terror and Edification 115 

his uncle, a worldly clergyman. Mrs. Inchbald rationalizes her own 
troubled life in her insistence that the poor are happier than 
the rich and in her portrayal of the hero's kindly parents as social 
outcasts because they are professional musicians. The later part 
of the book goes off on another of the author's crusades the 
ostracism of the "fallen woman." The selfish cousin seduces a 
village girl and leaves her to poverty and crime; and eventually, 
when he has become a judge, there is a dramatic scene when 
she is arraigned for forgery in his court and he coldly condemns 
her to death. 

The most depressing feature of the fiction of the 1790's is 
the decline of the one surviving author who had previously 
shown real ability. Shortly after the publication of Cecilia, 
Fanny Burney had been rewarded for her literary eminence by 
appointment as a lady companion to the queen. Six years of life 
in the royal court ought to have widened her social insights; but 
instead her duties proved so intolerably boresome that she re 
signed and married a penniless French emigre, Alexandre d'Ar- 
blay. High public anticipation attended her third novel, Camilla, 
or A Picture of Youth (1796), and by publishing it by sub 
scription she earned the unprecedented sum of ^2000. In com 
parison with her two previous books, however, it was a sad 
disappointment. Not a trace of her youthful gaiety survived. The 
action and characters repeated those that she had used before, 
and the mass of everyday detail, instead of being agreeably 
recognizable, was unutterably tedious. Worst of all, her admira 
tion for Dr. Johnson had led her to imitate his worst traits of 
pomposity and wordiness. No glimmer of natural behavior could 
penetrate the murky style. 

The most interesting novels of the decade are those of radical 
doctrine, but not because of superiority in literary art. They 
are valuable as documents of social history, revealing the con 
fused ferment of ideas that were soon to dominate the nineteenth 
century. Probably the novels contributed to the spread of the 
ideas to a point where public pressure began to eventuate in 
action. Latent in these tensions was the material for great fiction, 
but the writers were not capable of fusing it into the convinc 
ing experience of individuals. 

All discussions of the novel at the time, by reviewers and 
authors alike, assumed that the only readers of fiction were 



176 The English Novel (1775-1800) 

those on the lowest intellectual level impressionable adoles 
cents and scatterbrained women. Novels were attacked for their 
pernicious influence on these innocents, and were defended as 
offering models of virtue for imitation and cautionary examples 
of vice to be avoided. It is a basic paradox of fiction all the 
more obvious here from being on such a low artistic plane 
that both the attacks and the defenses were valid. The popular 
novels were full of smug and pompous moral preachments, but 
the plots centered upon cruelty and lust and other evil passions. 
The moral issue was the only ground on which fiction was 
judged. Neither the authors nor the critics indicated that any 
literary standards of originality or technical skill applied to 
novel writing. It was a mass-production business, in which the 
purveyor merely satisfied the requirements of an undiscriminat- 
ing market. 

Thus a vicious circle had come into operation. Writers of 
ability were ashamed to venture into such a contemptible vo 
cation; and the more they shunned it, the more the remaining 
output deserved the disdain of intelligent people. After a bare 
sixty years the novel seemed to be on the brink of extinction. 




VII 



Recovery of Prestige 

(1800 - 1810) 



Ax THE DAWN of the nineteenth century the literary status of 
the novel could not have been lower. Feeble Gothic romances 
glutted the circulating libraries to such an extent that one pub 
lishing house, the Minerva Press, grew wealthy through producing 
virtually nothing else. But the better authors even in this vein had 
ceased to write. Mrs. Radcliff e, perhaps because her husband was 
prospering in his profession, published nothing after 1797. Wil 
liam Beckford, with a more fantastic imagination than all the 
Gothic novelists put together, did not follow Vathek with any 
thing else in the same style, and in fact burlesqued the current 
craze for the emotional and the supernatural in two skits, Modern 
Novel Writing, or The Elegant Enthusiast (1796) and Azemia 
(1797). Matthew Lewis, now universally called "Monk" Lewis 
because of his notorious book, wrote no more fiction, but became, 
like Beckford, a Member of Parliament, and confined his literary 
ambition to playwriting. 

Godwin, who could not afford the luxury of a dignified with 
drawal from fiction, was obliged to give in to the demand for 

177 



178 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

sensationalism. His second novel, St. Leon (1799), dealt with a 
sixteenth-century alchemist, and in the preface he grumbled that 
"the hearts and the curiosity of readers have been assailed in so 
many ways that we writers who bring up the rear of our illus 
trious predecessors must be content to arrive at novelty in what 
ever mode we are able." It is a powerful but uneven story, with 
a hero who has conquered death and gained the philosopher's 
stone but who like Midas or Faustus meets only disaster and 
frustration. 

To comprehend the reasons for the collapse of the novel, one 
must remember that it occurred simultaneously with an abrupt 
advance in other literary genres, especially poetry. The romantic 
impulses of emotionalism, fantasy, and self-expression, which had 
intruded awkwardly into the novel and had hastened its decline, 
became the essential merits of the poetic revival. The manifesto 
of the new poetry, written by Wordsworth as the preface to the 
second edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1800, is full of implications 
about prose fiction, though the only direct allusion is a sneer 
that "the invaluable works of our elder writers are driven into 
neglect by frantic novels." His statement of his purpose in his 
poetry would serve just as well as the creed of a serious 
novelist: 

The principal object . . . was to choose incidents and situations 
from common life, and to relate or describe them throughout, 
as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by 
men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain 
coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be pre 
sented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and further, and above 
all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing 
in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our 
nature. 

It may be assuming too much to suggest that Wordsworth might 
not have thought of these objectives had not the prose fiction of 
half a century already practiced them; but whether intentionally or 
not the poets certainly invaded the field of the novel and tem 
porarily annexed it. Grabbers Parish Register and The Borough 
were grimly matter-of-fact; Wordsworth dealt realistically with 
everyday experiences in his shorter poems and probed into psycho 
logical complexities in The Prelude; Coleridge borrowed the 
material of the tale of terror and gave it imaginative validity in 



Recovery of Prestige 119 

"The Ancient Mariner" and "Christabel"; Southey's Thalaba the 
Destroyer was a more vivid oriental tale than any since Vathek. 
When Walter Scott published The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 
1805, he proved that a story of adventure could move in verse 
with more speed and energy than any prose narrative had yet 
achieved. Later, Byron took over the heroic villains of Gothic 
romance and brought them to life with the breath of his own 
fiery nature. 

Whenever a romantic author thought of producing a work more 
complex and objective than a poem, he turned not to fiction but 
to drama. Every one of the major poets of the era composed at 
least one play; and the consistent failure of all their efforts 
suggests that they might have been equally inept if they had 
attempted novels. But drama, like poetry, retained its traditional 
prestige, while the novel was so contemptible that the thought of 
writing one never entered their heads. 

As fiction-writing was mainly in the hands of women, it is not 
surprising that the only new novelists of any merit who emerged 
immediately after 1800 were feminine. The first two were both 
protegees of the established doctrinaire writers. Mrs. Amelia Opie 
was the daughter of a physician who had retained his radical 
views through all the reactionary pressure that followed the 
Reign of Terror, She herself attended the treason trials of Hoi- 
croft's associates. When she settled in London as the wife of a 
popular painter, she was already an intimate friend of Godwin 
and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft. Her novel, The Father and 
Daughter (1801), which dealt with a girl's seduction and death 
from shame, in the well-tried tradition of Clarissa, was much 
admired for its extreme pathos. It was followed in 1804 by 
Adelina Moivbray, or The Mother and Daughter, a livelier book 
with touches of satire. Like Mrs. Inchbald, she suggested basic 
problems of education by contrasting a parent and her child; 
Mary Wollstonecraft probably served as the model. Mrs. Mow- 
bray is an egotistical woman who wins a reputation for genius by 
reading radical books and expounding progressive theories while 
she neglects her daughter and extends no charitable aid to the 
unfortunate. The daughter grows up to be equally intellectual 
but more practical, and gets into tragic difficulties when she tries 
to apply the revolutionary doctrines to everday life, especially 
as regards marriage. 



ISO The English Novel (1800-1820) 

The other new writer was Maria Edgeworth, whose father, a 
wealthy Irish landowner, had been a friend of Thomas Day, the 
author of Sand-ford and Merton, and had participated in Day's 
social experiments. A witty, kindly woman, Maria collaborated 
with her father in writing Practical Education, a treatise seeking 
to uphold the theories of Rousseau and Day by means of a record 
of the behavior of Mr. Edgeworth's numerous children by four 
wives. She also wrote a book in favor of education for women, 
and The Parent's Assistant, a collection of stories for children, 
which grew out of the experiences in the family nursery. When 
she was thirty-three she published her first work of adult fiction, 
a short book entitled Castle Rackrent (1800). 

When she first went to live on the Irish estate, at the age of 
sixteen, she had already imbibed social consciousness from her 
father and Mr. Day, and so she observed the local conditions with 
an analytical eye; and later, while helping to manage the property, 
she became familiar with the whole way of life that she 
depicted in her book. Castle Rackrent scarcely falls within the 
strict definition of a novel, as it covers the events of many years 
in a summarized form, with little complexity of action. It should 
rather be considered an expanded character sketch, because the 
story is colored throughout by the personality of the narrator, an 
illiterate old servant who reveals all the follies and selfishness 
of his successive employers while naively expressing loyal ad 
miration for them. The author had an underlying social purpose, 
for the Edgeworths were conscientious landlords and disapproved 
of the heartless exploitation practiced by many of their neighbors; 
but Maria's picture of incompetence and extravagance was in 
vested with so much whimsical humor and good nature that the 
propaganda was not conspicuous. 

Her skillful handling of point of view was an innovation in 
fiction, and the book was admired also for giving a truthful 
picture of Irish life instead of the stereotyped "Paddy" characters 
that had infested English drama in the eighteenth century. 
Castle Rackrent therefore has perhaps a better claim than Mrs. 
Brooke's Emly Montague to be the first real local-color story, 
imbued with the distinctive customs and outlook of a particular 
region. 

Miss Edgeworth did not, however, continue to use her new 
technique in her next book. Belinda is a London drawing-room 



Recovery of Prestige 181 

comedy in the manner of Fanny Burney. The theme is not unlike 
that of Evelina a girl's first adjustment to sophisticated society. 
There are incidental moral themes in the reformation of the un 
happy woman of fashion who introduces the heroine to society, 
and in the troubles of a friend of Belinda's whose reputation is 
endangered by scandal A reminiscence of Thomas Day can be 
seen in the hero, who has tried to bring up a girl as a "child of 
nature" after the precepts of Rousseau. Structurally the story fol 
lows a mechanical pattern of antitheses, in which pairs of char 
acters represent opposite types to illustrate good and bad attitudes, 
mainly in marital relations, through which the hero and heroine 
learn true social values. 

After the publication of this book the Edgeworths spent some 
time in France; and Maria's next significant novel, Leonora, which 
reverted to the old-fashioned epistolary technique, shows the in 
fluence of Mme. de Stael's popular Delphine. Intended to serve as 
a warning against the still-surviving vogue of sensibility, the 
story tells how a selfish coquette almost succeeds in stealing a 
trustful gentleman from his ultra-proper wife. Not until 1809, in 
Ennui, did Miss Edgeworth return to the Irish setting, and even 
here it was subordinated to episodes of fashionable life. More 
openly than in Castle Rackrent, she emphasizes the neglect of 
duty by Irish aristocrats who wasted their time and money in 
London while dishonest agents looted their estates. The virtuo 
sity in point of view also recalls Castle Rackrent, as her bored, 
rich hero tells his own story and unintentionally reveals his 
weaknesses. 

It remained for a less disciplined woman writer to exploit the 
theme of Irish national consciousness to the full. The topic had 
become acute as a result of the administrative union of Ireland 
with England in 1801. Humiliated by the loss of their local 
parliament, the Irish people turned for consolation to the glories 
of their traditions. The Edgeworths, after all, were of the un 
popular Anglo-Irish landowning class; and although Maria loved 
the native Celts and satirized the absentee landlords who dominated 
them, she was nevertheless identified with the alien "ascendancy 
party." 

A very different sort of person was Sydney Owenson, the 
daughter of an improvident Dublin actor who was loved by the 
public for his singing of old ballads. She had to find employment 



182 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

as a governess when barely out of her teens, and she later made 
influential friends through her impudent wit and her performances 
of folk dances and folk music. Intensely ambitious, she published 
a book of poetry and then an epistolary novel, St. Clair (1803). 
It was full of effusive sensibility, after the manner of La Nouvelle 
Helo'ise, Werther, and Paul et Virginie, but it used picturesque 
Irish scenery and expatiated on Irish history, and the heroine 
was a refreshingly independent, outspoken girl, obviously a glori 
fied self-portrait. Miss Owenson's next novel was a French histor 
ical romance, and then in 1806 she won a spectacular success with 
The Wild Irish Girl. The central characters were of the old na 
tive nobility, utterly different from the peasants and servants who 
were the main Celtic representatives in Miss Edgeworth's stories. 
The novel told how a sophisticated English aristocrat, unwillingly 
fascinated by the "Princess of Inishmore," is converted from his 
anti-Irish prejudice and becomes an enthusiast for Irish culture 
and a crusader for cooperation between the opposing religious 
and social forces in the country. 

Miss Owenson never took the trouble to overcome the defects 
of her sketchy education. Her style remained pretentious and slip 
shod, and her conceited self-portrayals in her heroines were as 
monotonous as Mrs. Manley's had been, a century before. The in 
fluential critics, infuriated by her anti-English bias, ridiculed 
these qualities unmercifully; but there was a sheer energy and 
conviction in her writing that made her the outstanding doctri 
naire novelist of the decade. 

Her lead was followed by another Dublin author, the Rev. 
Charles Robert Maturin, an eccentric young clergyman, whose 
first novel, The Fatal Revenge, or The Family of Montorio 
(1807), was a Gothic romance of the purest Radcliffe-Lewis 
vintage. Believing that terror is a more universal emotion than 
love, he announced that "I have presumed to found the interest of 
a romance on the passion of supernatural fear, and on that almost 
alone." Corpses, counterfeit apparitions, and rites of black magic 
abound throughout the book. In his next novel, however, Maturin 
deserted Lewis in order to attempt the impossible feat of imitating 
Miss Owenson and Miss Edgeworth at the same time. The grotes 
quely exaggerated attack upon fashionable society and its degrad 
ing influence upon an impressionable youth is a sort of masculine 
counterpart of Belinda, while the title The Wild Irish Boy 



Recovery of Prestige 183 

and the character of an old Irish nobleman are taken straight from 
Miss Owenson. 

Of the other purveyors of sensational fiction, the only one 
occasionally remembered is Charlotte Dacre, whose pen name 
was "Rosa Matilda," and whose best novel, Zafloya, or The Moor 
(1806), is a sadistic story modeled upon Lewis's Monk, dealing 
with a murderous Italian beauty and her dusky accomplice who is 
actually Satan in disguise. The fascinating horrors of Miss Dacre 
made a deep impression on the youthful mind of Percy Bysshe 
Shelley, and before he was twenty he published two Gothic tales, 
Zastrossi and St. Irvine, or The Rosicrucian. In a fantastic mixture 
they combined the agonized lovers and ferocious villains of the 
tales of terror with Godwin's doctrines about free love and the 
tyranny of wealth. 

The best romantic novels of the decade were those by two 
sisters, Anna Maria and Jane Porter. They tried to give genuine 
historical accuracy and local background to their fiction, and 
avoided excessive use of terror. Jane Porter's Thaddeus of War 
saw (1803) won lasting fame for its heroic adventures. Her 
sister's best books were The Hungarian 'Brother (1807) and 
Don Sebastian (1809). As they had spent their girlhood in 
Edinburgh, Miss Owenson's Irish nationalistic stories gave them 
the idea of doing something similar for Scotland. In 1810 Jane 
Porter published The Scottish Chiefs, a historical novel about 
Wallace and Bruce. Full of patriotic fervor, it was a favorite 
book of young readers throughout the nineteenth century and 
did much to establish the popular conception of Scotland's heroic 
past. 

A few of the older writers continued to publish novels oc 
casionally during these years. Godwin brought out Fleetwood 
and Holcroft The Memoirs of Bryan Perdue in 1805; and Fanny 
Burney, after nearly twenty years of silence, produced The 
Wanderer, or Female Difficulties, as late as 1814. None of these 
books added anything to the fame of their authors. 

By 1810 the novelists of the new generation were in the full 
tide of success. Miss Owenson temporarily deserted her Irish 
scenes to imagine herself an intellectual Greek girl in Woman, 
or Ida of Athens (1809) and a Brahmin priestess in The Mission 
ary (1811). Inspired by Mme. de Stael's immensely successful Co- 
rinne, Miss Owenson was for a while even more excited about 



184 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

moral equality for her sex than about political equality for Ire 
land: the heroine of Woman is a freethinker and deep in men's in 
trigues for the liberation of Greece. The other novel turned its 
attention to religious intolerance. Borrowing ideas from Mme. 
Cottin's Mathilde and Chateaubriand's Atala, Miss Owenson tells 
of the love between the Indian priestess and a Roman Catholic 
monk which brings them both to disaster. The story entranced 
Shelley and may have helped to provide the Kashmiri back 
ground for Thomas Moore's poem Lalla Rookh. 

Maturin, meanwhile, aligned himself fully with the Irish national 
theme in The Milesian Chief (1812); but even here the episodes 
of armed insurrection are overshadowed by the emotional tor 
ments of the central characters, one of whom is a girl who has 
been brought up as a boy and discovers her sex only after she 
has fallen in love with a young man. The story ends with the 
hero executed for treason, his sweetheart committing suicide, 
and the other heroine losing her mind and dying of a broken 
heart. 

In contrast with Maturin and Miss Owenson, who both reveled 
in melodramatic extravagance, the two writers of domestic fiction, 
Mrs. Opie and Miss Edgeworth, became more placid with each 
successive volume, inculcating moral conduct by displaying the 
absurdity of affectation and the dissoluteness of the aristocracy. 
Mrs. Opie brought out Temper in 1812 and Tales of Real Life in 
1813. Miss Edgeworth's short novels appeared under the general 
title of Tales of Fashionable Life (first series, 1809; second series, 
1812). The best of them is The Absentee, in which she achieves 
her most effective contrast between the spendthrift life of the 
Irish landlords in London and the mismanagement of their estates 
without their supervision. In this book the antithetical type- 
characters are more skilfully blended with the action than in her 
earlier works. They have greater individuality and more influence 
upon each other, and their various attitudes are revealed through 
dialogue rather than by exposition. 

Being an unpretentious little woman, Maria never ceased to be 
amazed at finding herself a celebrity, and always allowed her 
father to claim the main credit on the ground that he was her 
literary mentor. His influence may have been responsible for some 
of the heavy-handed moralizing that mingled with her humorous 
and sympathetic understanding of human nature. Her next long 



Recovery of Prestige 

novel, Patronage (1814), had first been written twenty years 
earlier and was revised so often that it lacked much of her usual 

buoyancy. 

Another novelist in the moralistic vein, Mary Brunton, who was 
temporarily regarded as a rival of Miss Edgeworth, harked back 
to the sentimentalism and melodrama of Henry Mackenzie. 
Born in the north of Scotland and married to a Presbyterian 
minister, Mrs. Brunton published Self-Control in 1811. Her hero 
and heroine are incredibly perfect and her villain monstrously 
base; in the climax of the plot the virtuous girl is abducted to 
Canada and escapes from Indian captors by going over the 
Montmorenci Falls in a canoe. Mrs. Brunton's other novel, Dis 
cipline (1814), is not quite so violent in action, but is just as rigid 
in its religious dogmas. 

As we look back with the perspective of a hundred and nlty 
years to the irreparably faded novels of the nineteenth century s 
first decade, we see the irony of the fact that during all that 
time a quiet spinster had manuscripts in her desk that were even 
tually to obliterate the fame of her contemporaries. Jane Austen 
was the seventh child of a country rector and spent her girlhood 
in the rural parsonage. After writing short burlesques for the 
amusement of the family, she composed her first full- 
length novel about 1795, when she was twenty, in the epistolary 
form with the title of Elinor and Marianne. Its main purpose was 
to show the absurdity of the sentimental fiction then current. 
She followed it with another, which she called First Impressions; 
and in 1797 she wrote a third, originally entitled Susan, which was 
intended to ridicule the vogue of the Gothic romances. About 
the same time she rewrote Elinor and Marianne as a straight 
narrative instead of a series of letters. Her father offered the 
manuscript of First Impressions to a publisher, but it was so 
totally unlike the prevalent tales of sensibility or terror that it 
was summarily rejected. In 1803 another publisher accepted 
Susan, and even announced it as forthcoming, but then lost con 
fidence and put the manuscript away in his files ,.,,,. 
In 1801 the family moved to Bath, and after the father s death 
in 1805 the widow and her two unmarried daughters settled in 
Southampton in genteel poverty. These two old-fashioned com 
munities were the only towns they ever lived m, and in 1809 
the household retired to the country, not far from where Jane 



186 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

had spent her youth. For ten years or more she seems to have 
written nothing except the beginning of a novel called The Wat 
sons, which was soon abandoned; but in the withdrawal from 
Southampton she apparently came across the manuscripts of her 
first two stories, and her pleasure in getting back to rural life 
stimulated her to rework them. Elinor and Marianne, under the 
new title of Sense and Sensibility , "by a Lady/' was brought out 
by a London publisher in 181 1, at the author's expense, and proved 
sufficiently profitable to warrant the appearance of Pride and 
Prejudice the new name for First Impressions in 1813. 

It must be borne in mind that three of Jane Austen's novels 
half of her total output were first written before the end of 
the eighteenth century. There is no evidence as to how extensive 
her later revisions were; but they must have been concerned with 
technical details rather than with basic themes and characters. 
Not only did she begin writing in the eighteenth century, but 
also her environment until the end of her life retained the atmo 
sphere of that century intact. She belonged to the social class 
that was most obstinately opposed both to new ideas and to un 
seemly display of emotion, the minor country gentry, who were 
untouched by the social or economic ambitions of the commercial 
class and were immune to aristocratic habits of self-indulgence. 
The men of her family were either priests of the Church of 
England or officers in the navy, two professions that are innately 
conservative. Apart from some brief schooling in Oxford and 
Reading before she was nine, her whole life was spent in tiny 
villages or drowsy country towns of Southwest England, far from 
the stirrings of the Industrial Revolution. In this environment her 
few intimate acquaintances were either young women as un- 
traveled as herself or else elderly people of settled habits and 
convictions. Her novels therefore expressed the very essence 
of the eighteenth century its sense of permanent social and 
moral standards, its suspicion of uncontrolled emotion or imagina 
tion, its precise observation of immediate fact. 

These were the qualities that set her apart from the other 
women novelists whose subject matter superficially resembled hers, 
Miss Burney and Miss Edgeworth, Mrs. Inchbald and Mrs. Opie. 
Like them, Miss Austen wrote about young women and their 
problems of social adjustment in the setting of upper-middle-class 
family life. The very titles of her first two novels suggest 
Mrs. Brunton's Self -Control and Discipline or Mrs. Opie's Temper. 



Recovery of Prestige 181 

The husband-hunting theme of Pride and Prejudice has a parallel 
in Manoeuvring, one of Miss Edgeworth's Tales of Fashionable 
Life. But these other writers were all touched in some degree with 
the cult of sensibility, with the evangelical urge to reform 
behavior, and with the radicals' hatred of the aristocracy, 
while Jane Austen was perfectly content to accept life as she 
saw it and to analyze it with cool wit and invincible common 
sense. Besides, they all repeatedly moved outside of what they 
knew, to invent exaggerated pictures of dissolute noblemen and 
unconvincing tragedies arising out of needless misunderstandings, 
whereas she stayed strictly within the narrow limits of her ex 
perience. Her characters were so much a part of her accepted 
pattern of life that she seldom felt any need of describing their 
appearance. They reveal their individuality wholly by conversa 
tion and behavior, and yet they are so fully individualized that 
each one stands out as a complete portrait. 

She had been so much encouraged by the publication of Sense 
and Sensibility that she went to work on a new novel, Mansfield 
Park 7 which came out in 1814. A symptom of the limited but 
increasing fame of her books was the acceptance of the next one 
by John Murray, the most influential publisher of the time, who 
issued it in 1816. Entitled Emma, it is a more subtle psychological 
study, centering upon a self-willed girl who gradually learns 
consideration for other people. Miss Austen was now at the 
height of her technical skill, and this is the most perfectly con 
structed of her books. 

Though her name was still kept off the title pages, the know 
ledge of her identity was spreading, and the librarian of the 
Prince Regent transmitted to her a royal message that she was 
"at liberty to dedicate any future book to H.R.H." The librarian 
also took it upon himself to offer suggestions of what she 
might write about next "an historical romance illustrative of 
the august House of Cobourg." She knew her own talent well 
enough to reject the idea with ridicule. "I could no more write 
a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit down seriously to 
write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my 
life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never 
relax into laughing at myself or at any other, I am sure I should 
be hung before I had finished the first chapter. I must keep to 
my own style and go on in my own way." 

Staying within her established range, she started a new novel, 



188 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

Persuasion; and also she thought about the unpublished work 
that she had sold in 1803. Her brother regained the manuscript 
by paying back the ten pounds that had been originally given for 
it. Naturally he did not reveal that it had been written by the 
now successful author of Pride and Prejudice. She made some 
revisions in the story and renamed it N onhanger Abbey ^ but she 
postponed publishing it. In 1817 her health began to give way. 
The family moved to Winchester, where she died a few weeks 
later. North cmger Abbey and Persuasion were published together 
the next year. 

She had never adopted any airs of a professional writer. All 
her books were composed in the family sitting-room, with the 
household activities going on around her. She wrote on slips of 
paper that could be dropped into a drawer or slid under a sheet 
of notepaper if visitors came in. She was always ready to 
interrupt her work to pay a visit, or play cards, or take her share 
in the tasks of dressmaking and cooking, or tell "long circum 
stantial fairy tales" to nephews and nieces. The natural style 
of her writing was maintained by its never being divorced from 
the daily life around her. Her characters were so real in her 
imagination that they mingled comfortably with her actual sur 
roundings: in her letters and conversations she mentioned people 
in her novels in the same tone as her neighbors, and included 
additional details not in the books. 

Her novels are so much alike in theme and setting, and were 
written (or rewritten) during such a comparatively brief period, 
that they can be discussed as a group. It is sometimes objected 
that the central plot of all six is essentially the same: an eligible 
young man comes into a village and eventually secures the most 
suitable wife, while other and less desirable gentlemen are tem 
porarily admired before being disclosed at their true value. But 
this does not mean any monotonous resemblance among the six 
books. In Miss Austen's real surroundings, marriage and inheri 
tance of property and maintenance of social prestige were the 
only important issues in life, for her own experience had taught 
her the grimness of inadequate means and of mother-dominated 
spinsterhood. She could make these things all the more authen 
tically crucial in her stories when they occurred in rural isolation. 
"Such a spot is the delight of my life," she remarked; "three 
or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on." 



Recovery of Prestige 189 

Another school of criticism admits the validity of her picture of 
the life she knew, but finds it distasteful selfish, materialistic, 
and class-conscious, without a gleam of spirituality or an impulse 
of social responsibility. Again her justification is her incorruptible 
realism: she portrayed people as she saw them, and the burden 
of proof is on the objectors if they believe average human beings 
to be basically different, then or now. 

Miss Austen had read fairly widely, and by intuitive good taste 
she was able to absorb the best elements in eighteenth-century 
fiction, from Richardson and Fielding to Miss Burney, without 
acquiring the excesses that their imitators indulged in. Her com 
ments on current novels consistently expressed disapproval of 
extravagant language, affected sentiment, improbable characters, 
incoherent plot, and violent incidents. Nor did she accept literary 
tradition as a substitute for personal observation. Aware of her 
limitations, she confined herself to comedy. "Let other pens 
dwell on guilt and misery," she said in Mansfield Park; "I quit 
such odious subjects as soon as I can." And in a letter she 
described her fiction as "the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory 
on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect 
after much labor." For example, her knowledge of masculine 
behavior was so limited that she avoided presenting any scene of 
men together without women present. But this serves actually to 
enhance her particular effect, for each story is kept strictly in 
focus upon the feminine characters, and they naturally would 
have no insight into male conversations. 

The absence of passion is a graver limitation, since the dominant 
theme of all her novels is love. She is so suspicious of emotion 
that when a scene of strong feeling is imperative she tries to 
avoid narrating it. At the climax of Sense and Sensibility 
Edward Ferrars' long-delayed proposal to Elinor Dashwood 
she coolly remarks: 

How soon he had walked himself into a proper resolution, how 
ever, how soon an opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what 
manner he expressed himself, and how he was received, need not 
be particularly told. This only need be said: that when they 
all sat down to table at four o'clock, about three hours after his 
arrival, he had secured his lady, engaged her mother's consent, 
and was not only in the rapturous profession of the lover, but 
in the reality of reason and truth, one of the happiest of men. 



190 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

Of the sixteen kisses mentioned in the novels, not one is exchanged 
by a pair of lovers. Her heroines are so sensible and self- 
controlled that even in their secret thoughts they do not allow 
sex to intrude. Prudish this may be, but in such an honest 
woman as Jane Austen it cannot be termed hypocritical. The 
suppression of passion had been implanted in her from infancy, 
and was strengthened by her contempt for the meretricious 
emotionalism of popular fiction. She simply did not comprehend 
the primitivism of her century, proclaimed by the disciples of 
Rousseau, and she would have had as little grasp of the naturalism 
proclaimed a hundred years later by the disciples of Darwin. 
The truth of human nature, as she understood it, had nothing to 
do with blind animal instincts, but was the elaborate code of 
custom and manners, built up through the ages by complex 
social intercourse. 

Within her narrow bounds, however, she achieved something 
not far from perfection. Her modest description of herself as 
a miniature-painter is true so far as her range and precision are 
concerned, but says nothing about the depth of her penetration. 
There was just as much suspense and crisis arising out of her 
situations the mis judgment of character and the conflicts of 
family opinion as in the gruesome mysteries and tragic cli 
maxes of her contemporaries. A girl neglected at a dance, or jealous 
of a rival, suffered perfectly genuine agonies under her prim mask. 
Jane Austen recorded these unuttered tensions with absolute 
fidelity because she had gone through them herself. 

This raises the question of the personal element in her stories. 
In contrast with the other novelists from Richardson and Fielding 
down to her own day, she appears uniquely objective. She does 
not talk to the reader about her technical methods, as did Fielding, 
or moralize upon ethical problems, as did Richardson and his 
offspring, or idealize herself in a beautiful or brilliant or 
martyred heroine, as did many of the women novelists. And 
yet closer familiarity reveals her as more individual than any of 
them, for most of the didactic discourses were trite generaliza 
tions, and most of the glorified self-portraits were standardized 
paragons, whereas Jane Austen remained incorrigibly herself. 
Her brief comments on the action are so mildly phrased that one 
needs to take a second look before recognizing their gentle sar 
casm or their incisive truth. Her preoccupation with human 



Recovery of Prestige 191 

follies provides a touch of satire, but she has nothing of the im 
patience and arrogance that impelled the great satirists like Swift 
and Voltaire. She was too well adjusted to life to be guilty of 
intolerance. Sometimes she has been likened to Chaucer and 
Shakespeare for her affectionate amusement at even her least 
attractive characters, Mr. Collins or Mr. Woodhouse or Mrs. Nor- 
ris. She shows how much they annoy the people they encounter, 
but she herself does not lose her temper with them. Just as she is 
too sensible to portray ultra-noble heroes and heroines, so also is 
she incapable of creating hateful villains. Willoughby and Wick- 
ham and Henry Crawford are stupid in their selfishness, but not 
inherently evil, and she inflicts no worse punishment on them than 
obscurity and boredom. Egoism is in her view the dominant vice 
of human beings, because an intelligent person ought to realize 
that he is no more important than anyone else. 

It follows that although she portrayed herself in her heroines 
quite as much as any other woman author ever did, she produced 
a different effect because she did not take herself seriously. Her 
heroines, like herself, have a sense of humor and can smile at 
their own foibles; and their power of reasoning is strong enough 
to make them learn by experience. Elizabeth Bennet comes to 
realize the folly of her intolerant atitude; and Emma Woodhouse 
a more complex study begins by believing herself wise 
enough to arrange the lives of other people, and eventually 
finds out how mistaken she can be, even about her own affairs. 
Fanny Price in Mansfield Park and Anne Elliot in Persuasion are 
gentler souls, but with qualities of fortitude and independence 
underlying their meekness. Some part of the author's personality 
entered into each of her main characters. She could be consider 
ate and patient, like Fanny and Anne; she could be witty and criti 
cal, like Elizabeth and Emma; she could be severely rational, like 
Elinor Dashwood, and impulsively imaginative, like Marianne 
Dashwood and Catherine Morland. But, though all these girls are 
close to her heart, and though she keeps them at the center of 
the reader's attention, she remains detached from them, observing 
them with serene amusement. 

The texture of the novels is so uniform that no firm basis 
exists for discriminating among them. Most readers, however, in 
cline to feel that Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey 
are not as satisfactory as the other four. Both of them originated 



192 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

in an impulse to satirize the extravagances of current fiction in 
the 1790's; and even though, like all good novels, they outgrew 
their initial limited objective, they retained some trace of it. 
Sense and Sensibility is a trifle rigid in sustaining the antithesis 
expressed in its title: Elinor Dashwood is so austere in her pru 
dence that one's sympathy is likely to veer toward her more 
extroverted sister, although Marianne's tears of sympathy for 
sorrow and her raptures over scenery become tedious. Of all 
Miss Austen's novels, this one is nearest in method to Fanny 
Burney's, with its caricatures of vulgar or stupid people and its 
episode of the two heroines' going to London to "see the world." 
The brief N onhanger Abbey, for all the skill in its telling, cannot 
quite overcome the element of burlesque inherent in a rather 
obvious idea which had already been used less subtly in The 
Female Quixote and in Colman's play, Polly Honeycomb. In the 
interval between the first writing and the belated printing of 
Northanger Abbey, several other books had used the same device 
to ridicule the vogue of sensational fiction, notably Romance 
Readers and Romance Writers, by Sarah Green (1810), and 
The Heroine, or Adventures of Cherubina, a slashing burlesque 
by Eaton Stannard Barrett (1813). 

Among Jane Austen's remaining four books each has its con 
tingent of enthusiasts. Pride and Prejudice is the most widely 
read, for its consistent humor and its balanced portrayal of the 
whole Bennet family father, mother, and four daughters. It 
was the first English novel to take a family unit as its central 
theme. Mansfield Park ventures into a wider range of social 
observation, with its clear-sighted picture of the Price household 
in its poverty. Emma shows an increased confidence in psycho 
logical analysis. "I am going to take a heroine whom no one 
but myself will much like," Miss Austen remarked; and she suc 
ceeds in winning the reader's grudging sympathy for the head 
strong girl. The sustained irony of the story, as Emma plunges 
on from one misapprehension to another, is as masterly on its 
comic level as the tragic irony in a play by Sophocles. In these 
two novels the author's youthful gaiety and hardness were per 
ceptibly fading, and by the time she reached Persuasion she was 
acquiring a mellow tenderness that some readers find particularly 
appealing. If Elizabeth Bennet is the best portrait of the youthful 
Jane Austen, with her wit and common sense, Anne Elliot 



Recovery of Prestige 193 

is the companion picture showing the author in her maturity, 
resigned to the obscure existence of a spinster aunt. 

In her lifetime, and for many years after, her fame was limited 
to the few who appreciate subtlety. In 1814 Mansfield Park was 
overshadowed by Miss Edgeworth's Patronage and by O'Donnel, 
the current success of the former Miss Owenson, who was now 
Lady Morgan, having married a reticent physician after refusing 
to do so until she had cajoled the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 
into granting him a knighthood. Perhaps under her husband's 
tutelage, or through her new experiences in cultivated society, 
this novel was more restrained than her previous ones, and con 
tained some lively comic scenes. It marked a vigorous return 
to her theme of Irish nationalism. 

Another book of that year, however, threw all its competitors 
into the shade. This was Waver ley, which came out anony 
mously and aroused intense curiosity as to who wrote it. There 
were various reasons why its author went to extraordinary 
lengths to conceal himself. 

As the son of a prosperous Edinburgh attorney, Walter Scott 
was destined by environment and temperament to a pleasant, 
undistinguished life in the paternal profession, or perhaps in the 
army, which would have been his preference. Physically ener 
getic and socially gregarious, he would have been an athlete at 
school and college and a popular guest at parties when he grew 
up. But the whole course of his life was deflected by an illness 
(probably polio) when he was eighteen months old. It left 
him with a crippled right leg. His childhood was therefore spent 
not in the streets and schoolrooms of the city, but mainly at his 
grandfather's farm in the Border country. Here he lived on 
friendly terms with the peasantry and absorbed the local legends 
and folk songs. Here too he realized that his ancestors had once 
been leaders in the fierce feuds among the landowning families 
and in the recurrent wars with England. His innate energy, being 
denied physical outlet, became concentrated in imagination. He 
learned to read by spelling out a book of local history. Later, 
at school in Edinburgh, he was popular with the boys for his 
gift of story-telling. After attending Edinburgh University he 
studied law and was called to the bar. 

Edinburgh at that time had a pleasant literary coterie, presided 
over by the genial Henry Mackenzie. While in his teens Scott 



194 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

came to know a number of authors, including Burns; and at the 
age of twenty-five he translated several fantastic ballads by the 
German romantic poets, then greatly in fashion. This led him to 
compose ballads of his own, and to collect a volume of the folk 
poetry that he had known since boyhood. The Minstrelsy of the 
Scottish Border, published in 1802, won him a measure of literary 
reputation. Soon afterwards he started to write a ballad on a 
Scottish folk tale about a mischievous hobgoblin, and it grew 
in his imagination into a book-length historical poem, The Lay 
of the Last Minstrel, which was immensely successful when it 
came out in 1805. 

Scott was by this time thirty-four, a man of established social 
standing, with a sinecure appointment as sheriff-depute of a 
county near Edinburgh. After an unlucky love affair he had mar 
ried happily and set up a household. The popularity of the Lay 
made him realize that he had drifted into a career of authorship 
that he liked better than his nominal profession. 

He made a start on a prose story at this time, but a friend who 
read the opening chapters found it uninteresting and persuaded 
him to return to verse. The success of Marmion (1808) and 
The Lady of the Lake (1810) was unprecedented. These two 
poems are an approach to the achievement of that hybrid genre, 
the novel in verse. In each there are a well-knit plot, clearly 
marked characters, precise detail in the description of settings, 
and even touches of humor. The rapid octosyllabic verse is well 
suited to the action. 

On the strength of his huge profits Scott committed himself 
to two ambitious undertakings. He invested heavily in a new 
publishing business founded by a former schoolmate, and he 
gratified his most cherished dream by buying a large acreage 
in the Border region and starting to build a baronial mansion. 
These responsibilities forced him to assume a heavy burden of 
literary work. He applied himself to vast scholarly tasks of 
editing historical documents and the works of famous authors. 
He helped to found the Edinburgh Review and later the Quar 
terly and wrote many articles for them. And all the time he kept 
up the strenuous social program that he considered essential to 
his position as a wealthy "laird." 

It was partly this overwork that led to deterioration in his 
poetry. But also there was a fatal limitation in his poetic range. 



Recovery of Prestige 195 

He had never been obliged to master technical finesse, and by 
the rime his fourth long poem appeared the public was getting 
tired of the sameness in his manner. Besides, Lord Byron had 
emerged as an even more popular poet, who borrowed some 
of Scott's methods and enriched them by the romantic passion 
of his plots and the exotic luxury of his scenes. Hence came a 
disastrous decline in Scott's income, at a time when he had to 
pour more money into the publishing firm to stave off bank 
ruptcy. 

Obviously, if he was to maintain his extravagant w r ay of life 
by literary earning, he must find a new medium. One of his 
hack jobs in 1808 had been the completion of an unfinished 
romance, Queenhoo Hall, by Joseph Strutt, a learned antiquary 
who had weighed the book down with exhaustive research. 
This had made Scott aware of the potentialities of historical fic 
tion. In 1810, when looking for some fishing tackle, he chanced 
upon the seven chapters that he had written five years before, 
and showed them to his publisher; but at that time the colossal 
sales of The Lady of the Lake convinced the man of business 
that no new experiment should be attempted. 

By 1813, however, the situation was so different that Scott 
took out the old manuscript again and decided to go on with it. 
But he was uncertain as to its value. After being hailed as the 
best poet of the age he felt that it would be a sad humiliation 
to become a mere novelist, even if a successful one; and there 
was much likelihood that he might be a failure. His novel fell 
outside all the categories that were then in vogue. Its setting was 
historical, but not far enough back in the past to have acquired 
the glamour of remoteness; it dealt with the Jacobite uprising 
of 1745, and in Scott's boyhood he had known survivors of that 
episode. His historian's conscience forced him to keep strictly 
to the facts, and his travels in the Highlands rendered his back 
grounds authentic. Still less had the book any of the emotional 
hysteria of the Gothic romances; Scott's robust humor and com 
mon sense precluded him from indulging in gruesome horrors 
or superstitious figments. Finally, being perfectly well satis 
fied with life as he found it, he had no impulse toward reforming 
manners or morals. In view of these negative qualities, the book 
belonged in the realm of realism. 
Nevertheless, in another light Scott was incurably romantic. 



196 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

In boyhood he had devoured the romances of chivalry and even 
"the ponderous folios of Cyrus and Cassandra" and the tales 
he spun for his classmates were all about enchantments and 
knight-errantry. This was normal boyish love of adventure and 
heroism; but in Scott it had an added psychological motive be 
cause he could thus live vicariously the life of action that his 
lameness denied him in actuality. Further, he was convinced that 
his own ancestors had been the same sort of doughty fighters 
and hospitable hosts that populated the romances. Therefore his 
youthful acceptance of the romantic outlook was too deeply 
rooted to be outgrown. The whole tragicomedy of his career 
stems from his belief in the chivalric ideals and his insistence 
upon putting them into practice. 

It was not a mere passing fancy that had led him in his first 
long poem to identify himself with the last of the feudal min 
strels. Since their time few authors had devoted themselves ex 
clusively to the function of telling a fascinating story. In English 
fiction Defoe was probably the only one if we disregard 
his claim that he was writing to promote morality and it is 
significant that Scott was the first critic to accord Defoe much 
recognition as a novelist. 

This does not mean that Scott had no purpose whatsoever 
beyond spinning a good yarn. For one thing, he was motivated 
by patriotism. He admired what Miss Edgeworth had done in 
using distinctively Irish material and he enjoyed even the 
cruder national propaganda of Miss Owenson. He responded to 
the patriotic fervor in Jane Porter's Scottish Chiefs in spite of its 
hackneyed rhetoric. His friends were disturbed by the decline 
of Scottish tradition under the political and economic dominance 
of England. Obviously there was an opening for him to do some 
thing for his country's cause by reviving a knowledge of its 
former glories. 

In choosing the last Jacobite rebellion as his topic, he went 
straight to the heart of this problem. "The Forty-five" was 
more than an attempt by the Stuart dynasty to regain the British 
crown. It was also the final attempt of Scotland to assert her 
equality in the United Kingdom. And within Scotland itself it 
was the last struggle of feudalism, as represented by the High 
land clans, against the modern urban and commercial civilization 
of the Lowland region. 



Recovery of Prestige 191 

Scott's attitude toward this conflict is the key to his nature. 
When the popularity of Waverley led to a sentimental cult of the 
Stuart regime and a flood of tourists into the picturesque High 
lands, Scott came to be thought of as a champion of lost causes 
and a Rousseauistic devotee of primitive people and of scenic 
solitude. On the contrary, there was nowhere a more loyal sub 
ject of the House of Hanover, and as an orthodox Protestant 
he looked suspiciously on the Catholic Jacobites. Nor was he 
ever in revolt against the modern economic solidity represented 
by his thrifty farmer-grandfather and his practical lawyer-father. 
He had no wish to set the clock back to a simpler age. But 
his intuition taught him the inherent effectiveness of the struggle 
between two ways of life and the dramatic pathos in the inevitable 
defeat inflicted upon the archaic one. Actually, he recorded the 
historic significance of the new era of progress with more pro 
found interpretation than did the radical novelists, such as Hoi- 
croft and Godwin, who were preaching specific doctrines. Scott 
perceived an epic theme in the central fact that social change 
had become inevitable and that change entails conflict and trag 
edy. Scottish history provided a microcosm of this universal 
process. 

Also, his dominant traits of kindliness and humor obliged 
him to see the situation in terms of human beings. Neither cause 
was right or wrong; people were sincere on both sides. Scott 
depicted the whole range of types and outlooks, from the noble 
men all the way to the peasantry. He brought fiction back to 
its fundamental function of telling an interesting story in a 
convincing fashion, through characters who took on the reality 
of living people. Any wider meaning was implicit in the picture 
of a plausible situation, instead of obviously dictating the be 
havior of characters and the sequence of events. 

To bring out his theme he followed a method used by Miss 
Owenson by choosing as his hero a conventional young English 
man whose attitude would be like that of his average reader. 
At the beginning Edward Waverley is as much deluded by 
romantic sensibility as was Jane Austen's Marianne Dashwood. 
As he becomes more and more deeply involved in the war and 
learns to understand Scottish ways and the Scottish point of view, 
the reader undergoes a conversion along with him. The theme 
is exemplified even in the love element, which concerns Waver- 



198 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

ley's hesitation between two charming girls the imperious 
daughter of a Highland chief and the domesticated daughter of a 
Lowland laird. 

The diffidence with which Scott put out his first novel was per 
fectly sincere. He was over forty years old, an easygoing soul 
who was writing for profit rather than in hope of fame or in 
conviction of superior talent. Even the offer of appointment as 
Poet Laureate had not deluded him into thinking himself a genius 
and the decline in his popularity had been disillusioning. He was 
making headway in his secondary vocation of the law: he had 
been appointed Clerk of Session, which might be a step toward 
a judgeship. The novel was a desperate venture into new terri 
tory. Why endanger his status by being identified as a writer 
in a genre that serious readers and critics labeled "trash"? There 
fore when Waverley, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since came out in 
1814, scarcely anybody but the publisher knew who had written 
it. Even after it began to attract attention, Scott was still so 
dubious that he made the irrevocable mistake of flatly denying 
his authorship. 

In comparison with his subsequent books, the story was slow- 
moving and the manner formal. But it was so superior to the 
average fiction of the time that it captivated all types of readers. 
Whereas the other realistic novelists dealt with the artificial life 
in drawing rooms and the conflicts of caste in sophisticated so 
ciety, Scott offered an equally convincing picture of adventure 
and danger in the heather-scented open air of the mountains. 
Readers realized that the historical and topographical details were 
authentic, and so they had the satisfaction of feeling that they 
were learning useful facts under the pleasant guise of entertain 
ment. Humor added its appeal throughout, and it was a kindly, 
sympathetic humor, without any sour flavor of satire. For these 
reasons Waverley appealed to every sort of person. Cultivated 
folk appreciated the author's sound scholarship and his naturally 
easy style. Men of affairs responded to the vigor of the action 
and the absence of preachment, and yet serious-minded people 
found nothing that offended their sense of propriety. For his 
enduring influence, probably the greatest fact was that young 
people could enjoy the excitement of the plot and identify them 
selves with the uncomplicated central characters. 

The unexpected triumph of Waverley convinced Scott that he 



Recovery of Prestige 

had found his metier. His memory was crammed with the 
varied reading of a lifetime, and besides he could recall scores 
of quaint characters that he had known and liked. His next 
novel, Guy Mannering, was composed in six weeks. Though 
again the action takes place in the eighteenth century, there are 
no public events involved, and so the attention is centered upon 
characterization and local customs. This time it is the economic 
decay of an aristocratic family that provides the antithesis be 
tween archaic traditions and the practical modern world. The 
stereotyped plot concerning a missing heir serves merely as 
framework for a gallery of lovingly elaborated portraits a 
schoolmaster, a lawyer, a farmer, a smuggler, and a wild gypsy 
woman. Some traces of the old comedy of humours can be 
detected in his method; but his wide acquaintance with eccentrics 
gave individuality to each figure. 

In the third novel, The Antiquary, he came down to within 
twenty years of the date of writing. For his strong effects he 
depended upon weirdness and gloom a violent storm, a mid 
night burial, a candle-lit scene in a fisherman's hut. These ele 
ments have some kinship with the tales of terror, but Scott 
kept away from the gruesome and the supernatural. In fact, 
The Antiquary is the most consistently comic of his novels. 
The plot, again concerning a missing heir and a particularly 
colorless pair of young lovers, is melodramatic throughout, build 
ing up to a sort of general transformation scene in the happy 
ending. But many of the characters, especially the heroic old 
beggar, Edie Ochiltree, and the half-crazy peasant crone, Elspeth, 
are unforgettable; and the elderly antiquary, Jonathan Oldbuck, has 
touches of humorous self-portraiture. 

In the same year with The Antiquary came two other stories, 
published together under the title Tales of My Landlord. One of 
them, The Black Dwarf, was an experiment in Gothic gro- 
tesquerie that proved so unsatisfactory that the author cut it 
off short. But the other is probably his greatest work of his 
torical fiction. Old Mortality dealt with the uprising of the 
Presbyterian Covenanters in 1679, and he went to unusual trouble 
to verify his historical data and merge them with the fictitious 
narrative. The portrait of Graham of Claverhouse is especially 
impressive. The invented characters are carefully developed to 
illustrate the various points of view in the conflict. Though 



200 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

Scott is unsparing toward the fanaticism of the extreme Covenant 
ers and the brutality of their conquerors, he shows that there 
were more moderate men in both camps. His hero, like Waverley, 
is a conscientious young man who is drawn into the struggle 
and tries vainly to conciliate the bitter adversaries. Only near 
the end does Scott allow the demands of melodrama to over 
shadow the historical validity of the action. 

In combining two novels under one inclusive title, and in 
continuing the practice for the next four years, Scott created a 
cumbersome mechanism. He invented a fictitious editor, Jedediah 
Cleishbotham, a pompous schoolmaster, who is supposed to be 
presenting stories originally told by the local innkeeper and then 
transcribed by the schoolmaster's assistant, Peter Pattieson. In 
Old Mortality there is even a fourth transmitter, the old tomb 
stone-restorer whose enthusiasm for the Covenanters led him to 
collect traditional tales about them. By all this framework Scott 
was seeking to add an illusion of historical authenticity by 
bridging the gap between his own day and the past. But modern 
readers, accustomed to historical fiction, find the preliminary 
gambits merely tedious. Unless the reader starts at the beginning 
of the series, with the inferior Black Dwarf, he never gets any 
clear idea of who these irrelevant characters are, or why they 
intrude in the later books with introductory remarks, conclud 
ing apologies, and explanatory footnotes. In part the device was 
intended to increase the mystification as to the authorship, for 
the title page did not carry the phrase "By the Author of Waver 
ley" as had the two intervening books. Few readers, however, 
believed for a moment that any other writer could display the 
same sort of power; and by this time it was widely known or 
suspected that "the Great Unknown" was Walter Scott. Occa 
sionally, it is true, some other claimant was suggested, and the 
resulting argument added extra publicity for the books. Scott 
watched the confusion with a mixture of embarrassment and 
amusement, and at this point he increased it by contributing a 
favorable critique of Tales of My Landlord to the Quarterly 
Review. 

To keep up the pretense that he was a gentleman of private 
wealth, he was forced into an arduous double life. His great 
house at Abbotsford was now finished, and he crammed it with 
ancient weapons, armor, and antique folios. Here he held open 



Recovery of Prestige 201 

house for a constant parade of guests, with whom he spent his 
days in fishing, shooting, and riding. He maintained the routine 
of his official legal duties, and continued to compose the sort 
of respectable literature that could appear under his name 
poetry, antiquarian treatises, a play. Therefore he had to sit up 
most nights to write the novels, pushing his pen at top speed to 
keep up with his flow of ideas. Little wonder that in 1817 he 
began to suffer intestinal agonies, probably from stomach ulcers. 
But in spite of attacks of pain he continued with his stories, 
dictating to a secretary when he felt too ill to hold a pen. 
Thus there was no perceptible lag before the next novel, Rob 
Roy, came out at the end of 1817. 

Using as its title the name of a real Highland outlaw, 
Rob Roy forms a natural parallel with Waverley, as it deals 
with the other great Jacobite rebellion, thirty years earlier than 
that of "Bonnie Prince Charlie," and it even uses the same device, 
an English visitor stumbling into the midst of the uprising. It 
therefore serves as evidence of how far Scott had advanced in 
narrative skill. The faults of hasty writing and catering to popu 
lar demands are obvious: the plot is improbable and sometimes 
confused, and the happy ending is both logically and artistically 
inept. On the other hand, Scott enhanced the vividness of effect 
by using, for the first time, the autobiographic form. With real 
psychological skill he reveals the transformation of Frank Os- 
baldistone from conventional-minded brashness to mature judg 
ment. The Highlanders are portrayed in all their ruthlessness and 
superstition, with Helen Macgregor as an unforgettable embodi 
ment of feminine ferocity. Furthermore, Diana Vernon, who is 
probably a reminiscence of the girl Scott loved and lost in his 
youth, is an intelligent and courageous heroine, a refreshing 
change from the sweet, modest girls he usually portrayed. She 
and a group of splendid comic characters make Rob Roy one of 
Scott's best-loved books. 

Immediately reverting to his alter ego, he brought out the second 
series of Tales of My Landlord, consisting of only one novel, The 
Heart of Midlothian, which has been placed by modern critics in 
the highest rank of his work. The historical starting point is a 
local event in Edinburgh, the Porteous riots of 1736; but this is 
subordinated to the personal story of Jeanie Deans and her heroic 
walk to London to win a royal amnesty for her sister, convicted 



202 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

of child murder. This was based upon an actual case, and Scott 
combined it expertly with the events of the rioting. The few 
comic characters are kept in the background, and the book is 
more somber in tone than any he had previously written. If he 
had ended with the granting of the pardon, it would be a 
realistic masterpiece of pathos and nobility in humble life; but 
Scott felt the need to include some of his customary romantic 
picturesqueness and so he shifted the subsequent scenes to the 
Highlands and introduced a farrago of melodramatic adventure. 

A third series of Tales of My Landlord followed in 1819. 
In one of them, The Bride of Lcmrmermoor^ he went further in 
the direction implied in The Heart of Midlothian and ventured 
upon unrelieved tragedy. Its new atmosphere of gloom and 
cruelty may be due to the fact that it was dictated during 
a crisis of his illness, when he was sometimes semi-delirious with 
pain. When he read the printed book he "did not recollect one 
single incident, character, or conversation," and felt that on any 
page he might be "startled by meeting something altogether 
glaring and fantastic." It was so unlike his normal manner that 
he did not care for it: "I felt it monstrous gross and grotesque." 
The hopelessness of the situation and the morbid passivity of 
the main characters make it his only depressing novel; but 
many nineteenth-century men of letters considered it his best. 
The use of superstitions and omens to heighten the sense of 
doom, and the solid reality of the grim castles that are the prin 
cipal setting, render it a fulfillment of the purpose toward which 
the Gothic novelists had groped. 

The other story that was published along with it, A Legend 
of Montrose, was brighter in tone. Dealing with the fighting in 
the Highlands incidental to the English civil war of the 1640's, 
it is adventurous and colorful, without much depth. It is chiefly 
notable for the character of Dugald Dalgetty, who dominates 
most of the story; but one feels the lack of that special mixture 
of sympathy and laughter that brings Scott's best comic char 
acters to life. The boastful captain is a caricature in the manner 
of Smollett. 

This thinness of texture betrays the fact that Scott's original 
reservoir of material was almost exhausted. He had covered a 
century and a half of Scottish history, had ranged through the 
best scenic spots in all corners of the country, had portrayed the 



Recovery of Prestige 203 

best specimens of eccentric characters that he had ever met or 
heard of, and had exploited his supply of local legends and 
family traditions. He therefore put an end to Tales of My Land 
lord and launched out into a different sort of historical fiction, in 
which invention and research replaced memory and observation. 

The creation of nine novels in five years was a marvel of 
sheer productivity and hard work, expecially when one con 
siders the author's multifarious other activities. The defects in 
the novels are inevitable results of this speed, for they were im 
provised without planning and printed without revision. But 
their merits outweigh their blemishes. A born story-teller, Scott 
was gifted with the instinct of how to hold the reader engrossed. 
And he possessed in equal measure the other requisite of a good 
novelist, the power to create three-dimensional characters and 
to endow them with life. In regard to style, his very speed of 
composition was an advantage, for he wrote with the fluency 
of speech, whereas more laborious novelists felt obliged to be 
rhetorical and decorative. The author's personality never ob 
trudes itself, for he was a modest man; but one grows aware of 
the pervasive spirit of the stories, which must be the author's 
own a spirit of generosity, honesty, and loyalty that even the 
most cynical reader finds hard to resist. 

It was the attitude and manner of the writer, as much as the 
novelty of his settings and historical data, that made the reading 
of "the Waverley novels" seem like entrance into a new world. 
To be sure, one comes away from them with a clear impression 
of Scottish scenes and customs, dialects and beliefs, and one 
has acquired unforgettable portraits of important personages and 
set-pieces of battles and controversies. But one has been reading 
not for ethnological and historical information but for the delight 
of sharing in adventures and laughing affectionately at odd char 
acters. These qualities won for Scott a tribute of personal 
gratitude and devotion from millions of people in all countries 
for at least a century. His popular designation, "the Wizard of 
the North," was an epitome of the enchantment he cast upon 
readers of every mentality and every age. 

In the practical view, too, his achievement was a landmark. 
No previous author in any genre had earned anything like the 
thousands of pounds that flowed in upon him. The entire rela 
tionship of author and publisher was revolutionized, as various 



204 The English Novel (1800-1820) 

firms bid against each other for the privilege of issuing his 
books. The natural result was that able and ambitious young 
writers, who are bound to be influenced by hope of wealth as 
well as of fame, realized that prose fiction might be the medium 
best suited to their talents. 

The reversal of taste and opinion was summed up in the 
fact that Walter Scott was the first professional author ever to 
receive a title in recognition of literary eminence. In March, 
1820, the new king, George IV, raised him to the rank of baronet. 
Since the real reason for the distinction could not be men 
tioned, because of Scott's absurd refusal to acknowledge the 
authorship of the novels, it had to be conferred on him nominally 
for his long-faded reputation as a poet and his insignificant serv 
ice as a county official. For Scott personally it was the one 
triumph that could gratify his inmost dreams, for it raised him to 
the status of the minor nobility and provided a hereditary title 
to be handed on to his son. And he had won it by writing 
novels, the class of literature that only five years before had been 
universally despised* 




VIII 



Expansion of Scope 

(i8zo - 1830) 



SCOTT'S SUPERIOR HANDLING of the traits that he borrowed from 
the Gothic romances historical background, dangerous adven 
tures, taut suspense did not obliterate the cruder type of 
fiction. In fact, two of the best tales of terror came out at the 
very height of his triumph. One was Frankenstein, by Mary 
Shelley, published in 1818. As the daughter of William Godwin 
and Mary Wollstonecraft and the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 
she could hardly avoid being drawn into authorship. Her writ 
ing of the book resulted from a playful contest when she was 
nineteen. She was in Switzerland with her husband and Byron, 
and for a pastime several members of the group decided to write 
supernatural tales. Byron left his effort unfinished; but his phy 
sician, Dr. Polidori, wrote a fairly good one entitled The Vam 
pire, and Mrs. Shelley's proved to be a minor masterpiece. Her 
choice of subject was influenced by the "Rosicrucian romances" 
her father's S*. Leon and her husband's St. Irvyne. In her 
story a scientist constructs a human figure and discovers the secret 
of bringing it to life, only to find that he has created a mur- 

205 



206 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

derous monster. Perhaps more by luck than by judgment, she 
had taken a theme with deep symbolic suggestion, linking back 
to the ancient Greek legend of Pygmalion and forward to the 
twentieth century's anxiety about man's subjugation to the ma 
chine. She made the story more effective than the Gothic ro 
mances by setting it near her own day, by using the first-per 
sonal point of view, and by enclosing it in a "frame", in which 
a matter-of-fact sea captain reports how he obtained the un 
happy scientist's confession. There is real pathos in the predica 
ment of the artificial man, who turns against society because it 
despises him. This echoes her father's humanitarian themes and 
the Rousseauistic idea of the noble savage. Just at the same time 
her father's Mandevitte (1817) used much the same theme, with 
out the supernatural device: it too deals with a victim of social 
injustice who develops psychopathic vengefulness against more 
fortunate people. 

Mrs. Shelley wrote several other imaginative stories, the best 
being Valperga (1823), a historical romance, and The Last Man 
(1826), which is a startling forecast of the extinction of the 
human race by pestilence in 2073, and which has additional 
interest because her husband is portrayed in one of the characters. 

The other notable belated Gothic romance was the work of 
Maturin. For five years after The Milesian Chief he devoted him 
self to playwriting; and his next novel, Women, or Pour et 
Contre (1818), showed an improvement over his previous work, 
in which, as he admitted in the preface, "the characters, situations, 
and language are drawn merely from imagination; my limited 
acquaintance with life denied me any other resource." In Women 
there is some realism, especially in the depiction of an intolerant 
Calvinist family, and there are even a few scenes of amusing so 
cial satire. The main plot, however, is sufficiently melodramatic: 
the rather spineless hero deserts his saintly fiancee in favor of 
a world-famous actress, who is eventually discovered to be the 
girl's long-lost mother. 

Instead of continuing to depict contemporary society, how 
ever, Maturin reverted to the supernatural terrors that he had 
started with, as though he felt a compulsion to show how far he 
could now excel his first work. Melmoth the Wanderer has a 
good claim to be the best of the English horror novels. Though 
concocted from some of the most overworked ingredients, it is 



Expansion of Scope 207 

invested with a sort of eerie vividness and distorted plausibility, 
like an El Greco painting. For one thing, like Frankenstein it 
has a modern setting and an oblique approach that reveals the 
ghastly story piecemeal as it comes to the knowledge of the 
narrator. In common with many of the romantic authors, Matur- 
in was fascinated by the Faust theme. Combining this with the 
legend of the Wandering Jew, he invented a man who has sold 
his soul to the devil in the seventeenth century and thereafter 
travels endlessly in search of someone who can be tempted to 
become his substitute. One of his descendants, a college student 
in Dublin, stumbles across a hint of the awful truth. Thereafter 
the book's effectiveness resides in the contrast between the realis 
tic modern framework and the series of episodes, sometimes 
transmitted through several intermediaries, which reveal Mel- 
moth's fearsome progress across the continents and the centuries. 
These inserted stories use a number of standard themes, some 
pathetic, others frightful, ranging from the idyllic life of a nature- 
girl on a tropical island to the tortures of the Inquisition. 

Another remarkable tale in the romantic vein, which came out 
in 1819, was Anastasius, or The Memoirs of a Modern Greek. 
It was the only work of fiction by its author, Thomas Hope, a 
wealthy art connoisseur. Son of a Scottish merchant in Amster 
dam, Hope had traveled through Europe and parts of Africa and 
Asia before he was twenty, collecting objects of art; and when 
he set up a mansion in London his style of furnishing, and a 
book that he wrote about it, exerted a lasting influence on theories 
of interior decorating. His character and career resemble those 
of Horace Walpole, Beckford, and Lewis; and like them he found 
escape from his life of wealth and ease by writing a fantastic 
story. The change in fashion is illustrated by his choice of 
subject: instead of the horrors of feudal cruelty he preferred the 
sensuous colors and luxurious indulgences of the Near East, 
as popularized by Byron. From Byron, too, he inherited the 
figure of his brooding, introspective villain-hero. Indeed, when 
the book appeared anonymously it was widely attributed to 
Byron, who confessed that when he read it he shed tears of an 
noyance because he had not written it. Though embroidered with 
the fashionable Levantine patterns, the story was basically a 
throwback to the old picaresque tales of clever rascality. 

At the time when these culminating specimens of romantic 



208 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

fantasy were being published, another man was writing in an 
utterly contrary mood. Thomas Love Peacock may be set be 
side Jane Austen as a belated survival of eighteenth-century 
rationalism, appealing to a limited audience with a taste for good 
sense and wit. Like her, he kept to a narrow range of subject 
because it was the only one he knew. An omnivorous reader, 
he found books more interesting than ordinary people, and his 
friendships were confined to a few writers and scholars. There 
is some doubt whether his books may be properly termed novels 
at all; like Tristram Shmdy, they might be classified as personal 
essays disguised as fiction. The plots are negligible, the characters 
are dummies set up to voice opposing points of view, the subject 
matter is satiric dissection of current ideology. Peacock is not 
propagating any theory, but is simply ridiculing the unreason 
ableness of the doctrine-mongers. Yet by reviving the element 
of critical intelligence and urbane scholarship in fiction, he won 
a restricted but honorable place in the history of the novel. 

For deciding that he disliked the new-fangled ideas of progress, 
science, and democracy, Peacock was equipped with ample evi 
dence through being a friend of Shelley. Privately educated 
and financially independent, he adopted authorship as an enter 
taining hobby. Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-seven 
he published four books of mediocre verse in neoclassical style. 
Then in his first prose work, Headlong Hall, which came out 
anonymously in 1816, he established the model that he was 
to follow in much of his later work. An assorted group of 
characters, assembled in a comfortable country house, spend 
their time in arguing over their pet hypotheses. In this they 
are reminiscent of Walter and Toby Shandy, and of Smollett's 
"humours" characters. Scarcely anything happens in the course 
of the brief story, and the abrupt outbreak of engagements in the 
last chapter is so little prepared for that it reads like a burlesque 
on conventional fiction. 

As his literary antecedents Peacock claimed the classical and 
neoclassical satirists Petronius, Rabelais, Swift, and Voltaire. 
His immediate models were the apologues of the French philos- 
ophes, such as Marmontel's Contes moraux. Firmly based on his 
love of the classics, his attitude may be described as humanistic: 
to put the intellectual and artistic fads of the moment into proper 
perspective, he measured them against the accumulated thought 



Expansion of Scope 209 

of past centuries. Believing in the free play of the intelligence, 
he was contemptuous of hypocrisy, dogma, and prejudice. The 
chief characters in Headlong Hall are three philosophers a 
"perfectibilian," a "deteriorationist," and a "statu-quo-ite." The 
other disputants include a phrenologist, several poets and critics, 
and a worldly clergyman who thinks only of food and wine. 
All of them hold forth endlessly, with a liberal sprinkling of 
Greek phrases and other scholarly allusions. 

Peacock's second novel, Melincourt, is longer and has a livelier 
comic plot, though with no gain in plausibility, since it deals with 
an amateur anthropologist's success in educating an orang-outang, 
who becomes an English baronet and a candidate for Parliament. 
The satire on the "noble savage" doctrine is obvious, and the 
book thus forms an interesting contrast with Frankenstein, which 
was written about the same time. In this novel Peacock gives 
greater individuality to his characters by making them recogniz 
able caricatures of celebrities of the day. Mr. Mystic is an impu 
dent sketch of Coleridge, Mr. Paperstamp of Wordsworth, and 
Mr. Feathernest of Southey. In Mr. Anyside Antijack the author 
lampooned George Canning, a distinguished Tory cabinet min 
ister. 

His next novel, Nightmare Abbey, came closer to a conven 
tional romantic plot in the midst of its farce. Here again he 
depicted several leading contemporaries. Mr. Flosky is another 
caricature of Coleridge, Mr. Cypress is Byron, and Scythrop 
Glowry is a tolerant sketch of Peacock's friend Shelley. As 
some of the sarcasm is directed toward the Gothic cult of gloom 
and haunted ruins, there is another coincidence in the fact that 
this book came out in 1818, the same year that saw the long- 
delayed publication of N onhanger Abbey. 

Peacock's representation of real people under thin disguises 
was typical of a tendency that was newly cropping out in English 
fiction. It first attracted attention in Glenarvon (1816), which 
was written by Lady Caroline Lamb, a clever and unstable 
woman who had been one of Byron's mistresses. The book is 
negligible as literature, but it was avidly read because every 
body knew that it told the intimate story of Lady Caroline's 
notorious love affair. 

This kind of fictionized scandal-mongering had an ancestor in 
the "secret histories" of Mrs. Manley. Its revival in the nineteenth 



210 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

century must be attributed to the cult of personality practiced 
by the romantic writers. The novelists of the mid-eighteenth 
century had been explicitly opposed to such a practice. Fielding 
and the others insisted that they were depicting types and not 
drawing portraits of individuals. But the neoclassical doctrine of 
generalities was replaced by the assumption that the individual 
was all-important. With Wordsworth, Byron, Lamb, Hazlitt, 
and De Quincey talking about themselves in everything they 
wrote, it was not long until novels also began to be written about 
and by conspicuous people. 

Such stories appealed to the public's insatiable curiosity about 
celebrities, especially those of high rank. The moralistic novels 
of the preceding generation had succeeded in implanting a be 
lief that aristocrats led a life of sumptuous sin. Instead of being 
revolted by the idea, however, the mass of average readers 
were captivated by the glittering contrast with their own drab 
existence, and they welcomed first-hand revelations of passion in 
high life. On their side, such writers realized that this demand 
offered them a golden opportunity to vindicate themselves and 
vilify their enemies. The new note is conspicuous in Florence 
Macarthy (1818), the next novel by Lady Morgan, who had now 
become a friend of Lady Caroline Lamb and of other fashion 
able figures. The heroine is an even closer self-portrait than usual, 
and much of the book is devoted to her feud with an unscrupulous 
critic, Conway Crawley, an unmistakable likeness of John Wil 
son Croker, who had disparaged Lady Morgan's books and char 
acter in the Quarterly Review. 

The trend of fiction was being strongly influenced by changes 
in the book-production trade. With expansion of the reading 
public, publishing had become a prosperous and competitive busi 
ness. The unwieldy eighteenth-century combines of booksellers 
had given place to powerful London firms that struggled ruth 
lessly for the market. Longmans, Murray, and Constable with 
the higher quality of literary commodities, Richard Phillips and 
John Stockdale on the popular level, had emerged soon after 
the century opened. They were followed by Henry Colburn, 
the most enterprising of them all. Concerned only with what 
would sell, Colburn used high-pressure methods of publicity and 
offered lavish payment to any writer with a famous name. As 
a medium for publishers' advertising, the Literary Gazette was 



Expansion of Scope 211 

started in 1817, the first weekly paper confined to reviews of 
current books. 

The price of books, however, remained high. A novel was 
usually stretched to three or more volumes by the use of large 
type, wide margins, and heavy paper. Therefore the distribution 
of fiction remained largely in the hands of the circulating li 
braries. A different form of publication was essential if novels 
were to become widely available to people who could not afford 
even a library subscription. 

The potential profits in this larger public were demonstrated 
by the success of a vigorous but undignified writer named Pierce 
Egan, who was a sports reporter for a weekly paper. His first 
book, The Mistress of Royalty (1814), was an expose of the 
Prince Regent's notorious love life. He followed this with Box- 
iana, a series of biographies of popular pugilists, which was issued 
in monthly installments at a shilling each; and it proved so 
popular that in 1821-24 he produced a work of fiction, brought 
out in the same format. This was Tom and Jerry: Life in London, 
or the Day and Night Scenes of ferry Hawthorn, Esq. and his 
Elegant Friend, Corinthian Tom, Accompanied by Bob Logic, 
the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. 

This was much like the books that Ned Ward and Tom Brown 
had written more than a century earlier. An authority on under 
world slang, Egan gave a raffish, picaresque series of violent and 
farcical incidents. His heroes were the irresponsible young "bucks" 
who flourished in the reign of the "First Gentleman of Europe." 
In fact, the book was dedicated to George IV, with an assertion 
that "an accurate knowledge of the manners, habits, and feelings 
of a brave and free people is not acquired in the closet." There 
is certainly nothing of either the study or the drawing room in 
Egan's world, which is devoted to gambling, horse-racing, coach- 
driving, boxing, and other strenuous pastimes, interspersed with 
drinking bouts and rioting in the streets. The author's rapid, 
journalistic style and outrageous puns produced the necessary ef 
fect of crude energy, as did the comic illustrations by George 
Cruikshank, who had inherited the mantle of Hogarth and Row- 
landson. 

Egan's phenomenal success on its vulgar level paralleled that 
of Scott in the polite sphere. Within a year of its first appearance 
Tom and Jerry was dramatized in no less than ten London 



212 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

theaters, and imitations proliferated. Egan published another 
work of fiction, The Life of an Actor, in 1824-25, and then re 
turned to his former theme and produced the further adventures 
of Tom and Jerry in 1828, unwisely attempting to introduce a 
more serious note. 

High above these other enterprises in fiction Scott remained 
secure upon his throne. In 1820, with his average quota of three 
novels, he broke away from his previous type of material. With 
Ivanhoe he deserted Scotland for England, and went all the way 
back to the Middle Ages. Consequently he had to abandon the 
elements of local color and humorous characterization, and pro 
duce an elaborate historical reconstruction. It was this book that 
extended his fame for the first time to the Continent. The scenes 
of feudal chivalry, centering on the heroic figure of Richard 
Coeur de Lion, fixed the public conception of the chivalric age 
in a permanent mold. Unfortunately Scott's desire for a richly 
varied panorama led him to shift Robin Hood and his outlaws 
two centuries backward, on the worthless authority of an Eliza 
bethan play. 

His other two novels of 1820, The Monastery and The Abbot, 
revert to a Scottish setting, but as they deal with the middle of 
the sixteenth century they also are historical constructs rather 
than pictures of anything the author knew. The Monastery is 
marred by tedious analysis of the causes for the Reformation, 
and by an inept attempt at the supernatural. Its sequel, The 
Abbot, which uses some of the same settings and characters, is 
a better book, thanks to its success in portraying the tragic figure 
of Mary Stuart. This novel led inevitably to Kenilivorth (1821), 
written in response to a demand from his publishers that he deal 
with Queen Elizabeth as he had just dealt with her Scottish rival. 
The pathetic story of Amy Robsart is told with dramatic force, 
and the complex personality of Elizabeth is well drawn. The 
year 1822 again brought three books. The Pirate is chiefly 
notable for its magnificent scenery of the islands north of Scot 
land. The Fortunes of Nigel combines a thrilling adventure story 
with realistic scenes of London life in the early seventeenth 
century and a first-rate study of the paradoxical character of 
James I. Peveril of the Peak (the longest of his novels) continues 
the royal portrait gallery by presenting Charles II, in a story 
with many melodramatic trappings. 



Expansion of Scope 213 

In the next year came what is perhaps the most brilliant of 
Scott's strictly historical novels, Quentin Durivard. By this time 
he had his new technique under perfect control, and the adven 
tures of a young Scottish gentleman at the French court combine 
the archetypal themes of a fairy tale with the precision of detail 
and depth of characterization that enforce credulity. The miserly, 
cowardly King Louis XI, in the midst of the sword-play and 
bravado, provides not only humor but an ironic antidote to the 
romantic view of life. 

The next book, St. Rona?i's Well, is unique among Scott's 
works in having a contemporary subject. There are some amus 
ing scenes of social satire, but they are awkwardly combined with 
a tragic plot, and the latter is further weakened by the fact that 
the author had to make last-moment changes. When the pub 
lishers discovered that the principal woman character gave birth 
to an illegitimate child, they refused to accept the episode; and 
as Scott lacked the leisure for rewriting the whole book, he 
merely revised a few pages, leaving his readers sadly mystified. 
He was the first novelist to learn the penalty of being popular: 
the author becomes a slave to the taboos of the majority. 

In the same year he wrote the last of his novels on eighteenth- 
century Scotland, Redgauntlet, returning to the historical theme 
of Waverley by telling about a belated and pathetically hopeless 
effort to organize a third Jacobite uprising. A good mystery plot 
is combined with richness of local color and quaint characters; 
in this novel, more than in any other, Scott allowed personal 
memories and emotions to cast a mellow glow over the scene, 
and he portrayed himself to some extent both in Darsie Latimer 
and in Alan Fairford, a young lawyer. Meanwhile the whole 
elaborate structure is carefully correlated with the collapse of 
Prince Charlie's cause. A comparison with Waverley will show 
how far Scott had developed in ten years. His increased interest 
in the mechanics of narrative can be seen in his experiment 
with a mixed method: some of the book is a diary, some a col 
lection of letters, some a straight narrative. The best-known 
pages are not part of the main structure at all, being a short 
story, Wandering Willie's Tale, inserted by the old device of 
having one character tell it to others. 

In 1825 Scott published two stories under a joint title, Tales 
of the CrusaderS) consisting of The Betrothed, an attempt at 



214 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

psychological tragedy that was not altogether successful, and 
The Talisman, a rather mechanical specimen of historical ro 
mance. At this point his incredible career broke down in dis 
aster. The Ballantine publishing firm failed, and Scott, as a part 
ner, was responsible for debts to a gigantic total of 13 0,000. 
His pride prevented him from going through the bankruptcy 
court, or even receiving financial help from friends and admirers. 
He vowed he would pay off the whole sum by his own earn 
ings. The previous happiness of his domestic life was destroyed 
about the same time by the death of his wife and the discovery 
that his beloved little grandson was incurably ill. 

Doggedly he undertook an even more back-breaking load than 
before. He compiled a huge Life of Napoleon that entailed 
onerous research, and wrote a History of Scotland and other 
miscellaneous works, while keeping up his superhuman output 
of fiction. His next novel, Woodstock, filled a gap in his cov 
erage of English history by dealing with Charles I and the 
conflict of Royalists against Parliamentarians. Most of his sub 
sequent stories appeared under joint titles, two series of Chron 
icles of the Canongate and a final fourth series of Tales of My 
'Landlord. Though none of these equaled his best work, they 
included several effective short stories and one strong novel, 
The Fair Maid of Perth, which revealed the brutality of medieval 
life more frankly than he had ever done before. No man's 
strength could stand such unremitting overwork, and his last 
stories were dictated after he was partially disabled in 1830 by 
a paralytic stroke. He died in 1832, having paid off more than 
half of the debt. In seventeen years he had written twenty-nine 
novels of varying length, and had changed the whole course of 
English fiction. 

Scott was a more complex writer than appears on the surface. 
His novels are not to be dismissed as an incongruous mixture of 
high-flown heroism with homely practicality, of conventional 
noble sentiments with earthy common sense. The combination 
of these two opposite views of life was indeed the principal 
reason for his extraordinary popularity, since it made his novels 
attractive to disparate types of readers. But it served also a more 
serious artistic purpose. The fact that each attitude can exist 
in the minds of numerous people proves that both have wide 
spread significance. Previous novelists had associated themselves 



Expansion of Scope 215 

exclusively with one outlook or the other. By the accidents 
of temperament and early experience, Scott happened to share 
the two outlooks in approximately equal proportions, and he 
juxtaposed them in such a way that they shed revealing light 
on each other. The balance gradually shifted: before 1820 the 
realistic element predominated, and after that date the romantic; 
but both are present in every novel and provide the conflict that 
is the underlying theme, deep below the uproar of clashing 
swords and the display of opposing banners. The final implica 
tion of each story is that heroic enterprises strongly though 
they appeal to our sympathy and our love of excitement are 
not only less useful but also less admirable than the achieve 
ments of sensible people who are able to withstand the pressures 
of everyday life. 

The extent and uniqueness of Scott's achievement can be 
judged by the fact that his literary disciples divided into two 
categories that have survived to the present. From his earlier 
novels sprang a school of local-color humor and pathos, first in 
Scotland, then in Ireland and elsewhere; and from his later novels 
sprang the innumerable horde of historical romances. 

The first Scottish writer to show traces of his influence w r as 
more directly akin to Maria Edgeworth, if not to Jane Austen. 
This was Susan Edmonstone Ferrier, who was a personal friend 
of Scott's, her father having been one of his fellow-officials of 
the Court of Session. Her three novels are Marriage (1818), The 
Inheritance (1824), and 'Destiny (1831). Published anonymously, 
the first two aroused curiosity as to the authorship, as the 
Waverley novels did. In fact, the general uncertainty led some 
people to suggest that they were the work of the same writer. 
Scott, who admired Miss Ferrier's novels almost as highly as Miss 
Austen's, was amused by the notion, and referred to her in a 
preface to Tales of My Landlord as "my sister shadow." 

Her first novel cannot have been much affected by either Scott 
or Jane Austen, for it was almost finished in 1810, though not 
published till eight years later. Like Scott in Waverley, she 
derived from Miss Edgeworth and Miss Owenson the device of 
bringing an English character into the alien environment in 
this case, a fashionable girl whose marriage to a Highland laird 
places her in the midst of manners that seem uncouth to her 
sophisticated London taste. Miss Ferrier's second novel, The In- 



216 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

heritance, has greater certainty of characterization, but is marred 
by lapsing into an outworn melodramatic plot device, when the 
heroine discovers that she was adopted in childhood and there 
fore has no claim to the fortune and title she has inherited. 

Miss Ferrier had a more boisterous sense of humor than Miss 
Austen, and none of her delicate irony. To the snobbery and 
greed of upper-class Scottish society she applied the harsh hand 
of caricature, and some of her readers in Edinburgh claimed 
that they could recognize individual models for several of her 
characters. Her comedy was too high-spirited, however, to be 
malicious, and her representation of defective conduct lacked 
Miss Edgeworth's moralizing. 

A more varied picture of Scottish life was given in the 
fiction of John Gait. He had gone through unusual experiences 
before becoming a novelist. During the Napoleonic period he 
traveled in Europe in an effort to maintain trade relations in 
evasion of wartime restrictions. Thus he made friends with 
Byron when the poet was on his Childe Harold pilgrimage 
about the Mediterranean. At intervals he tried to become an 
author, making little success with poetry, plays, biography, and 
journalism. Nor did he do any better with two works of fiction 
incoherent, sensational romances in the Gothic vein, with Con 
tinental settings. There could not be better proof of how com 
pletely a writer's natural talent can be smothered by his trying 
to follow a prevailing mode that does not suit him. At last, when 
he was forty, Gait found his vocation with The Ayrshire Lega 
tees, which came out in Blackwoofs Magazine in 1820. Modeled 
on Smollett's Humphry Clinker, this brief book was in the form 
of a series of letters written by the members of a Scottish family 
visiting London. Gait's journalistic experience prompted him to 
use the current events most interesting to the public the ac 
cession of George IV and his litigation with his wife; and the 
humor and irony of the story arise out of the visitors' naive 
reports of these great doings. A new device in epistolary fiction 
was added by narrative links between the letters, telling how 
they affected the recipients in the Scottish village. Having 
originated as a series of sketches for a magazine, the story has 
a minimum of plot, and gains its effect solely by the naturalness 
and sympathy of characterization. 

Gait hurried on to a longer book, The Annals of the Parish 



Expansion of Scope 211 

(1822). He had pondered this for many years, and had even 
shown a draft to a publisher as early as 1813, only to be told 
that the public would not accept such an uneventful narrative. 
It was derived as directly from The Vicar of Wakefield as his 
preceding book was derived from Humphry Clinker. Like Gold 
smith, Gait chooses as his narrator an unworldly country min 
ister, and thus adds plausibility to the record of life in a quiet 
neighborhood over a period of fifty years. One is reminded also 
of Miss Edgeworth's Thady in Castle Rackrent, for the Rev. Mr. 
Balwhidder does not grasp much of the true import of what he 
chronicles; but his kindly interest in his parishioners supplies the 
necessary unity for the book, and his seriousness enhances the 
humor of the comic episodes. There is no central plot, but an 
illusion of real life emerges from the jumble of unconnected 
events. This is the first English novel that takes a whole com 
munity as its subject, rather than an individual or a single family. 
In fact, Gait remarked later that "to myself it has ever been a 
kind of treatise on the history of society in the West of Scotland 
during the reign of King George the Third; and when it was 
written, I had no idea it would ever have been received as a 
novel." 

Having found that his readers regarded him as a novelist, Gait 
went on to write books which retained the realistic and hu 
morous Scottish atmosphere but added a firmer structure of ac 
tion. His next significant book, The Provost (1822), set out 
"to be a companion to The Annals of the Parish" by showing 
"the progress of improvement" not in a rural district but in 
a flourishing town. It is presented as the autobiography of a 
self-made politician whose career supplies the backbone of the 
plot as he rises to the top of the civic administration. Gait's 
next two books display his fullest mastery of the art of fiction, 
and both set up themes that have been used repeatedly by sub 
sequent novelists. In Sir Andrew Wylie (1822) an enterprising 
Scottish lad rises to fame and fortune in London. The Entail 
(1823), Gait's most ambitious attempt to handle a complex plot, 
covers three generations of a Scottish family which is dominated 
by determination to enlarge their property. As The Annals of 
the Parish is the first novel centering upon a community, The 
Entail is the first one (except the sketchy Castle Rackrent) cen 
tering upon the history of a family. 



218 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

The success of his five works of fiction ought to have con 
vinced Gait that he should continue; but his old ambition for 
business enterprise reasserted itself. He organized a company for 
developing the resources of Upper Canada, and spent much of 
his time in the colony during the years 1825-29. He founded 
two towns and did other valuable pioneer work, but he lacked 
administrative ability and failed to obtain financial backing. When 
he resigned as secretary of the Canada Company in 1829, he was 
a disillusioned and impoverished man. His last two novels of any 
importance, Laurie Todd (1830) and Bogle Corbet (1831), deal 
with his Canadian experiences. 

Next to Gait, the Scottish novelist who made the best use 
of local color was Sir Walter Scott's son-in-law, John Gibson 
Lockhart, a brilliant, sardonic journalist. His two short novels 
are as grimly tragic as Gait's are sunnily happy. Some Passages 
m the Life of Adam Blair (1822) tells of a Calvinist minister 
convicted of adultery, and The History of Matthew Wald (1824) 
is the autobiography of a weakling, written long after he has 
brought disaster on his friends and temporary insanity on him 
self. As psychopathic studies they were preceded only by 
Godwin's novels. In the same year as Matthew Wald came a still 
more horrific novel on a similar theme, written by James Hogg, 
a friend of Lockhart and Scott, The Private Memoirs and Con 
fessions of a Justified Sinner, an amazing tour de -force, in which 
a fanatical Calvinist reveals the internal conflicts that accom 
panied his life of hatred and murder. 

Soon after Gait and Lockhart and Miss Ferrier developed their 
subtypes of the local-color novel in Scotland, other writers at 
tempted the same thing in Ireland. Departing both from Miss 
Edgeworth's upper-class comedy and from Miss Owenson's stri 
dent nationalism, the brothers Michael and John Banim decided 
to collaborate in a series of stories that would depict Irish life 
as truthfully as the Waverley novels depicted Scotland. Bor 
rowing from Scott's Tales of My Landlord the device of a unify 
ing frame and title, they issued the; Tales of the O'Hara Family 
in three series, 1825-29. They also wrote a number of longer 
stories. Of peasant origin, the brothers were determined to show 
the life and sufferings of the Catholic country-people; but they 
laid on the Irish scenery and customs too lavishly, and tried to 
command attention with violent melodrama. Besides, the bitter- 



Expansion of Scope 219 

ness of their propaganda distorted the emphasis. Similar subjects 
were used by Gerald Griffin in his three series of Tales of the 
Munster Festivals (1827-32) and in one powerful tragic novel, 
The Collegians (1828). Slightly later came a more gifted writer, 
William Carleton, who had struggled upward from rural poverty 
with greater difficulty than the Banims, and who depicted what 
he knew best in Traits and Stones of the Irish Peasantry (1830- 
33). All these authors were at their best in shorter tales; their 
full-length novels show defects in structure and plausibility. 
The main significance of the Irish group is that for the first time 
fiction was being centered in the life of the peasantry as known 
at first hand. 

Life in England seemed so ordinary in contrast with the odd 
habits of the Scottish and the Irish that no English author at 
that time consciously devoted himself to local color. Something 
not unlike Gait's Annals of the Parish, however, can be seen 
in Our Village, by Mary Russell Mitford, who thought that her 
claim to literary fame would rest in her verse dramas. The 
series of sketches that she contributed to the Lady's Magazine 
and collected in five volumes (1824-32) consisted of unpre 
tentious observations of country life, with only occasional 
moments when anything happens. Our Village reads like the back 
ground of a Jane Austen novel, without sustained characteriza 
tion or plot; but the unhurried naturalness produces a pleasant 
illusion of reality, and the book helped to prove that a work 
of fiction could be enjoyable for that reason alone. 

The trend toward local color had emerged from the novels 
written by Scott before 1820. When he went on, after that date, 
to yet greater popularity with his historical romances, it w r as in 
evitable that other authors should soon imitate him. Some of 
those already mentioned tried their hands at the new method. 
Lockhart's first novel was Valerius (1821), an unsuccessful at 
tempt to recreate the period of the Roman occupation of Britain. 
Gait paused in the midst of his series of humorous books to 
publish four historical romances between 1823 and 1830. The 
Banims and Carleton chose historical themes for several of their 
longer novels. Maturin brought out an immensely long example, 
The Albigenses (1824). Fifty-year-old Horace Smith, a wealthy 
stockbroker who had made his literary reputation with verse 
parodies in 1812, wrote a competent historical novel, Brambletye 



220 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

House (1826), and followed it with some twenty others. But 
the most remarkable symptom of the new tendency was that 
Peacock deserted his satirical dialogues in favor of two historical 
stories. They were short, of course, and predominantly 
comic; but the author was not ridiculing the vogue of historical 
romance so much as showing that human behavior was laughable 
in the past as much as in the present. His first, Maid Marian 
(1822), has a specific link with Ivanhoe by dealing with Robin 
Hood and his outlaw band. The other was The Misfortunes of 
Elphin (1829), based on medieval Welsh legends and displaying 
greater depth of irony and brilliance of style than Peacock had 
previously shown. The two books have a genuinely romantic 
flavor, and moreover they seem in some ways truer to life than 
the laboriously documented works of the serious authors. 

Though the school of Scott commanded such widespread at 
tention throughout the twenties, there was an equally active 
movement in fiction that took its leadership from the other 
eminently popular author, Lord Byron. Indeed, Byron's own 
last and greatest poem, Don Juan, was essentially in the central 
tradition of the English novel, with its satirical realism, its pica 
resque series of adventures, and its complex panorama of con 
temporary society. Even the digressive comments are in the 
manner of Fielding. One cannot help thinking that if Byron 
had lived longer he might have followed Scott in shifting from 
verse to prose, and could have become the great realistic novelist 
of the early Victorian era. At any rate, it is further evidence 
of the resurgence of the novel that Byron had no important 
poetic imitators; his chief disciples expressed themselves in 
prose fiction. 

In the use of picturesque Near Eastern material, the only note 
worthy successor to Byron is James Justinian Morier, whose first 
novel, The Adventures of Hajji Eaba of Ispahan, appeared in 
1824. Born in Smyrna, the son of a British consul, Morier served 
in the diplomatic corps in Egypt and Persia and wrote two 
books about his travels before turning to fiction. His book 
mingled memories of The Arabian Nights with broadly comic 
realism derived from his own experience. The Persian ambas 
sador in London officially protested that it gave an unfavorable 
impression of his country. In the picaresque manner of Gil 
Bias it records the exploits of a shrewd barber who gets involved 



Expansion of Scope 221 

in many kinds of roguery. A less successful sequel was The Ad- 
ventures of Hajji Eaba in England (1828). 

Closer to the main current of fiction were the novelists who 
identified themselves with another side of Byron's self-portrayal 
the cynical aristocrat who mingles in fashionable society while 
defying conventional standards of behavior. Lady Caroline 
Lamb's Glenarvon had pointed the way, but ten years elapsed 
before the "fashionable novel" suddenly came into vogue. The 
man who launched it was Theodore Hook, who had been a 
schoolmate of Byron at Harrow and later was a leader of the 
"Regency wits," famous for his epigrams, his hoaxes, his ability 
to improvise comic songs while accompanying himself on the 
piano. He had thus become a celebrity before he began to write 
books. As editor of John Bull, a political weekly, he sprayed 
scurrilous propaganda against the Whigs. Then in 1824 he pub 
lished a collection of four novelettes, Sayings and Doings, a 
Series of Sketches from Life y which was followed by a second 
series the next year, and a third in 1828. The general title was 
derived from an artificial device of making each story illustrate 
a familiar proverb; but the didactic implication was less obvious 
than the author's intimate acquaintance with the sparkling life 
of London drawing rooms. Hook wrote hastily and carelessly, 
using trite melodramatic plots and stereotyped central characters. 
But his worldly manner and lively comedy (sometimes slipping 
into farce) produced an effect of masculine aplomb unlike the 
propriety of Miss Edgeworth and other ladies who had depicted 
aristocratic life. 

Immediately after Hook came two gentlemen who gave the 
fashionable novel its intellectual pretensions. In 1825 Colburn the 
publisher used all his devices of publicity to launch an anonymous 
novel, Tremaine,, or The Man of Refinement, suggesting that it 
was the work of some prominent public figure. Actually the 
author was Robert Plumer Ward, a successful lawyer and former 
Member of Parliament, who had written treatises on jurispru 
dence and international policy before turning to fiction at the 
age of sixty. Shocked by the frivolity of recent novels, he tried 
to set a good example by going back to the serious style of the 
eighteenth century. Not only the subtitle but the whole out 
look of the book recalls Mackenzie's Man of Feeling. The hero 
is morally so scrupulous that he has found all modern girls too 



222 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

indelicate to be worth marrying. Disillusioned with travel, poli 
tics, and society, he withdraws to his country estate to devote 
himself to study; but a saintly clergyman and his equally earnest 
daughter convert him to orthodox religion and matrimony. It is 
paradoxical that this novel, so reactionary both in opinions and 
in style, should have set a new literary fashion among sophisti 
cated people. A modern reader finds the interminable debates on 
abstract ethical problems unbearably tedious. It is a prolonged 
and humorless counterpart of Peacock's concise and witty Head 
long Hall. But Ward was obviously sincere, and as obviously a 
scholar and a gentleman. The upper class felt that it had acquired 
a dignified literary spokesman. 

Ward's success was duplicated the next year by a younger 
man of similar social background, Thomas Henry Lister. His 
book, Gra?2by, was more frivolous than Ward's, being chiefly a 
disjointed chronicle of balls, operas, ballets, gambling parties, 
and other fashionable pastimes, with recognizable portraits of 
social celebrities such as Lady Caroline Lamb. The sprightly 
wit of the dialogue is consistent with the prevailing tone of 
contempt for bourgeois stuffiness and provincial naivete. 

Both Ward and Lister promptly produced second novels. 
Ward's De Vere, or The Man of Independence, has a political 
theme, telling how a rich young idealist adjusts himself to a 
career in Parliament. Traits of the best-known party leaders 
were recognizable in some of the characters. Both of Ward's 
books, in spite of his ponderous manner, did something unusual 
in fiction by undertaking a reasoned analysis of social ideas. 
Lister's second novel, Herbert Lacy (1828), and his third, Arling 
ton (1832), elaborated his first picture of smart society. Though 
neither author had much creative talent, each contributed an 
ingredient to the new formula for the fashionable novel, Ward's 
contribution being good taste, Lister's the witty sneer. 

Within two years after Tremaine appeared, the genre had 
taken such definite form that William Hazlitt ridiculed "the 
dandy school" in the Examiner. The first nobleman to parti 
cipate was the Earl of Mulgrave (later Marquess of Normanby), 
with Matilda (1825), followed by Yes and No (1827) and several 
others. Equally well born was Lady Charlotte Bury, daughter 
of a duke; she had seen court life as a Lady-in- Waiting to the 
Princess of Wales, and had published several sentimental stories 



Expansion of Scope 223 

before finding success at fifty-three with her first fashionable 
novels, Flirtation and A Marriage In High Life, both in 1828. 
Another lady of good family, Marianne Spencer-Stanhope, pub 
lished Almactfs (1826), naming it for the exclusive assembly 
rooms where fashionable balls were held; and this book was so 
popular that another writer, Charles White, traded upon its title 
in Almacfts 'Revisited (1828). 

These "silver-fork novels," as they were nicknamed, were 
not of high literary merit, but they did something toward the 
restoration of realism by treating a peculiar segment of con 
temporary life with superficial verisimilitude. Heinrich Heine, 
visiting England in 1828, observed sourly that 

The London presses are abundantly employed with fashionable 
writings, with novels that move in the glittering sphere of "high 
life" or reflect it, as, for instance, Almac&s, Vivian Grey, Tre- 
maine, The Guards, Flirtation, which latter novel would be the 
best example for the whole species, for its flirtation with foreign 
manners and phrases, its coarse refinement, ponderous lightness, 
sour sweetness, elegant rudeness, in short for the whole disagree 
able conduct of those wooden butterflies that flutter in the salons 
of the West End of London. 

The books are monotonous in theme because the conditions that 
they depicted were rigidly standardized, and they had little depth 
of characterization because the dominant trait of their characters 
was an artificial pose that concealed natural behavior. They are 
of value chiefly as social history, for their meticulous record of 
dress, food, etiquette, and conversation in fashionable circles un 
der George IV. And they have a further significance as provid 
ing the literary debut of two men who later rose to eminence both 
in fiction-writing and in public life. 

One of these, Benjamin Disraeli, was a brilliant, ambitious 
youth whose Spanish-Jewish family had moved from Italy to 
England eighty years earlier. His father, Isaac, was an amateur 
literary historian who had written several mediocre novels and 
had become acquainted with Byron and other authors. Fiercely 
determined to obtain money and fame as quickly as possible, 
young Benjamin tried speculation in newspaper publishing and 
the stock market, and adopted the role of a dandy; and when 
dandyism found its voice in the fashionable novels he saw his 
opportunity to turn his literary flair to account. He modeled 



224 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

his first book on Tremaine but gave it a youthful swagger 
that changed its whole tone. Vivian Grey was written before 
the author reached his twenty-first birthday and was published 
anonymously by Colburn in 1826, with the usual fanfare about 
the eminence of its mysterious author and the identity of its 
characters with current notables. At first these ruses brought 
wide attention, but there was an angry reaction when the truth 
leaked out that the author was not an ex-cabinet minister but a 
Jewish boy of twenty-two. Nevertheless, he completed the 
story with a second part in 1827. 

The precocious, epigrammatic hero is unquestionably an ideal 
ized self-portrait. The first part deals with Vivian Grey's me 
teoric career in politics and his organizing of a new faction to 
compete with the old parties. The second part is less effective, 
ranging from serious philosophizing to melodrama. A jealous 
woman wrecks Grey's political movement, and after killing a 
former supporter in a duel he goes on a long tour through Ger 
many (as Disraeli had recently done), with disjointed adventures 
in the "Childe Harold" tradition. Grey's accidental death in an 
avalanche has no justification except the need of bringing the 
book to an end. In fact, we are left in some doubt as to whether 
he was actually killed or not. 

As an artistic work of fiction Vivian Grey is a failure because 
it tries to do too many different things. When a beautiful girl 
dies from the shock of the hero's proposal of marriage, we are 
carried back to the excessive sensibility of Mackenzie's Man of 
Feeling; in Vivian's debates about the theory of government with 
the prime minister of a German state, we are reminded of Ward's 
Tremaine; as a record of a young man's education through ex 
perience, the story is modeled on Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. The 
book's validity for modern readers is in its portrayal of the hero's 
impudent self-assurance and his lust for power through political 
manipulation. The rest is derivative, but this is Disraeli himself. 

Close on Disraeli's heels came Edward Lytton Bulwer, one 
year older and equally ambitious. Proud of his descent from 
ancient families, he imitated Byron in early sentimental poems 
and love affairs. As soon as he left Cambridge and made the 
grand tour he established himself among the London dandies 
and gained a reputation for immorality with a brief epistolary 
novel, Falkland (1827), which was in the old vein of sensibility. 



Expansion of Scope 225 

In his first full-length book, Pelham, or The Adventures of a 
Gentleman (1828), he aligned himself with the fashionable novel. 
It included a murder mystery borrowed from Caleb Williams 
and some macabre touches reminiscent of Mrs. Radcliffe; but it 
won its popularity by modifying the Satanic type of Byron's 
heroes into that of a worldly young man who combines serious 
social ideas with his cynicism, and intellect with his foppery. 
The witty and polished Henry Pelham is contrasted with Richard 
Glanville, whose defiance of moral principles has led him into 
crime. Bulwer later boasted that the book helped "to put an 
end to the Satanic mania, to turn the thoughts and ambitions 
of young gentlemen without neckcloths, and young clerks who 
were sallow, from playing the Corsair, and boasting that they 
were villains." Its direct effect is proved by one ridiculous ex 
ample. Pelham's mother happened to remark to him, "You look 
best in black, which is a great compliment, for people must be 
very distinguished in appearance to do so." Immediately the 
wearing of colored coats went out of style, and black remained 
the only acceptable color in men's formal attire for more than 
a century. 

In spite of affectations and incoherencies, Pelham, like Vivian 
Grey, was a phenomenon of permanent significance. Both 
books are "Bildungsromane studies of a young man's coming 
to grips with reality but with the English spirit of compromise 
and humorous common sense replacing Goethe's romantic in 
tensity. The vogue of these two books gave general currency 
to a special type of fiction that may be termed the intellectual 
novel. It is primarily interested in ideas, and differs from the 
propaganda novel in having no particular crusade. The author 
of an intellectual novel is not trying to win the reader's adher 
ence to a cause by playing upon his sympathy. Instead he is try 
ing to arouse the reader to think independently upon matters of 
lasting importance. To achieve such a difficult result, shock 
treatments are requisite. Satire, scandal, and flouting of con 
vention are justified as means to this end. Sterne was a forerunner 
of the intellectual novel in the eighteenth century, and Peacock 
its first practitioner in the nineteenth. But the brash impudence 
of Disraeli and Bulwer was needed to make it palatable to casual 
readers. 

Apart from some of Scott's, none of the novels written be- 



226 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

tween 1820 and 1830 are first-rate. Nevertheless the decade was 
crucial in the development of the novel. Financial profit and so 
cial acceptability now combined to make fiction-writing so at 
tractive that a wide variety of people were drawn into the prac 
tice of it. Elderly professional and business men like Plumer 
Ward and Horace Smith, noblemen like Lord Mulgrave, ambi 
tious young gentlemen like Disraeli and Bulwer, journalists like 
Egan and Hook, ladies of rank and fashion, all tried their hand. 
The apparent ease of composing novels and the lack of critical 
standards encouraged careless, unorganized work; but these same 
conditions had a certain value in allowing free scope for experi 
mentation. 

Even the preferable length for a novel was undecided. Some 
of the most original work of the period was in the middle length, 
thirty thousand to fifty thousand words. In this class are the 
tales by the Banims and Griffin, the Saying and Doings of 
Hook, the satires of Peacock, and Bulwer's Falkland. By 1830, 
however, a larger size became obligatory. Hook in that year 
published Maxwell, a full-length novel, and never went back 
to the novelette. Similarly the Irish folk-authors gave up their 
series of tales in favor of three-volume works. Thereafter, fic 
tion of intermediate length, deprived of opportunity for publi 
cation, had little chance of survival. 

Techniques of fiction were affected also by the increase in 
serial publication. A new type of popular magazine was coming 
into existence by 1820, and editors found that the inclusion of a 
serial story helped to attract subscribers. Hence novelists were 
stimulated to write fiction with strongly marked characters and 
lively episodes, so that readers' interest could easily be revived 
at monthly intervals. As the first installment usually appeared be 
fore the rest of the story was written, the author concerned him 
self more with the effectiveness of the separate units than with 
any over-all structural plan. 

Fundamentally, however, the revitalization of the novel was 
due to the ebbing of the tide of romanticism. A quarter-century 
of great poetry and personal essays had absorbed the pressure of 
emotional turmoil, imaginative visions, and introspective egotism 
which could not adjust itself to the pedestrian tempo of the novel. 
After the Congress of Vienna in 1816, the era of political up 
heaval came to a halt, and the average person welcomed a rever- 



Expansion of Scope 227 

sion to normal settled conditions. Relieved from many years 
of wartime emergency, the British public enjoyed indulging in 
frivolous pastimes and admired its social leaders for doing like 
wise. A half-century of industrialism had shifted the balance of 
power into the hands of the practical, unexcitable bourgeoisie. 
These circumstances promoted the precise observation of ex 
ternal detail, the dispassionate examination of behavior and ideas, 
and the enjoyment of humor and satire, which all find their best 
medium in prose fiction. 

In fact, fictional methods gained such pre-eminence that some 
writers applied them to material that was not naturally amen 
able to such handling. The dividing line between the novel and 
other types of prose was for a while obscured. Some of the 
books already mentioned in this chapter are close to the bound 
ary. Gait thought that his Annals of the Parish ought to be 
classified as social history. Ward and Peacock were discussing 
political and ethical problems. The fashionable novels were not 
far removed from gossip-column journalism. It is not surprising 
that at the same period there is a body of what may be called 
"semi-fiction," lying outside any workable definition of the novel 
and yet borrowing many of its methods. A notable example is 
the series of "Noctes Ambrosianae" which appeared in Black- 
woofs Magazine between 1819 and 1835. The editor, John 
Wilson, and several of his regular contributors collaborated in 
this, creating fictitious names and personalities for themselves and 
using dialogue and narrative as a framework for comments on 
current literature, political events, and social customs. Readers 
of the magazine acquired a feeling of personal friendship with 
Christopher North, Ensign O'Doherty, Timothy Tickler, and 
the other convivial souls who held forth so humorously in the 
private room of Ambrose's tavern. In the same category fall 
Walter Savage Landor's Imaginary Conversations, published at 
intervals from 1824 to 1829; in these Landor used the dialogue 
form and fictitious episodes to convey his interpretation of his 
torical celebrities and forces. Robert Southey employed ficti 
tious dialogue for the same purpose in his Colloquies (1829) and 
wrote a sort of plotless fiction in The Doctor (1834-47), a vast 
accumulation of opinions and anecdotes, containing, as Southey 
said, "a little of Rabelais, but not much; more of Tristram Shandy, 
somewhat of Burton, and perhaps more of Montaigne." The 



228 The English Novel (1820-1830) 

most remarkable example of semi-fiction was Carlyle's Sartor 
Resartus, started in 1830 and published serially in 1833. Though 
primarily a crypto-autobiography and an exposition of metaphy 
sical philosophy, it was given the form of a plotless novel, with 
fictitious characters and German local color. This and some 
of the other semi-fiction had higher literary merit than the 
novels published during the same years, and probably helped to 
bring distinction of style and complexity of thought into the 
major novels that were soon to follow. 




IX 



Humor and Melodrama 
(1830 - 1845-) 



A DECADE OF EXPANSION and experiment ended in 1830. By that 
date the less effective varieties of fiction were fading out, leav 
ing certain recognizable types of method and subject matter to 
serve as models. A competent writer could choose whichever 
kind of novel suited him best and could feel reasonably sure of 
an income if he continued to produce new works at regular in 
tervals. This does not mean, however, that the men and women 
with the best talent for fiction were intuitively certain of their 
vocation. On the contrary, almost all the good novelists began 
with other kinds of writing, or in callings unconnected with 
authorship, and wandered into fiction by devious routes. 

In spite of the experimentation during the twenties, there 
remained several important fields for novelists to invade. We 
can now see that the two most tremendous historical occurrences 
of the preceding half -century were the Napoleonic Wars and the 
Industrial Revolution, but neither of these had been touched in 
fiction. They were so vast and so complex that the contemporary 
writers lacked perspective for observing them. Jane Austen vir- 

229 



230 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

tually ignored the great war that was going on all the time she was 
writing, even though her brothers were on active service; and 
all the other authors of fiction were equally oblivious. Though 
Scott wrote a biography of Napoleon, he did not think of com 
posing a romance on those most crucial years of European his 
tory. The novelists at home in Britain did not know enough about 
the war to deal with it; the fighting men had neither the leisure 
nor the training to do so. 

Not until ten years after the war ended did a veteran put his 
experiences into fiction. Then George Robert Gleig wrote 
The Subaltern (1825), which closely followed his own military 
career. As a young officer he had been wounded three times 
in the Peninsular campaign and three more times in America 
in 1814. After leaving the service he had completed his uni 
versity education and become a clergyman. A similar novel is 
The Youth cmd Manhood of Cyril Thornton (1827), by Thomas 
Hamilton, who also had been wounded in Spain. This was 
Captain Hamilton's only work of fiction, but Gleig went on with 
a number of others during the next twenty years. 

These first narrators of army life in fiction were soon over 
shadowed by a more gifted writer who dealt with the navy. 
Frederick Marryat had started as a midshipman at the age of 
fourteen, taken part in fifty engagements, been wounded three 
times, risen to the rank of captain, and been decorated for his 
services. His blunt criticism of naval policy retarded his further 
promotion, and so he began to look for an alternative career. In 
1829 he published Frank Mildmay, or The Naval Officer, and he 
followed it the next year with The King's Own. These were 
successful enough to encourage him to retire on a pension, at the 
age of thirty-eight, and devote himself to authorship. During the 
next seven years he wrote all his best works, notably Peter 
Simple (1834), Jacob Faithful (1834), Japhet in Search of a 
Father (1836), Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836), and Snarley-Yoiv, 
or The Dog Fiend (1837). 

Captain Marryat enjoyed the advantage of being able to ex 
press himself in his novels without restraint. Twenty-five years 
of naval service in war and peace had given him a huge fund of 
anecdotes, character types, and recollections of foreign ports. 
He wrote a vigorous, unpretentious prose and diversified the 
dangerous adventures with broad comedy, often of the slapstick 



Humor and Melodrama 231 

variety. His literary ancestor was Smollett, whom he followed 
both in his callous narrating of cruelty and degradation and 
violent death and in his characterization by humours. His young 
heroes are naive, plucky, and incorrigibly mischievous, with a 
heartless addiction to practical jokes. As a concession to senti 
mental readers he usually includes a conventional love story, but 
it is kept in the background, and his heroines do not come to 
life. His innate conservatism dictates the satire on egalitarian 
doctrines which sometimes emerges in Mr. Midshipman Easy, as 
Jack learns by hard experience the advantages of inequality and 
the absurdity of his father's democratic notions; yet occasionally 
one can glimpse a trace of sympathy toward the common seamen 
for the primitive conditions of the forecastle and the tyranny 
of the officers. Marryat's patriotic enthusiasm helped to build 
up the tradition that the English navy was the world's best fight 
ing service, in which the toughness of all ranks necessarily entailed 
brutality. 

Though devoid of technical dexterity, Marryat was endowed 
with the essential gift of always being able to tell an exciting 
story. Men of action enjoyed his books because they recognized 
the truth of his material, and landlubbers were equally fascinated 
because they felt that they were sharing a new kind of experi 
ence. It was typical of the interest in his stories that when 
Japhet was coming out serially an American ship stopped a 
British merchantman in mid-ocean and ran up a flag-signal to ask, 
"Has Japhet found his father yet?" By 1836, however, Marryat's 
supply of naval reminiscences was running low. Japhet is a 
picaresque story that takes place ashore, and Snarley-Yo<w 
(which some critics consider his best novel) uses a historical 
background and mingles Gothic grotesquerie with the farce. Al 
ready his success had brought a school of imitators who grasped 
the opportunity of making a profit from their seafaring experi 
ences. These included Michael Scott (Tom Cringle's Log, The 
Cruise of u The Midge"), Frederick Chamier (The Life of a 
Sailor, Ben Brace, Tom Bowling), the Hon. Edward Howard 
(Rattlin the Reefer, The Old Commodore), and William J. 
Neale (Cavendish, The Port Admiral, The Naval Surgeon). 
Throughout the thirties these novels vied in popularity with the 
historical romances. 

Perhaps the most remarkable historical novel of the time was 



252 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

the Rev. George Croly's Salathiel (1829), which dealt with 
the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus. In 
fluenced by Maturin, Croly used the theme of the Wandering 
Jew, and the book has a kind of gloomy power through the sheer 
magnitude of devastation and dread. This, however, was a belated 
specimen of the Gothic mode. A more typical historical novelist 
was George Payne Rainsford James, who reduced Scott's tech 
nique to a simple formula. His grandfather, a physician who made 
a fortune through a patent medicine, was a friend of Dr. John 
son and Goldsmith, and G.P.R. James in his boyhood met and 
admired Byron. As a young man-about-town and dilettante 
writer he began a historical novel; and later, when the un 
finished manuscript was shown to Scott, the master advised James 
to continue. This book, Richelieu., came out in 1829, and there 
after James was a prolific professional, bringing out two or three 
stereotyped novels every year. He estimated his normal output 
as five pages an hour, four hours a day. A few of his titles will 
suffice to indicate how thoroughly he covered European his 
tory: Darnley, or The field of the Cloth of Gold; Philip Augus 
tus, or The Brothers in Arms; Henry Masterton, or The Adven 
tures of a Young Cavalier; Mary of 'Burgundy., or The Revolt 
of Ghent. 

Slightly younger than James was William Harrison Ainsworth, 
later to become his greatest rival in historical fiction. At the age 
of sixteen, when he was beginning law studies in Manchester, 
Ainsworth started writing copiously for magazines; and three 
years later he moved to London, supposedly to complete his 
law course but mainly to fling himself into literary and fashion 
able life. Handsome and self-assured, he dressed in the extreme 
style of the dandies, and in 1826, when he was twenty-one, 
he published a historical romance, Sir John Chiverton, written 
in collaboration with a friend. It led Scott to remark that he was 
becoming "hard pressed by these imitators, who must put the 
thing out of fashion at last." In spite of this successful debut, 
Ainworth went into the business of publishing and did not find 
time to write another novel for eight years. By then, new forces 
were affecting historical fiction. 

For one thing, the popularity of Scott on the Continent had 
incited several able authors to write in this genre. The most 
important were Honore de Balzac, with Les Choucms (1829) and 



Humor and Melodrama 233 

La Peau de chagrin (1831), and Victor Hugo, with Notre Dome 
de Paris (1831). These showed greater dramatic power and in 
tellectual breadth than the English imitators of Scott possessed. 
And among English authors, Disraeli and Bulwer were breaking 
away from the fashionable novel and turning their restless imag 
inations in directions that affected historical fiction. 

The heyday of the fashionable novel was brief. Its vogue 
was of the sudden, intense sort that collapses as quickly as it 
flares up, and the subject matter was so narrow that later books 
seemed monotonous echoes of previous ones. Besides, the ma 
terial was highly topical, and the social milieu underwent a change 
after the death of George IV in 1830 and the passage of the 
First Reform Bill in 1832. The upper class lost the irresponsible 
gaiety that gave a kind of flippant charm to the silver-fork 
novels. Politics became a serious business, and intelligent people 
could no longer ignore the social and economic problems raised 
by the new industrialism. Carlyle preached the funeral sermon 
of the fashionable novel in his chapter on "The Dandiacal 
Body" in Sartor Resartus. 

The writing of fashionable novels did not cease, but it fell 
into the hands of third-rate women authors who endlessly re 
peated the old effects. Lady Charlotte Bury continued all through 
the thirties, and was joined by the Countess of Blessington, who 
ground out novels in an effort to earn the money necessary 
for keeping up her London salon. A woman who wrote with 
more wit and technical skill, to compensate for her lack of a 
title, was Mrs. Caroline Frances Gore, who, after three mediocre 
historical novels, turned to fashionable fiction with Women as 
They Are, or Manners of the Day (1830), and poured forth a 
stream of similar books for the next thirty years, the best of them 
being Cecil, or The Adventures of a Coxcomb and its sequel, 
Cecil, a Peer (both 1841). 

Bulwer and Disraeli were too clever to remain identified with 
this sort of tinsel. But in departing from it they could not 
decide where to go. Their impulse to write satirical fiction was 
deflected by other forces the assumption that the plot of a 
novel needed mystery and violent action, the romantic compul 
sion toward self-revelation, and the desire to propagate social 
doctrines. Untouched by such irrelevancies, Peacock remained 
as the sole purveyor of the novel of pure intellect. In 1831 he 



234 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

published Crotchet Castle, which used the theme and technique 
of his three earliest books with a mellower maturity of spirit 
and a slight shifting of his aim away from literary targets and 
toward the new economic and educational theories. But after this 
sally against slogan-mongers, Peacock now a high official in 
the East India Company withdrew from the unequal conflict 
and did not write another novel until thirty years later. 

Bulwer's novels after Pelham reveal desperate experimentation 
with every type of fiction he could think of. With an extrava 
gant wife and an expensive London house to maintain, he was 
driving his pen to the limit. The Disowned (1828) was written 
too hastily and suffered from inflated style and confused melo 
dramatic action. The fashionable aristocrats, with their lofty 
Norman names and artificial manners, are still there; but instead 
of satirizing them, as in Pelham, Bulwer takes them seriously 
and mingles them with a romantic sojourn among the gypsies 
(based an an episode of his own boyhood). The setting was 
the days of Dr. Johnson; and in his next novel, Devereux, he 
moved back to the first half of the eighteenth century and 
introduced all the literary and social celebrities of that previous 
era of wit and polish. His purpose, he said, was "to portray a 
man flourishing in the last century, with the train of mind and 
sentiment peculiar to the present." 

In both books Bulwer was trying to combine the fashionable 
novel with the historical, and in the second he was trying also 
to work out his political philosophy. For his next novel he under 
took something entirely different. The aged Godwin, whom he 
admired, suggested that he borrow from The Beggar's Opera 
the device of satirizing political leaders under the guise of 
criminals. Bulwer was also anxious to attack the harshness of 
English justice, and he combined these two purposes in Paul Clif 
ford (1830), the story of a young highwayman and his gang. 
The publisher's advertising made much of the satiric identifica 
tion of the underworld characters with the king and his chief 
ministers; but the public enjoyed the book as a thrilling story 
of crime, which sounded convincing because the author had 
studied actual criminal records, and inserted gobbets of thieves' 
jargon. 

Shortly afterwards Bulwer was elected to Parliament, and also 
undertook to edit a popular magazine; but there was no interrup- 



Hwnor and Melodrama 235 

tion in his output of fiction. Eugene Aram (1832) dealt with a 
famous murder case of the mid-eighteenth century. It is rem 
iniscent of Caleb Williams in depicting the mental strain of an 
undetected murderer. 

Though Bulwer's two crime stories delighted the public as a 
novelty, they actually had a long ancestry, starting with the 
rogue tales of the Renaissance and coming down through 
Defoe and even Scott, who was always inclined to be sympa 
thetic toward lawbreakers, whether the noble outlaw Robin Hood 
or the smugglers and gypsies of recent Scotland. In the eighteenth 
century the favorite reading matter of the semi-literate class 
was the Newgate Calendar, sensational reports of the careers and 
executions of criminals, and this was revived in the New New 
gate Calendar (1824-26). The adventures of Egan's Tom and 
Jerry helped to cast a literary glamour over lawlessness, and on a 
higher level there were the Byronic heroes with their contempt 
for social conformity. Bulwer merely gave these elements a 
fresh literary pretension with his rhetorical style, his historical 
research, and an admixture of Gothic gloom. 

It is surprising, therefore, that his two novels incurred violent 
attack. In part, the reason was personal dislike for Bulwer 
among the professional writers, who were annoyed because this 
elegant young gentleman, with his dandified clothes and conde 
scending manner, had won quick success in their calling; and his 
earlier books were easy to ridicule for their egotistical digres 
sions and florid style. But the gravity of the accusations against 
Paul Clifford and Eugene Aram showed more than mere spite. 
The books were charged with portraying criminals sympatheti 
cally and thus encouraging crime. The indication is not merely 
that a new note of social consciousness was coming into book 
reviewing but also that the critics recognized the increasing in 
fluence of fiction upon public attitudes. 

The attacks may account for Bulwer's attempt to conceal his 
authorship of his next novel, Go dolphin (1833), which he did not 
acknowledge until seven years later. It was a return to the sub 
ject matter of Pelham, but showed greater maturity in its 
analysis of society and politics, and a strong interest in the 
occult. His next book, which proved to be his most lastingly 
famous, was The Last Days of Pompeii, a subject that occurred 
to him during a tour of Italy. It was regarded as a powerful 



23 6 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

tragedy and an impressive reconstruction of ancient history. 
This was followed by another historical novel that grew out 
of his Italian travels, Rienzi (1835), dealing with fourteenth-cen 
tury Rome. 

Disraeli, meanwhile, suffering from ill health and not being 
under such financial pressure as Bulwer, was more deliberate in 
following Vivian Grey with other novels. The Young Duke 
(1831) was a reductio ad absurdum of the fashionable novel, with 
a lavish display of luxurious furnishings and dissipated noblemen, 
spiced with cynical asides in the manner of Don Juan. "The 
Young Duke!" snorted the author's father. "What does Ben 
know of dukes?" Indeed the atmosphere sometimes seems that 
of The Arabian Nights rather than of modern England; and yet 
in spite of all its exaggeration, the book contains perceptive com 
ments on political theories and issues. The happy ending comes 
when the hero, reformed by the love of an intelligent girl, assumes 
his duties in the House of Lords and makes an eloquent speech in 
favor of a progressive measure. Like Bulwer in Devereux, Disraeli 
was trying to shape a program of action for his own career by 
putting it in the form of fiction so that he could see it clearly. 

His profits from The Young Duke enabled him to make a tour 
of the Near East, in the approved Childe Harold manner, and 
while there he wrote Contarini Fleming, a Psychological Ro 
mance (1832), in which the influence of Byron was pre-eminent. 
In tracing "the development and formation of the poetic char 
acter" Disraeli followed the model of Wilhelm Meister, and again 
the autobiographical element was strong. Written in the first 
person, it is an intimate transcript of Disraeli's inmost emo 
tions and aspirations, but passionate where Vivian Grey had been 
cynical. The hero's father is a Scandinavian statesman of Ger 
man parentage and his mother is Italian. This rootlessness 
renders Contarini moody and defiant. He gets into trouble 
through publishing a novel satirizing the court; he runs away 
from college to become leader of a band of brigands; he loves 
and loses an Italian cousin with whom he shares telepathic com 
munication; and he wanders gloomily about the East before finally 
deciding to enter politics. 

Disraeli used the Levantine setting also for The Wondrous 
Tale of Alroy, a historical romance of the twelfth century. In 
his previous books he had idealized several facets of his per- 



Humor and Melodrama 237 

sonality the cynical dandy, the political innovator, the ambi 
tious author; here he undertook to glorify his racial origin by 
dealing with a heroic Jewish prince leading a revolt against 
the Moslems. 

Disraeli's prose had been becoming more ornate in each novel, 
and parts of Alroy lapsed into irregular meter and rhyme. In 
Henrietta Temple (1836), however, he wrote a more conven 
tional book, confining himself to an ardent love story based 
on his own affair with Lady Sykes. This was followed by 
Venetia (1837), chiefly interesting as a fictional interpretation 
of the personalities of Byron and Shelley. In that year he 
achieved the first major step in his public career by being elected 
to Parliament, and withdrew from authorship for seven years. 

The early novels of Bulwer and Disraeli are readable as the 
work of dynamic, versatile young men trying to use fiction for 
objectivizing their inner urges and their intellectual probings. 
In contrast, the work of less aspiring authors often has less 
vitality, but it is apt to be better controlled and to stay closer 
to the novelist's business of telling an effective story. Ains- 
worth in 1834 resumed fiction-writing with Rookwood, which 
was influenced by Bulwer's two novels of crime. Like Paul 
Clifford, Ainsworth's leading character is an eighteenth-century 
highwayman, and his achievements overshadow the other ele 
ments of the plot, Ainsworth frankly borrowed the atmosphere 
of terror from the leading practitioner of Gothic romance: 

I resolved to attempt a story in the bygone style of Mrs. Rad- 
cliffe (which had always inexpressible charms for me), ^substi 
tuting an old English squire, an old English manorial residence, 
and an old English highwayman for the Italian marchese, the 
castle, and the brigand of the great mistress of Romance. 

By interspersing underworld slang culled from handbooks on the 
subject, Ainsworth invested this antiquated material with an 
illusion of realism, so that the episode of Dick Turpin's ride 
to York was widely accepted as a genuine occurrence. 

Ainsworth's next novel, Crichton (1837), was centered upon 
a famous Scottish adventurer of the sixteenth century, and was 
full of cloak-and-sword exploits at the French court. Then 
came Jack Sheppard (1839), dealing with another highwayman, 
who had first been written about by Defoe. On the strength 



238 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

of these three books Ainsworth established himself as Bulwer's 
chief rival in melodramatic romance. Indeed, during the later 
1830's Bulwer partly relinquished fiction in favor of playwrit- 
ing, in which he was highly successful In consequence, his 
only novels in the five years after Rienzi showed neater manipu 
lation of plot and less grandiloquence of style. These were 
Ernest Maltravers (1837) and its sequel, Alice., or The Mysteries 
(1838), wherein sensational action served as a skeleton for study 
ing the modern questing philosopher in Maltravers and the naive 
child of nature in Alice Darvil. Bulwer put much of his own 
experience into the two books, and there is extensive discus 
sion of such current issues as the condition of the poor and 
the need for the secret ballot, in which Bulwer was playing 
an active role in his parliamentary career. The cynical epi 
grams of Pelham, written in the gay Georgian reign, give place 
to wise (if sometimes obvious) apothegms, ushering in the 
earnest era of Victoria. In the year of the publication of Alice, 
Bulwer was created a baronet* 

In the varied fiction of the early thirties the only common 
trait is not mastery of technique but exploitation of personal 
interests and experiences. Perhaps the best illustration of this 
fortuitous quality is Robert Smith Surtees, who became a 
novelist through his enthusiasm for a subject that no one else 
was writing about. The son of a country squire in the north 
of England, he was educated to be a solicitor; but his consuming 
interest, like that of his forefathers before him, was fox-hunt 
ing. In 1831, when he was twenty-eight, he published a com 
pendium of the legal knowledge needed by horse-dealers, and 
about the same time he became part owner of the New Sporting 
Magazine. In it he published between 1831 and 1834 a series 
of anecdotes about a London grocer who wanted to be a fox- 
hunter. These proved so popular that they were eventually 
reprinted in book form in 1838, with the title, The Jaunts and 
Jollities of that Renowned Sporting Citizen, Mr. John Jorrocks. 

As the title indicates, it consists of separate episodes without 
unified plot; but the characters of Jorrocks and his friends 
hold it together. The unselfconscious colloquial style and the 
boisterous humor, in perfect accord with the subject, make it 
the antithesis of the turgid rhetoric and worldly wit of the 
fashionable novels. Not only the technical details of fox-hunt- 



Humor ana Melodrama 239 

ing, but all the traditional life of the English countryside, are 
recorded with easy familiarity. In his way, Surtees was akin 
to Peacock in his contempt for the vulgar new world of com 
merce and social experiment. For his direct antecedents, how 
ever, we have to go back via Pierce Egan to the eighteenth- 
century fiction of the Smollett school, with its farcical satire 
and its utter absence of sentiment. 

While so many novels were dealing with special departments 
of life the navy, fashionable society, politics, fox-hunting 
only one author of the early thirties concerned himself with 
average middle-class conditions. This was Theodore Hook, 
who, in the midst of journalism and debt and alcoholism and an 
endless round of noblemen's parties, ground out The Parson's 
Daughter (1833), Gilbert Gurney (1836), and Jack Brag (1837). 
There is something irredeemably vulgar in his buffoonery, his 
sarcastic sneers at human follies and stupidities, his exaggerated 
type-characters; but there is also something uncomfortably 
realistic in his detailed picture of the narrow mediocrity of 
ordinary experiences that other novelists ignored. Heavy eating 
and drinking, sordid greed for money, petty dishonesty of 
many sorts, hypocritical catering to rank and power these 
are pictured against an accurate topographical background of 
London. Repetitive and nonselective though he was, Hook 
helped to bring fiction to terms with real life. 

With a score of authors producing competent though aestheti 
cally inadequate books, it might seem that any young man with 
a talent for fiction would have no difficulty in recognizing his 
vocation. Yet the master novelist who emerged at this juncture 
blundered into his first book as accidentally as Richardson and 
Fielding had done a century before. 

The early years of Charles Dickens not only provided material 
for much of his writing but also shaped his personality. His 
grandmother, the housekeeper in a nobleman's country man 
sion, was able to provide her son with enough education for a 
minor government clerkship. But John Dickens was too im 
practical and dilatory to rise in the service. When Charles was 
two years old the family moved from his birthplace, Portsea, 
a shabby naval station, to London, and three years later they 
moved again, to Chatham, a shabby dockyard town. As his 
parents made little effort to provide him with schooling, he got 



240 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

most of his elementary education by precocious reading of old 
novels, chiefly Don Quixote, Gil Bias, Tom Jones, and the 
works of Smollett. When he was ten, he and his five brothers 
and sisters were taken to London, where they lived in anxious 
poverty. The repeated removals must have already given the 
little boy a sense of insecurity, and before long John Dickens was 
sent to prison for debt. As was customary, his wife and younger 
children lived with him in the Marshalsea, but the twelve-year- 
old Charles was considered old enough to occupy lodgings 
alone and to earn money by working in a warehouse, where 
he glued labels on bottles of shoe polish. After a few months 
John Dickens inherited some money at his mother's death, and 
was released from prison; but Charles was left at his labor for 
another month or more before being sent to a cheap school, 
where he remained until his fifteenth birthday. 

With only this sketchy education he became an office boy in 
a legal firm, supposedly the first step toward eventual qualifica 
tion as an attorney. His years in the gloomy precincts of 
the London law courts taught him the stark facts about crime 
and increased the contempt for the machinery of justice that 
had already been implanted in him by the illogical law that kept 
a debtor in prison until he somehow obtained enough money 
to satisfy his creditors. 

John Dickens, meanwhile, had retired from government serv 
ice and found employment as a newspaper reporter. In the 
hope of qualifying for this more interesting career, his son 
taught himself shorthand and supported himself for three years 
as a court stenographer. During this time he fell in love with 
a pretty coquette, but she and her family rejected him as socially 
unacceptable. For a while he was eager to go on the stage, 
and took lessons in acting; but no manager hired him, and at 
the age of twenty he became political reporter for a newspaper. 

Circumstances had admirably prepared him to be a novelist. 
He had learned about poverty and hard work through participa 
tion, in the early years when his sensitive and imaginative 
temperament registered every impression indelibly. He had 
acquired a law clerk's disrespectful familiarity with official 
processes and a reporter's keen eye and ear for significant 
details. His practice in acting gave him a sense of dialogue 
and a realization that every scene needs to be clearly visualized. 



Humor and Melodrama 241 

Negatively, too, his preparation had been helpful, for his inter 
mittent education had not encumbered him with traditional 
literary formalities. Instead, at an early age he had steeped 
himself in some of the best fiction ever written, so that the 
great novelists were his direct models. 

Even with this background, however, to say nothing of his 
determination to earn money with his pen, he did not think of 
undertaking to write a novel. His contact with fiction came as 
a by-product of his reporting, when he began to write brief 
narrative and descriptive sketches for his newspaper and for 
popular magazines, using the pen name "Boz." Some of these 
were short stories, but most were studies of the odd characters 
he observed in his ramblings through London byways, and 
word-pictures of taverns, shops, playhouses, police courts, and 
other city scenes. Their nearest literary antecedents were not 
in fiction but in the essays of Lamb and Leigh Hunt. In 1836 
they were reissued in book form as Sketches by Eoz. Lamb 
having recently died, Boz seemed to be Elia's natural successor 
as the whimsical essayist of the metropolis. 

At this juncture a popular humorous artist, Robert Seymour, 
conceived the idea of an illustrated serial in monthly parts, in 
the style of Tom and Jerry. His plan was to portray a "Nimrod 
Club" in which town-dwellers would meet with ludicrous mis 
adventures when they attempted shooting, fishing, and other 
sports. He sold his idea to an enterprising new publishing firm, 
Chapman & Hall. Merely secondary in the scheme was to be the 
letterpress narrating the events; and after several professional 
authors, including Hook, had rejected the contract, it was offered 
to the unknown Boz, who accepted with alacrity. Barely 
twenty-four, and on the verge of getting married, he found 
that the moderate payment would mean a fifty per cent increase 
in his income. With youthful bumptiousness, however, he 
insisted on modifying Seymour's plan and allowing himself 
freedom to avoid monotony by ranging over everything he 
considered comic in contemporary life. Seymour grudgingly 
consented, and the first number of The Posthumous Papers of 
the Pickwick Club came out on March 31, 1836. 

The uneasy division of creative responsibility lasted only 
through the second number, at which point the moody Seymour 
committed suicide. Unwilling to give up the project, the 



242 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

publishers searched for a substitute illustrator, but no established 
artist would assume the task, and so they had to be content 
with a twenty-year-old youth, recently out of art school, Hablot 
Knight Browne. From that moment Dickens was in full control. 

Begun so casually, the opening chapters were awkward and 
uncertain. The word "Papers" in the title indicated no plan for 
a continuous plot. The satire on amateur scientists and on 
parliamentary oratory was feeble enough, and Mr. Pickwick 
and his friends were no more than type-caricatures of a kind 
that Hook and other authors could produce at will. Success 
was so doubtful that Dicken's rate of pay was reduced by 
almost one-third. But in the fourth number Sam Weller, the 
impudent cockney handyman, caught the public fancy, and the 
circulation took a gigantic leap. 

The miraculous discovery had occurred, as so often before: 
the author found himself developing characters that breathed 
the breath of life and weaving them into a pattern that had 
depth and meaning. His material was not particularly original. 
The basic scheme is like that of Surtees' serial, though Mr. 
Pickwick is more genteel and kindly than the assertive Jorrocks. 
The background of stagecoaches, inns, and country farmhouses 
also resembled that of Surtees. The motley crew of rascally 
lawyers, venal editors, stupid magistrates, irascible militia 
officers, et al. had appeared in comic fiction from Smollett to 
Hook. But Dickens's treatment is warmer and more tolerant. 
Even the most minor characters, sketched in a few sentences, 
take on individuality. The author describes them with such 
irrepressible gusto that the reader feels affection for them even 
while laughing at them. The shallow facetiousness of the open 
ing chapters mellowed into a flexible comic style that moves 
with tireless vitality. 

Since each monthly part went to press as soon as it was 
written, the author could not go back and revise the early 
chapters to conform with later developments. But perhaps this 
is just as well, for the reader undergoes a process of deepening 
comprehension; characters who were first observed merely 
through their physical features and their external mannerisms are 
imperceptibly transformed into people with a lifelike mixture 
of pathos and absurdity, of generous impulses and foolish mis 
takes. Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller assume the archetypal 



Humor and Melodrama 243 

roles of Don Quixote and Sancho, the eternal trustful idealist 
and the eternal disillusioned realist, journeying unscathed through 
pitfalls of knavery and vice. Pickwick's three comrades (mystic 
number) cease to be merely an incompetent braggart, a posturing 
poet, and a flirtatious old bachelor, and become gentlemen of 
fidelity and dignity. The story is no longer a reporter's panorama 
of contemporary life in its infinite variety, but an apologue of 
the discovery of evil by a man who has innocently believed 
that human beings are innately good and that virtue prevails. Mr. 
Pickwick is a belated specimen of the eighteenth-century "man 
of feeling." 

Having endowed his characters with life, Dickens became 
aware that he was in the midst of writing a novel, and therefore 
that he needed some sort of unifying plot. The earlier episodes 
had to remain as isolated units, but from the time of Mr, Pickwick's 
entanglement with Mrs. Bardell there is preparation for a major 
climax; and alongside it the author introduced secondary threads 
with conventional love affairs for Winkle and Snodgrass and even 
for Sam Weller. 

One other element that filtered gradually in was social criti 
cism. In the Rev. Mr. Stiggins and in the Eatanswill election, 
under the surface of genial ridicule, one can perceive Dickens's 
contempt for evangelical intolerance and for political chicanery. 
And as soon as Mr. Pickwick becomes involved in the lawsuit 
that leads him to the Fleet prison, the author is drawn into a 
crusade against injustice. Mr. Pickwick becomes a veritable 
(though temporary) martyr in the cause of conscience, and the 
picture of the imprisoned debtors is disturbingly grim in the 
midst of so merry a book. 

Long before The Pickwick Papers had completed their eighteen 
installments, the circulation reached 40,000, and it seemed as though 
everyone in England, from street urchins to judges and bishops, 
were quoting phrases from the story. Groups of people too poor 
to pay even the monthly shilling would rent a copy and read it 
aloud. Before he was twenty-five Dickens was being hailed 
as the greatest novelist since Scott. His payment had been re 
peatedly increased, and he was besieged with offers from other 
publishers. While the last numbers were still being written he 
resigned from the newspaper and committed himself to half-a- 
dozen literary ventures. He wrote an operetta and a farce and be- 



244 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

came editor of a new popular magazine, Bentley's Miscellany, in 
which his second novel began to appear serially in February, 1837. 

With this story, Oliver Twist, Dickens tried to demonstrate 
that he was not a man of a single style. Pickwick had been praised 
exclusively for its humor; most of Oliver Twist is harshly seri 
ous. Pickwick had ranged widely over English towns and coun 
tryside; Oliver Twist has its principal setting in the slums of Lon 
don. Pickwick was episodic; Oliver Twist has a carefully planned 
mystery to hold it together. And the social consciousness which 
had been an intrusion in Pickwick is the dominating theme of the 
new book. 

The workhouse scenes in the early chapters, and the later ex 
ploitation of Oliver by a gang of pickpockets, were bound up with 
current controversies over the Poor Laws and the care of aban 
doned children. Dickens's recollections of his months as a child 
laborer gave authenticity to what might otherwise have been senti 
mental propaganda. Similarly, in dealing with the London under 
world Oliver Twist had affinities with the crime stories of Bulwer 
and Ainsworth; but Dickens's first-hand observation as court sten 
ographer and reporter resulted in something quite different. There 
is no glorifying of criminals in the sinister Fagin or the brutal Sikes, 
though even they acquire a degree of human appeal when Dickens 
finally enters their minds to reveal how hallucinations and external 
impressions are mingled under stress of guilty terror. 

For his plot Dickens relied on the overworked theme of the miss 
ing heir; but he handled it with effective suspense and foreshadow 
ing that disguised the implausible coincidences. He conferred 
literary validity upon grisly episodes of violence such as he had 
absorbed from The Terrific Register, a penny paper that he had 
devoured every week as a schoolboy. The conversations are un 
natural because of a pretentious style of speech borrowed from 
the cheap theater, and Oliver's inviolable saintliness is hard to 
credit; nevertheless, in spite of inflated rhetoric, the later scenes, 
culminating in the deaths of Nancy, Sikes, and Fagin, generate 
compelling power. Dickens had discovered that the effect of ter 
ror did not have to depend on remote times and places, as in the 
Gothic tales; it was made all the more gruesome when revealed 
as existing in the reader's own environment. Oliver Twist sur 
vives its handicaps of sentimentality and melodrama because it 
objectivizes a profound emotional state the solitude felt by an 



Humor and Melodrama 245 

individual who has no place within the framework of society. 
The dark cellars and garrets, the tottering tenements and hungry 
river currents, the moments of mob violence, all lend weird vivid 
ness to the theme of the social outcast. 

Magazine serialization caused this novel to be shorter than Pick- 
wick, but for his next story Dickens resumed the larger canvas and 
more relaxed tempo of monthly parts. Its opening portion de 
veloped from the theme of Oliver Twist. Having dealt with the 
plight of unwanted children in workhouses, Dickens turned his 
attention to the cheap boarding schools where bastards and sons 
of broken homes could be left to suffer disease and cruelty. As 
a good reporter, he made a trip to Yorkshire to investigate the 
conditions for himself. 

Nicholas Nickleby differs from both the previous novels in 
several respects. It is his first to have a conventional young hero 
and heroine. Indeed, with his usual prodigality he provides two 
of each, for the separate experiences of Nicholas and his sister, 
with their respective love stories, are carried along side by side. 
Both Pickwick and Oliver Twist had departed from this stereo 
type of the novel by keeping the young lovers in the background 
while the central personage was, in one, a fat old retired business 
man, and, in the other, a homeless little boy. Nicholas and his sis 
ter are inevitably colorless, being normal, well-intentioned young 
people; and because they have as little knowledge of the world 
as either Samuel Pickwick or Oliver Twist, they provide the same 
contrast between the pure in heart and the menacing evil around 
them, while of course the reader has the comfortable certainty 
that innocence will triumph. 

The mood of the book strikes an average between the extremes 
represented by the earlier ones. The geographical settings are al 
most as diversified as in The Pickwick Papers. The humor is rich 
and hearty, but not so persistently farcical as in Pickwick; the 
pathos is sometimes genuinely moving, but never so gloomy and 
terrifying as in Oliver Twist. After Nicholas breaks away from 
his teaching at Dotheboys Hall he joins a traveling theatrical 
company, and here Dickens laughs indulgently at his own thwarted 
ambition to be an actor. Meanwhile, Kate's misadventures as a 
lady's companion and as a milliner's assistant form a pioneer study 
of the problems of a girl trying to earn her living honestly. 

The chief weakness of Nicholas Nickleby is the attempt to 



246 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

portray the upper class. Dickens had not yet seen much of good 
society, and Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick Verisopht 
are not much more than standard stage puppets of the wicked 
baronet and the degenerate aristocrat. Fortunately they play smal 
ler roles than the inexhaustible array of middle- and lower-class 
characters the Mantalinis, Miss La Creevy, the Kenwigs family, 
and dozens of others, including the scatterbrained Mrs. Nickleby, 
a kindly if unfilial portrait of the author's mother. Dickens enjoys 
the talk and the antics of these irrelevant individuals so much more 
than the dastardly intrigues of his villains that he often lets the 
complicated and implausible plot fade almost out of sight. 

By this time he had perfected his individual style, which no 
other novelist ever rivaled. Often condemned as rhetorical or gro 
tesque, it maintains a lurid vividness, chiefly through perpetual em 
broidery of simile and metaphor, including a trick of describing 
inanimate objects in terms of living creatures. In addition to this 
power of imaginative projection into every scene, his sheer exu 
berance of creative power, his undisciplined mixture of farce, melo 
drama, picaresque adventure, and trite moralizing, his mingling of 
stock types with sharply drawn individuals, are seen in Nicholas 
Nickleby in fullest efflorescence; and while these traits leave it 
open to critical cavil they make it irresistibly readable. But 
Dickens was determined not to settle down to a formula, no mat 
ter how successful. He was eager to try the experiment of a 
weekly periodical selling at threepence instead of a serial in monthly 
parts at a shilling. He named it Master Himtphrey^s Clock and in 
tended it to be a melange of short stories, essays, and so forth, after 
the model of The Spectator. For the introductory framework he 
injudiciously revived Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller, in conversa 
tion with an old London eccentric who collects miscellaneous man 
uscripts in his clock-case. The first one was to be a short story en 
titled The Old Curiosity Shop; but as soon as it started it began to 
take hold of Dickens's imagination. Besides, he found that sales 
dropped off as soon as the public discovered that this was not an 
other novel. 

He therefore abandoned his original scheme and let The Old 
Curiosity Shop develop as it would. Hence, when reprinted in 
volume form, without the prefatory sketch, it begins with Master 
Humphrey as an unidentified narrator who soon drops out of the 
story. The complete novel never acquired much plot structure, and 



Humor and Melodrama 247 

the brevity of weekly installments made the episodes even more 
scrappy than usual. Nor did it contain any specific attack on social 
abuses. Like Oliver Twist it has a child as the central figure in 
this case Little Nell, a young girl so virtuous and so responsible that 
modern readers find her incredible. The emotional aura surround 
ing her was transferred from the excessive love that Dickens had 
felt for his girlish sister-in-law, who had recently died in his arms 
at the age of seventeen. This lack of objectivity was responsible 
also for the mawkish sentimentality that affects the language when 
ever Nell appears, especially in her death scene, where the sen 
tences lapse into meter. 

For these reasons The Old Curiosity Shop is sometimes termed 
Dickens's worst novel. And yet it has its own sort of imaginative 
power. Its realism is not that of literal fact but of poetic in 
sight. The wanderings of Nell and her senile grandfather across 
England give the picaresque technique a new quality, so that the 
story becomes a sort of allegory, a Pilgrims Progress, the fullest 
expression of Dickens's recurrent theme of innocence surviving 
amid the hideousness of greed and lust. If Nell is represented as a 
saint, she has her antithesis in the dwarf Quilp, who is positively 
a devil, grotesque but all the more horrifying because of being 
half comic, with Sampson and Sally Brass as his auxiliary demons. 
The charm of the book resides in a sort of idyllic quality, arising 
not so much from the preponderance of rural scenes as from its 
presentation of the patient heroism and kindliness of the poor, as 
represented in the Nubbins family, in the irrepressible Dick Swivel- 
ler, and in the illiterate little drudge he befriends. 

Though the general title of Master Humphrey's Clock had lost 
its significance, Dickens retained it for his next novel, Earnaby 
Rudge, which was his first venture into historical fiction. He went 
back to the Gordon Riots of 1780, an anti-Catholic outbreak in 
London, and produced a story that came closer than before to 
the Gothic weirdness of Ainsworth's books. The plot, as usual, 
is the melodramatic one of unidentified parentage, and once more 
the central character is not a handsome young hero: Dickens 
went to a dangerous extreme in focusing the story upon a lad 
who is mentally deranged. Barnaby is a fantastic, pathetic creature, 
not unlike Madge Wildfire in Scott's Heart of Midlothian, which 
also dealt with urban riots and an attack on a jail. The whole 
mingling of comic realism and romantic mystery, in fact, is rem- 



248 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

iniscent of Scott. One of the book's most popular features was 
Dolly Varden, who can scarcely be called the heroine, as she 
is so selfish a coquette, but who is a welcome change from the 
meek heroines of Dickens's previous novels. 

England at that time was undergoing an acute political crisis, 
the collapse of the Chartist movement having been followed by 
unemployment and strikes. This gave a topical application to the 
portrayal of unrest and mob violence and parliamentary bungling. 
The book shows a transition in Dickens from impulsive assaults on 
individual abuses to anxious assessment of his political philosophy. 

Serial publication of Barnaby Rudge ended in November, 1841. 
For five and a half years Dickens's five long novels had been coming 
out without interruption, sometimes even overlapping. The 
weekly issues of the last two had kept him under excessive tension. 
He therefore took a half year's holiday for a tour of the United 
States, where he was welcomed with enthusiasm and sometimes 
embarrassing curiosity. On his return to England he wrote an 
account of his travels, American Notes,, and then started his sixth 
novel, Martin Chuzzleivit. 

Not only by being published in monthly parts, but also in its 
structure and atmosphere, it resembled Nicholas Nickleby so 
closely that Dickens seemed at last to be running out of new ideas 
and starting to repeat himself. The humorous characters were 
as memorable as ever; but the conventional hero, trying to find 
a career for himself and struggling blindly against mysterious plot 
ting by his own relations, while carrying on an obstacle-strewn 
wooing of a mild young lady, was Nicholas over again. 

The realization of this tendency prompted Dickens midway in 
the book to enliven it and use his own recent observations by send 
ing his hero to America. His impressions of that country had not 
been wholly favorable: as an English radical, he had expected the 
young republic to be an ideal region of liberty and equality, and 
he was disillusioned by finding that these slogans meant liberty to 
be unscrupulous in business and equality of bad manners and ob- 
trusiveness. Personally, too, he was embittered by his failure in 
advocating an international copyright law that would have ensured 
him some profit from the American printing of his books. There 
fore, although he had made warm friends among American authors, 
he felt impelled to depict in extravagant satire the crudities of 
American society and the dishonesty of real-estate projects on the 



Humor and Melodrama 249 

frontier. He was fully as ruthless toward the unsavory features of 
life in his own country; but the American press was outraged, and 
condemned him for ingratitude and malice. 

Artistically the American interlude is questionable in that it 
breaks in upon the continuity of the action and introduces a group 
of characters with no relevance to the rest of the book. Being 
emotionally involved in the situation himself, Dickens was unable 
to see it in proper perspective, and episodes out of his experience as 
a visiting celebrity become absurdly improbable when trans 
ferred without alteration to an unknown young steerage passenger. 
These chapters can be justified, however, as contributing to the 
thematic pattern. The story had been planned as an elaborate study 
of selfishness, and this finds its epitome in the picture of a whole 
society that makes a virtue of the aggressive motives of boastful- 
ness, acquisitiveness, and cut-throat competition. Throughout the 
book the moral theme merges into a more abstract question than 
Dickens perhaps realized. Selfishness cannot be defined without 
consideration of what constitutes the self. Therefore the mystery 
of identity is pervasive. Pecksniff's sleek duplicity, Mrs. Gamp's 
imaginary alternative ego, Jonas Chuzzlewit's secret murderous 
sorties, old Martin's pretense of senility, Montague Tigg's transfor 
mation into the fraudulent company promoter, Tigg Montague 
all exemplify the baffling ambiguity of personality. 

The tone of the book is less buoyant than Dickens's previous 
work. The selfish characters predominate throughout, even Martin 
being headstrong and opinionated until chastened by hard expe 
rience; and the few examples of cheerful unselfishness Tom 
and Ruth Pinch and Mark Tapley are too good to be convinc 
ing. There is a hint of a jeer in the comedy, so that even two of 
Dickens's greatest comic figures, Pecksniff and Mrs. Gamp, are 
drawn with some asperity as embodiments of smug and heart 
less egoism. 

With this book Dickens emerged from his youthful resilience. 
He had been able to produce six novels at top speed, in the midst 
of other activities, because he relied wholly on his fecundity in 
creating characters, his immense knowledge of English life and 
scenery, his hilarious comic sense, and his innate narrative skill. 
These were great gifts, but they could not result in first-rate works 
of art if he were to remain almost oblivious to technical considera 
tions. He was so far superior to the other novelists writing during 



250 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

these eight years that no competition spurred him to self-criticism. 
After he passed the age of thirty, however, his exuberance began 
to flag, and a few rivals appeared in the offing. The result was 
a three years' interruption, during which he was occupied mainly 
with journalism; apart from a book of travels in Italy he produced 
only his short annual Christmas tales, which enhanced his income 
and popularity but which do not belong to a study of the novel. 
Among the new authors who were now enjoying a share of the 
public favor, the most astonishing was a woman old enough to be 
Dickens's mother. Mrs. Frances Trollope was only five years 
younger than Jane Austen, and until she was over fifty she de 
voted herself wholly to an unsuccessful lawyer-husband and a 
family of six children. In a fantastic effort to restore their fortunes, 
the Troll opes in 1827 emigrated to the United States to open a 
department store in the frontier town of Cincinnati. After four 
years of futile effort they returned to England, penniless and disil 
lusioned; and Mrs. Trollope set out to earn a living by her pen. Her 
first book, The Domestic Manners of the Americans, was widely 
read for its outspoken condemnation of the uncouth mores of the 
new world. Three mediocre novels followed, one being the in 
evitable historical romance. In her fourth novel, Jonathan Jeffer- 
son Whitlaw, she began to find her aptitude for social controversy 
by launching an attack on Negro slavery in America. She was a 
woman of unbridled prejudices, and a long-standing feud with 
the clergyman of her parish inspired her next book, The Vicar 
of Wrexhill (1837), a ferocious satire upon the Evangelical party 
in the Church of England. In the vicar she portrays a licentious 
hypocrite even more contemptible than Stiggins in Pickwick, 
which was appearing at the same time. Encouraged by the 
angry arguments that the book provoked, she continued her ridi 
culing of middle-class vulgarity in The Widow Earnaby (1839) 
and its sequel, The Widow Married (1840). In the latter year she 
also brought out a powerful study of child labor in Michael Arm 
strong, the Factory Boy, one of the first books to face the ugly 
facts about industrialism. Lord Ashley was introducing legisla 
tion for shortening the working hours of children, and Mrs. Trol 
lope visited Manchester to observe the factory conditions for her 
self. In Jessie Phillips (1843) she was equally outspoken about the 
evils of the Poor Laws. Mrs. Trollope never learned how to man 
age a plot effectively, or even how to control her syntax; but 



Humor and Melodrama 251 

she had a fund of sarcastic humor and a sharp eye for human 
foibles. The sheer force of her personality galvanized her novels 
into life, and she produced a total of thirty-four before she died 
aged eighty-three. 

While she was paralleling Dickens with sensational stories un 
covering social abuses, other writers were following the example 
of his comic technique. When the reprinting of Jorrocks's 
Jaunts and Jollities convinced Surtees that he had delighted the 
public, he kept Jorrocks alive in two full-scale novels. Handley 
Cross appeared in his magazine in 1838-39, and was brought out in 
three volumes in 1843. Like Mr. Pickwick, Jorrocks underwent a 
transformation, ceasing to be an object of ridicule and becoming 
shrewd and independent, though still gloriously vulgar. There is a 
good deal of satire on the incompetence and fraud of legal practice, 
also reminiscent of Pickwick. The beginning seemed to promise 
a study of the social changes in a town as the result of industrializa 
tion; and Jorrocks might have been analyzed as a specimen of the 
current phenomenon, the rise of the middle class in the social 
scale. But Surtees was not burdened with much social conscious 
ness: the joys of hunting soon dominated the action, and in later 
editions the author inserted additional episodes with little relevance 
to the main plot. 

Hillingdon Hall (1845) completes the metamorphosis of Jor 
rocks, who buys a country estate, becomes a Justice of the Peace, 
and is elected to Parliament. These events were based on recent 
experiences of the author's, and he even succumbed to the pres 
sure of current controversies to the extent of including attacks on 
the Anti-Corn-Law League. It was not these inklings of political 
thought, however, but the breakneck adventures and blunt satire 
in Surtees' first three works of fiction that installed him as the 
favorite novelist of the country squires. 

In much the same way Charles Lever started with a magazine 
serial that was little more than a stringing together of farcical 
anecdotes, and soon discovered that it was developing into a novel. 
Lever was an Irishman of English descent, who as a student at 
Trinity College, Dublin, indulged in merry pranks and convivial 
ity. A period of wandering in the American backwoods, and medi 
cal study at Gottingen and Heidelberg, enlarged his stock of good 
stories, and by the time he received his medical degree in Dublin 
he was a popular raconteur. He settled down as a country doc- 



252 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

tor in Northern Ireland and in 1837 began an irregular serial in the 
Dublin University Magazine with the title, The Confessions of 
Harry Lorrequer. The first-personal method added to the live 
liness of the devil-may-care comedy, and by 1839 a Dublin pub 
lisher decided that the story was worth reissuing in monthly parts, 
in a format imitating that of the Pickwick Papers. 

Lever's subject matter was the improvident, sport-loving Anglo- 
Irish landowning gentry, the same that had been depicted by Maria 
Edgeworth; but in place of her prim irony and moral disapproval 
he was motivated by unalloyed delight in their dueling and horse- 
racing, their practical jokes and wrong-headed prejudices, their 
loquacity and their reckless flouting of common sense. 

There is a slight military flavor in the story, as the hero is an 
officer, and some of the events occur in garrison life; but during 
most of the book Lorrequer is roaming about Ireland on leave. 
In the course of its serial publication, however, Lever had gone 
to practice medicine in Brussels, where he was surrounded by sur 
vivors of the Napoleonic campaigns; and when he was offered the 
inevitable contract for another novel he decided to deal mainly 
with army life. Charles O'Malley, the Irish Dragoon begins with 
country sports in Galway and high jinks at Trinity College, but 
soon shifts to the Peninsular campaign and proceeds to Waterloo, 
including some vigorous battle scenes that won approval from the 
aged Duke of Wellington himself; but even the perils of war could 
not depress the spirit of reckless courage and exuberant fun, so that 
the book has to be classified less as a historical novel than as another 
Irish comic chronicle. It was so immensely popular that Edgar 
Allan Poe, in an unfavorable review, had to admit that "in this re 
spect it has surpassed even the inimitable compositions of Mr. Dick 
ens." 

Lever's next two novels appeared in their serial form under the 
joint title of Our Mess. The first one, Jack Hint on, the Guardsman 
(1842), is another farrago of harum-scarum exploits in Ireland, 
while the second, Tom Burke of Ours (1843-44) forms a com 
panion piece to Charles O'Malley by showing the French side of 
the great war, in the adventures of an Irish soldier of fortune who 
serves under Napoleon. The latter story came out concurrently 
with another, The Wanderings and Ponderings of Arthur O'Leary, 
a mere string of separate episodes mainly based on the author's 
experiences on the Continent and in America. 

By this time Lever had given up his medical career in favor of 



Humor and Melodrama 253 

authorship and had become editor of the Dublin University Maga 
zine. Closer contact with the animosities of Irish politics at the 
height of Daniel O'ConnelTs agitation convinced him that his for 
mer carefree accounts of his native country had shown only one 
side of the picture. Furthermore his fund of funny anecdotes was 
running low. During a tour of the west of Ireland he became more 
familiar with the life of the Celtic poor and the role of the 
Catholic parish priests. Accordingly his next novel, The O^Dono- 
hue (1845), was a new departure, not only in its coherence of 
plot but in its somber tone. Like Lady Morgan's novels, it dealt 
with an old native aristocrat in his crumbling castle, and there 
was insight in the analysis of the antipathies leading up to the Irish 
uprising of 1798. 

Lever here moved closer to the type of fiction that was being 
written by William Carleton, then at the height of his career. His 
first full-length novel, Fardarougha the Miser, serialized in the Dub 
lin University Magazine simultaneously with Harry Lorrequer, is 
a morbid psychopathic study against a background of peasant pov 
erty. In spite of the implausibility of Carleton's melodramatic plots, 
he succeeded in conveying powerful impressions of hardship and 
oppression. Valentine McClutchy, the Irish Land Agent (1845) 
goes far beyond Miss Edgeworth in censuring the absentee land 
lords and the avarice of their local representatives, as exemplified 
in a highly emotional scene of the eviction of tenants. In The 
Black Prophet, a Tale of the Irish Famine (1846) he deals grue- 
somely with the typhus epidemic and starvation of 1817, with the 
ulterior purpose of rousing the English government to undertake 
relief measures for the similar crisis prevailing when the book w T as 
written. The Emigrants of Ahadarra (1847) gives a poignant pic 
ture of the exodus that resulted from extortionate rents. 

Carleton was not a religious or patriotic fanatic, but was search 
ing urgently for a solution to the woes of his country. This led 
him to changes of allegiance; he early left the Roman Catholic 
faith and wrote for Protestant papers, but later counseled tolerance 
for the Catholics. Nor was he blind to the defects of his own peo 
ple. During those angry years of turmoil his stories overstepped the 
restraints of fictional art in their savage condemnation of the na 
tional curses of dirtiness, laziness, and drink, and in their enmity 
toward the terroristic secret societies of both factions. Thus he 
incurred disfavor from all sides. 

Similarly, in 1845 Lever came to the decision that a moderate, 



254 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

tolerant man could achieve nothing among the embittered extrem 
ists in Dublin. He resigned from his editorship and took his family 
to the Continent, where he became a well-known figure in the 
expatriate society of Florence and later received an appoint 
ment in the consular service. His next novel, The Knight of 
Gioynne (1846-47), was more deeply pondered than any of his 
previous books. In it he studied the political conflict over the un 
ion of England and Ireland in 1801, intending to convey implica 
tions about the current difficulties between the two countries. For 
the first time he planned the plot in advance so that it developed 
logically. He drew the characters with greater subtlety and kept 
the humor under restraint. This refusal to continue repeating the 
kind of fiction that had made him famous indicates that Lever had 
the makings of a major novelist in him; but his spendthrift nature, 
his convivial habits, and his expensive family kept him writing des 
perately against time, never allowing him opportunity to organize 
or polish his material. 

Captain Marryat, by contrast, did not succeed in making the 
change to a more mature outlook. There had been an adolescent 
quality even in his best books, and after 1840 his only significant 
stories Masterman Ready, The Settlers in Canada, and The Chil 
dren of the New Forest were frankly intended for juvenile 
readers. 

Ainsworth also settled into a routine, though it was not so nai've as 
Marryat's. Borrowing from Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris the use 
of a historic building as the unifying device, he wrote The Tower 
of London in 1840, and followed it in rapid succession with Guy 
Fawkes, Old St. Paul's, Windsor Castle, St. James's, and The Lan 
cashire Witches. His use of English local color gave his novels 
a certain solidity in contrast with those of his rival, G.P.R. James, 
who remained faithful to foreign settings; but Ainsworth's Gothic 
melodrama seemed more and more outmoded when other novel 
ists were coming closer to the actualities of life. 

Bulwer, on the other hand, maintained an illusion of originality 
by rotating three or four types. Night and Morning (1841) is a 
melodrama of the most sensational description, full of unbelievable 
coincidences and missing documents, well seasoned with violence 
and crime. Immediately after this he turned to the Rosicrucian ro 
mance and the theme of the Wandering Jew, even though earlier 
writers from Godwin to Croly had exploited these materials so 



Humor and Melodrama, 255 

relentlessly that no vitality might be expected to survive. Bulwer 
was fascinated by the occult, and had experimented with astrology, 
clairvoyance, necromancy, and other esoteric arts. He had already 
revealed traces of this interest in Godolphin and Ernest Mai- 
travers; and now Zanoni, which he considered to be his masterpiece, 
gave a peculiar sense of conviction to the story of a man who 
conquers death on the condition of relinquishing all human sym 
pathy, and who after five thousand years breaks the compact by 
saving a beautiful girl during the Reign of Terror, which was be 
ginning to replace the Spanish Inquisition as the most dependable 
historical stimulus for curdling the reader's blood. In contrast 
with this excursion into the supernatural, Bulwer's next book, 
The Last of the Barons (1843), was a sound and scholarly historical 
novel. In this year, upon inheriting his mother's ancestral estate, 
he added "Lytton" to the end of his name. 

At this juncture Benjamin Disraeli reappeared as a novelist. Dur 
ing his seven years of concentration upon politics he had more than 
fulfilled the program set forth in Vivian Grey, for the fictitious 
young politician had failed in his scheme for starting a new faction 
to seize control of one of the old parties, whereas in his actual 
career Disraeli was now the acknowledged leader of the "Young 
England" bloc which was challenging Sir Robert Peel's leadership 
of the Tories. Peel had been catering to the new capitalistic class 
that emerged from the Industrial Revolution and gained influence 
through the first Reform Bill. Disraeli's platform emphasized that 
the Crown, the Established Church, and the hereditary landowners 
ought to protect the national welfare by preventing the factory 
owners from exploiting the urban workers. As the most effective 
way to put his policies before the public Disraeli decided to em 
body them in a series of three novels. 

The first one, Coningsby, or The Ne<w Generation, came out 
in 1844. As in his earlier books, many of the characters were drawn 
from living originals, but the purpose was no longer satire or gossip, 
but was analysis of political forces. The real plot of the story is 
the course of English administration in the twelve years since the 
Reform Bill, with prolonged conversations devoted to the theories 
and issues involved. The basic social philosophy is akin to Car- 
lyle's, in its contempt for utilitarian economics, its insistence upon 
leadership by great men, and its faith in the priority of emotion 
over reason as expressed in the slogan that "man was made to adore 



256 The English Novel (1830-1845) 

and to obey." The author's spokesman is Sidonia, a Jewish multi 
millionaire of mysterious antecedents, who combines high-minded 
idealism with cynical intellectual isolation from human sympathies. 

The second book of the trilogy, Sybil, or The Two Nations, 
comes to grips with the evils of the new industrialism. Disraeli 
gives first-hand accounts of the impoverished hand-loom weavers 
and the enslaved miners; he asserts the potential danger in strikes 
and radical trades unions and the futility of the legislative reme 
dies currently being proposed by the Chartists. To symbolize the 
need for cooperation between the highest and lowest classes he 
tells the love story of a young nobleman and the doctrinaire daugh 
ter of a workingman who is a Chartist agitator. Unfortunately the 
author shirks the full impact of his situation by relapsing into the 
old cliche of the missing documents that prove Sybil and her father 
to be aristocrats too. The social theme of the book is that the rich 
and the poor in England constitute "two nations between whom 
there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of 
each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers 
in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets." 

Since legislation and economic theory seemed powerless to find 
a solution, Disraeli in the third book offered religion as the alter 
native. His original plan intended this to deal with the role of 
the Church of England, but actually it took a wider theme. The 
hero of Tancred is another young aristocrat, who is encouraged 
by Sidonia to make a tour of the Holy Land in search of the ori 
gins of his Christian faith. Disraeli's pride in his Jewish forebears 
and his belief that Christianity was the fulfillment of Hebraism 
provide the central theme; but it is overlaid with fantastic adven 
tures and opulent descriptions in which his oriental imagination 
had free rein. The lovely Palestinian heroine is an even more ar 
ticulate theorist than Sybil was, but the mystical message of the 
need for a spiritual revival is not very convincingly conveyed. By 
1847, the year when Tancred was published, Disraeli had suc 
ceeded in dislodging Peel and becoming an influential leader of the 
Tories, with opportunities to put his visions into effect. 

Disraeli's trilogy impressively illustrates the change that had 
occurred in the English novel during the decade after Victoria 
came to the throne. Crucial political and social issues could not be 
ignored in any serious study of contemporary life. The Chartist 
movement, the repeal of the Corn Laws, the nationalist agitation 



Humor and Melodrama 251 

in Ireland, the campaign of Lord Ashley against child labor 
these and kindred problems filled the newspapers and daily con* 
versation, and found their literary utterance through Mrs. Trollope 
with her impulsive crusading, Carleton with his lifelong experience 
of poverty and oppression, Disraeli with his ambitious schemes for 
political leadership, Dickens with his bitter memories of an under 
privileged childhood. The pressure was so irresistible that even 
such jesters as Surtees and Lever began to succumb. 




X 



Social Consciousness 

(1845- - 185-0) 



DURING THE WHOLE TEN YEARS while Dickens and Lever held the 
public captive with a series of diffuse but entertaining novels, an 
other writer was fumbling his way toward mastery of the art of fic 
tion. William Makepeace Thackeray was seven months older than 
Dickens, and his background was utterly different. His ancestors 
for several generations had been civil and military officials in India; 
when he was four years old his father died, leaving him well pro 
vided for, and a year later he was sent from Calcutta, his birthplace, 
to be educated in England. Awkward and shortsighted, he was 
unhappy in his preparatory schools and felt miserably isolated. His 
nose was broken when he was ten, rendering his face irresistibly 
comic. By the time he entered Charterhouse School he had learned 
to mask his sensitiveness with a sarcastic manner, and he became 
popular through his ability to tell amusing stories and to draw 
absurd sketches; but the brutality of school life left him prejudiced 
against stupidity and unkindness. At Cambridge University he was 
an indolent student, more interested in wine parties and card-play 
ing than in scholarship, and he left without taking a degree. Visits 

258 



Social Consciousness 259 

to Paris and a winter in Germany made him at home in cosmo 
politan society, and a dilatory interval as a law student was re 
linquished as soon as he became twenty-one and gained control 
of his finances. 

Though he had incurred heavy gambling debts at college, he 
felt no doubt as to the adequacy of his income; his devoted 
mother and stepfather, now settled in England, encouraged the as 
sumption that he was a young gentleman of leisure who could in 
dulge his w r hims at will. He sank some of his inheritance in a 
weekly paper, which soon collapsed. Meanwhile his facility in cari 
caturing led him to become an art student in Paris, where at 
twenty-five he married a pretty, penniless girl with a mild dis 
position. Within a year the ineptness of his stepfather's invest 
ments resulted in loss of the family resources, and Thackeray 
faced the necessity of earning a living. 

He made a few efforts to find employment as an illustrator of 
books, including an application to provide the drawings for The 
Pickwick Papers after the suicide of Seymour; but his amateurish 
sketches could not compete with the work of professionals. As he 
had dabbled in journalism ever since his school days, he turned to 
authorship as a last resort. For him, as for Dickens, the expansion 
of newspapers and magazines provided a varied market for his writ 
ings. 

The events of his life all combined to equip him with the disil 
lusioned outlook of a social satirist. Early separation from his 
home and even from his native country left a sense of rootlessness. 
In spite of his mother's lavish affection he never regained the con 
fidence in her that was lost through her remarriage and her ab 
sence during his childhood, though his attitude toward her and 
his stepfather was never so exasperated as was that of Dickens to 
ward his parents. His financial mishaps proved his incompatibility 
with the methods and standards of the dominant world of business. 
Aware that he was likely to be laughed at for his grotesque ap 
pearance, since exceptional height made him conspicuous, he had 
formed the defensive habit of ridiculing himself and everyone else. 
When he had to adjust himself to the stresses of economic inse 
curity he was further hurt by discovering that most of his pros 
perous and fashionable acquaintances ignored him as soon as he 
became poor. Being innately warm-hearted, he came to cherish 
inordinately the few friends who remained sympathetic and loyal, 



260 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

and to despise the selfishness and hypocrisy that he saw in most 
other people. Thus he combined an inside knowledge of the 
mores of the upper middle class and the aristocracy with an emo 
tional alienation from them. 

Elements of fiction first entered Thackeray's writing as devices 
for lending savor to the ordinarily dull routine of journalism. 
In order to ridicule a stupid book by a social climber, he reviewed 
it in the disguise of a semi-literate footman, James Yellowplush, 
whose phonetic spelling reproduced the oddities of cockney 
speech. This comic figure reappeared in subsequent contributions 
to Eraser's Magazine, acquiring fuller traits of character and en 
vironment; and two or three of the sketches, such as "Dimond Cut 
Dimond," emerge as full-fledged short stories. It is enlightening 
to compare this conceited, cynical footman with Sam Weller, an 
other cockney-speaking manservant, who was flourishing in The 
Pickwick Papers during the same months. 

Having discovered that a fictitious spokesman helped him to 
invent lively material from month to month, Thackeray created 
others. For the New Monthly he wrote as Major Goliah Gahagan, 
a braggart narrating his heroic exploits in the Indian army; in 
Fraser's his art criticisms were attributed to Michael Angelo Tit- 
marsh, a cocksure little connoisseur. These various impersonations, 
while reminiscent of the Isaac Bickerstaff and Mr. Spectator of 
Steele and Addison, were consistent with the current vogue of 
pseudonymous editors and fictitious contributors, and so the read 
ing public had no suspicion that Yellowplush, Gahagan, and Tit- 
marsh were false faces of one man. 

Unlike Dickens, who quickly discarded the pen name of "Boz," 
Thackeray had no wish for personal recognition. His sense of 
caste made him dimly ashamed of earning his living as a profes 
sional writer, especially in the rough-and-tumble arena of journal 
ism. Yet at the same time an inversion of this feeling endowed him 
with a realistic pride in his new vocation, so that he despised the 
pretensions of authors like Bulwer and Disraeli, who put on airs 
of superiority. As a book reviewer, Thackeray had to plow 
through the current output of novels, many of which nauseated 
him with their turgid style and their falsification of experience. 
Even Dickens seemed to him vulgarly ostentatious and melodra 
matic. Thackeray was obsessed with the journalist's duty of re 
porting unvarnished facts. 



Social Consciousness 261 

This revulsion against what he considered shoddy in fiction drove 
him to try to demolish it by parody. His immediate incitement 
came from the vogue of "Newgate Calendar" novels as represented 
by Eugene Aram, Oliver Tivist, and Jack Sheppard. His burlesque, 
entitled Catherine and attributed to "Ikey Solomons, Jr.," came 
out serially in Fr user's during 1839. In order to strip off the glamour 
that Bulwer and Ainsworth had conferred upon robbers and mur 
derers, Thackeray set out to depict crime with disgusting frank 
ness, and so he chose the career of a brutal murderess who had been 
contemporary with Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard. Like Fielding with 
Joseph Andrews, however, the author found that the characters 
began to win his sympathy as he developed them, so that he could 
not sustain his intention of making them totally vile. Caught in 
this dilemma, he ended the undertaking after six installments, and 
never reprinted it. 

Burdened with miscellaneous writing travel sketches, book re 
views, occasional short stories he started another serial in 
Eraser's in 1840, A Shabby Genteel Story, dealing with the sordid 
affairs of the lower middle class with almost the coarseness of 
Theodore Hook. There was some good farcical characterization, 
but the structure was defective, probably because the author's per 
sonal troubles were mounting to a crisis. A second daughter had 
died in infancy, and after the birth of a third child Mrs. Thackeray 
lost her mind. The serial story was abruptly terminated at the 
ninth chapter, the household was broken up, and after months 
of agonizing confusion Thackeray adjusted himself to a solitary 
life in London clubs and taverns. 

The psychological effect of the disaster can be seen in his next 
effort at an extended piece of fiction, The History of Samuel Tit- 
marsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond, which included char 
acters and episodes based on his own experiences and in which 
his sardonic swagger and scorn were tempered with a more ma 
ture sympathy for human weakness. Again serialized in Eraser's, 
this melancholy story had little appeal to readers, and the author 
did not develop it to the dimensions of a novel; but its increased 
clarity of characterization and firmness of construction indicated 
that he was learning how to write fiction. 

He found what seemed to be a more suitable medium for his 
talent when he was appointed to the staff of Punch, the comic 
weekly that had recently been established. For it he could easily 



262 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

toss off short satirical essays, singly and in series. He also undertook 
to write two books of travel, one on Ireland and the other on the 
Near East. In 1844, however, he made another attempt at a sus 
tained narrative. As in his three previous ones, the central char 
acter of Barry Lyndon is a scoundrel; but this time Thackeray 
undertook a technical tour de -force by making the scoundrel tell 
his own story. Undoubtedly it was modeled upon Fielding's 
Jonathan Wild, and it survives the test of comparison with that 
minor masterpiece. Sustained irony results from the complacency 
with which the narrator, an eighteenth-century Irish adventurer, 
boasts about his shameful actions, and from the contempt that he 
heaps on other characters whom the reader soon admires. By this 
device the book is transformed from a picaresque adventure story 
into a subtle study of character, with an underlying moral purpose 
of displaying worldly standards of success and honor as inherently 
vicious. Thackeray did some serious historical research for it, and 
found the labor highly distasteful. Yet once again the readers of 
Eraser's Magazine did not enjoy the serial; once again the author 
cut it short; and once again he found no publisher to bring it out 
as a volume. 

He had used a more absurd pseudonym than usual, "George 
Savage Fitzboodle," and his identity was still unknown to the pub 
lic. During the next three years two of his contributions to Punch 
were significant in the final shaping of him to be a novelist. One 
was The Snobs of England, a long series of satirical portraits of 
types, in the tradition of the Theophrastian characters. Though this 
tended to become monotonous because of the rigid formula, it 
established Thackeray for the first time as a general satirist of con 
temporary society. Glimpses of personality and fragmentary epi 
sodes were couched in an urbane, conversational style that suited 
the theme. The word "snob" had been undergraduate slang for 
townspeople when Thackeray was at Cambridge, and his series 
put it into general circulation. The phenomenon of bourgeois so 
cial pretension had become so predominant in early- Victorian 
England that an epithet for it was needed, and Thackeray both an 
alyzed and named it for his generation. 

His other series was Mr. Punch's Prize Novelists, a group of paro 
dies of popular authors G. P. R. James, Lever, Disraeli, Mrs. 
Gore. The mischievous aptness of his exaggerations was a genuine 
form of criticism, conveying not only the deficiencies of the novel 



Social Consciousness 263 

as then practiced but also by implication what Thackeray thought 
it ought to be. When he was writing these parodies in the early 
months of 1847 he had already begun to publish in monthly parts 
his own first ambitious work of fiction. 

His ten years of trial-and-error had taught him much about the 
writing of novels. Unlike any other novelist of the time, he had 
formulated critical theories on the subject. His book reviews, 
his apparently irresponsible parodies, his handling of narrative and 
dialogue in essays and travel sketches were as much a part of his 
preparation as were his unsuccessful works of fiction. Equally im 
portant was his sense of identification with the eighteenth cen 
tury, and with Fielding in particular. He felt pride in the achieve 
ments of his ancestors; he had attended a school and a college where 
celebrities of the previous century had preceded him; his favorite 
authors included Addison and Steele and Goldsmith. He resembled 
Fielding in being an impoverished gentleman and convivial London 
clubman who had been trained in the law before becoming a jour 
nalist. Fielding's suave, intimate style, humane sympathies, and dis 
illusioned irony were congenial to him. And as a modern Fielding 
upholding the elegance and dignity of authorship, he saw the mod 
ern equivalent of Richardson in Dickens, the popular exponent 
of bourgeois sentiment. 

He began his first real novel, therefore, with a clear sense of 
what he wanted to avoid, though he was not confident as to 
what he could achieve. After several false starts he convinced 
the firm of Bradbury & Evans that the book might be profitable 
in monthly parts, though as yet only the first few chapters were 
written; and the first number appeared on January 1, 1847. The 
title, Vanity Fair, borrowed from The Pilgrim's Progress, sug 
gested that the story was to be an indictment of worldliness; 
and the subtitle, "Pen and Pencil Sketches of Modern Society," 
announced not only that the author was supplying his own il 
lustrations but also that the whole thing might turn out to be 
a mere series of episodes, an expanded version of his Book of 
Snobs. After a few installments, however, discriminating readers 
realized that a new major talent had emerged, and Thackeray 
knew that he was committed to a novel on the grand scale. 

The implications of the title were maintained by its panoramic 
scope. Departing from the biographical pattern that had pre 
vailed ever since the works of Defoe, Thackeray interwove the 



264 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

careers of several contrasted characters, rather after the model 
of the seventeenth-century romances. His own interest, and that 
of most readers, was primarily engaged with Becky Sharp, an 
anti-heroine whose courage and cleverness compel admiration in 
spite of her unscrupulousness. But her sequence of admirers 
and her involvement with the Sedley, Osborne, and Crawley 
families enable Thackeray to range over a wide area of upper- 
class life, both in England and abroad. He set the time thirty 
years back, amid the tawdry glitter and feeble depravity of the 
Regency, but except for a characteristically oblique glimpse 
of the Battle of Waterloo he paid no attention to historical events. 
Instead, he was concerned with the indefinable conflicts of social 
change: the aristocracy striving blindly to preserve its preroga 
tives and the new business class torn between its desire for ma 
terial advancement and its devotion to puritan morality. Becky 
Sharp, an adventuress without social anchorage, is able to clam 
ber almost to the top in this unstable structure. 

To most readers Thackeray appeared to be a cynic and an 
iconoclast. Rebellious souls hailed him rapturously as an intrepid 
assailant of entrenched traditions. On the other hand, conven 
tional-minded people upbraided him for subverting the neces 
sary principles of social intercourse. They complained that most 
of his clever characters were vicious, most of his virtuous char 
acters were stupid, and the chief exceptions were people like 
Rawdon Crawley and Jos Sedley who were stupid and vicious 
in an equal degree. This effect was heightened by his pose of 
aloofness, as expressed in his favorite metaphor of himself as a 
puppet-master manipulating his manikins. He seemed to take 
heartless joy in human misfortunes. In a perpetual running com 
mentary the author made fun of his readers' prejudices almost 
as freely as he ridiculed the characters in the story. 

A subsequent revulsion of feeling condemned him for dia 
metrically opposite reasons. He came to be scorned as a shal 
low sentimentalist, naively lavishing compassion on commonplace 
beings. He was accused of prudishly evading scenes of sex and 
passion. His interpretative remarks were regarded as an intoler 
able intrusion, destroying any possible illusion of reality. 

A more equitable assessment can allow him credit for solid 
achievements. He created a gallery of lifelike characters, in a 
milieu that seems to be a complete reconstruction of actuality. 



Social Consciousness 265 

From the first chapter the reader enters this world with con 
fidence because it offers the complexity and the leisurely move 
ment of daily experience. On this basis a defense can be found 
for Thackeray's commentary, in that it reinforces the intimacy 
between reader and subject. The commentator is not quite Mr. 
Thackeray, a disparate author; rather he figures as an unnamed 
and unidentified member of the group among whom the action 
occurs, and records the responses of time and class, like a super 
lative gossip. Thackeray had previously invented objective nar 
rators with a distinct though minor connection with the occur 
rences Yellowplush, Titmarsh, Fitzboodle; now he merged 
the onlooker with his own identity to produce a persona with 
whom the reader enjoys identifying himself a sophisticated 
man of the world who is capable of pity and yet not blinded by 
illusions. Like most normal people, he is wary of displaying 
emotion and masks his embarrassment by lapsing into a jest. 
Reader and narrator alike are Vhormne may en sensuel, seeking 
to comprehend the baffling flow of experience all about them. 

The grace of Thackeray's manner, spontaneous as it ap 
peared, implied a cultivated background and a discriminating 
taste. These qualities recommended his novel to people of simi 
lar disposition, for whom no writer of fiction since Fielding 
and Sterne, except Peacock, had catered. But it had its roots 
in other antecedent types of fiction as well. Its satiric picture of 
fashionable life, with identifiable portraits, affiliated it with the 
"silver-fork novels" that Thackeray had ridiculed as mer 
etricious. In some degree it can be related to an earlier genre, 
the picaresque tale, insofar as the reader is induced to feel a 
guilty satisfaction in Becky's triumphs. But Thackeray endowed 
these comparatively naive types with maturity. In spite of oc 
casional inconsistencies of tone, he advanced the novel toward 
both distinction of style and realism of material. 

The realism was largely due to the author's familiarity with 
the world he depicted. Many of the characters were drawn di 
rectly from real people, either public figures like Lord Hert 
ford (Lord Steyne) or members of his own circle like his grand 
mother (Miss Sedley) and a cousin (Jos Sedley). Among the 
principal characters, Amelia Sedley was largely derived from 
his wife, and Captain Dobbin had some resemblance to Thackeray 
himself. Indeed the uncomfortable emotional effect of the story, 



266 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

which gives readers a sense of involvement and yet leaves them 
undecided where their sympathy ought to reside, arose from 
Thackeray's complicated personal connection with his material. 
Toward Amelia he displays a protective affection as toward 
a child, and yet this is intermittently mixed with futile exaspera 
tion at her weakness and stupidity, ending with a downright 
scolding of her for complacent selfishness. Critics have dis 
agreed sharply on this point, some insisting that he suffers from 
inexcusable uncertainty in his presentation of an important ele 
ment in his theme, others arguing that he despises Amelia 
throughout and that his praise of her is wholly sarcastic. With 
out settling the question of its artistic effectiveness, one can 
suggest that at least his attitude is true to human nature, since 
it is an accurate representation of his own contradictory feelings 
toward his ineffectual wife and also toward another woman. 
When he was writing Vanity Fair his emotional conflict had 
come to a crisis because he realized that he was falling in love 
with Jane Brookfield, the wife of one of his closest friends. The 
predicament was unresolvable, for Mrs. Brookfield was loyal to 
her clergyman-husband and Thackeray had no prospect of release 
from his insane wife. Traces of his bafflement crept into the novel, 
with Amelia in this regard serving as surrogate for Mrs. Brook- 
field, devoted to an insensitive husband and silently adored by 
the husband's comrade. The author's immoderate contempt 
for George Osborne and his mounting impatience with Amelia 
can be understood as an unintentional releasing of his personal 
misery. This feeling was probably complicated by a literary 
reminiscence, for Amelia's name suggests a resemblance to the 
heroine of Fielding's third novel, who was also meek under the 
affliction of an unhappy marriage. 

The ambivalence of Thackeray's attitude, however, was not 
confined to his handling of individual characters; it was inherent 
also in his interpretation of the whole social scene. His political 
sympathies were liberal and humanitarian, and like most of the 
Victorian authors he was antagonistic to the smug materialism 
of the bourgeois mentality. Nevertheless, he appreciated the 
comforts of civilized living and the company of cultivated peo 
ple. The lower social strata were almost totally ignored in the 
book. Hence he was widely accused of snobbery, the vice that 
he most often condemned. He attacked no social abuses with 



Social Consciousness 261 

the zeal of Dickens, because he lacked faith in a campaign of 
reform: to him the abuses were inherent in human nature, and 
so he satirized the failings of individuals in all classes. His family 
pride and his love of the eighteenth century rendered him 
nostalgic for the old days of assured distinctions in rank, 
when gracious manners had a chance to flourish; yet, like Scott, 
he was aware that basic changes in the social structure were 
occurring and could not be withstood. Since he proclaimed no 
program and championed no cause, idealistic readers have found 
him deficient in earnestness. He was not egotistic enough to 
think that he knew any solutions to the crucial problems of his 
time. 

His assumptions about his function as a disillusioned onlooker 
rather than as a molder of opinion had their effect also upon 
his technique. When the book was complete he gave it a new 
subtitle, "A Novel Without a Hero," which can be inter 
preted in two senses either that it has only a heroine, Becky 
Sharp, or that it contains no conventionally heroic character. 
This ambiguity is ironic in either sense: if Becky is the "heroine," 
she is the antithesis of all traditional heroic virtue; if the whole 
panorama of society contains no heroic figure, this is proof that 
the idealistic world of the epic poets has given place to drab 
mediocrity. He could have called it with equal truth "a novel 
without a villain." Consequently the story is not constructed 
about a central monumental figure or a simple conflict of good 
against evil, but is fitted together in a series of contrasts and 
parallels that imply the author's concepts. Impersonal social 
trends and caste attitudes are the hero and the villain alike. 

When Vanity Fair began to appear, Dickens had resumed the 
writing of fiction after an interval of more than two years. 
The first installment of his Dombey and Son came out three 
months before the first issue of Thackeray's story, and the two 
ran their monthly course side by side. In some respects it was 
plain that Dickens had moved a long way in the direction of 
what Thackeray was so soon to write. The main characters 
in Dombey and Son are principally of the prosperous class. Al 
though there are several comic characters who rank with Dick- 
ens's best, the comedy is usually less farcical than before, and 
verges upon social satire in such figures as Major Bagstock and 
Mrs. Skewton. There is less melodramatic bombast, too, in spite 



268 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

of the impossible theatrical dialogue in the climactic scene be 
tween Edith Dombey and Carker. The last hours of little Paul 
seem mawkish to modern taste, but less so than the death of 
Little Nell, and the chapter was hailed as a masterpiece of pathos 
by such unimpressionable readers as Lord Jeffrey and Thackeray 
himself. Most significant of all is the fact that the book has a 
firm central theme, which includes both social and psycho 
logical analysis. On the social side, Mr. Dombey is a serious 
study of the wealthy businessman, who had never before 
figured so convincingly in fiction. His power over other peo 
ple's lives and his pride in the integrity of his firm can be paral 
leled at the present day. This connects with the psychological 
validity of the portrait: his commercial success has rendered 
him positive that his opinions are always right, so that his de 
termination to transmit the business to a son leads to the ruin 
of the little boy's health, to an incompatible second marriage, 
and to alienation from his daughter. There are elements of tragic 
dignity in Mr. Dombey's pride and its humiliation. 

A wider significance of the theme is its discrediting of the 
current utilitarian philosophy. Dombey is the natural product 
of a system based on logic and on material gain. His rigorous 
plans for his son's training and his exaltation of economic prin 
ciples above human feelings are consistent with the detailed set 
ting of the new industrial prosperity, in which railways are 
being built in every direction and stock-exchange speculation is 
a principal basis of wealth. Dombey's self-centered concern with 
money-making and the somber respectability of his associates are 
contrasted with the outgiving warmth of the working-class char 
acters. Dickens was beginning to look at the society around him 
with analytical intelligence instead of with emotional impulses. 

The structure of the story, too, shows an abrupt access of 
thoughtfulness, with all the episodes integrated into the central 
theme and neatly balanced to intensify the required effects. For 
the first time, Dickens had prepared an outline of the whole 
story before beginning to write, instead of improvising each in 
stallment at the last moment. Elaborate patterns of recurrent sym 
bols and phrasal echoes can be traced throughout. Dickens was 
becoming conscious of artistic technique as well as gaining aware 
ness of basic social issues. 

While these serial novels of the two veteran journalists, Dickens 



Social Consciousness 269 

and Thackeray, were competing for public preference, an ut 
terly different kind of fiction emerged from a most improbable 
source. In October, 1847, Jane Eyre, by Currer Bell, was pub 
lished in three volumes; and three months later another firm 
brought out two shorter novels jointly Wuthering Heights, by 
Ellis Bell, and Agnes Grey, by Acton Bell. Even the publishers 
did not know that these apparently masculine names concealed 
the identity of three young women in a remote Yorkshire par 
sonage. 

Charlotte Bronte was thirty-one, and her sisters Emily and 
Anne were twenty-nine and twenty-seven. Their experience was 
limited to the bleak northern moors and to a few years as pupils 
and teachers in shabby boarding schools; but they observed their 
restricted environment with poetic intensity and interpreted 
it with concentrated emotion. 

Their father, Patrick Brunty, the son of a poor farming family 
in Northern Ireland, had succeeded in graduating from Cam 
bridge and being ordained in the Church of England. To con 
ceal his humble Irish origin, he changed his name to Bronte, 
taken from the Italian dukedom conferred upon Lord Nelson. 
Shortly after he became curate of Haworth his wife died of 
cancer, leaving him with six children. He sent four of the lit 
tle girls to a cheap boarding school where they were ill-used, 
and the two eldest soon died of tuberculosis. The other two 
were brought back to the rectory, where Anne and their 
brother Branwell had remained; but even there they saw little 
of their egotistical, moody father. Whenever he emerged from 
his study he regaled them with tales of murders and other atroci 
ties, both from Ireland and from their own Yorkshire vicinity. 
Their mother's sister, who kept house for them, tried to incul 
cate the gloomy and emotional theology of Methodist revivalism. 

The children spent most of their time in exploring the moor 
land, reading without supervision, and inventing interminable 
stories, which they transcribed in tiny handwriting in miniature 
books. Driven in upon their own imaginations for entertainment, 
they prolonged these fantasies beyond the normal age of chil 
dish make-believe, and identified themselves passionately with 
the fictitious characters. A complete geography and history 
were invented for Angria, a nation supposedly in West Africa; 
the genealogy and biography of its rulers and generals were 



210 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

elaborately worked out, and actual personages such as the Duke 
of Wellington were reshaped into Byronic heroes and villains. 
When Charlotte, who had been the leader of the project, went 
away to school again at fifteen, Emily refused to collaborate 
with Branwell, and so she and Anne started a new cycle, located 
in a Pacific island named Gondal. A Gothic atmosphere of vio 
lence, terror, and sexual misconduct prevailed in both cycles. 
At her second boarding school Charlotte spent a reasonably 
happy year, before returning to Haworth to instruct the other 
two girls. When she was nineteen she went back to the same 
school as a teacher for a few months, taking Emily with her 
as a pupil, but the latter was so unhappy that she went home, 
and Anne came in her place. Soon afterwards, in spite of their 
sketchy schooling, Charlotte and Anne took positions as govern 
esses; but Emily was unwilling to venture away from Haworth. 
Branwell, though gifted with cleverness and charm, had been 
hopelessly distorted by isolation and lack of discipline; his sis 
ters' earnings were wasted upon his futile studies to become a 
painter, and he drifted into drunkenness and low company. 
Charlotte, though small and drab in appearance, shortsighted and 
painfully shy, had rejected proposals of marriage from two cur 
ates by the time she was twenty-five; she preferred even the dull 
work of a governess to the companionship of an insipid young 
clergyman. Emily was more striking looking, being tall, thin, 
and dark, but she was too silent to make friends and found her 
only pleasure in lonely walks on the moors. Anne was the mildest 
and most melancholy of the three. Charlotte's inconspicuous 
physique masked an inflexible will and a capacity for hard work, 
and she was ambitious to raise the family out of its indigent 
obscurity. Hoping to qualify themselves to open a school of 
their own, she and Emily went to study in Brussels in 1842, but 
after some months Emily again found a pretext for fleeing home 
ward. Charlotte, having formed a strong affection for the head 
mistress's husband, who gave her lessons in French, stayed on at 
the Belgian institution for another year as a student-teacher. 
The sisters never succeeded in enrolling any pupils for their pro 
jected school, but in 1845 a new possibility was opened to them 
when Charlotte discovered that Emily and Anne had been writ 
ing poetry, as she also was doing. They paid for the publication 
of a volume of their verse, but only two copies were sold. 



Social Consciousness 271 

Branwell had already started to write a novel, and in the hope 
of producing something more profitable than the poems, each 
of the girls proceeded to do likewise. 

The books were composed under the most disheartening condi 
tions. Their father was going blind; both Emily and Anne were 
showing consumptive symptoms; and Branwell, after being dis 
missed from more than one employment, was drinking himself 
to death at the village tavern. These circumstances, however, 
merely intensified the morbid influences that had dominated 
their whole lives. The deaths of their mother and sisters, the 
struggle with poverty, the eccentric habits of their father, and 
the lack of normal association with people of their own age 
and interests had all combined to give their imaginations a gloomy 
cast. Hence their novels were a unique mixture of realistic vivid 
ness with the weird and tortured fantasy of their Angrian and 
Gondalian tales, which they had continued to compose until the 
time they started their serious works. The writing of several 
million words in fifteen years had given them an assured nar 
rative style, and their imaginative identification with the heroes 
and heroines of their youthful tales enabled them to feel an equally 
subjective intimacy with the central characters in their novels. 

Charlotte undertook a bold experiment by writing hers from 
a man's first-personal point of view. Entitled The Professor, it 
was based upon her experiences in Brussels. Since leaving the 
Pensionnat Heger she had idealized her former tutor more and 
more, and in candid letters to him she poured out her lone 
liness and frustration until, afraid that his wife might become 
jealous, he asked Charlotte not to address the letters to his resi 
dence. Reversing the nationalities of the two main characters, she 
wrote the novel as an Englishman who teaches in a Brussels 
school and wins the love of a Swiss pupil-teacher. Apart from 
this change, the two are reasonably accurate portraits of M. Heger 
and Charlotte Bronte, and in Mile. Reuter she had her revenge on 
Heger's suspicious wife. To solace her yearning, she ended the 
fictional love story with a happy marriage. The plot lacks com 
plication, perhaps the best part of the book being some astringent 
but irrelevant portraits of teachers and pupils; there is a refresh 
ing lack of sentimentality in the depiction of feminine character, 
and a good deal of common sense in the discussion of educational 
methods. The early chapters give a harsh glimpse of a Yorkshire 
manufacturing town; and the character of Yorke Hunsden, 



272 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

though inadequately developed, is an interesting sketch of a 
radical theorizer. The melodramatic scenes at the beginning are 
unlike the intimate realism of the rest of the book, and for a suffi 
cient reason: they were transferred with little change from 
Angrian stories that Charlotte and Branwell had written years 
before. Once the artificial opening chapters are left behind, 
the book is distinctive for its uncompromising emphasis upon the 
emotional tensions of apparently commonplace people, the un 
spoken interplay between one personality and another. 

The Professor was rejected by several publishers, and at last 
one of them explained that it was deficient in incident, and too 
brief for three-volume publication, but that he would like to see 
another manuscript from the same author. Charlotte hastened to 
finish Jane Eyre, and it won immediate fame. Within a few 
months it went through several editions, arousing controversy 
over its moral implications and widespread curiosity as to the 
author. 

This second novel contained as much personal experience as 
the first, but it was combined now with a plot that possessed 
conflict and suspense, sometimes to the degree of melodrama. 
Elements from the Angrian tales mingled inextricably with the 
impressions of real life. Again the vividness of the story was 
intensified by use of the first-personal point of view; but this 
time the narrator was a young woman and so plausibility was 
better sustained. The penniless governess, plain-looking but proud 
and outspoken, was largely a self-portrait; and even the austere 
moralizing, which intruded strangely amid love scenes, contrib 
uted to the characterization of an independent and intolerant 
young woman. The early episodes, when she is a friendless child 
in a harsh school, are vitalized by Charlotte's hatred of the in 
stitution that she blamed for the deaths of her elder sisters. 
A child's outlook is convincingly conveyed in these scenes. 

Once Jane becomes governess at Thornfield, the figure of 
Rochester steps straight out of Angria, where he had been the 
Byronic Duke of Zamorna. The lonely house, the ferocious 
gentleman, and the mysterious glimpses that are later explained 
as resulting from the incarceration of his insane wife on the top 
floor, all sound like a belated revival of the Gothic tale of terror. 
The horrible death of the maniac in the burning mansion was 
borrowed from a scene in Ivanhoe. Later, the telepathic com- 



Social Consciousness 213 

munication that calls Jane back to Rochester introduces a touch 
of the supernatural or, at any rate, of the extrasensory 
and Charlotte had first used this occurrence in an Angrian story 
when she was fourteen. But somehow in Jane Eyre she makes 
the phantasmagoria believable by her abundant use of familiar 
detail, and especially by Jane's matter-of-fact attitude through 
all her perils. An odd feature of The Professor had been the 
bluntness of speech practiced by most of the characters: not 
only did Crimsworth and Hunsden indicate their friendship by 
exchanging insults, but even the lovers usually conversed in 
brusque terms. This trait, which may be attributable to Yorkshire 
reticence, reappears in the interviews between Jane and Rochester, 
and serves as an antidote to sentimentalism or bombast. 

What chiefly gives the book its power is Charlotte's faculty 
for creating atmosphere. Her practice in poetry had trained her 
to choose the connotative words and similes that evoke sense 
impressions as one reads. Rhythmic structure of sentences also 
contributes to the emotional impact. Many of the original readers 
were so strongly affected that they accepted the story as a 
literal record of experience rather than as a projection of the 
writer's wishes. Hence arose the bewildered protests on moral 
grounds. After Rochester's cynical project of committing biga 
my, his invitation to Jane to become his mistress, and his con 
fession of previous sexual adventures, it was shocking that he 
finally be rewarded with a happy marriage. Though Jane tedi 
ously reiterated strict religious principles, she also uttered her 
passionate love to Rochester without restraint. Even more dis 
turbing was the assumption throughout the book that women 
have a claim to absolute independence, both in earning their 
own living and in displaying their emotions. As Jane is an orphan, 
the problem of a girl's dependence on her parents is not intro 
duced: she is portrayed as fighting a single-handed war for 
recognition and for spiritual equality with men. In the same 
year Tennyson published The Princess and F. D. Maurice an 
nounced the establishing of Queen's College to provide (for the 
first time) higher education for women. These symptoms of a 
new concept of women's rights were profoundly distressing to 
conventional-minded people. To them Jane Eyre was an intoler 
able renegade from all the standards of behavior expected of re 
spectable girls. 



214 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

While Charlotte was thus concerned with one of the major so 
cial issues of the century, her two sisters wrote their novels with 
single-minded concentration upon personal emotions. Both their 
books had been finished before Charlotte started to write Jane 
Eyre, but their publisher was so dilatory that its appearance pre 
ceded theirs. When Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey came 
out, the similarity of the three stories in setting and in the authors' 
pen names indicated some sort of connection and added to the 
general puzzlement. Neither book won anything like the success 
of Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights, in particular, was condemned 
both for brutality of feeling and for incompetence of structure. 
In both respects it was so individual that the better part of a 
century elapsed before it was adequately assessed. 

Emily had already demonstrated her superiority over her sisters 
as a poet. The poems, however, intense though they are, seem 
seldom if ever to have been direct expressions of her own feel 
ings, but to have been created out of the dramatic situations in 
her Gondal stories. All attempts to provide her with a love affair 
have failed. Apparently she found emotional satisfaction, to the 
extent of a sort of mystical rapture, in her solitary walks on the 
moorland, in her affection for animals, and even in her silent com 
petence as a housekeeper. She was so taciturn and self-sufficient 
that even Charlotte did not feel sure she understood Emily's tem 
perament. Emily's Wuthering Heights also is a strangely im 
personal novel, in contrast with the excessive subjectivity of 
Charlotte's Jane Eyre. Though it centers upon an overmastering 
love, it is devoid of sexual passion; the love between Heathcliff 
and Cathy is sometimes almost indistinguishable from hate. Not 
handicapped by any admixture of her own experiences, Emily 
was able to imagine a story that is terrible and beautiful, seem 
ing to be a symbolic embodiment of elemental forces rather 
than a record of normal human behavior. In contrast, too, with 
Charlotte's didacticism, Emily offers no moral judgments, but 
displays the tragic action with fatalistic impassiveness. 

The materials for the story were undoubtedly derived from 
the local tales of hatred and revenge and pathological personali 
ties that both her father and her brother enjoyed collecting 
and recounting. These took on an accretion of passion from the 
unbridled love scenes and ruthless feuds in the Gondal cycle. 
Heathcliff is a more inhuman specimen of Gothic violence than 



Social Consciousness 275 

Rochester; but within the framework of the novel he is more 
believable because the setting and the other characters all sus 
tain the tone. Emily had conversed so little with the country 
people that she had but slight knowledge of their everyday 
lives. The little group of inbred sadists and victims seems to 
exist in utter isolation from the world of ordinary social values. 

It is here that Emily's extraordinary technical experiment proves 
its worth. If the story had been narrated from the customary 
omniscient point of view it might have been another implausible 
tale of terror. Instead it is filtered through the minds and words 
of two onlookers, who are the only approximately normal peo 
ple in the situation. This device enables the author also to avoid 
a pitfall in the handling of time, for the action extends over thirty 
years and there is a change of heroine in the middle. What would 
otherwise be a disjointed sequence of events is unified and placed 
in perspective by starting the account almost at the end, when 
the mild Mr. Lockwood arrives as a stranger in the lonely dis 
trict and grows inquisitive about his eccentric neighbor, Heath- 
cliff. In a series of interviews with Nelly Dean, the housekeeper 
of Wuthering Heights, who is the only person who has witnessed 
the whole action, he ekes out his fragmentary impressions, and 
thus the reader is held by an ever-mounting suspense and by 
an inescapable illusion of actuality. The emotional agonies of the 
chief characters seem all the more intense in the consistent under 
statement of the commonplace reporters. 

Logical minds may complain that Nelly's style is too elo 
quent for a simple countrywoman, but she has a quiet shrewd 
ness that is sufficiently in character. Indeed, it is typical of 
Emily's impartial attitude that Nelly's personality and her share 
of responsibility in the events remain equivocal. Most readers ac 
cept her on her own terms as a well-meaning but helpless by 
stander, but a recent critic stigmatizes her as the real villain, 
whose mischief-making brings on the catastrophe. If this be the 
case, Emily achieves with great subtlety the effect that 
Thackeray attempted in Barry Lyndon, in which a vicious 
character smugly betrays his own evil nature. Whatever Nelly's 
role may be, the reader ends with a strange feeling that he com 
prehends the tragic situation with deeper insight than either of 
the transmitters possesses. 

As in Jane Eyre, but to a greater degree, the book's effect is in- 



216 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

tensified by its poetic style. The natural setting constantly colors 
the mood, the moors through the changing seasons being de 
scribed with a poet's observation and a poet's sense of the inevi 
table word. The tempestuous passions of the characters are 
thus tranquilized by being shown against the eternal background 
of nature's impersonal processes. Hence the final effect of the 
story, though both the principal characters die, is not one of 
melancholy, but of exaltation. Emily achieved something of the 
rare power of the highest tragedy by showing people of poten 
tial nobility ruined by some flaw in their nature and yet spiri 
tually triumphant over death. 

The author's uncanny skill is conspicuous in her ability to 
arouse a sense of the unseen. Nothing in the story can positively 
be labeled as supernatural, but the recurrent dreams and hallu 
cinations take on an effect of actuality. The young Brontes 
were positive that on occasions in the Haworth rectory they 
had seen the ghost of their dead sister, and their genuine super 
stition lends conviction to the psychic phenomena in both Jane 
Eyre and Wuthering Heights. When Heathcliff's dead body lies 
drenched with the rain that blew in through the open window,, 
the effect is more authentically eerie than all the palpable atroci 
ties in the tales of terror. The only other writer of fiction who 
achieved anything like this convincing use of Gothic material 
was also a poet, Edgar Allan Poe, who was writing in almost 
the same years; and even he confined himself to short stories in 
stead of attempting the more difficult task of maintaining the 
imaginative pitch through a whole novel. Wuthering Heights? 
in short, is a belated masterpiece of romanticism. Just as Jane 
Austen had been an anachronistic eighteenth-century rationalist 
in the romantic heyday, so Emily Bronte was an anachronistic 
romantic visionary amid Victorian practicality. 

Alongside of her ferocious story, the one by her gentle sister 
Anne, which shared the three-volume set, seems pallid and con 
ventional. Agnes Grey consists of the same sort of material 
as Jane Eyre, and in its quiet way is as sincere and outspoken; 
but it lacks both the melodramatic plot and the passionate as- 
sertiveness of Charlotte's novel. This heroine, too, is a governess,, 
and falls too deeply in love to indulge in conventional sentimen- 
talism; but she is inarticulate with shyness, and the hero is a good- 
hearted curate, an idealization of a young clergyman who briefly 
brought gaiety into the Haworth household and then prema- 



Social Consciousness 277 

turely died. The happy ending was a sort of compensation for 
that sorrow in real life, and Anne did not wholly succeed in trans 
muting her actual experience into a work of art. In place of her 
sisters' vehemence, her prevailing mood is patience, relieved with 
touches of amiable humor. 

Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was a more 
ambitious attempt, and holds the same relationship to Wuthering 
Heights as her preceding one held to Jane Eyre. She even 
tried something like Emily's experiment with time, by starting 
the story in the middle and using flash-backs. The portrait of 
a man ruining his life with dissipation was derived from her 
brother, who was killing himself with alcohol and drugs. Ago 
nized by this close view of moral disintegration, Anne intended 
her novel to be a terrible warning against sin and self-indulgence. 
She chose a more violent plot than that of her other story, in 
troduced episodes of cruelty, and confronted some of the un 
happy aspects of the relations between the sexes. Unprecedented 
in English fiction was a scene in which the heroine locks her 
bedroom door against her brutal husband, or a later episode when 
after a dinner party the drunken men invade the privacy of their 
wives. The author's intention was to shock her readers and 
she succeeded in shocking her sister Charlotte also. The ob 
vious moral purpose and the author's self-torture in writing the 
book produce an effect that is painful rather than tragic. 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in June, 1848. 
Three months later Branwell died miserably, and by that time 
though they were not aware of it both Emily and Anne 
were in advanced stages of consumption. Emily died just be 
fore Christmas, and Anne's death followed within six months. 

During this year of family tragedy Charlotte had forced her 
self to go on with writing her next book. Emboldened by the 
incredible success of Jane Eyre, she had undertaken the new 
work with a more pretentious conception of the novelist's func 
tion. She had been so fascinated by Vanity Fair that she dedi 
cated the second edition of Jane Eyre to Thackeray as "the first 
social regenerator of the day." In Shirley she followed his 
example by building the story around two contrasted heroines, 
by using them as the focus for a panoramic view of society, 
and even by adopting at times a satiric tone. She had imbibed 
from her father a prejudice against both High Churchmen and 
Dissenters, which prompted sarcastic digressions about effete 



218 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

curates and revival meetings. The claims of women's rights are 
debated lengthily instead of being implicit as in Jane Eyre. 
Already in The Processor she had revealed some awareness of 
the class conflicts that were brewing in the new industrial towns, 
only a few miles away from her moorland hamlet, and now she 
brought this theme into the center of her story. Again follow 
ing the example of Vanity Fair, she went back thirty-five years 
for her time-setting, and studied old newspapers for details of the 
machine-wrecking Luddite riots. 

This burden of social consciousness threatened to throw the 
book out of balance, especially as the second and by far the 
more interesting heroine did not appear until almost half way 
through. The original plan called for a tragic ending; but after 
the series of bereavements in her family Charlotte could not bring 
herself to inflict misery on her imagined characters and so she 
contrived a perfunctory happy conclusion. The intolerant moral 
judgments and the general distrust of beauty and pleasure give 
the book an almost repellent austerity; yet, in spite of these handi 
caps, it has power and its own kind of beauty, arising particularly 
from the second heroine, the outspoken and untamably inde 
pendent Shirley Keeldar, who is a fairly faithful portrait of 
Emily Bronte, though she retains traces of an Angrian original. 
Unity of theme is provided by the contrast between the emo 
tional, self-centered characters of the Bronte type the two 
heroines and their lovers and the impassive, worldly people 
around them. Even Robert Moore, though a successful business 
man, is simply a new embodiment of the Byronic rebel. The 
exaltation of love in defiance of convention, the ecstatic com 
muning with nature, the acceptance of pain as a concomitant 
of love, all set the story's dominant mood. But in spite of the 
romantic preference for those who obey the dictates of their 
feelings, Charlotte pays lip service to the new fetish of realism, 
warning her readers: 

Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry, and reverie? Do you 
expect passion, and stimulus, and melodrama? Calm your expec 
tations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool, 
and solid lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morn 
ing. . . . The first dish set upon the table . . . shall be cold 
lentils and vinegar without oil; it shall be unleavened bread and 
bitter herbs, and no roast lamb. 



Social Consciousness 219 

Though the Brontes were the most gifted of the new novelists 
who emerged in 1847-48, they were not the only ones. The in 
creased prestige of the novel made it a potent medium for in 
fluencing public opinion, and this attracted a band of writers 
with theories and with missions. 

One of these earnest souls was Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, the 
wife of a Unitarian minister in Manchester. After a happy, shel 
tered childhood in a Cheshire village she was horrified by the 
poverty and vice that she found in her husband's slum parish. 
She had no thought of writing fiction, however, until she was 
thirty-five, and then it was suggested by her husband as a pos 
sible antidote for her grief over the death of a baby son. Her first 
novel, Mary Barton, had a strong appeal through its warm sym 
pathy and touches of humor, and thus made many people con 
scious of the underlying causes for unrest among the poor. 
This was 1848, when the country was terrified by an epidemic 
of revolutions on the Continent and the abortive Chartist up 
rising in England. Mrs. GaskelTs intention being "to give some 
utterance to the agony which, from time to time, convulses this 
dumb people; the agony of suffering without the sympathy of 
the happy," she slanted the story in favor of the laboring class. 
Like Dickens, however, she did not believe in organizations as 
a remedy for their troubles. The real villain of the story is the 
labor union, which in the denouement is disclosed as having com 
pelled John Barton to murder the employer's son who had been 
making love to his daughter. The handling of the story is ama 
teurish, falling back on melodramatic action to sustain interest, 
and sometimes condensing a crucial scene into flat exposition. As 
a social treatise it is invalidated by the author's nai've optimism: 
her thesis is simply that if everyone would ignore class distinc 
tions .and economic rivalries, the modern world could be per 
fectly happy, accepting the text that "we are all members one 
of another." This is symbolized at the close of the novel when 
the rich father of the murdered youth comes to the murderer's 
deathbed to forgive him. 

Yet Mary Barton survives because Mrs. Gaskell had the essen 
tial power of creating characters who enlist the reader's emo 
tional participation. They are not caricatures, and the author's 
kindness and intuitive understanding endow them with life. Har 
riet Martineau had been using fiction to reinforce her radical opin- 



280 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

ions ever since her nine volumes of Illustrates of Political 
Economy in 1832-34, followed by Poor Laws and Paupers Il 
lustrated and Illustrations of Taxation. With characteristic 
candor, Miss Martineau used titles that could not be accused of 
disguising her propaganda purpose under a pretense of entertain 
ment. Later Mrs. Trollope, in Michael Armstrong, had depicted 
the Manchester slums and factories with greater vigor than Mrs. 
Gaskell's; and Disraeli, in Sybil, had warned of the peril inherent 
in industrial strife, with clearer understanding of the basic issues. 
But Mrs. Gaskell was the first to regard these topics in the simple 
light of common humanity. Dickens expressed the opinion 
of many readers when he called it "a book that most pro 
foundly affected and impressed me." 

In the same year another author produced a first novel that 
emerged out of somewhat similar antecedents. Charles Kingsley, 
too, had enjoyed a tranquil childhood in the country, and dis 
covered the plight of the poor through undertaking parochial 
duties, though in his case it was rural rather than industrial con 
ditions that shocked him. The shy, stammering, and emotionally 
intense son of a clergyman, he had been so repelled by his par 
ents' conventional piety that in boyhood he lost his respect for 
the Bible and devoted himself to geology and athletic sports. 
While an undergraduate at Cambridge, however, he fell in love 
with a devoutly High-Church young woman, who restored his 
Christian faith. Upon taking holy orders he became curate and 
afterwards rector at Eversley, an impoverished parish in Hamp 
shire. The vice and ignorance that he found rampant there im 
pelled him to organize schooling for the children and elementary 
measures for cleanliness and health. 

Kingsley's reason was completely subordinated to his emotions. 
Impractical and impulsive, he formed passionate opinions on the 
basis of personal feeling, without regard for consistency. His 
reading of Carlyle shaped his belief in the nobility of work and 
in the spiritual essence immanent in the universe. His reading 
of Frederic Denison Maurice convinced him that Christianity has 
a pragmatic sanction by promoting happiness and physical wel 
fare. Because he had to dissuade his sweetheart from entering 
an Anglican sisterhood before she would consent to marry him, 
he became prejudiced against asceticism and celibacy, regard 
ing these as a major evil of the Roman Catholic faith. Because 



Social Consciousness 281 

the patron of his living refused to repair the rectory, he grew 
fanatical about the selfishness of landlords and the imperative 
need for good sanitation. 

His first literary work was a poetic drama, The Saint's Tragedy, 
an attack upon the ascetic ideal of Catholicism. Immediately after 
it was published he plunged into the political crisis of the day and 
wrote a series of "Letters to the Chartists" for a propaganda 
paper, signing them "Parson Lot." While deploring violence, 
he proclaimed his adherence to the cause, indeed insisting that 
"my only quarrel with the Charter is that it does not go 
far enough in reform." At the same time he was sitting up at 
nights after his parochial duties to write a novel. Yeast, or The 
Thoughts., Sayings, and Doings of Lancelot Smith, Gentleman 
came out as an anonymous serial in Frasefs Magazine during the 
second half of 1848. 

It is an incoherent, vehement story. The title, Yeast, was 
meant to suggest the social and intellectual ferment of the time, 
and this was some justification for the lack of order in the book. 
But mainly its strength and its weakness come from its being 
a record of the author's personality and opinions. The ugly 
hero and the theologically minded heroine are portraits of Mr. 
and Mrs. Kingsley; the episode of her converting him from youth 
ful skepticism is reproduced in full. The wealthy Lancelot 
Smith shares Kingsley's enthusiasm for scientific inquiry and 
for field sports, especially fox-hunting. Three varieties of land 
lords are used as the vehicle for an analysis of the causes for 
agricultural misery, while the peasantry are idealized in a manly, 
verse-writing gamekeeper. Alongside of the assault upon the 
vested interests of the landowners, Kingsley vented his contempt 
for the Tractarian movement in the character of the hero's 
cousin Luke, a convert to Romanism. 

The radicalism of the serial aroused disfavor to such an extent 
that country squires began canceling their subscriptions to the 
magazine, and the publisher begged Kingsley to hasten the con 
clusion. Three years elapsed before it was brought out in vol 
ume form. On the other hand, to many people it w r as stimulating 
and inspiring. Worried young men found in it a sympathetic 
record of their doubts, while sportsmen appreciated the strenu 
ous action of the hunting scenes. 

Yeast was not the only work of fiction that tried to come to 



282 The English Novel (1845-1850) 

grips with the controversies of the moment. James Anthony 
Froude, a friend of Kingsley's and soon afterwards his brother- 
in-law, wrote two fictional accounts of his split with the Trac- 
tarians and his becoming a freethinker. The first, Shadows of 
the Clouds (1847), was brief but belligerent; the second, The 
Nemesis of Faith (1849), was considered so blasphemous that 
one of Fronde's Oxford colleagues burned a copy in front of 
the students in his lecture room, with the natural result that 
the book was more talked about than ever. In the intervening 
year John Henry Newman made his first attempt to defend 
himself from the attacks on his joining the Roman Church, 
in the form of a novel, Loss and Gain, which was intended to 
be a "suitable answer" to Froude's "wantonly and preposter 
ously fanciful" book. Newman gave a picture of how the High 
Church movement had affected Oxford, and included many 
autobiographical details in the portrayal of the hero, Charles 
Reding. 

Of Froude's and Newman's books it is enough to say that 
they serve to induce a more favorable opinion of Yeast. In 
some passages Kingsley did show his potentialities as a writer 
of fiction by vivid descriptions of setting and vigorous move 
ment of narrative. The whole group of books, however, in 
competent though they were in technique, contributed to the 
development of the novel by dealing seriously with major topics 
of immediate concern. The conflicts inherent in social change 
are valid subjects for fiction, and England was going through a 
social change more fundamental and rapid than any had ever 
been. People interested in ideas began to regard novels with 
more respect. Disraeli and Mrs. Gaskell and Kingsley and the 
others brought fiction into closer relationship with the dominant 
forces of their time. 




XI 



The Domestic Scene 

(i8jo - 



THE PRINCIPAL NOVELISTS now were pushed forward by the pres 
sure of active competition as well as by their own accumulated 
experience. The market for fiction had expanded to unprece 
dented dimensions, not only as people in the upper intellectual 
strata were attracted by the sophistication of Thackeray or 
by the political zeal of Disraeli and Kingsley, but also as a 
vast semi-literate public was being catered to with crude but 
highly readable narratives. The best-selling novelist of the for 
ties and fifties was not Dickens but George W. M. Reynolds, 
a Chartist agitator and editor of a Radical newspaper, whose 
lurid tales came out in penny parts. He wrote dozens of 
cheap novels with such titles as Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf and 
The Slaves of England (No. 1, The Seamstress). Never quite 
crossing the line into pornography, his Mysteries of London 
(1845-46), imitated from Eugene Sue's Mysteres de Paris, com 
bined salaciousness and brutality with diatribes against the aris 
tocracy and the clergy. 
About the same time, broad farce brought immense popu- 

283 



284 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

larity to the novels of Henry Cockton, Valentine Vox, the 
Ventriloquist (1840) and Sylvester Sound, the Somnambulist 
(1844). Imitators of Dickens formed a sort of "Cockney School" 
of fiction, the first of them being Samuel Warren, whose Ten 
Thousand a Year (1841) tells the adventures of a draper's assis 
tant who temporarily inherits a fortune and ends as a lunatic. 
In the same vein of crude comedy and sensationalism are the 
works of Albert Smith, The Adventures of Mr. Ledbury (1844), 
The Fortunes of the Scatter good Family (1845), and The Strug 
gles and Adventures of Christopher Tadpole (1848). One of 
the incentives driving Dickens to undertake new experiments 
was the need of keeping far in advance of these plodding 
disciples. 

The expansion of the market was accompanied by growth in 
all the commercial machinery of fiction-distribution. When the 
publishing firm of Chapman & Hall waxed rich on the profits of 
serials by Dickens, Lever, and others, new firms such as Bradbury 
& Evans and Smith, Elder & Co. challenged their priority. Low- 
priced magazines like the Family Herald serialized stories that 
were irreproachably moral and fulsomely sentimental. The 
bookselling trade profited, Mudie's and other circulating librar 
ies flourished, novels were widely advertised and reviewed in a 
growing assortment of literary periodicals. 

The better English novelists, aware that they were not merely 
inventing stories to entertain casual readers but were also shaping 
a significant new genre of literary art, paid more attention to 
the parallel development across the Channel. Most English readers 
knew something of the crudely realistic novels of Parisian 
bourgeois life that were written by Paul de Kock in the twenties 
and later; but few had heard of Stendhal, though Le Rouge et 
le nolr dated from 1830. Another name, however, eventually 
set up impressive reverberations. In 1833 Honore de Balzac had 
turned from romanticism to realism with Eugenie Grandet, and 
in 1842 he formed the grandiose scheme of linking a huge series 
of novels into La Comedie humaine, a panorama of contempo 
rary French life. By the time he died in 1850 he had proved 
the feasibility of using novels as documents for social observa 
tion and analysis. And while he was formulating a new concept 
of realism, George Sand was attracting quite as much attention 
by her uninhibited novels of passion. Beginning with Indiana 



The Domestic Scene z85 

in 1832, she fascinated and shocked the world with Lelia, Con- 
suelo, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, and other amorphous but 
fiery stories that proclaimed her creed of emotional independence 
for women. 

The majority of English people were probably content with 
second-hand opinions that Balzac and George Sand were "im 
moral" and "disgusting"; but the cultivated minority, accustomed 
to keeping abreast of French literature, read their books as a 
matter of course. Thackeray's disillusioned survey of society 
certainly owed something to Balzac; specific resemblances have 
been observed between Vanity Fair and La Cousine Bette, which 
appeared in France the previous year. And though the Brontes 
would have felt outraged by any comparison with the sensual 
George Sand, their novels had an affinity with hers in their pre 
occupation with love and their ardor for feminine emancipa 
tion. 

The new themes and methods, both English and foreign, the 
cheapening of his early manner by obtuse imitators, the im 
proved criticism of fiction, and his own compulsive need to 
achieve deeper understanding of man and society, all brought 
Dickens to the fullness of his achievement with David Copper- 
field, w T hich began serial publication in May, 1849. It did not 
contain as much crusading against specific abuses as most of his 
previous books; but his preoccupation with the problems of 
opportunity and social prejudice was under the surface through 
out. The examination of the English class structure that he 
had begun in Dombey and So?i was developed through the 
handicaps faced by David in getting an education, the ugly yet 
somehow pathetic schemes of Uriah Heep to rise above his 
base origin, the helplessness of Micawber with his nimble mind 
and his lack of practical sense, the gentlemanly arrogance of 
Steerforth, the snobbery of the Spenlows, and the honest fidel 
ity of the illiterate Peggotty family. 

Dickens had thought at one time of writing his autobiography 
and had drafted some pages dealing with his childhood. When 
he gave up the project, he transferred the material into the life 
of David Copperfield. By employing the first-personal point of 
view he conveyed a stronger impression of unity and probability 
than in his preceding novels. Though children had figured 
prominently as characters in Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity 



286 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

Shop, and Dombey and Son, this was his first attempt to enter 
a child's mind and trace the growth of his understanding. Under 
the guise of his fictitious narrator he was able to reveal the 
bitterest experiences of his own early days, which he could 
never bring himself to confide fully even to his closest friends. 
His humiliation at his father's sojourn in the debtors' prison, 
his heartsick disappointment in being denied regular schooling, 
his loathing of his months of drudgery in the blacking ware 
house, his grudge against the adults responsible for inflicting 
these miseries upon him, all appeared in the life of the child 
David and grasped the reader's sympathy with a peculiar in 
tensity that came from the personal emotions that were being 
vented. Another suppressed passage in his life provided the 
tragicomic chapters about David's love for Dora Spenlow, which 
reproduced Charles Dickens's adolescent bondage to the flirta 
tious Maria BeadnelL His struggles as a law clerk and a shorthand 
reporter also figured in the novel. All these first-hand experi 
ences, however, were assimilated into a completely invented 
plot. His practice in his seven preceding novels saved him 
from the pitfall of reproducing actual persons and episodes too 
literally. Micawber had many traits in common with the author's 
father; but he was both less and more than a portrait of John 
Dickens. By being simplified and magnified he took on an im 
mortal identity of his own. In short, Dickens's technique of 
characterization by humours was still rife in David Copperfield, 
and had reached its highest pitch of creativeness. Micawber im 
mediately became the standard specimen of the incorrigible 
optimist, and Uriah Heep of the fawning hypocrite. 

In making David tell the story in person, Dickens incurred a 
more difficult psychological task than he had ever faced before. 
David is not a particularly complex or percipient young man; 
but there is real subtlety in the tracing of his emergence from 
childhood through youth into maturity. His early idealization 
of Steerforth reluctantly yields to the admission that this model 
of the Byronic hero is actually a ^elfish cad, and that the true 
paragon of friendship is the ridiculous, loyal Tommy Traddles; 
and in the same way his idealization of Dora gives place by 
degrees to recognition that she is shallow and silly, and that 
the truly lovable woman is the quietly competent Agnes Wick- 
field. 



The Domestic Scene 287 

The autobiographical method also obliged Dickens to restrain 
the more florid flights of rhetoric in his style; and the authorial 
comments that annoy some readers in his other books are no 
longer censurable when they form part of the hero's retrospect 
of his own career. Whether or not the more conversational 
tone was due wholly to the requirement of simulated reminis 
cences, it appeared to Thackeray like a deliberate adoption of 
his manner, and he predicted somewhat complacently that lt David 
Copperfield will be improved by taking a lesson from Vanity 



Thackeray's own second novel, The History of Pendennis, 
ran its serial course side by side with David Copperfield, and the 
coincidental resemblances between them were amazingly close. 
Each was a Bildungsroman based squarely upon the author's own 
life, and recording a young man's education, his successive love 
affairs, and his adoption of authorship as a profession. The 
functions of various characters in the two novels can be easily 
equated: Steerforth and Warrington, Micawber and Major Pen 
dennis, Agnes Wickfield and Laura Bell. These obvious paral 
lels, however, serve to emphasize the differences between the 
two authors. Dickens devotes one-third of the story to David's 
childhood, whereas Thackeray starts when Arthur Pendennis is 
leaving school and preparing to enter university. Thackeray 
devotes many chapters to a detailed satiric picture of London 
publishers and hack writers, containing recognizable portraits 
of people he had known when beginning his own career. As the 
hero's mentor, the worldly Major Pendennis is an antithesis of 
the feckless Mr. Micawber. The love affairs are also wide apart. 
Fanny Bolton, in Pendennis, resembles Dickens's Little Em'ly 
in social rank, but plays a less prominent part in the story, and 
Pendennis's relations with her stand somewhere midway between 
Copperfield's and Steerforth's with Em'ly. Pendennis's abortive 
engagement to Blanche Amory occupies the same place in his 
maturing process as David's marriage with Dora, and both girls 
are selfish and affected; but otherwise the clever coquette is 
totally unlike the immature "child-wife." Indeed, by ironical 
chance, Dora is more like Thackeray's ineffectual young wife 
than is anyone in Pendennis's series of involvements with the 
opposite sex. Pen's first affair of the heart, with Emily Costigan, 
affords some of the most amusing scenes in the book; and for 



288 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

a Dickensian comparison it is necessary to go back to Nicholas 
Nickleby to find an equally comic picture of an itinerant dra 
matic company. 

The two novels use elements of intrigue and mystery to keep 
the action moving; but the scandal in the Clavering family is 
more worldly and less implausible than either the abduction of 
Em'ly or Uriah Heep's plot to gain control over the Wickfields. 
It is only in the typical Victorian heroines, Agnes and Laura, 
waiting patiently in the background to reward the heroes at the 
end with domestic tranquility, that the two novels intermittently 
inhabit the same world. 

Thackeray started writing Pendennis with the intention of ex 
posing the real nature of a young man with complete frankness. 
He drew an allegorical cover design in which his hero stands 
irresolute: on one side is a luscious mermaid attended by baby 
fauns, on the other a respectable wife and children. There was 
as much personal confession in the record of Pen's conflicting 
impulses as there had been in Dickens's account of David's early 
sufferings; the difference is that Dickens's attitude was unequiv 
ocal he abominated the selfish people who impeded David's 
rise whereas Thackeray, himself poised between the worldly 
and the domestic, portrayed attractive features of both. Though 
he had no doubt which side would eventually win, he meant 
to reveal Pen's dissipations without reserve. 

The first half of the book, however, necessarily showed him 
as a boyish idealist, as Thackeray looked back with indulgent 
irony on his own early self; and by the time the story should 
move into a lewd phase the author modified his plan. Dis 
heartened by the accusations of misanthropy that were hurled 
at Vanity Fair, he wanted to prove that he did not divide all 
human beings into two classes knaves and fools. Besides, he 
suffered a dangerous illness at the mid-point of writing the 
novel, and the brush with death had a sobering effect. The tone 
of the story therefore changed perceptibly, so that Pen's involve 
ments with Blanche and Fanny, and his participation in the shady 
dealings of Clavering and Altamont, were far from vicious. 

Nevertheless, Thackeray felt frustrated by his failure to pro 
duce a realistic work that could rank with Fielding's. In a pref 
ace that he added when the serial issues reached their end, he 
grumbled: 



The Domestic Scene 289 

Since the author of "Tom Jones" was buried, no writer of fiction 
among us has been permitted to depict to his utmost power a 
MAN. We must drape him, and give him a certain conventional 
simper. Society will not tolerate the Natural in our Art. Many 
ladies have remonstrated and subscribers left me, because, in the 
course of the story, I described a young man resisting and affected 
by temptation. My object was to say that he had the passions 
to feel, and the manliness and generosity to overcome them. . . . 
A little more frankness than is customary has been attempted 
in this story; with no bad desire on the writer's part, it is hoped, 
and with no ill consequence to any reader. If truth is not always 
pleasant, at any rate truth is best. 

These almost despondent words initiated a debate over realism 
in fiction that was to rage for half a century. 

The new vogue for social and domestic analysis was proved 
by the adherence of Bulwer-Lytton, always prompt to follow 
the trends of public preference. Three years previously his 
Lucretia, or The Children of the Night., based upon the career 
of the forger and poisoner Thomas Wainewright, had reverted 
to the type of crime story that he had written a dozen years 
before; and it provoked the same attacks for exerting a bad 
moral influence through arousing sympathy for a criminal. 
Though Lytton defended himself in a vigorous pamphlet, he 
turned for his next novel to the safer ground of a historical 
romance, Harold, or The Last of the Saxon Kings. But already, 
several years before these two, he had begun working desul 
torily on The Caxtons, a Family Picture, which was a departure 
from all his previous styles, and which came out as a serial 
in Blackwood's Magazine in 1848-49. As he did not attach his 
name to it, there were various wild guesses as to the author 
ship. Just as Thackeray had affiliated himself with Fielding, 
Lytton unexpectedly affiliated himself with Sterne, and pro 
duced the only book that ever succeeded in capturing something 
of the flavor of Tristram Shandy. Pisistratus Caxton tells the 
story of his life, and the early part contains many recollections 
of Lytton's boyhood. As soon as he grows up, Pisistratus 
rebels against the petty affairs of his family and seeks adventure 
in Australia. The life there was described so pleasantly that 
the book was credited with doing much to give the English 
public a favorable impression of the new colony. Nevertheless, 



290 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

after recouping the family fortunes Pisistratus returns to England, 
having learned the lesson "that, whatever our wanderings, our 
happiness will always be found in a narrow compass, and amidst 
the objects more immediately within our reach." 

The announced purpose of the story was "to imply the in 
fluences of Home upon the conduct and career of Youth"; 
but it treated this serious topic with whimsical humor, which 
had not been foreshadowed by either the supercilious wit of 
Pelham or the solemn gloom of Zanoni. Lytton admitted to a 
friend that "the art employed in The Cartons is a very simple 
one, and within the reach of all. It is just that of creating 
agreeable emotions. Now to do this, we have only to abandon 
attempts at many subtle and deep emotions, which produce un 
easiness and pain, and see that the smile is without sarcasm and 
the tears without bitterness. That is one branch of art and rarely 
fails to be popular." 

Further evidence of the prevailing taste was the success of 
Frank Fairlegh, by Frank E. Smedley, which began as a maga 
zine serial in 1846-47, with the title "Scenes from the Life of 
a Private Pupil," then was reissued in monthly parts, and finally 
came out in volume form in 1850. Smedley was a malformed 
cripple from infancy; and the life of action, sport, and comic 
pranks, from which he was debarred in the real world, was 
idealized in this story and the two that followed it, Lewis Arun- 
del and Harry Coverdale's Courtship. He retained the conven 
tional types of haughty heroes and fragile heroines, just when 
Dickens was abandoning them; but otherwise his three novels 
give a sufficiently plausible picture of the healthy, complacent 
upper classes in mid- Victorian days clergy, university students, 
landed gentry, all comfortably ensconced in a permanent pattern 
of fishing and fox-hunting on country estates, dining in town 
houses and going to the theater and riding in the Park, or 
varying the routine with leisurely tours on the Continent. 

The geniality of Smedley's outlook is conspicuous by con 
trast with the current novel of the veteran Surtees, which dealt 
with a similar environment in an utterly different mood. Mr. 
Spo?ige's Sporting Tour ran in the New Monthly Magazine in 
1849-50 and then in monthly parts before achieving book form. 
It was more widely acclaimed than any of his previous books. 
His new hero, "Soapey" Sponge, is as vivid a comic creation 



The Domestic Scene 291 

as Jorrocks; but Surtees acknowledged the ascendancy of social 
morality by announcing that "the author will be glad if it 
serves to put the rising generation on their guard against specious, 
promiscuous acquaintance, and trains them on to the noble sport 
of hunting, to the exclusion of its mercenary, illegitimate off 
shoots." Surtees' method of carrying out this cautionary function 
was to create a complete gallery of blackguards. The rascally 
hero, however, is so amusing and buoyant that he wins the 
reader's affection and apparently the author's too. A sort of 
male equivalent to Becky Sharp, Soapey flourishes by imposing 
on the stupidity and egoism of respectable people. The episodic 
construction gives little indication that Surtees had gained any 
of the new awareness of technique, and his mingling of farce 
and violence is still insensitive, as evidenced by the ending of 
the story with a leading character killed in a steeplechase. 

The irresponsible picture of English life drawn by Surtees 
and Smedley is worlds away from the depressing grimness and 
zealous reforming spirit of Kingsley's second work of fiction. 
Entitled Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet, and published anony 
mously in 1850, it was ostensibly the autobiography of a self- 
educated radical propagandist. It closely followed the career 
of a living contemporary, Thomas Cooper, w T ho taught himself 
Greek, Latin, and Hebrew while a shoemaker's apprentice, and 
later became a schoolmaster and then a journalist, taking part 
in Chartist agitations. While spending two years in jail for or 
ganizing a strike, Cooper wrote a political epic; but later his 
revolutionary fanaticism waned and he turned to lecturing on 
history and educational theory, whereby he became known to 
Kingsley, who undertook to wean him from his religious skepti 
cism. 

The poverty and sectarian bigotry of Alton Locke's child 
hood in the London slums, the squalor of the sweatshop where 
he works, are conveyed with a mingling of blunt simplicity 
and rhapsodical emotion that sounds plausibly like the style in 
which a proletarian poet might write. The ideas and mannerisms 
of Carlyle are conspicuous throughout, and Carlyle personally 
served as the model for Sandy Mackaye, a Scottish bookseller 
who gives Alton his first lessons in social consciousness. Kings- 
ley's attempts to convert Cooper are reproduced in the scenes 
between Alton and Dean Winnstay, a broad-minded clergyman. 



292 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

The heroine is a beautiful and saintly countess who delivers 
orations upon human brotherhood. 

The story has power because it sprang from Kingsley's blazing 
excitement about major problems of the time. We may not 
believe in the coincidence by which the hero's rich, heartless 
cousin catches fatal typhus from an overcoat infected in the 
pest-holes where his own employees work; and we may not be 
deeply moved by the tritely pathetic ending, when the heroine 
dies of consumption and the hero emigrating to Texas to start 
a new life dies also before he can disembark at Galveston; 
but we are compelled to respond to the despair of the Chartists 
after the collapse of their final uprising, and we are nauseated 
by the description of the foul purlieus of Bermondsey, which 
Kingsley derived directly from current newspaper reports. 

It is interesting to compare Alton Locke with another pseudo- 
autobiography of a self-taught genius, which was published a 
year later, and which offered a different view of the life of 
the poor. This was Lavengro, by George Borrow, a fantastic 
vagabond and self-trained philologist. The son of an army ser 
geant, he spent his childhood in encampments throughout the 
British Isles, and became fascinated with the gypsies. In addition 
to learning their language he picked up some thirty others, and 
published translations of Danish ballads, Russian poems, and 
Turkish humor. As a pretext for rambling in out-of-the way 
regions he became a salesman for the Bible Society in Russia, 
Spain, Portugal, and North Africa; and he gained some literary 
renown with The Bible in Spain (1843). Then at the age of 
forty-eight he brought out Lavengro, after working on it 
intermittently for ten years. 

It is an easy paradox to say that The Bible in Spain claims 
to be a travel book but contains some invented material that 
should be termed fiction, whereas Lavengro claims to be a novel 
but consists mainly of real experience. The problem of the 
dividing line between factual narrative and fiction is well illus 
trated by Sorrow's works. A man whose emotional reactions 
were violent and who dramatized himself throughout his life, 
he naturally adorned the account of his travels with breathless 
adventures and glowing descriptions which probably improved 
upon the truth. It is obvious, too, that Lave?2gro and its sequel, 
The Romany Rye (1857), adhere closely to the facts of Sorrow's 



The Domestic Scene 293 

career and seem to lack artistic selectivity. Having an old- 
fashioned contempt for novels, which he considered shallow 
and frivolous, he did not claim this category for his pair of 
books. Instead, he asserted in the preface to Lavengro that "I 
have endeavored to describe a dream, partly of study, partly 
of adventure." He announced also that "amongst the many 
things attempted in this book is the encouragement of charity, 
and free and genial manners, and the exposure of humbug," 

Yet if Lavengro and The Romany Rye- are considered to 
gether as a unit they do prove to fall within the tradition 
of the English novel. They are perhaps the last genuine example 
of the picaresque. Borrow even reverted to such a primitive 
practice as inserting the life stories of six characters whom 
Lavengro encounters in his wanderings. He originally planned 
the work, undoubtedly, as straight autobiography; but he was 
an admirer of Defoe, and as early as 1844 he was mentioning 
it as being "in the Robinson Crusoe style." The major difference 
from Defoe is that Borrow was a bundle of ferocious preju 
dices, and he perpetually digressed into diatribes against Roman 
Catholics, radicals, and other bugbears, or into paeans of praise for 
tinkers and prize-fighters, instead of remaining an impartial re 
corder. His factual material included portraits (sometimes libel- 
ous) of people he had known, ranging from Sir Richard Phillips 
the publisher to Thurtell the murderer. 

What transforms the hodge-podge of crotchets and anecdotes 
into a novel is the steady unfolding of the hero's personality. 
It is as veritable a Bildungsroman as David Copperfield or Pen- 
dennis. Indeed, some of Lavengro's experiences as a young 
hack writer in London are comparable with those of Dickens's 
and Thackeray's heroes. Lavengro, however, learns his best 
lessons not from urban intellectuals but from gypsy vagabonds 
and from "the wind on the heath." The characters and episodes 
fall into a symbolic design, with the gypsies representing the 
hedonistic life of sensation, the evangelist and the Jesuit repre 
senting types of religious dogma, and the narrator finding his 
particular key to the riddle of existence in philology. Thus the 
pair of books have a unifying structure: under the apparently 
casual surface there is an integration of recurrent themes and 
interlocking situations. 

A long ramble across England had served as an adequate 



294 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

skeleton for notable earlier novels, from The Pilgrim's Progress 
through Joseph Andrews to The Old Curiosity Shop-, but it 
seemed archaic in 1851, the era of railways and industrial cities. 
The basic reason, however, why Lavengro found little favor 
with the critics was its unmitigated romanticism. The super 
human physical and mental powers of the hero, the independ 
ence and passion of the "child of nature" who is the heroine, 
the uninhibited indulgence in emotion, the lyrical rhapsodies 
over nature all these qualities put it in the category of the 
other underestimated masterpiece of that epoch, Wuthering 
Heights. 

More congenial to the current taste was Mrs. Gaskell's second 
work of fiction, though it also was so rudimentary in plot and 
so closely based on reminiscence that it can be admitted only 
marginally to the genre of the novel. Dickens, having launched 
an ambitious weekly paper, Household Words, had been so 
favorably impressed by Mary Barton that he invited Mrs. Gaskell 
to be a regular contributor. Not conceived as a serial story, 
her group of sketches of life in a drowsy village appeared inter 
mittently between December, 1851, and May, 1853. When issued 
in book form as Cranford, there proved to be a frail thread 
of continuity; but the story's chief claim to artistic unity was 
in its atmosphere. Mrs. Gaskell recreated with loving detail 
the society of Knutsford as she had known it in her childhood. 
It is the most placid book in English fiction: Jane Austen's 
novels, with a similar social milieu, are energetic by comparison. 
Instead of Miss Austen's acerbity, Mrs.' Gaskell manifests only 
gentle humor in portraying the impoverished spinsters and the 
dictators of rural society, whose stratagems provide the mild 
trickle of action. The book lives because its sympathetic insight 
into everyday predicaments never degenerates into sentimental 
ity and because its events, trivial though they are, capture some 
thing of the pathos inherent in ordinary people. Its special 
significance in 1853 is as a symptom of the triumph of domestic 
tranquility as a fictional mood. 

Even Charles Lever departed at this time from his Irish ec 
centrics and swashbuckling adventurers, and devoted his next 
serials to what he called "the quiet homely narrative style of 
German romance writers." The Daltons, or Three Roads in 
Life (1851-52) was written with unwonted care as to consist- 



The Domestic Scene 295 

ency of details, and many of the characters were modeled 
upon people whom the author knew. This was followed by 
The Dodd Family Abroad, in which Lever fell back on the 
antiquated epistolary method to give an amusing account of a 
typical British family on the grand tour, with a minimum of 
plot and a maximum of sensible comment on the customs of the 
various foreign countries. Lever had now settled down in Flor 
ence, and had acquired something like Thackeray's cosmopoli 
tan perspective toward the snobbery and parochialism of his 
compatriots. 

Thackeray himself, on the other hand, was unwilling to be 
identified solely as an observer of contemporary mores, and he 
broke away by turning to historical romance. He had reached 
a point of financial security that enabled him to complete a 
whole novel before it went to press, instead of writing install 
ments with the printer's devil waiting at the door; and con 
sequently he was able to plan this one more coherently. 

As he had recently been delivering a series of lectures on 
"The English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century," his af 
fection for that era was intensified by the research entailed 
in preparing them. He became so saturated with the Augustan 
age, not only with its events and personalities but even with 
its language and literary techniques, that he felt as though he 
had been "living in the last century for weeks past all day 
that is going at night as usual into the present age." In The 
History of Henry Esmond he undertook the experiment of 
writing a pseudo-autobiography, which meant that he had to 
imitate the eighteenth-century style throughout. He had already 
done this on a smaller scale ten years before in Barry Lyndon; 
but that had been merely an ingenious pastiche in the manner 
of Fielding. With Esmond he had the harder task of revealing 
the whole character of a complex, moody, intelligent man, 
while at the same time sustaining the historical accuracy of every 
detail and phrase. 

In spite of the remoteness of the time-setting and the outer 
circumstances, the book was in one sense more intimately per 
sonal than anything he had yet written. Pendennis had followed 
the outlines of his earlier life, but Esmond revealed an emotional 
crisis that he was enduring even while he wrote. His devotion 
to Mrs. Brookfield, which had already colored some of his atti- 



296 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

tudes in Vanity Fair, had now moved into a more painful phase. 
William Brookfield had finally protested against Jane's intimacy 
with Thackeray, and as a faithful wife she had accepted the 
ban upon their friendship. Thackeray found relief for his an 
guish by depicting in Lady Castlewood another woman who 
was so loyal to her marriage vows that she would not admit 
even to herself that she might love someone else. And as in 
Vanity Fair, Thackeray was able to remove the obnoxious hus 
band and eventually reward the true lovers with marriage, an 
outcome that was impossible in the real-life situation. To avoid 
too close a parallel with his own plight, he did not depict 
Esmond as also fettered by the existence of a wife. Instead he 
established other barriers, in that Esmond was eight years 
younger than Lady Castlewood and believed himself to be hope 
lessly in love with her fascinating daughter, Beatrix. Like Vanity 
Fair, therefore, the story is built upon the contrast between 
two women of opposite types, one gentle and compliant, the 
other selfish and brilliantly clever. In Beatrix, Thackeray created 
one of the most captivating young women in all fiction. And 
he did not succumb to the temptation to sentimentalize the con 
clusion by letting her finally respond to Esmond's love. 

Many readers have been disturbed by this central theme, either 
because they find something psychologically unhealthy in the 
mixture of maternal and sexual love that Lady Castlewood feels 
for Henry, or else simply because a love affair with a widow 
eight years older than the man appears to be unromantic. In 
rebuttal it may be pointed out that the dividing line between 
sexual and parental love can seldom be absolutely drawn, and 
further that Thackeray was intentionally demonstrating what he 
considered to be the plain fact that domestic affection based upon 
compatibility is superior to the kind of ultra-romantic idealization 
exemplified in Esmond's infatuation with Beatrix. Since histori 
cal fiction was ordinarily the particular domain of the romantic 
concept of love, Thackeray's defiance of this convention was 
part of his campaign for realism. 

This story of emotional cross-purposes is deployed against a 
richly elaborated background of English history for twenty 
years covering the reigns of William III and Queen Anne. The 
battles in the war with France, the political intrigues in England, 
and the literary coterie of London are all included in Esmond's 



The Domestic Scene 297 

experiences. Several of the incidents are based on real occur 
rences, notably Viscount Castlewood's duel with Lord Mohun; 
but the climax of the political action, when James Stuart comes 
secretly to England in hope of seizing the throne when Queen 
Anne dies, has no historical foundation. 

Most of the leading public figures of the time are introduced, 
and Thackeray has sometimes been censured for bias in certain 
of his portrayals. The belittlement of Swift is connected with 
Thackeray's dislike for the dean's black misanthropy, and the 
unflattering view of Marlborough can be explained because one 
of the author's collateral ancestors was General Webb, whose 
quarrel with the duke is incorporated into the story. Though 
such judgments may be unfair as strict historical verdicts, they 
add to the authentic effect, for it was an age of strong par 
tisanship, and Esmond could not represent his time without having 
prejudices. 

Primarily the distinction of the book depends upon its central 
character. Esmond is modest, reticent, melancholy almost to 
morbidity; and yet Thackeray succeeds in having him reveal 
his own virtues of loyalty, unselfishness, and self-respect without 
making him seem either a prig or a hypocrite. With his sensi 
tive honor and his abhorrence of pretension, Esmond demon 
strates Thackeray's obsessive concern over the attributes of the 
true gentleman. It may be conceded that here he has come at 
least as near to depicting a perfect gentleman as Richardson did 
in Grandison. 

Insofar as technical skill is concerned, Esmond is certainly 
Thackeray's masterpiece. And criticism is now tending toward 
a similar opinion regarding Bleak House, the novel of Dickens 
that was written at the same time. Apart from the peculiar 
choice of title, which has little relevance to the main scenes 
and themes of the book, it is an amazing display of stylistic 
virtuosity and architectural design. Though published in the 
customary monthly parts, it was planned with such consummate 
care that every detail in the vast picture falls into exact relation 
ship with all the others. 

On the basis of plausibility, this feature of Bleak House is 
open to objection. The loose ends and superfluous characters 
in Dickens's earlier novels are closer to real experience than 
this controlled mosaic of interlocking pieces. But the inherent 



298 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

improbability is cunningly concealed, chiefly by the fact that the 
dramatis fersonae are so numerous and so diversified that through 
much of the book they seem to have no possible relationship 
with each other, and by the time their mutual dependencies 
are revealed the reader's imagination has submitted to the author's 
spell and cannot rebel against it. At the end, when we look 
back and realize the ingenuity of the whole structure, we are 
too deeply gratified by the sense of unity and pattern to be 
capable of protesting that real life is never so tidy. We enjoy 
the illusion of god-like superiority that discovers a tight web 
of cause and effect beneath the apparent chaos of daily affairs. 

It is for this reason, as well as because it deals with the 
actual solving of mysterious crimes and contains a character 
who is a police investigator, that Bleak House has been termed 
the first detective novel. Indeed, it is two detective novels 
merged into one. The main plot line concerns the unveiling 
of Lady Dedlock's hidden past and the identity of her vanished 
husband. In this investigation the lawyer, Mr. Tulkinghorn, plays 
the main detective role, though he is abetted by half-a-dozen 
other characters who for their own reasons are digging into 
corners of the same complicated mystery. Then, when Tulking 
horn is murdered, the plain-clothes officer, Inspector Bucket, 
takes over, and practices the patient analysis of clues which 
makes this the archetypal detective story. The reader becomes 
pleasurably aware that every detail conceals some hint of the 
facts, and he begins to match his wits against the author's in 
foreseeing the outcome. No previous novelist had realized how 
readers can be held in ever-mounting suspense through a con 
fusing multiplicity of evidence, while the author manipulates 
his array of clues so elusively as to deceive the eye. 

The social diversity of the multifarious characters contributes 
more to the book than a mysterious plot. They also constitute 
an unsurpassed panorama of the English social scene. Dickens 
in his personal life had by this time become sufficiently intimate 
with people of rank to venture to include them in his story. 
Sir Leicester Dedlock has infinitely more verisimilitude than 
Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby. The Dedlocks and 
their country estate and their fashionable friends belong to the 
social level which Thackeray customarily depicted. Sir Leicester 
is less a caricature and more an authentic specimen of a gentle- 



The Domestic Scene 299 

man than Sir Pitt Crawley. And in its range downward to the 
very dregs of society Bleak House displays abysses of degrada 
tion and ignorance that Thackeray knew nothing of. 

Like Vanity Fair, too, this novel of Dickens has neither a 
hero nor a single heroine, but is constructed around two major 
feminine figures, Lady Dedlock and Esther, the hardened woman 
of the world and the gentle denizen of the home. Certainly 
none of the masculine characters can lay claim to be the hero. 
Esther's lover is a shadowy figure who appears in only a few 
chapters. Richard Carstone seems cast for the hero's role in 
the early part, but his degeneration into psychopathic frustration 
is one of the book's best tragic components. John Jarndyce, 
with his kindliness and insight, remains, like Thackeray's Major 
Dobbin, a background figure who is too good to be quite human. 
Many of the secondary characters exemplify the author's pet 
phobias. Mrs. Jellyby and her henchmen are a satire upon im 
practical welfare projects; the Smallweed family are a horribly 
comic instance of the utilitarian ideal in education; Mr. Chadband 
is another specimen of the hypocritical evangelists first repre 
sented by Stiggins in Pickwick. 

The wide range of Dickens's survey enabled him to imply 
much about the transformation that was occurring in the class 
system. This comes to a focus in the interview between Sir 
Leicester, the ultra-conservative exponent of the landowning 
aristocracy, with its feudal sense of privilege and its rigid ideal 
of family honor, and the newly rich industrialist, RouncewelL 
Proof of Dickens's maturity is that he represents both of them 
sympathetically while yet showing that their principles are ir 
reconcilable. The significance is emphasized by the fact that 
RouncewelPs mother is Sir Leicester's housekeeper, a family re 
tainer of the type that was becoming obsolete. A further dimen 
sion of irony has developed since it has been discovered that 
Mrs. Rouncewell is a portrait of Dickens's own grandmother. 

This situation is but one of several that probe into the tran 
sition from a romantic to a materialistic ideology. In offering 
two of his case histories Dickens incurred some censure by 
portraying eminent contemporaries. Hitherto the real people 
who had served him as models had been his own relations and 
other obscure individuals whom he happened to know; but now 
Lawrence Boythorn was drawn openly from Walter Savage Lan- 



300 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

dor, and Harold Skimp ole was an equally accurate picture of 
Leigh Hunt. These two men were the last survivors of the 
great generation of romantic poets, and their counterparts in 
Bleak House both in their different ways illustrate the defeat 
of romantic individualism by the conformist pressures of the 
Victorian age. Boythorn wages stubborn but futile battle against 
convention, whether by his boisterous manners or by his de 
fiance of magistrates; Skimpole evades responsibility by neglect 
ing to earn a living. The use of Landor as a model was not 
obnoxious, since Boythorn is made lovable as well as absurd; 
but the reflection upon Hunt was undeniably cruel, particularly 
because Skimpole finally behaves not merely foolishly but un 
scrupulously. In defense of Dickens it can be insisted that a 
fictitious character may derive traits of manner from a real 
person without becoming factually identical with him; but an 
ethical problem still remains in the fact that Hunt had been an 
enthusiastic friend to Dickens when the support of an influ 
ential critic was of great help in the young writer's early 
success; and Hunt was grieved by what he considered a be 
trayal Two basic dilemmas of every novelist are here illus 
trated: must realism be confined to observation of individual 
cases? and, if so, does the compulsion of artistic creation take 
precedence over gratitude and other gentlemanly standards? 

This novel marked a major change in Dickens's social con 
sciousness. A concern with the underlying reasons for inequity 
and poverty instead of with surface phenomena had begun to 
appear in Dombey and Son; but in Bleak House for the first 
time Dickens based his book's whole fabric overtly upon what 
he considered a cankerous evil in the social system. In doing 
so, he selected one that would shock many of his contemporaries 
profoundly. Englishmen were willing to admit that their po 
litical parties and their charitable institutions and even their 
business economy were vulnerable to criticism; but the traditional 
superiority of English justice was sacrosanct. Yet Dickens aimed 
his full barrage at the Court of Chancery, a cornerstone of 
English law. His smattering of legal training enabled him to 
cite specific examples of the court's incompetence and to sketch 
the whole inhuman mechanism of litigation with deadly precision. 

This theme provides a second structural framework for the 
story. Not only are all the characters somehow involved in the 
unraveling of Lady Dedlock's past; also they are all held fast 



The Domestic Scene 301 

in the tentacles of the Chancery Court. The confident young 
heirs whose lives are blighted with disappointment, the old 
litigants driven to madness and suicide, the myriad of lawyers 
and officials who batten upon the interminable cases, the fetid 
slums that are administered under court authority, all add up 
to a horrifying indictment of the Chancery organization. 

In addition to its unity of both plot and theme, Bleak House 
is extraordinary in its style. Each of the principal settings is 
invested with a distinctive atmosphere. The opening chapter is 
a descriptive tour de force, with its general picture of London 
wrapped in fog and then the focus on the law courts at the 
heart of the obscurity. This symbolic use of the fog is paral 
leled by the rain that serves as the keynote of the scenes at 
Chesney Wold, by the allegorical ceiling of Tulkinghorn's 
chambers, by the cluttered darkness of Krook's rag-and-bone 
shop, and by the polluted decay of "Tom-All-Alone's," which 
rivals the Bermondsey slum in Alton Locke. Throughout the 
book recurrent phrases and metaphors mark the interwoven tex 
ture of motifs and clues. 

The most astonishing feature, however, is that parts of the 
story are presented as the personal narrative of Esther Summer- 
son. The reader is not warned of the mingling of individual 
with universal point of view, either when it first occurs or at 
the points where the viewpoint shifts back and forth; there are 
no transitional phrases, and even the chapter titles seldom give 
.-a hint. And the undertaking is rendered all the more hazardous 
by the author's obligation to assume the manner and outlook 
of an unsophisticated girl. Complete success in the attempt was 
impossible; Esther's innocent revelations of her own unselfish 
ness and modesty are bound to sound insincere. Neverthless, 
the mild serenity of her reports and the massive power of the 
scenes that are presented impersonally heighten each other. 
Dickens almost achieves his ambitious purpose of deriving the 
best advantage from both techniques the immediacy of per- 
.sonal observation and the insight of the omniscient interpreter. 
The use of the present tense throughout the omniscient scenes 
makes them seem to be happening while we read, in contrast 
"with the tranquil backward gaze of Esther's reminiscences. Only 
a master novelist at the height of his power could carry off 
such a venture with so much bravura. 

During the same months that Bleak House was coming out 



502 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

serially, Bulwer-Lytton's latest work was running in BlackivoocFs; 
and it too had as an underlying theme the transfer of privilege 
from the hereditary landowners to the new business class. Its 
peculiar title, My Novel,, is explained by its being supposedly 
written by Pisistratus Caxton, the hero of Lytton's preceding 
book; and members of the Caxton family are introduced in an 
initial chapter to each division of the story, in Shandean dis 
cussions of the characters and action as Pisistratus creates them. 
Though it is an ingenious device, its aristic validity is question 
able. Like a trompe Foeil painting, which uses tricks of per 
spective to make the picture appear to project beyond the 
limits of the canvas, it gives an illusion that the Caxtons are 
actual people, existing outside the novel in which they had been 
major figures; but on the other hand it calls attention to the 
author's inventive function in the story in hand. Perhaps it is 
chiefly significant as revealing a psychological quirk that tends 
to develop in a novelist as he comes closer to real life and trans 
mutes more of his past experience into fiction: he becomes 
fond of his invented characters and these beings take on an 
independent identity and refuse to vanish from his mind at 
the end of a book. Balzac used this as a method for making 
his series of novels seem like an actual transcript of current 
events, and Thackeray was constantly transferring characters 
from one story to another, even to the extent of introducing 
people in Esmond as ancestors of others who figured in Vanity 
Fair and Pendennis. 

The plot of My Novel is somewhat less tenuous than that of 
The Caxtons, but still the main purpose is to depict what is 
stated in the subtitle as "Varieties in English Life," and especially 
to vindicate the upper class against the strictures of radical 
authors. Mr. Caxton remarks: 

"I really think that while, as I am told, many popular writers 
are doing their best, especially in France, and perhaps a little 
in England, to set class against class, and pick up every stone 
in the kennel to shy at a gentleman with a good coat on his 
back, something useful might be done by a few good-humored 
sketches of those innocent criminals a little better off than their 
neighbors." 

Thus My Novel contributes to the atmosphere of complacent 
domesticity that dominated so much of the fiction of the fifties. 



The Domestic Scene 303 

The year 1853, in which both Bleak House and My Novel 
appeared in volume form, was remarkable for its crop of note 
worthy novels. Charlotte Bronte's Villette was in some ways 
her masterpiece. She centered it upon her two years at the 
Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, and so it uses again the experi 
ences that had underlain her first book, The Professor, which 
was still unprinted. But her art had matured in six years. This 
is the first-personal narrative of Lucy Snowe, who, like Char 
lotte Bronte, goes to teach in a Belgian school, has trouble in 
disciplining her pupils, dislikes the other teachers, and is in 
tolerant toward such foreign immoralities as shameless lying and 
nude paintings in the art galleries. Gradually she falls in love 
with Paul Emanuel, a ferocious-tempered but unselfish fellow- 
teacher, but she believes that he is devoted to a pretty girl who 
is his ward. 

The handling of the action still lacks assurance. Some of the 
characters who seem important in the early chapters are allowed 
to fade out of the story and then are implausibly dragged in 
again. No details are given as to the disaster that deprives Lucy 
of her family and sends her out to earn a living. At the end, 
when Paul has arranged for Lucy to conduct a school of her 
own and finally reveals his love for her, he leaves the country 
for an unexplained reason; three years later, when he is expected 
back, a terrible storm occurs, and the reader is left without a 
positive statement as to whether Paul survives it. 

All this awkwardness is counterbalanced by the story's 
emotional power. As before, it was generated by a strange 
mingling of personal experience with the imaginative fantasies 
that survived from the youthful tales of Angria. Paul Emanuel 
seems to be a blending of two characters in the cycle. The 
handsome, self-assured Dr. John Bretton, who contrasts so 
strongly with the nervous little Belgian, and whom Lucy adores 
while she thinks she hates Paul, is derived from Zamorna, the 
principal Angrian hero; and the lovely Paulina Home can be 
regarded as a composite of Zamorna's two wives. Even the other 
wise unaccountable hurricane at the end is reminiscent of various 
tempests in the Angrian tales. 

But at the same time, most of these characters are portraits 
of people in Charlotte's own life. Paul Emanuel is M. Heger; 
Mme. Beck is Heger's wife; and Dr. Bretton is George Smith, 
a publisher who won Charlotte's affection by his thoughtful 



304 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

management of her affairs. The chapter describing a performance 
by a great tragic actress has resemblances to a fictitious account 
of iMrs. Siddons acting in the national theater of Angria; but it 
is also a report on the French tragedienne Rachel as Charlotte 
actually saw her in London. The episode in which the fiercely 
Protestant Lucy, at a moment of intolerable stress, goes into a 
Catholic church and makes confession to the priest, is a literal 
transcript of an act performed by Charlotte herself during her 
tribulations in Brussels. 

Villette thus becomes a primary exhibit in any inquiry into 
the nature of the "autobiographical novel." Because the youth 
ful manuscripts survive to prove how much of reverie and ro 
mantic invention underlies the story, we are able to see that 
the observation of real people and the adapting of personal ex 
perience served mainly as a basis for selection and a source of 
verisimilitude. One is tempted to say that in such cases life 
imitates art that Charlotte Bronte felt as she did toward M. 
Heger and George Smith because she identified them with al 
ready existing figments of her daydreams. This evidence is 
relevant to the discussion of David Copperfield or Pendennis 
or Lavengro or any of the other books that are taken to be 
disguised autobiographies. 

Villette was Charlotte Bronte's last piece of writing. She 
had produced it slowly and painfully, tormented by anxiety lest 
it should not be as good as her previous books. Soon after it 
was published she married one of her father's curates, and within 
a year she died in childbirth. The Professor, her first-written 
novel, came out posthumously in 1857. 

Mrs. Gaskell, meanwhile, had returned to social reforming in 
her next novel, Ruth, which seemed startlingly unconventional 
to readers in 1853, as it made a heroine of the mother of an 
illegitimate child. There had been many seductions in the novels 
of Dickens and other contemporaries, but in them the betrayed 
woman suffered either death or bitter remorse as her punishment. 
When Ruth, a working girl, is about to have her child in a 
strange town, a liberal-minded minister persuades his sister to 
take her into their home; and with their help she brings up 
her son and is accepted as a respectable member of the com 
munity. Her lover, a man of higher social rank, reappears and 
offers to marry her, but she refuses on the ground that he would 



The Domestic Scene 305 

be an unsuitable father for the boy. Upon her secret becoming 
known, the minister's intolerant parishioners turn against her and 
her benefactors, but she vindicates herself by nursing her seducer 
and some of the persecuting neighbors in a typhoid epidemic 
and by dying as soon as they all recover. 

As in Mary Barton, the social and moral questions are over 
simplified; and Mrs. Gaskell did not know enough about human 
passions to make the beginning of the story effective. She tells 
about the seduction without conveying any understanding of the 
impulses that caused it. Mary Barton and Ruth are so inferior to 
Cranford that they seem like the work of a different author, 
simply because in them Mrs. Gaskell was writing about charac 
ters and events which she did not know at first hand. She was 
profoundly aware that the poor suffered injustice and misery, 
but she had observed it only from her sheltered seclusion, even 
though she fulfilled the duties of a minister's wife by dispensing 
charity. She sympathized sincerely with a girl like Ruth who 
was a victim of social prejudice; but as a well-loved wife and the 
mother of half-a-dozen children she could not truly conceive 
the agonies of desertion and disgrace. Nevertheless, her inno 
cence contributes something to the story's appeal: it is a sort 
of fairy tale made up by a sensitive child who has heard about 
a world in which painful things happen. 

Ruth is another indication of the unrest over women's place 
in society, which had lent stimulus to Charlotte Bronte's books. 
Mrs. Gaskell's warm-hearted plea for tolerance and her condem 
nation of the double standard of morality were courageous for 
her day. Indeed, this novel helped to persuade a contemporary 
young woman, Josephine Butler, to take the lead in reforming 
the English laws regarding prostitution and in seeking to con 
trol the "white slave trafiic." 

Kingsley's third novel marked a departure from his previous 
ones in being a historical romance. But under its pageantry of 
an ancient era Hypatia was tense with concern about the issues 
of his own day, as he emphasized in the subtitle, "New Foes 
with an Old Face." The setting is Alexandria of the early fifth 
century, and the heroine is a beautiful, intellectual girl who tries 
to maintain a philosophical academy on the old Greek model 
amid the turmoil of expanding Christianity. In a remarkable feat 
of reconstruction, Kingsley draws an obvious parallel between 



306 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

Alexandria and Victorian London a vast commercial city, the 
financial capital of the world, with luxurious theaters and brilliant 
lecture halls, but with swarming slums jostling the fashionable 
mansions. Every major cult of antiquity is represented: the as 
cetic monks of the desert; the sensual Roman administrators 
with a veneer of official Christianity; the Greek minority, culti 
vating a sterile neo-Platonic pedantry; the prosperous Jews, proud 
of their traditional wisdom and law, and sneering at the upstart 
Christians; the humble African converts, cherishing little tribal 
idols for secret rites. A sense of urgency is contributed by the 
realization that Rome has recently fallen to the Goths, whose 
forerunners arrive in Alexandria in the innocuous form of a 
sightseeing party who voyage up the Nile to discover whether 
the Valley of the Kings is the Asgard of their Norse mythology. 

One of the problems implied in the story is the educational 
and moral emancipation of women, as represented by Hypatia, 
who tries vainly to maintain her aloof wisdom against the de 
mands of sexual passion. She and her disciples also represent 
something else that Kingsley disliked in his own age the 
abstract transcendentalism that he had already caricatured in an 
Emersonian lecturer in Alton Locke. He establishes a parallel 
between this and the equally ascetic ideal of the Christian hermits, 
implying that both, being a denial of human ardor, are impractical 
and even sinful. 

Another contemporary application of the story was that of 
sectarian rivalry. England was in a frenzy over the re-establish 
ment of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which had begun with 
the appointment of Nicholas Wiseman as archbishop in 1850. 
As a fanatical Protestant, Kingsley wanted to adduce historical 
evidence against the "papal aggression"; and so he implied a 
resemblance between Wiseman and Cyril, the Bishop of Alex 
andria in his story, who was an ambitious administrator and a 
wily ecclesiastical politician. To embody the opposite view he 
used another historical personage, Synesius, Bishop of Cyrene, 
who shared Kingsley's humanitarian sympathy, blunt common 
sense, love of outdoor sports, and belief that a priest ought to 
have a wife and children. 

In achieving his massive effect of social ferment and ideo 
logical conflicts Kingsley painted some thrilling mob scenes; but 
the direct story line is often submerged as the reader tries to 



The Domestic Scene 301 

follow the adventures of too many separate characters or be 
comes entangled in theological arguments. The young renegade 
monk, Philammon, serves as a link to hold the diverse action 
together, but he is too passively involved in it to be properly 
nominated as the hero. The most interesting character, Raphael 
Aben-Ezra, was modeled upon a Jewish friend of Kingsley's 
who had recently joined the Church of England. A spiritual 
kinsman of Carlyle's Teufelsdrockh, he passes from elegant cyni 
cism through a black night of negation before finding for him 
self an "everlasting yea." 

Kingsley's purpose in writing the novel had been to vindicate 
Christianity as "the only really democratic creed," in opposition 
to transcendentalist philosophy, which he condemned as "the 
most exclusively aristocratic creed." But he was honest enough 
to refrain from presenting an impossible antithesis of good and 
evil. To prove that neo-Platonic hedonism was a dangerous 
fallacy, he had to display its attractive features; and while insisting 
that Christianity endures because it has at its heart the welfare 
of all the people, he had to admit that it is handicapped by the 
errors and rivalries of its leaders and by the blind enthusiasms 
of their followers. Kingsley's reputation as a subversive radical, 
already established by his previous novels and by his preaching 
of "Christian Socialism," was thus enhanced. "Hypatia was 
written with my heart's blood," he lamented, "and was received 
with curses from many of the very churchmen whom I was 
trying to warn and save." Nor was this the book's only offense. 
Partly from his fidelity to history, but also because of his belief 
in the wholesomeness of normal impulses, Kingsley described 
the sexual indulgences of Alexandria warmly enough to incur 
a charge of immorality, which was still so strong ten years later 
that it was a pretext for denying him an honorary degree at 
Oxford. 

It was probably the impact of Hypatia that incited Newman 
to desist from his theological studies long enough to write a 
second novel; his Callista (1856) is as neatly counterbalanced 
against Hypatia as his Loss and Gain had been opposed to 
Shadows of the Clouds and Yeast. The scene is also in North 
Africa, two generations before Hypatia's time, and the heroine 
is also a beautiful pagan Greek girl. Callista, however, is con 
verted to Christianity and dies while undergoing torture, where- 



308 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

upon her body works miraculous cures. There are a few effec 
tive scenes, but nothing of the vigorous story-telling that sustains 
Hypatia. Newman's propaganda purpose is too obvious in long 
dialogues and expository passages. Though the psychology of 
the main characters is developed with some insight, the author 
evades the love scenes that ought to play a pivotal role in the 
plot. 

In the same year with Ruth and Villette and Hypatia, two 
new novelists joined the ranks of best-sellers, and between them 
typified the norm of fiction-reading taste for the period. One 
of these was Charlotte Mary Yonge, a devout and modest young 
woman who had already published six works of fiction, and who 
now at the age of thirty produced one of the best-loved novels 
of the century in The Heir of Redclyffe. Its immense popularity 
was due to a perfect balance between romantic sentiment, re 
ligious earnestness, and the atmosphere of placid domesticity 
that had come into vogue. 

Like Jane Austen, Miss Yonge lived out her life in a Hamp 
shire village; but she had none of Jane's acid detachment. Instead, 
she was a parishioner and friend of John Keble, the saintly 
leader of the High-Church Anglicans, and his spirit was re 
flected in all her works. One of her earliest books had been 
intended for young girls, and in 1851 she became editor of a 
magazine for juvenile readers, The Monthly Packet, which she 
conducted for forty years. The strongest recommendation of her 
novels was their suitability for family reading. The admirers 
of The Heir of Redclyffe, however, were not confined to ado 
lescents and their parents; such unregenerate men as Dante 
Rossetti and William Morris wept over its pathos, and it was a 
favorite book among the soldiers in the Crimean trenches. Miss 
Yonge had the mysterious gift of creating living characters, 
so that even the most pious actions of her hero, Sir Guy Mor- 
ville, who would not take his horse with him to Oxford for 
fear his groom might be polluted by the worldliness of the 
college town, are not those of a sententious prig. He has all 
the romantic charm of the Byronic hero, though it is chastened 
with religious zeal and moral probity. Family life is idealized 
in The Heir of Redclyffe and all her other books; filial obedience 
is the foundation stone of her ethics and the spiritual exercises 
of the Church of England are the basic law of life. 



The Domestic Scene 309 

Within the next two or three years Miss Yonge consolidated 
her fame with Heartsease and The Daisy Cham, and in the 
half-century of life that remained to her she wrote some 150 
books, many of them being linked together by Thackeray's de 
vice of recurrent characters and family ramifications. Several of 
her best works were historical romances, such as The Dove in 
the Eagle's Nest (1866). But her permanent contribution to 
English fiction is her genuine chronicle of the upper-class 
homes in the halcyon years of the mid-century, and what a 
recent biographer calls "her particular gift to make ordinary 
everyday goodness appear the most exciting thing in the world." 

The other popular success of 1853 was Captain Digby Grand, 
which was first serialized in Prater's Magazine. The author was 
George John Whyte-Melville, the grandson of a duke. He had 
been educated at Eton and was a captain in the Coldstream 
Guards when he retired from the army in 1849. Before turning 
to fiction he published some agreeable verse and a translation 
of Horace. The fox-hunting and steeple-chasing episodes in his 
novel suggest a link with Surtees; but a comparison of Digby 
Grand with Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour emphasizes how archaic 
Surtees had become. Melville's novel was not particularly well 
constructed or original, since it used the hackneyed form of a 
young roue's memoirs of his army service and his fashionable 
pastimes, echoing the silver-fork novels and Lever's military 
tales; but it had a sophisticated ease of manner that aligned it 
with Pende?inis and The Caxtons. Nonliterary gentlemen liked 
it because it was obviously produced by a member of their 
own caste, in contrast with the persistent vulgarity of Surtees' 
characters and methods. 

In spite of a brief return to military service in the Crimea, 
Melville lost no time in taking advantage of his success with a 
series of similar stories. Tilbury Nogo, General Rowice, and 
Kate Coventry, published between 1854 and 1856, standardized 
his mixture of humor and romance, adventure and moralizing. 
He lived the sort of life he described, consorted with no other 
authors, and donated his earnings to charities connected with 
fox-hunting. 

In seeing Miss Yonge and Captain Whyte-Melville as the repre 
sentative novelists of the fifties, we recognize the two basic 
types of fiction that had endured for three centuries the 



310 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

"feminine" novels of Sidney and Richardson, the "masculine" 
novels of Nashe and Fielding. It is a measure of the greatness 
of Dickens and Thackeray that they both rise above these facile 
categories. 

Thackeray's new serial, The Neiucomes, which began in Oc 
tober, 1853, was indeed a family chronicle, but it was not in the 
current mood of domestic serenity. Like his previous novels, it 
gives an uncomfortable impression because it contains so much 
of his personal frustration. In its autobiographical elements it 
is a companion piece to Pendemis, filling in the parts of Thacker 
ay's early life that had been omitted from that book. Clive 
Newcome is sent home to England from India as a small boy and 
is educated at Charterhouse School (here called Grey Friars) 
as Thackeray had been. He becomes an art student, and his 
experiences in the studios are close to Thackeray's own, just 
as was Pendennis's London journalism. His marriage to meek 
little Rosie Mackenzie, and the character of her domineering 
mother, are parallel to Thackeray's calamitous married life. And 
the heroine, Ethel Newcome, was also drawn from life. She is 
usually considered to be the most attractive of the young women 
in his novels, possessing the vivacity and intelligence of Becky 
Sharp and Beatrix Esmond without their selfish hardness. After 
conquering his attachment to Jane Brookfield, Thackeray had 
gone on a lecture tour to the United States, where he was capti 
vated by a pretty girl in New York, Sally Baxter. Though his feel 
ing for her was playful rather than passionate, he found her 
American frankness such a delightful contrast to the affectation 
of young women in English society that his imagination warmed 
to the dream of being her suitor if only he were fifteen years 
younger and a bachelor. As usual, he provided fulfillment in his 
novel for the wish that had to be suppressed in real life; Clive 
Newcome's immature wife conveniently dies, Ethel decides at the 
last moment not to marry the nobleman to whom she has be 
come engaged from motives of worldly ambition, and so 
Thackeray's surrogate has a chance to win the fictional equivalent 
of Sally Baxter as his wife. 

Another of the personal elements is the character of Colonel 
Newcome, a full-length portrait of Thackeray's stepfather. In 
this courageous and unworldly soldier Thackeray came nearest 
to fulfilling his ambition of depicting an ideal gentleman, as he 
had previously attempted in Dobbin and Esmond. There are 



The Domestic Scene 311 

traces of Don Quixote and Parson Adams and Dr. Primrose in the 
colonel, but he is less caricatured than any of them in his boyish 
trustfulness and innate dignity. Though readers may be no longer 
deeply moved by his old age and death, he is still one of the 
few convincing figures of unalloyed goodness in fiction. And 
for this very reason he emphasizes the bitter tone of the book, 
through his unlikeness to most of his scheming and hypocritical 
kindred. The central irony of the situation is that this paragon 
of honesty and candor cannot survive in the competitive struggle 
of modern business. 

As his technical method of handling the point of view, Thacker 
ay borrowed the device that Lytton had recently used in My 
Novel. The narrator is Arthur Pendennis, who is a friend of 
Clive Newcomers and plays a minor role in the action. A spe 
cific identity is thus given to the onlooker who tells the story, 
instead of his being merely a nameless alter ego of the author, as 
in Vanity Fair and 'Pendennis. The action moves sluggishly and 
the plot is not neatly integrated; but Thackeray's sense of the 
reality of his characters transmits itself to the reader. The New- 
come family itself is the unifying element, and their rise in wealth 
and rank through four generations makes this one of the great 
studies of English bourgeois society at its apogee. Thackeray's 
contempt for selfishness, snobbery, and narrow-minded respect 
ability is illustrated from every angle before the story reaches 
its powerful final scenes. 

In contrast with the diffuse opulence of The Nenucomes, 
Dickens's novel of the same year was his briefest and most con 
centrated. This was partly due to its being published in short 
weekly installments in Household Words, but another reason 
was that Hard Times is more strictly centered upon a single 
social theme than his other novels, and that he had not absorbed 
this theme through his pores from childhood onward. He began 
with the conscious purpose of examining the relationship between 
industrialists and workers in the new manufacturing cities, and of 
discrediting the utilitarian philosophy which was the ideological 
basis of current capitalism. This had been foreshadowed in 
Dombey and Son and Bleak House. But in those novels he had 
started with characters and evolved the social implications; in 
Hard Times the characters are obviously invented to demon 
strate the theory. It contains none of the richly elaborated comic 
figures that live so heartily in his other books. With unwonted 



312 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

caution, Dickens began by studying the reports of the newly 
organized national system of education, and by visiting a strike 
bound midland town to observe industrial conflict at first hand. 
The characters in the novel are neatly arranged in symmetrical 
groups, either to represent labor vs. capital or to contrast the re 
pressed children of a practical school with the fun-loving deni 
zens of a circus. 

The angry scorn for utilitarian economics was derived straight 
from Carlyle, to whom the novel was dedicated. Mr. Gradgrind, 
with his gospel of facts and statistics, is a perfect embodiment of 
Carlyle's chief bogy, the ruthless "logic-grinder." And Dickens 
is caught in the same dilemma that afflicts much of Carlyle's 
thinking: being as strong a believer in individual responsibility 
and freedom of choice as were the proponents of laissez-faire, 
he had no faith in any organized system for promoting human 
welfare. In the past he had assailed charitable institutions and 
the Poor Laws; now he turned his guns on the new phenomenon 
of the labor unions, which he saw as an unwarrantable denial of 
the worker's right to choose his job. Perhaps the least convincing 
character in the story is the demagogic union organizer. But 
almost equally lacking in verisimilitude is the nominal hero, 
Stephen Blackpool, the honest workman who is sacrificed between 
the conflicting interests of the union and the employers. 

Being the only novel of Dickens that is openly revolutionary 
in its implications, Hard Times was admired by such radical 
social thinkers as Ruskin and Bernard Shaw; and for its tightly 
organized structure it has been praised by some modern critics 
who exalt form as the main criterion of fiction. But most readers 
have always ranked it lower than Dickens's other works, not for 
its subversive economic views or even for its depressing picture 
of human greed, but simply because its characters fail to come 
alive. 

Basically the same theme was treated in Mrs. Gaskell's North 
and South, which appeared about the same time; but her invin 
cible sympathy and hopefulness produce an effect very different 
from Dickens's grim despondency. This novel marks an advance 
over her previous treatment of similar material in Mary Barton. 
In the intervening years she had made friends among wealthy 
employers, through whom she learned that the problems were 
more complex than she had imagined. The theme is better in 
tegrated with the action, and the plot depends less on coincidence 



The Domestic Scene 313 

and melodrama. There is wider variety and naturalness in char 
acterization, and the distress of the poor is presented through 
the experiences of the characters rather than by the author's dis 
quisitions. She shows equal sympathy for the self-made em 
ployer's certainty that he is justified in managing his industry 
in his own way and for the workers' belief in the righteousness of 
unionized mass action as the only way to gain better conditions. 

Her proposed solution for social conflict, however, is still a 
simple insistence upon Christian generosity and the innate good 
ness of mankind. "The most depraved," she declares, "have also 
their Seed of the Holiness that shall one day overcome their 
evil." Her attempt to be tolerant to all parties deprives the story 
of any strong appeal to the reader's moral judgment. She im 
plies that her ideal of mutual understanding is adequately fulfilled 
at the end when John Thornton, the manufacturer, modifies his 
intransigent stand after he marries Margaret, who is familiar with 
the misery of his employees. 

Kingsley, meanwhile, who had begun writing fiction at the 
same time as Mrs. Gaskell and with similar motives, remained aloof 
in his new role of historical romancer. Westward Ho! is his most 
popular book, though it is regarded as more suitable for young 
people than for adults. His vivid historical imagination, his 
happy memories of the North Devon coast where he spent some 
of his childhood, his love of physical action, and his idealization 
of such simple virtues as courage and loyalty combine to make 
this one of the great adventure stories. The author's religious 
prejudices lurk below the surface, for in this tale of the war 
with Spain in Elizabeth's time he glorifies the English Protestants 
in contrast with the dastardly schemes of the Roman Catholics; 
but as the bias is consistent with the patriotic fervor of the char 
acters it is not obtrusive. Free from overt didactic preoccupa 
tions, Kingsley showed -his talent for telling a thrilling story. 

The patriotic feeling in Westward Ho! was particularly intense 
because the novel w r as written during the Crimean War. England's 
first major war in forty years, it was unpopular with a segment of 
the public, especially with the politicians of the Manchester school, 
for both humanitarian and economic reasons. Kingsley's ardent 
and simple enthusiasm for his country and for heroic actions 
aroused him to fury against such pusillanimity, as he considered 
it, and the crisis changed him from an incendiary radical to a 
conservative imperialist. For the moment he contented himself 



314 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

with the contrast implicit in his story of the noble national 
spirit in the days of Drake and Raleigh; but he was impelled also 
to write a novel on the contemporary situation. 

It was published in 1857, with the inept title Two Years Ago, 
which was intended to emphasize its topical application to the 
recent war. The book is a farrago of all the things that Kingsley 
was most excited about not only the Crimean War, but Ameri 
can abolitionism, public health, the value of scientific research, 
and, of course, the heresies of Tractarians and Dissenters, par 
ticularly what Kingsley regarded as the pernicious doctrine of 
torments in hell Incidentally, as a defense for his habit of writing 
didactic fiction, he inflicts terrific retribution on one of the char 
acters, a minor poet, who has changed his name from John Briggs 
to Elsley Vavasour, and who, as a believer in art for art's sake, 
admires a shipwreck for its aesthetic values. 

The hero, a headstrong young doctor, after years of adventure 
in wild regions, settles down in a Devonshire village and falls 
in love with an incredibly saintly schoolmistress. To check an 
epidemic of cholera, he forces sanitation upon the unwilling vil 
lagers. He then goes to serve at the Crimean front, where the 
beautiful Grace Harvey also appears as a nurse. His arrogance is 
chastened by the rigors of a Tartar prison, and Grace is con 
verted from her fanatical terror of hell-fire. Meanwhile a beauti 
ful mulatto, who escaped from slavery with the doctor's help, be 
comes a world-famous actress and marries a rich, sophisticated 
American as soon as he dedicates himself to abolitionism at her 
urging. The w T hole extravagant mixture is rendered readable by 
the author's impassioned faith in its essential truth. It has much in 
common with Henry Brooke's Fool of Qziality, which was Kings- 
ley's favorite novel. 

Almost as wide a range of social causes figures in Dickens's 
novel, Little Dorrit, which came out between December, 1855, 
and June, 1857. With the return to monthly parts Dickens re 
sumed his customary vast, crowded survey. Structurally Little 
Dorrit resembles Bleak House in consisting of several apparently 
unrelated threads of action which are eventually woven together. 
The scenes are even more widely diversified, for one of the 
narrative threads begins in Marseilles, and the Dorrits later go to 
Italy. Having paid several long visits to the Continent, Dickens 
was now able to describe foreign scenes with the sharpness of 
observation that had previously been confined to English settings. 



The Domestic Scene 315 

The atmosphere of the story, too, has points of contact with 
that of Bleak House, with Bleeding Heart Yard as the equivalent 
of Tom-All-Alone's, and the feeling of Gothic terror culminating 
in the collapse of Mrs. Clennam's old house, somewhat like the 
spontaneous combustion of Krook in the other story. And this 
book again was a full-scale assault on an entrenched part of the 
administrative system this time the civil service, with its in 
competent staff appointed through family influence. Dickens's 
disgust was dictated partly by the blundering of the authorities 
during the Crimean War, as well as by personal annoyances. The 
Circumlocution Office took its place in popular terminology as the 
symbol for all governmental dilatoriness and meaningless routine. 

There is an equally elaborate exposure of financial corruption, 
whether represented by Mr. Casby, the moralizing humanitarian 
who derives his income from slum rentals, or by Mr. Merdle, the 
millionaire speculator \vho is lauded by bishops and noblemen, but 
whose fraudulent dealings lead him to bankruptcy and suicide. 
This part of the story was taken from the case of John Sadleir, 
a company promoter who killed himself in 1856 (Lever also 
used the Sadleir affair for his novel, Davenport Du?2?2, in 1857-59). 

As an unmasking of the dishonesty rampant in the supposedly 
respectable world of finance, Little Dorrit is akin to The New- 
comes. Mr. Dorrit, indeed, is a sort of inverted image of Colonel 
Newcome, beginning in the debtors' prison and suddenly inher 
iting wealth, instead of losing wealth and ending in a charitable 
institution. But whereas the Colonel's dignity and unworldliness 
are magnificent, Mr. Dorrif s are merely absurd. 

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Little Dorrit is the 
author's return to his own early life as a source. Much of this 
had already been worked in preceding novels, and his second 
adaptation of the same data offers an opportunity for judging 
the changes that had occurred in his feelings. The scenes in 
the Marshalsea prison are a fuller record of the humiliating mis 
fortune of his parents that he had pictured in David Copper-field; 
and Mr. Dorrit plays the role that Dickens's father occupied in 
real life. Dorrit, in other words, is a second version of Micawber; 
but everything that was lovably comic in Micawber's financial 
incompetence and pompous rhetoric and affection for his children 
becomes contemptible and faintly sinister in the more subtle 
and realistic portrait of Dorrit. 

A more ironical sequel to David Copperfield is to be seen in 



316 The English Novel (1850-1855) 

the character of Flora Pinching. The boyhood sweetheart who 
had been the model for Dora Spenlow had unexpectedly written 
to Dickens with sentimental memories of old times; and in some 
dim hope of reviving past happiness he had arranged to see her. 
The shock was distressing: the once fascinating Maria was now 
fat, talkative, and silly. Faced with the truth about his advancing 
years and his former gullibility, Dickens took an unfair revenge 
on the unoffending woman by giving a wryly comic picture of 
her in his next book. 

This, however, is only a minor facet of the emotional crisis 
that underlies the story. Dickens had been married for nearly 
twenty years, and his wife had borne ten children, but she had 
failed to keep pace with his intellectual interests or his social 
advancement; and as a man of intense vitality he was in a state 
of revulsion against his domestic life and the condition of mid 
dle-aged inertia that it implied. Hence in the novel he explores 
the possibility of a love affair between a young girl and a man 
in his forties (Dickens's own age). Admittedly, the moody and 
self-distrustful Arthur Clennam is unlike the extroverted Charles 
Dickens; nevertheless the psychological identification gives the 
book something of the disturbing aura that a similar personal in 
volvement gave to Henry Esmond. 

Because of Dickens's mood of mutiny, as well as his disillusion 
ment with Parliament and the ruling class, themes of imprison 
ment and impotence run through the story until the whole of 
society seems to be symbolized as a universal jail. As an indict 
ment of the economic and political system and as a collection of 
case histories illustrating frustration and irrational fears, Little 
Dorrit in spite of a few gleams of comedy is the most de 
spondent of Dickens's novels. 

The most noteworthy proof of the prestige that the novel had 
acquired in the fifties was its influence upon the poets. A shift in 
the balance of power was recognized in 1853 by Arthur Hugh 
Clough, who remarked that the romantic themes and techniques 
of poetry were losing their appeal: 

It is plain and patent enough that people much prefer Vanity 
Fair and Bleak House. ... Is it that to be widely popular, 
to gain the ear of multitudes, poetry should deal more with 
general wants, ordinary feelings, the obvious rather than the rare 



The Domestic Scene 311 

facts of human nature? . . . The modern novel is preferred to 
the modern poem, because we do here feel an attempt to include 
these indispensable latest addenda, these phenomena which, if we 
forget on Sunday, we must remember on Monday these positive 
matters of fact, which people who are not verse-writers are 
obliged to have to do with. 

In an effort to protect the ancient supremacy of poetry from 
this upstart rival, many poets tried to adapt the novelists' material 
to their own uses, Tennyson employed realistic detail, character 
analysis, and contemporary social problems in such poems as 
"Locksley Hall" and "Aylmer's Field," and especially in his study 
of abnormal psychology, "Maud." Browning evolved the dra 
matic monologue as a medium for concentrating the complexities 
of a novel into the dimensions of a poem, and subsequently ex 
panded this again into his epic in monologues, The Ring and the 
Book, which is a realistic murder-melodrama studied in terms of 
motive. Clough tried to deal whimsically with everyday life in 
the hexameters of "The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich" and 
"Amours de Voyage." Two self-proclaimed "novels in verse," 
Aurora Leigh (1856), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Lucile 
(1860), by Bulwer-Lytton's son Robert, who used the pen name 
"Owen Meredith," sold as widely as the most popular prose novels. 
These hybrid productions, however, serve mainly to prove that 
the novel could not abandon the medium of prose. Familiar de 
tails seem comically incongruous when adorned with poetic meta 
phor, and conversation cannot sound natural in the confines of 
meter and rhyme. 

This incompatibility was the more obvious because Aurora 
Leigh and Lucile partook of the prosaic quality that dominated 
the fiction of the fifties. The novels of this decade reached the 
apex of one particular development the synoptic picture of the 
contemporary social scene. Dickens, Thackeray, Kingsley, Mrs. 
Gaskell, even Surtees, surveyed its fraudulence and its conflicts. 
Lytton, Miss Yonge, and Smedley represented the happier aspects 
of benevolence, family solidarity, and moral assurance. Though 
most of these authors continued to write novels in subsequent 
years, their pre-eminence was soon modified by the increasing 
significance of others who were introducing different techniques 
and attitudes. 




XII 



Intellectual Maturity 

(185-5" - 1860) 



THE AUTHORS WHO SOUNDED new notes at this juncture had been 
writing inconspicuously for several years before each established 
his individual manner. The most notable of them, Anthony Trol- 
lope, conquered a series of obstacles and failures, and was forty 
years old before he produced his first distinguished novel. 

His initial handicap was the fame of his mother, who was 
still publishing fiction as copiously as ever. Anthony, the fourth 
of her sons, was regarded as the family dunce. He did not partici 
pate in the exciting though disastrous expedition to America, 
but was left forlornly at school in England. Intermittently en 
rolled in two good schools Harrow and Winchester he was 
unhappy because he realized the family's financial instability and 
because he was slovenly and awkward and always at the foot 
of the class. With no prospect of entering a university, he was 
appointed as a junior clerk in the postal service when he was 
nineteen, a position that offered nothing but monotonous work 
and low salary. 

For seven years he was employed in the London General Post 

318 



Intellectual Maturity 319 

Office, living in cheap lodgings and making few friends, one of the 
faceless crowd both in the office and in the streets. He ran into 
debt, neglected his duties, and annoyed his superiors with crude 
pranks. But there was a substratum of fortitude in the surly young 
man, and he was unconsciously acquiring self-dependence and a 
tolerant understanding of human beings. In 1840 he suffered a 
dangerous illness and the next year he was transferred to a remote 
region of Ireland. Here an amazing transformation occurred. As 
a deputy inspector he covered a wide district and dealt with 
people on his own responsibility. He became a good rider and 
discovered the joys of fox-hunting. The salary seemed munificent 
after his London poverty. He got along famously with the Irish 
as soon as their warmth broke through his shyness. For the first 
time in his life he was self-confident and happy, and within a 
year of his arrival he was engaged to be married. 

By this time his elder brother Tom had taken up the parental 
profession of authorship, and Anthony too felt a revival of a long- 
suppressed ambition to write. He began a novel in 1843, but it 
was not finished until 1845 and then waited two more years for 
publication. Naturally he turned to his immediate surroundings 
for his subject, and gave a faithful picture of Irish conditions as 
he saw them. Although he had read the novels of Lady Morgan 
and Miss Edgeworth and Lever, he could not accept either the 
humorous or the romantically patriotic view of the country. The 
"hungry forties" w T ere a period of misery among the Irish poor, 
and so Trollope's report was closer to the unrelieved gloom of 
William Carleton. The Macdermots of Bally dor an is a tragic 
story of a landowning family's decay; a second novel, The Kelly s 
and the O' Kelly s (1848), includes more comedy but is handi 
capped by artificiality of plot. Both books contain some effective 
character drawing, but they are burdened with their obvious 
effort to expound the causes of Ireland's wretchedness. As this 
problem held no appeal for English readers, neither novel won 
any success. 

The Continental upheavals of 1848 then attracted Trollope's 
thoughts to the French Revolution, and he wrote a historical 
novel, La Vendee, which was essentially a political treatise on the 
evils of tyranny, with none of the glamour that readers expected 
in stories of the past. It was as flat a failure as the Irish books 
had been. At this point Trollope seemed to be a mediocre didactic 



320 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

novelist, deficient in the infectious zeal and the creative imagina 
tion that sustained the polemics of Dickens and Kingsley and 
Mrs. Gaskell. 

Discouraged by his three failures, he wrote no more fiction 
for several years. By the time he resumed it he had gained pro 
motion in the postal service; and during two years of organizing 
delivery service in the southwest of England he became familiar 
with the everyday manner of English life. Chancing to take a 
walk in the cathedral town of Salisbury one evening, he was 
reminded of his school days in Winchester and of a controversy 
over the administration of an almshouse there* The result was 
a short and unpretentious novel, The Warden, written at inter 
vals over more than two years. It centered upon a muddle-headed 
but generous old clergyman who becomes the victim of a news 
paper outcry about the financial affairs of the old men's home 
of which he is superintendent. The Rev. Septimus Harding is a 
minor version of the type of unworldly gentleman that Thack 
eray had exalted to heroic stature in Colonel Newcome. Around 
him seethe the petty rivalries and maneuvers of the hierarchy in 
a Church of England diocese. This microcosm, isolated from the 
wider world by geography, by vocation, and by leisurely and 
tradition-bound procedures, was a perfect specimen for the anal 
ysis of human behavior in relation to social patterns. It is like 
a slow-motion film which reveals unsuspected complexity in 
familiar activities. 

Trollope wrote in the muted tone of everyday discourse, with 
the amused impartiality of a sensible onlooker who has learned 
to be neither exasperated by human absurdity nor enticed into 
advocating reform of the social fabric, no matter how defective 
it may be. He had moved closer to his mother's type of fiction, 
with its matter-of-fact recording of contemporary life; indeed, 
The Warden shows specific resemblances to one of her recent 
novels, Petticoat Government. But he avoided her tendency to 
indulge in assertive social criticism. Having ejected the didactic 
virus from his blood in his first three novels, he was now inter 
ested in individual behavior without concern over theories. He 
made a point of dissociating himself from propagandistic writing 
by including gratuitous and heavy-handed caricatures of Dickens 
and Carlyle, ridiculing their self-elected function as arbiters of 
public morals. 



Intellectual Maturity 321 

When The Warden was published in one volume in 1855, Trol- 
lope had no thought of doing anything more with the subject. 
But the characters that he had invented, and the cathedral town 
that he had visualized in such detail, refused to fade from his 
mind, and so he wrote a longer novel, Earchester Towers, with 
the same setting. In order to introduce new characters he had 
to deal summarily with some of the former ones. At the end 
of The Warden Mr. Harding's younger daughter had married a 
local surgeon; between the two books this man conveniently dies, 
leaving his widow free to engage in more complicated love af 
fairs. The old bishop is also killed off, because the main theme 
of the new novel is the impact of a less diplomatic prelate upon 
the community. The husband of Mr. Harding's other daughter, 
Archdeacon Grantly, develops into a more complex and more 
admirable character to become a principal protagonist. The exotic 
Stanhope family is introduced to emphasize the seclusion of 
Barchester by the contrast with sophisticated cosmopolitans. 

It might be expected that in a book dealing with ecclesiastical 
matters some of the great contemporary controversies would 
loom large, when the Church of England was being torn by the 
battles of the High, Low, and Broad factions. Trollope indeed 
betrays his sympathies by his ridicule of the Low-Church Bishop 
and Mrs. Proudie and especially of the Bishop's hypocritical 
chaplain, Mr. Slope. But there is nothing like Kingsley's passionate 
concern over the spiritual values involved. Trollope ignores 
'historical and doctrinal issues. He merely dislikes Mrs. Proudie 
because she is aggressive and Mr. Slope because he is crass. The 
other clergy are preferable because they have gracious manners 
and are not in an unseemly state of fervor. 

This novel shows the full development of Trollope's skill in 
characterization and his ability to make commonplace details in 
teresting. Also he had found that he could produce novels at 
a rapid pace without encroaching on his official duties. When 
Earchester Towers was published in 1857 he was already in 
the midst of another full-length book, which came out later in the 
year. This was The Three Clerks, which contains some revealing 
glimpses of his unhappy years in London, but which is over 
loaded with complications of plot, marred by bad taste in style, 
and disfigured with spiteful caricatures of the author's official 
superiors. Trollope wrote at his best only as long as he could 



322 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

sustain a disengaged attitude toward his material; in this book he 
was hampered by too much personal involvement. 

As quickly as possible he returned to the region that he knew 
as an onlooker, and which was already growing in his mind be 
yond the central town into a whole county with a topography so 
complete that he drew a precise map of it. He moved out into 
the rural villages with this third Barsetshire novel, Doctor Thome, 
and also widened the social picture by centering the story upon 
a physician in place of the clergy. The whole 200,000 words were 
written in about five months, even though for part of the time 
Trollope was traveling on an official mission in Egypt and Pales 
tine. Nevertheless it is well unified in structure and atmosphere. 
There is a noteworthy heroine, Mary Thorne, an unsurpassed por 
trait of a natural, gentle English girl. The whole social and po 
litical system of the county is sketched in as background. Even 
the theme of the new capitalism is introduced through Roger 
Scatcherd, an ex-convict, who began life as a stonemason and 
ends as a millionaire railway contractor and a baronet. The plot 
contains elements of conventional melodrama the secret of the 
heroine's parentage, the rich boy in love with the poor girl and 
the final reversal of their positions but this is subordinate to 
the series of perfectly natural dilemmas that beset all the charac 
ters. 

In his next two novels Trollope deserted the Barsetshire scene; 
and both of them were of inferior quality. The Bertrams deals 
with an unhappy marriage, suffers from a contrived happy end 
ing, and includes too many irrelevancies. In Castle Richmond 
he reverted to the Irish setting and to the dreary and didactic 
strain of his first book. Meanwhile in 1859 he was requested to 
provide the first serial for the Cornhill Magazine, which was 
being launched with Thackeray as the editor. Trollope was 
enraptured by this recognition from the man whom he consid 
ered the foremost novelist of the age, and he contributed a fourth 
Barsetshire novel, Framley Parsonage, which proved to be a major 
cause for the magazine's unprecedented success. 

Within six years Trollope had published seven novels and es 
tablished himself among the leading novelists. Yet he remained 
obstinately an "ordinary man." His appearance and demeanor 
gave no hint of the artist: he was burly and bald-headed, with a 
loud voice and bluntly cordial manners. He much preferred his 



Intellectual Maturity 323 

days in the hunting field and his evenings of whist to the com 
pany of authors. His chief pride was in the businesslike efficiency 
with which he held to his schedule of writing three hours a day, 
1000 words an hour, with the finished book always of the stip 
ulated length and in the printer's hands on the promised date. 
He was equally practical in his attention to his contracts and 
profits. 

It is this quality of normality that gives his novels their par 
ticular effect. His style is so devoid of subtlety and grace that 
the reader is seldom aware of any distinctive voice of the author. 
Instead, one has the gratified feeling that this is the way things 
actually happened, without manipulation by an ingenious inter 
mediary. This does not mean that Trollope adopted an imper 
sonal attitude. He frequently discusses the characters and 
their behavior, but his comments are so sensible that they seem 
to be the reader's own reaction and not an intrusion that weakens 
the objectivity. 

The events of the story are seldom sensational, and whenever 
the plot does arrive at an emotional crisis, the author seems em 
barrassed, and resorts to a sort of gruff understatement that leaves 
the reader to infer the tragic undertones for himself. Trollope 
also had a horror of rhetorical elaboration such as Dickens prac 
ticed; and he avoided also Dickens's methods of suspense. He 
laid down a positive policy in Barchester Towers: 

Our doctrine is, that the author and the reader should move 
along together in full confidence with each other. Let the per 
sonages of the drama undergo ever so completely a comedy of 
errors among themselves, but let the spectator never mistake the 
Syracusan for the Ephesian; otherwise he is one of the dupes, 
and the part of a dupe is never dignified. 

Therefore, with a kind of stubborn frankness, Trollope insisted 
upon forewarning his reader of the outcome whenever a situation 
could conceivably arouse anxiety or doubt. 

Trollope was a devout admirer of Thackeray, though he had 
little of his master's emotional involvement with the story and 
less of his mordant irony and urbane style. Labeling him a dis 
ciple of Thackeray only discloses his lack of genius. It is fairer 
to place him in the category of the domestic novelists, with Frank 
Smedley and Charlotte Yonge. He used their type of material 



324 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

and produced their atmosphere, but with immeasurably superior 
verisimilitude. If realism be regarded as the interesting presenta 
tion of familiar material, Trollope is the third great realist in 
English fiction, in succession to Defoe and Jane Austen. The 
only advantage in terming him a follower of Thackeray is a con 
venient antithesis with two other novelists who achieved prom 
inence at the same time, Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade, both 
of whom are closely affiliated with Dickens. 

Wilkie Collins was the son of a successful portrait painter. At 
the age of seventeen he was apprenticed to a London tea-broker; 
and before he was twenty he sought to vary the monotony of his 
work by writing an erotic novel about native life in Tahiti. Though 
the manuscript never found a publisher, Collins went on to com 
pose a historical romance about the fall of the Roman Empire. 
On the strength of the * opening section of it, his father al 
lowed him to give up the uncongenial tea business and enroll as 
a law student. At this juncture the senior Collins died, and the 
son carried out his wishes by writing a biography of him, which 
was published in 1848 at the family's expense. Although he con 
tinued with his legal studies long enough to be called to the bar, 
he had now no intention of following any other career than 
authorship. He analyzed the literary profession and decided that 
the most profitable branch was fiction. 

For the moment, unlike most of the other novelists, he was 
not under the troublesome necessity of earning a living. By stay 
ing at home with his mother he found his inheritance ample for 
his modest needs. In physique he was small and underdeveloped, 
with an abnormally large head, and his eyesight was painfully 
defective. Apart from a love of amateur acting, he had no impulse 
to attract public notice. 

His first novel, Antonina, or The Fall of Rome, came out in 
1850, when he was twenty-six. It was a conventional romance 
after the model of The Last Days of Pompeii, with the material 
derived largely from Gibbon. Its most notable feature was a series 
of panoramic tableaux and landscapes, showing the influence of 
his life among pictorial artists. His next novel, Basil, also had a 
historical source Lord Chesterfield's relations with his son and 
with Dr. Dodd, the forger; but Collins transformed this into a 
story of his own day, with a detailed realistic setting which he 
obtained conscientiously by ranging over London in omnibuses 



Intellectual Maturity 325 

and eavesdropping on conversations. Large parts of the novel 
also had an autobiographical basis. The first-personal technique 
of narrative lent plausibility to what was otherwise a melodrama 
of violence, crime, a dark secret, and passionate love and hatred. 
Collins had worked out a theory that "the Novel and the Play are 
twin-sisters in the family of Fiction: that the one is a drama 
narrated, as the other is a drama acted." Admiring the sensa 
tional plays of the French stage, he insisted that "those extraor 
dinary accidents and events which happen to few men seemed 
to me to be as legitimate materials for fiction to work with . . . 
as the ordinary accidents and events which may, and do, happen 
to us all." The preface to Basil, in which he enunciated this 
theory, is the manifesto of a new type of fiction that came to be 
termed "the sensation novel." 

By this time he had become a friend of Dickens through play 
ing roles in the amateur theatricals that Dickens loved to organize. 
The mutual influence of the two writers on each other is hard 
to determine. Collins was still at w r ork on Basil when Dickens 
began publishing Bleak House, his first novel to make integral use 
of suspense and mystification. Thereafter the two authors moved 
side by side in perfecting a technique for retaining the effect of 
Gothic gloom and terror while rendering it plausible with familiar 
settings. 

For his third novel, Hide and Seek, Collins borrowed from 
Bleak House the mystery of an illegitimate girl's parentage as his 
plot motif. As a result of an accident as a child performer in a 
circus she becomes a deaf-mute, and after she grows up she 
falls in love with a young man who turns out to be her half- 
brother. Collins tried to invade the domain of domestic fiction 
in the first half of the book, reserving the detection of the mys 
tery for the later part. Recollections of his own youth provided 
scenes of a narrowly religious household and a dreary tea-ware 
house, and a great deal about artists and their work. This mixture 
of the tranquil and the sensational was not successful, and Collins 
devoted himself for a while to writing short stories, in which 
he aimed solely at suspense and morbid horror. Not until 1857 
did he start to write another full-length novel, The Dead Secret, 
which came out serially in Household Words. Though the plot 
was rather thin, the writing was better than his previous work 
in tension and in directness of approach, and several of the char- 



326 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

acters showed an effort to follow the methods of Dickens. For 
the first time Collins made a marked success with the public. 

By this time he had overcome an obsession with his own 
early days, which had appeared in his four previous novels in 
the form of a domineering father who does not appreciate a 
sensitive son (or daughter). A new theme was now available in 
his personal life. One night in 1855, when he was walking in a 
London suburb with his brother and Millais, the painter, a young 
woman rushed out of a house, screaming. Upon going to her aid, 
Collins found that she was escaping from a brutal husband. Sub 
sequently Collins provided quarters for her and her baby daugh 
ter, and came to regard her as his unofficial wife. Traces of this 
affair appeared in more than one of his short stories, and when he 
began to write another novel in 1859, he built it around the 
startling scene of his first encounter with the distraught woman. 
In a collection of French trials he found various cases of mistaken 
identity. A chance letter from a stranger suggested the terrify 
ing possibility of wrongful detention in a lunatic asylum. At 
the same time he conceived the technical device of imitating a 
court trial by presenting the story through the testimony of vari 
ous witnesses. As each tells his version of the events on the basis 
of his limited knowledge, the truth is gradually revealed with an 
acute sense of reality and a concomitant revelation of the separate 
characters. Collins plays on the reader's imagination with ominous 
details that are all the more disturbing because they are so trivial. 
The main characters feel unexplainable premonitions; people moan 
and shriek in their sleep; a spaniel is mysteriously shot the first 
day Marian Halcombe is at the Glydes' estate; another dog cringes 
in terror when Sir Percival pets it; even landscape and houses are 
described in foreboding phrases. In addition to these novelties 
Collins provided a new type of villain in Count Fosco, \vho was 
not only suave and witty but also fat. The combination of a 
nerve-racking plot, natural characters, and a fresh mode of nar 
ration gave The Woman in White unprecedented impact. It 
appeared as a magazine serial in Ne\v York and Paris simul 
taneously with its London publication in Dickens's new weekly, 
All the Year Round. By the time the story reached its end 
Collins was an international celebrity. 

Collins was almost the first significant novelist to enter the 
profession by conscious choice, instead of blundering into it by 



Intellectual Maturity 321 

way of other vocations. After making his decision, he mas 
tered the craft through ten years of trial-and-error, during which 
he published five commonplace novels. Like Trollope he had 
little feeling for style. His first four novels were wordy and 
bombastic, until experiments with drama and the short story 
taught him economy and natural dialogue. Like Trollope, too, 
he regarded novel-writing strictly as a business; he collected his 
material with cool efficiency, and devoted attention as seriously 
to the financial transactions and the publicity for his books as to 
the creative process. He wrote laboriously and pointed out his 
technical innovations in complacent prefaces. His function, as he 
understood it, was to entertain; he announced defiantly that "I 
have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary ob 
ject of a work of fiction should be to tell a story." 

The other important innovator of the sensation novel was ten 
years older than Collins, but he was slow in discovering his 
metier. The son of an Oxfordshire squire, Charles Reade studied 
at Magdalen College, Oxford, and remained a Fellow of the 
college all his life, not because he had any affection for the 
academic world, but because the fellowship assured him an in 
come. Two disagreeable conditions, however, were attached: 
he was not permitted to marry, and he was obliged to enter one 
of the three "learned" professions the church, law, or medi 
cine. The dull duties of a clergyman had no appeal for him, 
and an interlude as a medical student in Edinburgh ended when 
he found he could not endure the sight of blood. As a last resort 
he settled down in London to read law. 

At the time of his graduation from college he started making 
notes for possible use in writing fiction, but he modestly doubted 
his ability to be an author. Instead he completed his law studies, 
was called to the bar, and took the degree of D.C.L. Concur 
rently he served terms as junior dean, then bursar, and eventually 
vice-president of his college. He invested in a herring fishery 
in Scotland and carried on a business in London as an importer 
of antique violins. His deepest interest, however, was in the 
theater, in both London and Paris, and at last he decided to be a 
playwright. Starting at the age of thirty-six, he wrote or trans 
lated a dozen plays, alone or in collaboration, between 1851 and 
1855. One of these, entitled Masks and Faces, he expanded into 
a short novel, Peg Woffington, which dealt romantically with the 



328 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

real career of an eighteenth-century actress. Another of his 
early plays, Christie Johnstone, which was similarly transformed 
into fiction, depicted the Scottish fisher-folk whom he knew 
through his herring business; indeed, there is some evidence that 
it is based on a love affair between Reade and a pretty fisher 
lass. 

English drama in the mid-century was highly artificial, and in 
these two stories Reade stayed close to the stage practice by pre 
senting a series of spectacular scenes, with little regard for co 
herent development. Sometimes a whole page of conversation 
was printed in the same form as the dialogue of a play. The books 
were moderately successful, and he went on to develop another 
of his plays into fiction, on a larger scale. 

Readers tardiness in becoming a novelist suggests that he 
felt no strong inner compulsion. When he adopted the vocation 
as a way of earning a living he was equipped with habits acquired 
through his previous training. As a university scholar he had 
learned the methods of research; as a lawyer he knew the value 
of a well-prepared brief. Accordingly, he kept a vast system of 
notebooks and files of newspaper clippings, and to verify a single 
fact he would plow through half-a-dozen long books. Half of 
each page of his manuscript would be left empty for inserting 
corrections of detail. 

His play Gold dealt with the topical subject of the Australian 
diggings. In turning it into a full-length novel he interviewed 
everyone he could find who had been to the new country. As 
he was also introducing another theme, the English penal sys 
tem, he visited prisons in search of accurate information, and was 
shocked by what he observed. When the novel was published in 
1856, with the title It Is Never Too Late to Mend (subtitled "A 
Matter-of-fact Romance"), its depiction of the mistreatment of 
prisoners aroused a newspaper controversy, in which Reade took 
active part. This public uproar, combined with the melodramatic 
plot, made the book hugely successful. The structure of the 
story is mechanical enough, with the parallel narration of two 
men's careers and a contrived climax; but the prison scenes are 
powerful, and the hypothesis that a criminal might be redeemed 
by considerate treatment was a startling new idea a century 
ago. Readers experience as a playwright gives an almost inhuman 
externality to his manner: the characters are shown through 



Intellectual Maturity 329 

outward behavior rather than by revelation of their inner proc 
esses. 

Readers next two novels were inferior potboilers, as were two 
volumes of short stories reprinted from magazines. He devoted 
his energy chiefly to a series of lawsuits in which he tried more 
courageously than discreetly to obtain better terms for authors 
from publishers and better protection from plagiarists. He was 
equally ready to wage war on reviewers by pointing out their 
misrepresentations. Obstinate and short-tempered, he made power 
ful enemies, and he lost money by most of his suits, even when 
he w r on the verdict. But his fanatical devotion to justice, which 
inspired these campaigns as much as it inspired his novels, would 
accept no compromise; and the ultimate result can be seen in 
the modern safeguards of copyright. 

It is ironical that his next novel which turned out to be his 
masterpiece grew out of a characteristic quarrel. When Dickens 
arbitrarily discontinued Household Words in 1859 and issued his 
new weekly through another firm, his former publishers started 
Once a Week in competition; and since the success of Dickens's 
paper was due largely to its including his own new novel as a 
serial, the editor of Once a Week wished to start off with a serial 
by the most popular novelist he could find. Collins was a hench 
man of Dickens, and Trollope was engaged by the Cornhill Maga 
zine; therefore the offer was made to the author of It Is 
Never Too Late to Mend. 

Being interested at the moment in fifteenth-century history, 
Reade began to write a short serial entitled A Good Fight, based 
on an episode in the early life of the father of Erasmus. Soon he 
was embroiled in disputes with the editor, whom he accused of 
tampering with his text, and when it had run for three months 
he brought the story to an abrupt end. With his usual stubborn 
ness he then decided to vindicate himself by rewriting it on a 
larger scale. He secluded himself at Oxford for two years of 
diligent research, and produced The Cloister and the Hearth, 
five times the length of the serial. 

The structure of this novel was fairly primitive, harking back 
to the picaresque form as it followed Gerard Eliason's route 
across Europe from Rotterdam to Rome. But Reade's experience 
with the sensation novel enabled him to exploit each adventure 
to its maximum effect. Humor and pathos abound, and the ex- 



330 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

citement is sometimes almost intolerably acute. One idiosyn- 
cracy, which had already appeared in his previous books, was 
the use of typographical tricks: important passages were printed 
all in capital letters, secret \vhispers were in minuscule type, 
illustrative diagrams were inserted in the text. Such devices reflect 
the dramatist's desire to achieve something like the auditory 
and visual effects that inhere in stage production. His narrative 
techniques, too, are still mainly theatrical: the vividness of each 
episode, whether for excitement or for farce, depends upon its 
pictorial composition, its sequence of physical action, and its 
abrupt "curtain" at a climactic moment. 

The book's greatest value is its embodiment of the spirit 
that was about to produce the Renaissance and the Reformation. 
Its geographical range enabled the author to survey the whole 
Western culture of the era, and he captured its zest and intel 
lectual curiosity to the full. The burden of scholarly precision 
is never wearisome, for Reade worked all his details of food and 
dress, customs and pastimes, medicine and law and painting, into 
the lively action of the story. 

He was proud of its authenticity, and contemptuous of his 
contemporaries for writing so-called historical fiction about mod 
ern people in fancy dress. Yet The Cloister and the Hearth is 
more essentially of the nineteenth century than any of the cloak- 
and-sword romances that he scorned. The ferment of curiosity 
and experiment, the excitement over new inventions, was the 
typical mood of his own time. And the particular theme of the 
novel the evils of celibacy, which separated the young friar 
Gerard from his sweetheart and brought a tragic outcome for 
them both was even more intimately personal with Reade 
than with Kingsley. In condemning the unnatural asceticism of 
the Romanist discipline, Reade was taking his revenge upon its 
anachronistic survival in the university regulation that had 
brought emotional frustration into his own life. 

The three new men of English fiction in the later fifties had 
much in common. All of them developed the mechanical rou 
tines of their craft as a substitute for creative invention Trol- 
lope with his three thousand words a day, Collins with his omni 
bus expeditions, Reade with his notebooks and clippings. All were 
committed to the cause of realism, though with Trollope it was 
an end in itself, whereas Collins and Reade used it as a means 



Intellectual Maturity 331 

for strengthening the impact of the abnormal events that they 
narrated. And all were aware of the value of firm plot structure, 
though Collins was the only one who made this his chief claim 
to fame. 

One reason for these changes was the decline of publication 
in monthly parts. For twenty years this practice had brought 
huge profits to the most popular novelists; but by 1860 serial 
publication was being taken over by the new mass-circulation 
monthly and weekly magazines. Thackeray's last novel in parts 
was The Virginians (1857-59), Lever's was Luttrell of Arrm 
(1863-65). Dickens and Trollope occasionally used the method 
until the seventies. 

This form of publication had required a degree of complete 
ness and an individual climax for each part. Magazine serialization 
was less demanding; installments were briefer, and when the 
serial was only one among many contributions the sales of each 
issue did not fluctuate so identifiably on the basis of readers' 
reactions. Hence the author could build a better integrated plot 
and maintain a more consistent atmosphere. 

Several other popular authors also emerged in the mid-fifties. 
One was Dinah Maria Mulock, who won immense success in 1856 
with her fifth novel, John Halifax, Gentlermcm. Her father had 
been an eccentric religious fanatic, and she had grown up in an 
environment of evangelical piety. Her novel presented the ideals 
of the nonconformists with the same sincerity as Miss Yonge's 
depiction of High-Church Anglicanism. At the same time, by 
telling the story of a poor farm lad who becomes rich and so 
cially accepted through hard work and self-respect, Miss Mulock 
embodied the cherished ambition of the lower middle class. Her 
book vindicated the solid virtues of a way of life that was being 
ridiculed by other authors as narrow-minded or materialistic, and 
it did much to make fiction respectable in the eyes of the devout 
Evangelical party. Her next book, A Life for a Life, which was 
an attack on capital punishment, followed in the wake of Reade's 
exposure of barbarous discipline in prisons. 

Another work of fiction that was tremendously successful, 
though it cannot be counted as a novel for adults, was Tom 
Brown's School Days (1857), by Thomas Hughes, a barrister 
who had been educated at Rugby under the famous Dr. Arnold 
and who later was associated with Kingsley and Maurice in 



552 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

their campaign for Christian Socialism and workmen's educa 
tion. The book was an idealized version of his own boyhood, and 
its simple standards of loyalty, generosity, and friendship ex 
pressed the spirit of the domestic fiction of the decade with an 
admixture of bullying, fisticuffs, athletics, and pranks that made 
it palatable to young readers. A sequel, Torn Brown at Ox-ford, 
has never been so popular but provides a good picture of the 
intellectual ferment among the undergraduates of the forties, as 
a complement to Kingsley's Yeast and Newman's Loss and Gain. 
Meanwhile Hughes's picture of life at a boys' school had been 
developed into a sentimental stereotype by Frederick William 
Farrar, a schoolmaster who later became a famous preacher. 
His Eric, or Little by Little (1858), Julian Home (1859), and 
St. Winifred's, or the World of School (1862) were inflicted on 
boys as models of conduct and virtue, and consequently they 
came to be universally ridiculed by later generations. 

Offsetting this mawkish trend, a former schoolmate of Hughes 
at Rugby, George Alfred Lawrence, took to writing novels that 
exaggerated the cult of physical strength and reckless courage. 
His first book, Guy Livingstone, or Thorough^ published anony 
mously in 1857, was widely read, as was Sword and Gown (1859), 
in which the hero is killed in the charge of the Light Brigade. 
The masculine ideal of hardness and the total absence of intel 
lectual subtlety made Lawrence's stories the prototype of the 
novel of action. 

Meanwhile, the two senior novelists, Dickens and Thackeray, 
both resorted to historical fiction. Thackeray was becoming anx 
ious about the deterioration of his creative power; he felt that 
he was in danger of reworking his own experience monoto 
nously. Accordingly he decided upon writing a sequel to Es 
mond, dealing with the American grandsons of his former hero 
and their participation in the War of Independence. During a 
second lecture tour in the United States he consulted two Amer 
ican novelists, John Esten Cooke and John Pendleton Kennedy, 
for help in keeping his details accurate. His original plan would 
have produced a neatly constructed story, with the brothers tak 
ing opposite sides in the Revolution and both falling in love with 
the same girl. But when he started to write he allowed his 
interest in characters and historical atmosphere to override the 
requirements of structure. He got one of the young men out 



Intellectual Maturity 333 

of the way by having him captured by the Indians, and then 
he brought the other to England to visit his noble kinsfolk. This 
provided an opportunity for Thackeray's usual contrast between 
a naive, impulsive character and a group of selfish worldlings. 
The chief connection with the earlier book was the reappear 
ance of Beatrix Esmond, now an embittered old woman whose 
ambitions have brought her no happiness. In this portrait and 
in that of the kindly Lambert family a sketch of Thackeray's 
home life with his daughters the moralizing tendency becomes 
unduly obvious. So many chapters are occupied with static de 
piction of the social and literary world in London, including 
glimpses of General Wolfe, Dr. Johnson, and other celebrities, 
that the American Revolution has to be crowded into a few pages 
near the end. An attempt to achieve vividness by having some 
chapters cast in the form of the elder brother's journal merely 
produces confusion in the point of view. Yet, in spite of weak 
nesses, The Virginians has its own special charm in its mood of 
middle-aged disenchantment and whimsical melancholy. 

As his serial to launch his new periodical, Dickens wrote a 
novel of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. In unity 
and structure it was superior to Earnaby Rudge, his previous ven 
ture into historical fiction, which had centered upon a somewhat 
similar occurrence in England about the same time a proletar 
ian uprising and the burning of a prison by the mob. The situa 
tion of a physical likeness between two men which enables one 
to be substituted for the other resembles those that were being 
used by Collins; but the book was raised above the level of the 
sensation novels by its effectively tragic ending and by the am 
plitude of the historical scene. Dickens had studied Carlyle's 
French Revolution assiduously, and he caught something of the 
panoramic vision of that epic book. His opening chapter is a re 
markable condensation of a historical era in imaginative phrases. 
Throughout, the brevity of the chapters and the conciseness of 
the descriptive passages make the story move with unusual 
rapidity. As the title indicates, the structural pattern depends 
upon parallelism and antithesis. "It was the best of times, it was 
the worst of times"; Dr. Manette is recalled to life at the be 
ginning, and Charles Darnay at the end; trial scenes are 
counterbalanced in the two cities; Jarvis Lorry and Sidney 
Carton are opposite in character but function similarly in the 



334 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

action. Balanced contrasts also pervade the theme and the figures 
of speech. 

Sydney Carton, the hero, was a departure from the conven 
tional pattern. A drunkard and a cynic, he was almost an open 
affront to the moral standards of the day, and as such he repre 
sented a step in the direction of realism, though his nobly 
unselfish action in giving his life for another man who is to marry 
the girl they both love is strictly in the romantic tradition. 

By this time the English novel was ready for the final de 
velopment in its advance toward equality with the other major 
genres of literature. Technical expertness had been acquired, but 
still lacking was a conscious perception of the novel as a form 
of art. Likewise, though opinions and theories on all sorts of 
specific subjects were if anything too plentiful in novels, no 
author had yet shown much evidence of capacity for serious 
and consistent thought. 

In France the situation was similar. Balzac had established 
the prestige of massive realism, and Alexandre Dumas had ex 
ploited the potentialities of suspense and excitement. But not 
until 1857, when Gustave Flaubert published Madame Bovary, 
did a novelist combine meticulous realism with perfection of 
literary form and with a concern for general ideas that gave 
his novel permanent significance as an interpretation of the human 
predicament. Flaubert's influence on the subsequent develop 
ment of fiction was tremendous. On one hand, his minute at 
tention to phrase, imagery, and structure proved that a novel 
could be a work of art every bit as dextrous as any poem or 
drama. On the other, he gave a new and distasteful connotation 
to the word "realism," because of his conviction that human 
behavior is incurably vicious. Claiming that he was merely 
facing the unpalatable truth, he implied in his novels that all 
hope of happiness or even of comprehension is a stupid illusion. 
Madame Bovary and VEducatlon sentimentale showed that satis 
faction cannot be found in love; La Tentatlon de Saint-Antoine 
and Bouvard et Pecuchet disqualified religion and philosophy; 
and to abolish the romantic escape from the hideousness of 
the present day, he wrote Salammbd to show that antiquity was 
just as brainlessly brutal. 

While Flaubert's first novel was winning startled attention 
and being banned in France as immoral two English writers 



Intellectual Maturity 335 

were on the threshold of work that was to bring equivalent 
maturity to the novel in their country. One was a woman ap 
proaching middle age, an associate of some of the most indepen 
dent thinkers of the time; the other was a strenuous young man 
with grandiose hopes of being a poet. 

Mary Ann Evans (eventually famous as George Eliot) is the 
most incredible figure in the gallery of English novelists. No 
other overcame so many social and personal handicaps to attain 
eminence in this vocation. Her origin was unlikely to produce 
an author, more unlikely to produce a woman author, and fan 
tastically unlikely to produce a woman author of independent 
intellectual doctrines. Her father, as the manager of a rich 
squire's estates in Warwickshire, belonged to the rural lower 
middle class, which unquestioningly accepted the traditions of 
the caste system, of the pre-industrial agricultural economy, and 
of the Church of England. In the mores of this class, no axiom 
was more basic than that woman's place was in the home. The 
Evans family were deeply devoted to each other, and in her 
childhood Mary Ann often accompanied her father as he drove 
about the countryside to inspect the properties under his charge. 
She was equally fond of her brother, three years her senior. 

A sensitive, awkward, conscientious child, she attended board 
ing schools in neighboring towns until the age of sixteen, re 
ceiving a conventional education in a strictly religious atmos 
phere. Upon the death of her mother she went home to be her 
father's housekeeper, and worked faithfully at her duties of 
cooking, sewing, and supervising the dairy. Also, however, she 
read widely, studied history, acquired fluency in Italian and 
German, became a skilled pianist, and wrote some mild poetry. 
For a while she was so pious that she doubted whether she ought 
to continue reading novels, though she had loved Scotf s since 
childhood. When she was twenty-two her father retired and they 
moved into the town of Coventry. Here she made friends with 
a family of wide literary and intellectual interests, under whose 
tutelage she studied Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and discovered 
the existence of liberal theories about human personality and the 
Christian religion. Straightway she gave up the evangelical 
orthodoxy in which she had been brought up. 

Almost grotesquely ugly, with her large features and sallow 
complexion, she was quiet in manner and yet so earnestly en- 



336 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

ihusiastic in her response to new ideas that she won esteem from 
men of literary and scholarly distinction, including Emerson, who 
frequented her friends' home. By the time she was twenty-five 
she was translating Leben Jesu, by David Friedrich Strauss, 
the most notorious of the German scholars who were applying 
rational analysis to Christianity. Her translation was published, 
without her name, in 1846. Though her father was distressed by 
her freethinking, she nursed him through his lingering final ill 
ness. Her own health was never robust, and after his death she 
was saved from emotional and physical breakdown when her 
friends took her to the Continent. Eight months alone in 
Geneva endowed her with so much self-reliance that on her 
return she decided to make her living in London as a pro 
fessional writer. She took lodgings in the home of John Chap 
man, a radical publisher, as sub-editor of his periodical, the 
Westminster Review, and applied herself to book reviewing and 
translating. 

Women who supported themselves and lived away from home 
were still regarded with some prejudice in 1851; and the literary 
profession was particularly suspect. It took courage for this 
spinster of thirty-two to break away from a sheltered family 
life and undertake an independent career. Even more remarkable 
was the fact that the plain, sickly, self-educated provincial wom 
an was accepted on equal footing by some of the most emi 
nent thinkers of the day, such as Carlyle and Herbert Spencer. 
One of her strongest traits, in spite of her mental power, was 
her dependence on more forceful personalities to provide her 
with confidence and incentive. When John Chapman proved 
inadequate in this role, she turned to Spencer, who was of the 
same age and background as herself and was at this time be 
ginning his life work of synthesizing all the sciences and laying 
philosophical foundations for the theory of evolution. He had 
published Social Statistics in 1850, and his Principles of Psy 
chology was to follow in 1855. Miss Evans was profoundly im 
pressed by his application of scientific methods to the study of 
human behavior and by his reasoned exposition that the principle 
of progress was the basic law of the universe. 

Through Spencer she met George Henry Lewes, a less ex 
haustive and more versatile writer. He had published several 
novels and was probably the best dramatic critic of the time; 



Intellectual Maturity 337 

but his interest was now turning toward biological and psy 
chological research. Also he was a disciple of Auguste Comte, 
and in his History of Philosophy he had persuasively presented 
the doctrines of positivism. Marian (as she now spelled her 
name) was immediately converted to this "religion of human 
ity" which filled the void that had been left by her loss of 
orthodox Christianity. 

Lewes was undergoing a domestic crisis: his wife had deserted 
him for another man, leaving him with three young sons; and 
because he had refrained from expelling her upon first discovering 
her unfaithfulness, he was regarded by the law as having con 
doned her conduct and therefore there were no grounds for 
divorce. Miss Evans became, in everything but a legal sense, a 
wife to Lewes and a mother to his boys. After her second 
translation of a rationalistic book, Feuerbach's Wesen des 
Christe?itums, was published in 1854, she went to Germany with 
Lewes, and on their return they established a home together in 
London. 

This \vas the last in a series of major ethical decisions that 
Mary Ann Evans had faced. First was her break with the re 
ligious faith in which she grew up and which she still respected; 
next came her submission to duty in the years of her father's 
illness, w r hen she had to postpone her scholarly ambitions; this 
final dilemma was more painful because it entailed estrangement 
from her beloved brother. 

The situation was richly ironic. Her deepest concern had 
always been with morality. The moral discipline of her re 
ligious youth had merely been replaced by equally rigorous 
standards of ethical philosophy (at this period she was trans 
lating Spinoza's Ethics). A sense of duty was at least as strong 
as sexual attraction in leading her to her technically immoral 
union with Lewes, who needed her to take care of his household. 
Similarly, his inability to obtain a divorce resulted from the 
virtue of forgiveness toward his wife's misconduct. A further 
irony was that Miss Evans displayed no particular zeal for the 
abstract ideal of women's rights, which was espoused by so 
proper a woman as Charlotte Bronte; and yet she put it into 
practical effect to a degree that the others merely advocated in 
their writings. Yet more ironical was the fact that many of the 
leading masculine writers and other prominent personages were 



338 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

equally irregular in their sexual affairs, but remained socially 
acceptable because they kept their infidelities decently con 
cealed, whereas Miss Evans and Lewes were penalized because 
they adhered to the virtue of honesty. As a model of the mutual 
trust and understanding and the parental love that were idealized 
in the domestic fiction of the decade, their home was more 
adequate than were many that enjoyed the sanction of respect 
ability. Their radical friends, of course, remained loyal to 
them, and in the course of time most of the authors and intel 
lectuals frequented their famous weekly receptions; but ladies 
who were subservient to propriety did not endanger their repu 
tations by recognizing these moral outcasts. 

Lewes w r as so charmed with the humor and sympathy with 
which Marian narrated recollections of her girlhood that he en 
couraged her to recast them in fictional form, and she diffidently 
produced three stories of intermediate length; the first was of 
30,000 words, the second 45,000, the third 60,000. They ap 
peared as short serials in BlackivoocPs Magazine during 1857, and 
were then published in two volumes as Scenes of Clerical Life. 
The author's identity was not disclosed, and when the publisher 
demanded a name it was given as "George Eliot." 

In setting and characters the three stories were derived from 
Marian's childhood surroundings in Warwickshire. With quiet hu 
mor and pathos she depicted crises in the lives of ordinary people 
with normal weaknesses. Although superficially resembling the 
domestic fiction of the decade, the stories had deeper qualities 
of naturalness and insight. They were praised by several leading 
authors, and Dickens alone suspected that the waiter was a woman. 
The increasing length of the stories showed her development 
tow r ard the larger scope of the novel, and she soon felt hampered 
by the monotony imposed by her plan of centering each story 
upon a clergyman's family. By the time Scenes of Clerical Life 
was published she was at work upon a full-scale novel. 

The strength and validity of even the early stories came from 
the author's unique qualifications. Nearing the age of forty, she 
had gained an uncommon degree of mature wisdom. During her 
first twenty years she had known English rural life more in 
timately than any author since Bunyan; but her later cosmopolitan 
experience enabled her to look back on it with wide perspective. 
Her emotional dilemmas had given her comprehension of the 



Intellectual Maturity 339 

conflicts that can occur in apparently placid lives. Her philo 
sophical studies and her friendship with analytical thinkers had 
taught her to regard human behavior in a social and psycho 
logical context. Finally, as a literary critic she had formulated 
positive opinions about the art of fiction; one of her last contri 
butions to the Westminster Review before writing Scenes of 
Clerical Life was a trenchant attack on "Silly Novels by Lady 
Novelists," condemning their trite language, their snobbish atti 
tudes, their slipshod methods and pretentious ignorance. 

In writing her first novel, A daw Bede, she remained as faith 
ful to her childhood environment as she had been in Scenes of 
Clerical Life. By dating the action in 1799-1800, she emphasized 
her representation of English country life as it had been for 
centuries, before its serenity w r as invaded by nineteenth-century 
innovations. Her central character \vas a portrait of her father 
as she imagined him to have been in his youth, while still a 
village carpenter in Staffordshire. As the model for her heroine, 
Dinah Morris, she used an aunt who had been in her early days 
a Methodist preacher, and who must now have acquired new 
significance to her as a woman who had incurred censure both 
by breaking from the established church and by adopting a vo 
cation ordinarily reserved for men. This aunt once told the 
young Mary Ann about how she had prayed in the prison cell 
of a girl accused of poisoning her illegitimate infant and even 
had accompanied her on the way to execution. George Eliot 
used this tale as the plot of her novel, though she made the 
ending less grim by having the girl reprieved from the gallows. 

This climax, when the remorseful seducer arrives with the 
reprieve at the last moment, is the only touch of melodrama 
in the novel. Otherwise the emotions are under the traditional 
English restraint, and the action moves with the deliberate pace 
of the farmer's routine and the cycle of the seasons. The author's 
abiding love for the countryside and her photographic memory 
make the local color authentic. Unlike any previous novelist, 
she was able to draw rustic characters humorously without a 
trace of condescension: the sententious Mrs. Poyser, in particular, 
partly based on the author's mother, is a noteworthy comic 
characterization. 

The central situation has some resemblance to that of The 
Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the only novelist who 



340 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

had hitherto conveyed anything like George Eliot's impression 
of ethical earnestness. It is more closely reminiscent of The 
Heart of Midlothian, but its firm structure is unlike Scott's ram 
bling story. Indeed, it moves with such steadily increasing mo 
mentum toward the climax that the sense of inevitability becomes 
oppressive. Though all relevant facts seem to be presented with 
scrupulous fairness, the author actually conveys several impor 
tant occurrences by skillful indirection. The seduction of Hetty 
Sorrel is indicated by Arthur's action in searching for her pink 
neckerchief and hiding it; the birth and death of the baby are 
suggested in advance through a long account of her state of 
mind, and are later reconstructed through legal evidence; in the 
iinal chapters, after Hetty's conviction, suspense is strengthened 
by the reader's ignorance of Arthur's efforts to obtain her re 
prieve. In these portions George Eliot borrowed technical de 
vices from the sensation novels. 

The book's style is not quite so admirable as its construction. 
Though the general effect is straightforward and unpretentious, 
some phrases and similes betray the author's scholarly and scien 
tific interests; and here and there a self-consciously elaborate 
reference to literature or mythology obtrudes incongruously in 
the homespun context. There is also a monotonous mannerism 
of admonishing the reader: "you remember," "you perceive," 
"possibly you think," "yes, the house must be inhabited, and we 
will see by whom; for imagination is a licenced trespasser: it 
has no fear of dogs, but may climb over walls and peep in at 
windows with impunity. Put your face to one of the glass panes 
in the right-hand window: what do you seer" These minor 
infelicities are the only indications that the author was still a 
novice in writing fiction. 

The novel's strength resides in its impression of being true 
to life not only in external details but also in the intricacies of 
character. This arises partly from the author's attitude of toler 
ant understanding. Arthur Donnithorne is neither a Byronic hero 
nor a lecherous villain, but a confused, well-meaning young man 
who lets a casual flirtation go too far. Hetty is not treated with 
either conventional censure or the sentimental sympathy that had 
replaced it in such a novel as Mrs. GaskelPs Ruth; she appears as 
shallow and conceited, but not inherently vicious. The Rev. Mr. 
Irwine, fitting no stereotype of the clergyman in fiction, is con- 



Intellectual Maturity 

siderate but inadequate when a crisis occurs among his pa 
rishioners. Admittedly, the author's affection for the real people 
who were the originals of Adam and Dinah made her idealize 
these two in some degree; but they are not incredibly perfect, 
for George Eliot no longer shared Dinah's religious inflexibility 
or Adam's subservience to "the gentry." 

The impression of objectivity results mainly from the attention 
given to inward processes of thought and feeling. Hetty's glitter 
ing visions of rank and wealth, and then her blind desperation 
during her solitary journey across the country; Arthur's helpless 
dismay when he realizes the consequences of his behavior; the 
absurd mixture of rage and affection in the relationship of Arthur 
and Adam when they fight the reader shares these emotional 
states instead of merely being told that they exist. 

It is surprising that this unspectacular novel was at once 
acclaimed as a masterpiece. A slow-moving story of stolid coun 
try folk, it nevertheless was so suffused with the author's nos 
talgia for the secure way of life that she had lost for ever, and 
with the sober love of simple people that she shared with her 
favorite poet, Wordsworth, that even the most sophisticated 
readers were captivated. The placid scenery, the weather, the 
rustic festivals and superstitions, were woven into the texture of 
the story. Aware that she had relinquished the picturesqueness 
and excitement that were customary in novels, George Eliot 
inserted a manifesto of her artistic purpose: 

My strongest effort is ... to give a faithful account of men 
and things as they have mirrored themselves in my mind. ... I 
feel as much bound to tell you as precisely as I can what that 
reflection is, as if I were in the witness-box narrating my ex 
perience on oath. ... So I am content to tell my simple story, 
without trying to make things seem better than they were; dread 
ing nothing, indeed, but falsity. ... It is for this rare, precious 
quality of truthfulness that I delight in many Dutch paintings, 
which lofty-minded people despise. I find a source of delicious 
sympathy in these faithful pictures of a monotonous homely ex 
istence, which has been the fate of so many more among my 
fellow-mortals than a life of pomp or of absolute indigence, of 
tragic suffering or of world-stirring actions. 

To be sure, many novelists since Defoe and Fielding had af 
firmed their devotion to truth; but George Eliot succeeded in 



342 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

giving truth a third dimension by revealing it in depth as well 
as on the surface. 

The fame of her book was so phenomenal, and the curiosity 
about George Eliot's identity was so acute, that one Joseph Lig- 
gins, a resident of Coventry, coyly admitted the authorship; 
and when his adherents wrote to the Times on his behalf, the 
real author felt obliged to make herself known. In view of her 
equivocal position, however, which rendered either "Miss Evans" 
or "Mrs. Lewes" equally unsuitable, the pen name remained in 
general use. 

The other epoch-making novel of 1859 was The Ordeal of 
Richard Feverel, by George Meredith; but it met with a totally 
different reception. Eight years younger than George Eliot, Mere 
dith originated in a comparable social stratum, though in a pro 
vincial town instead of the countryside. His grandfather had 
prospered as a tailor in Portsmouth by supplying naval uniforms 
during the Napoleonic Wars. Being handsome, witty, and ur 
bane, the tailor had become popular among the local gentry, and 
was in the habit of claiming descent from Welsh princes. His 
son inherited his good looks and aristocratic manners, but lacked 
business acumen, and by the time George was born the tailor 
shop was running into debt. George's mother died when he was 
five years old. Five years later his father was declared bankrupt 
and went to find employment in London, soon afterwards marry 
ing a servant girl who had been his housekeeper. A small inheri 
tance from his mother enabled George to attend obscure private 
schools, and later he spent a year and a half at an inexpensive 
school at Neuwied on the Rhine. At the age of eighteen he 
was articled to a London solicitor. 

Handsome and virile, proud of his Celtic and possibly royal 
ancestry and ashamed of his father's failure and degradation, he 
was eager to distinguish himself in some calling that would be 
remote from social prejudices. The best opportunity for such a 
career seemed to be offered in authorship. Soon he and several 
other young men were exchanging and discussing their essays 
and poems. One of these new friends was a son of Thomas Love 
Peacock, who was exactly the sort of author that Meredith ad 
mired most, a subtle and learned satirist of bourgeois stupidities. 
Young Peacock had a sister, a widow who possessed something 
of her father's wit. Though she was seven years older than 



Intellectual Maturity 

Meredith, he married her as soon as he reached the age of twenty- 
one. Giving up his desultory legal studies, he set out to earn 
their living by writing. 

The next few years were a period of miserable tension. Mere 
dith issued a book of poems that won a few good reviews but 
brought in no money. The young couple were perpetually in 
debt, in spite of financial aid from Peacock; but Meredith stub 
bornly refused to acknowledge defeat by taking a salaried posi 
tion. Only when he had to give up all hope that his poetry 
might prove salable did he turn reluctantly to prose. 

His first two works of fiction do not "fall within the definition 
of the novel; but they are important for an understanding of his 
later writings. The Shaving of Shagpat, published in 1855, was 
an elaborate imitation of The Arabian Nights. Not since Beck- 
ford's Vathek had an English writer so successfully reproduced 
the ornate fantasy of the oriental tale. Meredith's book contains 
enough horror to be classified as a belated Gothic tale and enough 
comedy to classified as a burlesque. Essentially it is an allegory, 
embodying a group of serious ideas. The dominant theme is that 
the greatest evil in human nature is egoism: only by overcoming 
his selfishness and conceit does the hero achieve true manhood 
and the power to defeat the tyrannical Shagpat, who symbolizes 
the illusions of worldly pretension. His main help comes from 
a wise and intuitive woman who loves him, and the turning 
point occurs when he learns to laugh at himself. 

In a second short book, Farina (1857), Meredith created a 
similar apologue, modeled this time upon the medieval folklore 
of the Rhineland. On the surface it is a whimsical retelling of 
the legendary origin of eau de Cologne^ but also it is another 
version of the eternal struggle against the powers of darkness 
and materialism. 

By the time this book appeared, Meredith's domestic troubles 
were at a crisis. His wife had fallen in love with one of their 
friends, a young painter, and she eventually went away with 
him to Italy, deserting her husband and their small son. This 
disaster had a double influence upon Meredith's literary work; 
it not only obliged him to attempt to produce a more profitable 
kind of book, but also incited him to analyze the psychological 
bases of personal conflicts. The outcome was a full-length novel 
of contemporary life. 



344 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

To a man of his pathologically sensitive pride, this second 
humiliation was even more bitter than his early loss of respect 
for his father. He felt that he was partly to blame for the failure 
of his marriage, in that he had been wrapped up in his self- 
importance, ignoring the symptoms of his wife's unrest. They 
had both clung blindly to the romantic concept of love, which 
prevented them from making a sensible adjustment to the stresses 
of married life. He decided that egoism expressed itself in a 
particularly vicious form under the guise of sentimentality. 

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel was an effort to see his personal 
problem objectively. At the beginning of the story Sir Austin 
Feverel has been left with a little son after his wife's elopement 
with a dilettante poet. The theme of the novel emerges from this 
situation. As a salve for his wounded pride, Sir Austin asserts 
that all women are fickle, and he determines to train his son 
according to a planned program that will guard him against the 
temptations of sex. The pampered young heir becomes arrogant 
and headstrong, vaguely rebellious against his father's authority: 
the two love one another but cannot communicate their feelings. 
When Richard meets the pretty niece of a farmer on the estate, 
they fall desperately in love and are secretly married, just when 
Sir Austin, in pursuit of his project, is searching for a eugeni- 
cally suitable wife for his son. In the hope of reconciliation with 
his father, Richard lives apart from his bride and they are both 
exposed to the wiles of seducers. Lucy eventually wins Sir 
Austin's approval and Richard belatedly returns, only to under 
take a duel with the nobleman who tried to make love to his 
wife, and she meanwhile dies. 

Thus outlined, the plot sounds conventional and melodramatic; 
but iMeredith invested it with new features. His emphasis 
throughout is psychological; he is concerned with the ambiguous 
motives, the suppressions and self-deceptions that occur in a com 
plex social relationship. His psychological analysis differs from 
George Eliot's because he is dealing with more sophisticated 
people. There may be some truth in the charge that Meredith 
chose to write about aristocrats because he was eager to obliter 
ate his plebeian origin; but it is more important that he found 
the subtleties of conduct in a highly cultivated society more 
interesting than the simple rustic behavior that George Eliot 
believed to reveal what Wordsworth called "the primary laws 
of our nature." 



Intellectual Maturity 

Nor can Meredith be accused of worshiping rank and fashion. 
He was a true successor to Rousseau in believing that civilization 
faces catastrophe because it inhibits natural impulses by an 
artificial code of manners. The principal doctrine of the book 
is that Richard's marriage with the wholesome country girl is 
the best thing that can happen to the overbred Feverels, and that 
Sir Austin is responsible for the whole tragedy by his abnormal 
repression of his son's emotions. 

The other basic theory in the book had already appeared in 
The Shaving of Shagpat. Again Meredith asserts that maturity 
can be reached only through a harsh test by suffering (the 
"ordeal" of the title), which proves whether a man can develop 
wisdom and unselfishness or must remain a sentimentalist and an 
egoist. Again a direct, generous young woman shows greater 
strength of character than the hero and enables him to endure his 
trial. 

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, then, is a psychological study 
based upon vital opinions about human nature. It is also experi 
mental in method. For one thing, it presents its serious theories 
and its tragic story in terms of high comedy. Meredith believed 
that a sense of humor is a prime antidote to egoism, and also 
that comedy is the intellectual attitude best suited for giving a 
dispassionate revelation of truth. Besides, the formalities of eti 
quette among the English upper class, and their oblique habits of 
speech, lent themselves better to comic than to solemn treatment. 
Meredith's use of comic irony, however, was more disturbing to 
readers than Thackeray's had been, because Thackeray's was 
allied with warmth of sympathy whereas Meredith usually main 
tained an aloof detachment that seemed inhumanly hard. 

His particular brand of high comedy, moreover, was conveyed 
in a style that was ornate and bafflingly allusive, ranging from 
witty epigrams to extravagant poetic imagery. Mannerisms that 
seemed acceptable in the literary pastiche of his two previous 
prose works became obtrusive in a novel dealing with contem 
porary life. Meredith was a brilliant conversationalist, and many 
of the apparent obscurities in his style are of the sort that in 
spoken discourse are illuminated by intonation, by pauses, or by 
gesture and facial expression. He omits transitional phrases, he 
passes casually over details that later prove to be vital to the 
story. But these conversational techniques are intermingled with 
poetical devices, particularly the use of metaphor. Figurative 



346 The English Novel (1855-1860) 

language in prose is usually couched in the more readily com 
prehensible form of the simile; Meredith maintains such a glitter 
ing flow of metaphors that readers are apt to become confused 
between the literal narrative and the images through which it 
is being conveyed. Some of the metaphors recur through the 
book to form a symbolic pattern; these include various attributes 
of time and frequent allusions to the Garden of Eden and the 
forbidden fruit. 

Part of Meredith's intention was to diversify the style in con 
formity with the changing moods of the story. The dialogue is 
usually closer to real talk than that of any previous novelist had 
been; he tried to give the appropriate tone to each of his charac 
ters, from ignorant farm hands to elegant aphorists. But his own 
narrative and descriptive passages vary almost as widely. The 
most conspicuous chapters are two that are crucial for demon 
strating his belief in the importance of allowing primitive natural 
forces to guide human conduct. The first recounts the passion 
ate love-making between Richard and Lucy in a summer wood; 
the second tells how Richard gains his self-mastery while walking 
all night through a storm in the Rhineland hills. These two 
counterbalanced scenes are written in lyrical rhythms and emotive 
phrases that contrast sharply with the cerebral allusiveness of 
their context. 

These idiosyncracies of style were no doubt due partly to 
Meredith's determination to show his superiority to the journey 
man writers of his time. Since he was obliged to produce fiction, 
he would elevate it to aesthetic equality with poetry. But he 
was not merely displaying his virtuosity as an artist in words. 
He felt sure that a novel of serious analysis ought to be read 
thoughtfully and that therefore it must keep the reader's mind 
constantly alert. An obvious, explicit style, he believed, would 
quickly bore an intelligent reader or at best would lull him into 
inattentive skimming. 

In adopting this theory Meredith broke with the tradition of 
English fiction since the time of Defoe. The writers of courtly 
romance, such as Lyly and Sidney, had composed their works 
consciously for a small, cultivated audience that could enjoy 
learned allusions and baroque ornament. Thereafter it was as 
sumed that the purpose of a novel was to entertain by telling 
a good story in a manner that made minimum demands on the 



Intellectual Maturity 341 

reader's attention. The writers who used fiction with a serious 
purpose of promulgating social theories were as eager as any 
others to reach the widest possible public through the attractions 
of readability. Only Sterne, and to some extent Meredith's father- 
in-law, Peacock, had ignored this axiom in favor of employing 
subtle innuendo and abstruse allusions. Meredith was prepared to 
sacrifice popularity in order to address his novels to an intel 
lectual elite. Readers expecting facile amusement would be so 
bewildered by his opening chapter that they would penetrate no 
further. 

As a matter of fact, the unfavorable reception of The Ordeal 
of Richard Feverel was based not so much upon its obscurity 
as upon its immorality. Though its treatment of sex seems to 
modern readers wholly innocuous, it was so shockingly frank by 
Victorian standards that it was banned by Mudie's chain of cir 
culating libraries, which had the power to establish or to destroy 
the reputation of a new novelist. Meredith had taken an incautious 
step to\vard that truthful picture of "the gentlemen of our age, 
. . . with the notorious foibles and selfishness of their lives and 
their education," which Thackeray, as he admitted in his preface 
to Pendennis, a decade earlier, had found himself forbidden to 
achieve. 




XIII 



Realism Dominant 
(1860-1870) 



IT is SIGNIFICANT that 1859, when English fiction arrived at artistic 
and intellectual maturity with the first novels of George Eliot 
and George Meredith, was also the year when the whole climate 
of ideas was changed by the publication of Darwin's Origin of 
Species. As soon as the implications of that book emerged, the 
material of fiction was transformed. It was not only that the 
religious code of morality was weakened by skepticism regarding 
the literal credibility of the Bible. Much more it was the realiza 
tion that mankind must be regarded on the same basis as all 
other physical phenomena and that therefore human behavior is 
susceptible of scientific analysis. Herbert Spencer, working paral 
lel with Darwin and reinforcing his evolutionary hypothesis, 
established the social sciences, and in so doing he invaded the 
territory of fiction, which falls into two broad categories the 
motives and actions of individuals, and the relationships of these 
individuals with one another. Both categories became accepted 
as sciences, under the names of psychology and sociology. 
Though the novel had reached a stage of development that 

348 



Realism Dominant 349 

qualified it to perceive and absorb this revolutionary change of 
attitude toward its subject matter, the adjustment was too funda 
mental to be quick or easy. George Eliot and Meredith were the 
only novelists with an active interest in what \vas happening in 
philosophy and science, and even to them the full significance of 
the new evangel became apparent only gradually. Perhaps this 
is why English fiction during the decade of the 1860's was on a 
sort of plateau. More well-written novels were published than 
ever before; the chief figures of the older generation were pro 
lific, side by side with their juniors; but no new novelist of major 
importance appeared till after 1870, and neither George Eliot 
nor Meredith reached full stature before that date. 

It is hard to realize how brief was the span in which the 
novel had moved forward to its pre-eminence. The clearest proof 
of it came in 1860 when Peacock, after a thirty-year silence, 
brought out his final novel, Gryll Grange. There was a timeless 
quality in his ironic detachment that preserved this book from 
seeming archaic, though it showed no deviation from his previous 
manner; but the amazing fact was that he had published his 
first work of fiction in the same year as The Antiquary and 
Emma. 

The high productivity of novelists during this decade owed 
something to the competition among the popular magazines, 
which bid for public favor by providing serial stories for which 
they paid liberally. Even Gryll Grange came out serially in 
Eraser's. The veteran Harrison Ainsworth had serials running 
without intermission in Be?2tley's Miscellany or the New Monthly 
Magazine or Bow Bells until 1878. Charles Lever, too, aban 
doned monthly parts in favor of serialization in Blackwootfs and 
the Cornhill for his later novels, Tony Butler, The Bromleigbs 
of Bishop's Folly, and others. Surtees remained faithful to the 
obsolescent monthly parts for his last three novels, Ask Mcetmna, 
Plain or Ringlets?, and Mr. Romfords Hounds; but even he 
modified his primordial violence somewhat, in deference to the 
vogue of domestic fiction. Women characters are more promi 
nent than in his previous books, and the construction is sturdier. 
All three stories off er variations of a single plot a wealthy and 
rather foolish young man seeking to gain social success and to 
court pretty girls. 

By this time Thackeray was nearing the end of his career. 



350 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

His editorial responsibilities on the Cornhill weighed heavily 
upon him until he resigned in 1862. He felt obligated to write 
serials for the magazine, though he was happier in contributing 
personal essays in the eighteenth-century manner, under the title 
of The Roundabout Papers. A short novel that ran for six 
months in 1860, Lovel the Widower, was interesting chiefly for 
the handling of the narrator, an amateur of psychology who 
studies the idiosyncracies of the main characters. The story be 
gins in a serious vein, and on the scale of a full-length novel, 
only to decline precipitately into farce. In his next serial, The 
Adventures of Philip on his Way through the World, he resumed 
his former type of novel, with Arthur Pendennis once more as 
narrator and with some of Thackeray's own experience intro 
duced under a thin veneer of fiction. He revived some of the 
characters who had been left half-drawn when his wife's break 
down forced him to discontinue A Shabby -Gent eel Story twenty 
years earlier. Perhaps it was this that led him to shape the 
middle part of the story closely upon his own marriage, when 
his poverty and his overbearing mother-in-law made life miser 
able for the young couple. His style and characterization are as 
skillful as ever; but as a whole the book adds nothing to what he 
had done as well if not better in Pendennis and The New- 
comes, and a pervasive sense of effort and discouragement gives it 
a depressing tone. 

In 1863 he started a novel of a different type, Denis Duval, 
which reverted to his favorite eighteenth-century setting and to 
the autobiographical technique that had been so brilliantly 
handled in Esmond. A livelier tale of adventure than any of his 
other novels, it promised to rank among his best; but when less 
than four installments had been written he died in December, 
1863, white-haired and broken in health at the age of fifty-two. 

Dickens was working far harder than Thackeray, but his 
superhuman vitality was unexhausted. As autocratic editor of 
his weekly he selected contributors, assigned subjects, even re 
wrote articles; and he also gave much time after 1858 to dramatic 
readings from his books. In tours all over Britain his solo per 
formances held huge audiences enthralled with selections in 
cluding both comic and melodramatic scenes, and proved that 
the success of his novels had been due to their closeness to the 
techniques of the theater. 



Realism Dominant 351 

His next novel, Great Expectations, which ran in All the Year 
Round during the first half of 1861, was his masterpiece of form 
and structure. For the first time since David Copperfield he used 
the autobiographical method, and therefore it illustrates how far 
he had developed in subtlety of characterization and unity of 
construction in ten years. It is symmetrically built around two 
examples of a single situation an embittered person adopting 
a child and molding its personality to be a compensation for the 
foster-parent's frustrations. Magwitch, the exiled convict, devotes 
all his savings and endangers his life to make a fine gentleman 
of the crude village boy who is the only person ever to have 
treated him kindly. Miss Havisham, the jilted bride, brings up 
Estella to be a heartless coquette so that she may be an instru 
ment of revenge on the male sex. These two counterpoised 
stories are ironically linked together: for the first half of the book, 
Pip believes that Miss Havisham is his benefactor; and even at the 
end Estella is unaware that she is the daughter of the convict. 

For sheer efficiency of engineering, with every girder bolted 
securely into place, no novel was ever better built. If analyzed 
rationally, both the symmetry and the interlocking are too neat 
to be credible; but the implausibility is well masked on two 
levels. One is the expert handling of mystery and suspense, in 
which Dickens now brought the sensation novel to its apex. 
Thanks to the first-personal point of view, the reader learns the 
facts only as Pip discovers them, and yet clues are sufficiently 
well distributed to prevent the surprises from seeming factitious. 

The other source of verisimilitude is in the characterization. 
Pip reveals himself as being gradually seduced by snobbery and 
selfishness to the point where he is contemptuous of the kindly, 
illiterate blacksmith who served as a father to him in his child 
hood. When faced with the shocking discovery that his second 
surrogate father is an even more illiterate social outcast the 
convict he is faced with alternative temptations: either to ac 
cept the man's wealth in shameful silence or to turn him over 
to the law. An innate strain of honor enables him to choose a 
less ignoble course and to sacrifice everything in an effort to save 
the man from capture. 

Estella also represents a fresh character type in Dickens's 
work. In contrast with his sweet, gentle heroines, who culmi 
nated in Esther Summerson and Little Dorrit, she is an intelli- 



552 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

gent but callous beauty, more like Beatrix Esmond. Recent bi 
ographers suggest that this new feminine personality was modeled 
upon Ellen Ternan, a young actress with whom Dickens became 
infatuated after his separation from his wife. The logic of the 
story, and the psychological consistency of Estella, both pointed 
to an ending that would complete the ironic pattern by having 
Pip recover from his devotion to the frigid heartbreaker, as 
Henry Esmond did in Thackeray's novel; but Dickens's friends 
(and perhaps his own affection for Estella's original) impelled 
him to change the final paragraphs and imply a conventional 
happy ending in marriage without actually stating it. 

Perhaps the most difficult achievement in the book is the 
portrayal of the two monomaniacs, Magwitch and Miss Havisham, 
\vho are rendered believable and even pathetic as specimens of 
personalities hopelessly warped by circumstances. This may be 
due partly to the absence of Dickens's usual crusading. The de 
piction of Alagwitch's life as a convict is not an indictment of 
the prisons like Reade's in It Is Never Too Late to Mend. But 
in another sense this novel strikes at the heart of the English 
social system by challenging the sanctity of caste. Being elevated 
in the social scale brings nothing but misery to Pip and Estella 
alike. The brutal Bentley Drummle and the ineffectual Mrs. 
Pocket, both proud of being gentlefolk, are contrasted with 
hard-working Joe Gargery in his forge and serene Wemmick 
cultivating his suburban garden. This was not a new theme in 
English fiction, but it had become acute by 1860, when the old 
assured structure of society was under new stresses; and possibly 
Dickens was also making a personal confession of guilt for having 
so eagerly courted social and financial success and for having 
felt ashamed of his humble origin. 

If the sequence of events in the attempt to smuggle Magwitch 
out of England ranks as one of the highest achievements of the 
sensation novel, it had keen rivalry in other books written about 
the same time. Wilkie Collins's No Name (1862) combined in 
genuity of plot with several eccentric characters that almost 
reach the comic level of Dickens. Centering upon the troubles 
of a girl who is driven to the brink of suicide after being left 
penniless upon the death of her parents because they were not 
married at the time of her birth, it includes a diatribe against 
the laws penalizing illegitimacy. 



Realism Dominant 353 

Collins's next novel, Armadale, which ran in the Cornhill in 
1864, shows a marked increase in morbidity. By this time he was 
indulging in laudanum as a relief for painful illness, and some 
thing of the w r eird vividness of a drug-addict's dreams makes the 
novel gruesomely powerful. Collins's use of atmospheric setting 
was an outcome of his early association with landscape painting. 
It was a device that had been practiced by Mrs. Radcliffe, but he 
brought it to its highest pitch of effectiveness. When he decided 
upon a suitable geographical background for any portion of a 
story he would spend w r eeks in exploring the region thoroughly. 
Several scenes in Armadale on a derelict ship, in a library 
during a storm, on the bleak Norfolk Broads supply eerie in 
tensity. A supernatural touch is added by having the action fore 
told at the beginning in dreams. The author leaves us to wonder 
whether a real doom is being fulfilled or the psychology of 
autosuggestion is forcing the characters to carry out the premo 
nition. 

A principal character is a pretty blonde drug-addict who en 
gages in theft and forgery and plans to kill a man with poison 
gas. Ranging from an abortion clinic to a disreputable mental 
institution, both in supposedly respectable districts of London, 
the sustained exploration of the shady half-world below the 
prosperous surface of modern life was far more realistic and 
shocking than had been the Newgate novels of Ainsworth and 
Bulwer thirty years before. 

Charles Reade did not try to continue with historical fiction 
after The Cloister and the Hearth, but returned belligerently to 
contemporary abuses. Having been personally involved in gain 
ing freedom for a young man whose relations had committed 
him to a lunatic asylum, Reade used this as the central theme 
for Hard Cash, which was serialized in All the Year Round in 
1863. The victim's sufferings in a private asylum are described 
with the same horrifying distinctness as had been the prison 
tortures in It Is Never Too Late to Mend; and again this is 
counterbalanced with another character's exciting adventures in 
a different part of the world. This structure gave Reade a chance 
for one of his favorite devices of suspense the abrupt switch 
from one story line to another. Thus, when Captain Dodd has 
apparently died at sea and his corpse is about to be dropped 
overboard, the story reverts to the English episodes, and many 



354 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

chapters elapse before we are told that the Captain came to life 
just before his body went over the rail. Reade's stated axiom was 
that "I never knew an interesting story allowed to proceed with 
out a whole system of interruption." 

His method had another advantage, in enabling him to main 
tain a constantly fast tempo of action. In contrast with Collins's 
leisurely building up of portentous landscapes and everyday de 
tails, Reade rushes onward at a breakneck pace that would become 
intolerable if it were not moderated by the distribution among 
more than one concurrent series of events. 

Another contrast with Collins is illustrated by the handling of 
the madhouse theme. Anne Catherick in The Woman in White 
had been shut up in an institution by scheming relations, just 
as Alfred Hardie was in Hard Cash; and some scenes in Armadale 
(two years after Reade's book) also occur in an asylum. But 
Collins is mainly concerned with the emotional potency of the 
situation, whereas Reade is emphatic about the social and legal 
implications, indicting the dangerous power that was vested in 
the Commissioners in Lunacy. 

His next novel, Griffith Gaunt (1866), showed an effort to 
ward more subtle characterization, and the first part of the book 
resembles the domestic novel in its account of a courtship; but 
after the couple are married, the theme of bigamy brings in the 
usual melodramatic complications. The story was serialized in 
a new magazine, the Argosy, and in the Atlantic Monthly '; Dick 
ens considered some episodes too indelicate for the family circle 
to which his paper appealed. When Reade was preparing to sue 
an American reviewer for libel because he had called the story 
"an indecent publication" dealing with "adultery, bigamy, and 
nameless social crimes," so that "the modesty and purity of 
women cannot survive the perusal" of it, Dickens was unwilling 
to testify in the author's favor, explaining that "I should say 
that what was pure to an artist might be impurely suggestive to 
inferior minds." He cited "those passages about Gaunt's going 
up to his wife's bed drunk and that last child's being conceived," 
and "the passage where Kate and Mercy have the illegitimate 
child upon their laps and look over its little points together." 
In Dickens's opinion the ending, when Gaunt chooses one wife 
and lets his rival take the other, was "extremely coarse and dis 
agreeable." 

The spectacular success of Reade and Collins produced a shoal 



Realism 'Dominant 355 

of imitators, such as James Payn, who made his reputation with 
Lost Sir Massingberd (1864). An industrious magazine editor and 
fiction-monger, Payn wrote about a hundred novels in all. The 
most successful of the new sensation novelists, however, were 
women, especially Mrs. Henry Wood. The daughter of a busi 
nessman in a country town, she grew up a fragile hunchback, and 
after her marriage she lived in France for twenty years until 
her husband's failure in business forced her to earn a living. Her 
first novel, Dcmesbury House, was written in a month to be sub 
mitted for a prize of a hundred pounds offered by the Scottish 
Temperance League for a novel illustrating the evils of drink. 
She won the prize, and the publishers enjoyed the profits of a 
sale that eventually reached a hundred thousand copies. 

Her next novel, East Lynne, which ran as a magazine serial 
in 1861, became one of the best sellers of all time, and when 
made into a play was equally successful on the stage. This im 
probable story of a rejected wife who returns in disguise to 
bring up her children as their governess contained exactly the 
balance of melodrama and tears that appealed to the average 
mind. By maintaining the rigidly moral dogmas in which she 
had been brought up, Mrs. Wood was able to make sensational 
material even adultery and bigamy acceptable to a large 
segment of the public that was repelled by the more flagrant 
situations in Collins and Reade. 

Her closest rival, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, was twenty-three 
years younger and much less goody-goody. She started writing 
fiction of the "penny-dreadful" variety when she was eighteen; 
and seven years later, in 1862, her Lady Audley^s Secret became 
second only to East Lynne as a best seller. Its central character 
is a beautiful woman who has murdered the father of her il 
legitimate child by pushing him into a well. In this and subse 
quent novels, such as Aurora Floyd, Miss Braddon used situations 
that implied sexual irregularity, but by implausible manipulation 
of the plot she always avoided openly improper occurrences. 
While virtue always triumphed and the transgressors were pun 
ished, she did not indulge in such smugly pious homilies as Mrs. 
Wood, but instead maintained a faintly ironic tone that sug 
gested she did not take her readers' moral prejudices altogether 
seriously. As a result, she was accused of being "a cornipter 
of youth" and "a purveyor of poisonous sensuality.'* 

Mrs. Wood and Miss Braddon immediately engaged in a head- 



356 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

long race. In seven years after East Lynne Mrs. Wood published 
fifteen novels, some of which ran simultaneously in different mag 
azines. The best of them were The Channings, Mrs. Halliburton' s 
Troubles,, Verner's Pride, and The Shadow of Ashlydyat. Miss 
Braddon was equally prolific, and by the time she died in 1915 
she had written over eighty novels. Each lady acquired a maga 
zine in which to publish her own stories and others of the same 
sort. Mrs. Wood took over the Argosy when the original pro 
prietor relinquished it after the scandal over Reade's Griffith 
Gaunt, and about the same time Miss Braddon assumed control 
of Belgravia. 

Next to the sensation novels in popularity came the stories of 
manly adventure. Whyte-Melville was at the height of his vogue, 
and his Market Har borough (1861), though loosely put together, 
is probably the best of his novels about fox-hunting. He pro 
duced historical fiction with equal success in Holmby House 
(I860), The Queerts Maries (1862), and The Gladiators (1863). 
Along with him may be mentioned Charles Kingsley's younger 
brother, Henry, who became the chief representative of the 
wholesome school of muscular Christianity. A more unstable 
character than his brother and without the compulsive urge to 
ward social polemics, he had left his Oxford studies unfinished to 
go seeking his fortune in the Australian gold fields. After five 
unsuccessful years he returned to England and used his experi 
ences as the basis for his first novel, The Adventures of Geof 
frey Hamlyn (1859). This was followed by Ravenshoe, which 
included episodes of the Crimean War, and The Hilly ars and 
the Burtons, another Australian story. His idealistic devotion 
to noble conduct conflicts with the realism of his settings, and 
his novels are weak in structure, but they are readable for their 
vigorous action and their attractive characters. 

In the adventure novel, as in the sensation novel, a formidable 
competitor soon appeared in the person of a woman. A story en 
titled Gaston de Vigne, by "Ouida," ran in the New Monthly 
along with East Lynne, and was retitled Held in Bondage when it 
came out in three-volume form in 1863. The author was Louise 
Rame, daughter of a French expatriate of somewhat mysterious 
proclivities. Devoid of beauty and social status, but endowed 
with enormous egoism and ambition, she grew up in a dull pro 
vincial town, escaping from the unpropitious realities into a 



Realism Dominant 351 

dream world of wealth and sophistication, in which she could be 
a heroine. She changed her name to "de la Ramee" and hinted 
that her irresponsible father had been an exiled aristocrat. 

When she began to write fiction she poured her fantasies 
of grandeur into torrid love stories in which uninhibited beauties 
were wooed by magnificent officers of the Guards amid sur 
roundings of exotic luxury. Nor is there any lack of excite 
ment and danger: in the midst of Held in Bondage the hero and 
his comrades are transported to the Crimean War and take part 
inevitably in the charge of the Light Brigade. Her first 
novel was followed in rapid succession by Strathmore, Cha?idos, 
and Under Two Flags, each more lavish than the last in recount 
ing the debauches and the daring exploits of her opulent and 
high-born heroes. Unhampered by any knowledge of actual life 
among the nobility, she wrote vividly enough to give equally 
uninformed readers an illusion of experience. Her florid style 
was no handicap to her immense story-telling ability, and her 
frank allusions to sex won her a reputation for immorality that 
soon overshadowed Miss Braddon's. 

It is paradoxical that the sensation novels, remote though they 
were from normal events, exerted a powerful influence in pre 
paring the way for greater realism in fiction. Collins, Reade, 
and Ouida all felt that they were dedicated battlers for truth and 
for the demolition of taboos that prevented honest talking about 
sex and about violence or brutality. During the same years Swin 
burne was incurring even more ferocious censure for the inde 
cency of his poetry; and it is worth noting that he was an ad 
mirer of the sensation novelists. The narrative energy of these 
books allured countless readers in spite of the flouting of conven 
tional reticence. 

While the sensationalists were promoting the extension of real 
ism by touching on forbidden topics, the chroniclers of the 
commonplace were also gaining ground. Here again the novel 
was moving side by side with other literary forces. Matthew 
Arnold had begun to decry the vogue of romantic poetry and 
to insist upon the primary necessity of "seeing the object as 
in itself it really is." Browning carried his interest in psycholog 
ical subtleties and in the relativity of truth to its apex in his vast 
investigation of motives and prejudices in The Ring and the 
Book. These influences aligned themselves with the ever-in- 



3$ 8 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

creasing pressure of scientific rationalism and the experimental 
approach to social phenomena. 

The growth of realism in the domestic novel is illustrated by 
the last works of Mrs. Gaskell, who had relinquished social prop 
aganda and settled down to the tranquil mood of Cranford. In 
Sylvia's Lovers she deals with the Yorkshire town of Whitby at 
the end of the eighteenth century, but it is not much more of a 
historical novel than Adam Bede, which was set in the same 
years. The smuggling and whaling and the activities of the 
press gang were as much a permanent part of life in a seaport 
town as the harvesting and revival meetings belonged to the in 
land setting of George Eliot's book. As Mrs. Gaskell was dealing 
with a way of life that she did not know at first hand, it re 
quired unwonted effort on her part. She is not at her best in 
the adventurous passages, but otherwise the book is delightful for 
its local color and for the character of Sylvia Robson, a strong- 
willed, unforgiving woman, whose ordeal of unhappiness and 
eventual growth into mature integrity are as true to reality as 
anything in George Eliot. 

There is less complication of plot in Cousin Phillis, a novelette 
of idyllic sweetness; and Mrs. GaskelFs final novel, Wives and 
Daughters, though her longest book, is almost devoid of action. 
It is a subtly developed study of two contrasted women, the 
daughters of a country doctor and his two successive wives. 
In the characterization of this family and in the picture of their 
community Mrs. Gaskell comes closest to the quiet irony and 
tolerant insight of Trollope at his best. Wives and Daughters is 
certainly her masterpiece, even though the last chapter remained 
unfinished when she died in 1865. 

The most notable new figure in domestic fiction was Margaret 
Wilson Oliphant. She had been publishing novels since 1849, 
mainly dealing with the Scottish life that she had known in her 
girlhood; but not until 1861, when she had been left a widow with 
several sickly children to support, did she win wide recognition. 
Then her stories in Black'wood's Magazine, "The Rector" and 
"The Doctor's Family," showed a sympathetic and humorous eye 
for ordinary human beings and their affairs. Her next serial, 
Salem Chapel, was highly praised, and many readers became con 
vinced that the anonymous stories were the work of George Eliot. 
Along with The Perpetual Curate (1864) and Miss Marjoribanks 



Realism Dominant 359 

(1866), these came to be known as "The Chronicles of Carling- 
ford," in which Mrs. Oliphant created a picture of a typical 
English community akin to Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford and Trol- 
lope's Barchester. Like Trollope and George Eliot, she paid par 
ticular attention to the clergy, both Anglican and Nonconformist; 
but she enlivened her drowsy setting with incongruous elements 
of mystery borrowed from the sensation novels. If she had not 
been perpetually overworked in the job of earning a living by 
writing some hundred and twenty books of all sorts, she might 
rank among the major novelists. 

Another author of much the same caliber was George Mac- 
Donald. The son of a Highland farmer, he was brought up in 
strict Calvinism, but became a Congregational minister and de 
veloped a vein of mysticism that manifested itself in his earliest 
books, two volumes of poems and a remarkable "faerie romance 
for men and women," Phantasies (1858). His first novel, David 
Elginbrod (1863), was based upon the character of his father and 
contained picturesque contrasts between the life of Highland cot 
tagers and that of the English middle class. The author's inter 
est in the occult appeared in episodes dealing with telepathy and 
suggestion. By this time he was associated with F. D. Maurice 
in Christian Socialism and adult education; he joined the Church 
of England and became a popular lecturer. In subsequent novels, 
Alec Forbes of Howglen (1865), Annals of a Quiet Neighbor 
hood (1866), and Robert falconer (1867), he established him 
self as a faithful recorder of Scottish rural life and an exponent of 
deep spiritual values. His novels revived the tradition of Scottish 
local color that had been initiated by John Gait a generation 
earlier. 

Meanwhile Trollope was at the height of his triumph. With 
promotion to a position of authority in the postal service, he had 
settled his family in a pleasant country house near London; but 
he went abroad from time to time on official business to the 
West Indies in 1858, to the United States in 1861. With custom 
ary efficiency he exploited his overseas impressions by writing 
travel books; but nothing interfered with his steady output of 
fiction. After Framley Parsonage he temporarily abandoned Bar- 
setshire in Orley Farm, a long novel which came out in monthly 
parts (1861-62) and which consequently betrays some of the de 
fects of that method episodic structure and sudden shifts 



360 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

from serious to comic scenes. The central theme, however, is a 
persuasive and touching study of a woman placed in an intoler 
able moral dilemma. With The Small House at Allington (1862- 
64) he returned to Barsetshire, and created a natural and charm 
ing heroine in Lily Dale, while her tongue-tied admirer, Johnny 
Eames, is a wry portrait of Trollope himself in his clumsy youth. 
The story of these two was completed in The Last Chronicle 
of Barset (1867), wherein Trollope violated a sacred canon of 
sentimental fiction by leaving their love unfulfilled and letting 
the delightful Lily remain unmarried. He was more conventional 
in an intervening novel, Can You Forgive Her?, in which the hero 
ine jilts a virtuous but colorless fiance in favor of her attractive 
scamp of a cousin, only to repent of her mutiny and end by 
marrying the faultless John Gray. In two other novels of these 
years, The Claverings and The Belton Estate, Trollope's particu 
lar method is at its maximum proficiency: with apparently in 
genuous and almost aimless simplicity he subtly reveals the compli 
cated embarrassments and hesitations that beset commonplace 
people, maintaining the reader's sympathy even for the least 
praiseworthy characters, such as the disillusioned coquette, Julia 
Ongar, in The Claverings. As in Jane Austen's novels, the plot 
always centers in two interlocking problems a girl's choice 
between contrasted suitors and the contrary temptations of per 
sonal compatibility and financial advantage; but though Trollope 
explores every facet of the dilemmas with leisurely thoroughness, 
the suspense and the verisimilitude never relax. 

Altogether, Trollope published ten novels between 1861 and 
1867 in addition to three volumes of short stories and four 
works of nonfiction. His versatility is shown by several of the 
shorter novels in this total Rachel Ray and Miss Mackenzie, 
which are social satires in a light vein, and Nina Balatka, The Story 
of a Maiden of Prague, which is picturesque and unblushingly 
romantic. The major novel that marks the end of this stage of 
his career shows symptoms of impending change. By calling it 
The Last Chronicle of Barset he gave public notice that he 
was abandoning the placid atmosphere that had become identi 
fied with his name; and the main plot deals at vast length with a 
drab and somewhat grim situation in which a middle-aged, un 
derpaid curate is suspected of stealing a check. The Rev. 
Josiah Crawley, tactless and absent-minded as he is, takes on some 
dimensions of a true tragic hero. 



Realism Dominant 361 

Dickens, for three years after Great Expectations was finished, 
wrote no fiction except Christmas supplements for All the Year 
Round, and occupied himself chiefly with his reading tours. Then 
in 1864 he started another of his mammoth novels in monthly 
parts, Our Mutual Frie?id. It contained all his familiar ingredients 
grotesque comic characters, elaborate atmospheric settings, 
melodramatic mystery, an interlinked pattern of concurrent lines 
of action. The social satire is still mordant, and the book's total 
effect is as depressing as that of the two with which it is most 
readily comparable Bleak House and Little Dorrit. 

The two story lines that provide suspense are far from plau 
sible, as they both depend upon disguise: John Harmon is hiding 
his true identity and Noddy Boffin is pretending to be a miser. 
But, as usual, Dickens conceals any weakness in his plot by the 
infinitely varied panorama of character and scene. His knowledge 
of upper-class life had continued to mature, and in Eugene 
Wrayburn he gives a good portrait of a young gentleman, whose 
dilettante indolence is contrasted with the morbid violence of 
Bradley Headstone, the frustrated intellectual of humble origin. 
Headstone's complex suppressions and antagonisms, and his 
symbolic involvement with the atrocious Riderhood, render him 
more convincing than the standard villains of previous fiction. 
The heroine, Bella Wilfer, is a shallower version of the selfish 
coquette he had previously drawn in Great Expectations. Mr. 
Podsnap is another relentless dissection of a smug businessman^ 
reminiscent of Dombey, Merdle, and Gradgrind. 

Dickens's inexhaustible familiarity with the shabby quarters 
of London provides the principal settings the fetid mud-flats 
and sluggish waters of the Thames, where Hexam trawls for 
drowned corpses, and the monstrous garbage dumps from which 
Boffin derives his wealth. But these nauseous settings are not 
used solely to create an atmosphere of horror such as graveyards 
and dungeons had provided for the Gothic romances. Instead 
they are basic to the symbolism that dominates the book. Hexam 
and Boffin draw their livelihood from death and decay, but the 
wealthy and powerful are fully as dependent upon the rotting 
substructure of society. Even the disguises cease to be merely 
a melodramatic device and link themselves with more subtle de 
ceptions: the Veneerings pretend to be gentlefolk; the ancient 
Lady Tippins pretends to be young and beautiful; Sophronia 
Akershem and Alfred Lammle pretend to be rich, and marry each 



362 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

other under this misapprehension. Everything is greed and sham, 
and the illiterate old dustman is the only genuinely noble per 
sonage in the story. An essentially poetic and mythopoeic ten 
dency had been expanding in Dickens's work ever since Oliver 
Twist. In Our Mutual Friend it engulfs the whole novel and 
turns it into a terrifying epic of a doomed society. With its 
gigantic bulk and sumptuous embellishment, this book moves 
like a galleon among the sleek pinnaces of the other novelists. 

While Dickens was thus retaining the leadership that he had 
held for almost thirty years, George Eliot had risen spectacularly 
to be the chief claimant for second place. After Adam. Eede she 
wrote another novel which was even more intimately identified 
with her childhood. The previous book had drawn upon the rem 
iniscences of her father and aunt about their early life, but The 
Mill on the Floss depicts herself and her brother and parents with 
almost painful fidelity. Maggie Tulliver, with her rebellious emo 
tions and her insatiable intellectual curiosity, reveals all that we 
can hope to know about young Mary Ann Evans's inner life. The 
author's insight into a child's feelings is keener than any previous 
novelist had displayed. Psychologists can approve the implica 
tion that Maggie's early subjection to her brother affected her 
behavior toward the two men she falls in love with after she 
grows up. Maggie comes to see all the faults in the smug, self- 
righteous Tom, and in a burst of anger she can call him an un 
comprehending, unimaginative Pharisee; but he always holds first 
place in her affection. 

It has been suggested that Philip Wakem, the brilliant hunch 
back who liberates her mind with his range of scholarly knowl 
edge, is partly derived from a crippled Swiss painter who was 
Miss Evans's chief friend during her lonely months in Geneva, 
just as Paul Emanuel in Villette emerged from a similar episode 
in the life of Charlotte Bronte. Philip probably also contains 
traces of John Chapman and Herbert Spencer, each of whom for 
a while held sway in Miss Evans's susceptible heart. Maggie then 
develops a still deeper love for the handsome Stephen Guest, 
who is engaged to her cousin, and who can be regarded as the 
fictional counterpart of Lewes. These situations are significant 
not merely for flouting the sentimental doctrine of female con 
stancy and showing that a girl can change the object of her love; 
they also parallel Mary Ann Evans's own ethical dilemmas. Maggie 



Realism 'Dominant 363 

knows that if she were to marry Philip she would bring agony to 
her father, who has a feud with the Wakem family; and when 
she turns toward Stephen, she is not only betraying Philip but is 
also on the verge of treachery to her cousin. 

The conclusion of the novel, when Maggie and Tom are 
drowned together in a flood, has sometimes been condemned as 
a melodramatic trick, dragged in to provide a solution to the im 
passe. Actually, however, it is a fulfillment of the story's whole 
theme, for when Maggie gives her life in an effort to save her 
brother she displays the unselfish devotion to him that has been 
her compelling motive ever since infancy. Besides, the climax 
has been prepared for by the use of the river as a recurrent 
symbol throughout the book. George Eliot was no longer will 
ing to offer a meretricious happy ending as she had done in Adam 
Bede. 

The Mill on the Floss, then, is not merely a fervent investiga 
tion of love from a woman's point of view, but is also a truthful 
unveiling of the author's inmost feelings. Perhaps it is this ex 
treme degree of personal involvement that prevents it from 
being one of her best novels. Unable to restrain her sympathy 
for Maggie, even when making exasperated comments on her 
faults, she did not maintain the impartial attitude that gives her 
other stories their particular power. This defect may have been 
brought home to her by several unfavorable reviews, which were 
probably influenced by the knowledge that George Eliot was 
the scandalous woman who was living with a married man. At 
any rate, her next novel scrupulously avoided personal elements. 

Silas Marner is briefer than its two predecessors, and is tidily 
constructed around a simple situation that takes on some quali 
ties of an allegory. The tale of a poor weaver who becomes a 
miser in compensation for being rejected by his community, and 
who is redeemed through adopting a lost child that miraculously 
wanders into his cottage after his gold has been stolen, it is a 
rustic idyl in the Wordsworthian tradition, with roots deep in 
folk legends. The psychology, however, is as sound as in her 
other books, and there is mellow earthy humor in her sketches 
of unsophisticated types. 

Three novels in three years had displayed George Eliot's un 
matched familiarity with the English country life that she had 
absorbed in her early years. In this sense, as well as in her per- 



364 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

ception of psychological complexities, she deserves the appel 
lation of realist, though her realism is in the English tradition 
that believes in the inherent goodness of human nature and 
presents the moral consciousness of individuals rather than their 
animal instincts. She protested that she was not a didactic novel 
ist because she did not advocate specific doctrines but merely 
portrayed situations in such a way that the reader's emotional 
response led him to think earnestly about them. She was cer 
tain, she said in The Mill on the Floss, that "the mysterious com 
plexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims," because 
"moral judgments must remain false and hollow, unless they are 
checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special 
circumstances that mark the individual lot." Therefore she de 
picts no character as innately evil, but shows how harmful effects 
result from inadequate foresight. As Adam Bede remarks, "you 
never can do what's wrong without breeding sin and trouble 
more than you can ever see"; or as Mr. Irwine phrases it, 
"men's lives are as thoroughly blended with each other as the 
air they breathe: evil spreads as necessarily as disease." In each 
novel a principal character Adam Bede, Maggie Tulliver, Silas 
Marner is redeemed from self-righteous intolerance. It was per 
haps her study of Spinoza that convinced George Eliot that sel 
fishness is the root of all evil and renunciation the highest good. 

There was another side of George Eliot's mind, however, 
which was unrevealed in her nostalgic reminiscences of the coun 
tryside or in her simple ethical creed that "no man is an ilande." 
She was also a well-trained scholar and a more than amateur 
philosopher. For her fourth novel she sought a subject that 
would give full scope for her intellectual gifts; and she turned, 
somewhat unexpectedly, to history. 

She and Lewes made a trip to Italy for local color and to 
take notes in the Magliabecchian Library in Florence. After a half 
year of exhaustive research in Italian sources she began Romola, 
a story of Florentine life in the fifteenth century. She received 
the unprecedented sum of ^7000 from the proprietor of the Corn- 
hill, in which the story ran in 1862-63. Because it dealt with the 
same era of European history, it was inevitably compared with 
The Cloister and the Hearth, which had come out a year earlier; 
though both are based on immense research, they are diametri 
cally unlike, Reade's book being essentially romantic in its strenu- 



Realism Dominant 

ous adventures and pathetic love story, whilst George Eliot's is 
essentially realistic in its concentration upon mental processes. 

Like Browning in some of his best dramatic monologues, she 
was probing for a clue to the paradoxes of the Italian Renais 
sance. The central character, Tito Melema, begins as a pleasure- 
loving young man who uses his charm and cleverness to make 
life more comfortable for himself, and who degenerates into 
an unscrupulous and ruthless schemer. In contrast, his wife Rom- 
ola is a nobly unselfish woman who eventually leaves him and 
becomes a worker in Savonarola's religious revival. The his 
torical background is provided by the conflicts between Savo 
narola and the Medici and by the glittering society of artists and 
scholars of the 1490's. 

While admitting George Eliot's erudition as displayed in the 
setting, and her moral earnestness in the analysis of the characters, 
some critics have caviled at important elements in the story. One 
is the handling of plot. When Romola's spiritual strength is ex 
hausted by prolonged anguish she restores it by ministering to 
victims of the plague. Swinburne condemned the "puerile in 
sufficiency" of "the casually empty boat, which drifts her away 
to a casually plague-stricken village, there to play the part of a 
casual angel of mercy dropped down from the sky by providen 
tial caprice, at the very nick of time when the novelist was help 
lessly at a loss for a more plausible contrivance, among a set of 
people equally strange to the reader and herself." The charac 
terization also has been challenged. Lord David Cecil holds that 
in this novel "she comes a dreadful crash" because "the human 
beings ... are inevitably the sort of human beings who inhabited 
the Victorian Midlands, narrow, prudish, steady, and prosaic; 
about as much like the contemporaries of Leonardo da Vinci 
and Lucrezia Borgia as they are like the man in the moon." Other 
readers lose sympathy with the heroine because of her oppres 
sive magnanimity. 

On the other hand, Romola is not a static model of perfection. 
At first a pagan humanist, she is converted by Savonarola to a 
creed of self-sacrifice, which is actually more like Comtek 
religion of humanity than like the great Friar's Catholic mys 
ticism. But she retains her freedom of conscience, and in spite 
of her dependence on his spiritual strength she repudiates him 
when he tries to become a political dictator. And beyond ques- 



366 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

tion Tito Melema is one of the most effective studies of a vi 
cious character in all fiction, in that he is not a monster of 
gratuitous evil but is a victim of his own moral inadequacy. 
George Eliot had already sketched self-indulgent weaklings in 
Arthur Donnithorne in Adam Bede and Godfrey Cass in Silas 
Marner; now she showed how given opportune circumstances 
this type of personality could lapse into total depravity. 

Her three years of work on Romola undermined George Eliot's 
never robust health; the labor, she said, had made an old woman 
of her, and she did not start her next novel for two years. In it 
she returned to English provincial life, though not to idyllic 
rural scenes. The vitality of Felix Holt, the Radical is lower than 
that of any of her other books. It is concerned with English 
political affairs at the time of the first Reform Bill; but George 
Eliot, looking at human conduct always in the light of permanent 
principles, lacked the excitement over public issues that can en 
gender a good political novel. Because her plot was more com 
plicated than usual, suggesting the sensation novels in its use 
of a double mystery of parentage and a disputed inheritance, she 
studied Blackstone for legal details and verified them with 
Frederic Harrison. The chief charm of Felix Holt is in the love 
story, wherein a frivolous girl is weaned away from her selfish 
pastimes by her affection for the idealistic radical. 

While George Eliot was occupying the summit of fame and re 
wards, George Meredith remained in obscurity. When his second 
novel was accepted as a serial for Once a Week he made a distinct 
effort toward gratifying popular taste by including Dickensian 
comic characters and a fairly conventional love story. Neverthe 
less, the importance of Evan Harrington resides in elements that 
are characteristically Meredith's own. Like George Eliot in The 
Mill on the Floss in the same year, he gives a frank description 
of his own family, all the more astonishing in view of his ex 
treme reticence about this matter in real life. In the early part 
of the story the hero is a faithful picture of Meredith's father 
the handsome, self-conscious youth with pretensions to gen 
tility, son of a genial tailor and his businesslike wife, brother of 
three women who are socially ambitious. The account was so 
literally accurate that Meredith's aunts and their families took 
offense at what they considered to be unflattering portraits. 
As the story progresses and Evan is accepted as a guest in a 



Realism Dominant 361 

country mansion, the material comes closer to Meredith's own 
current experiences. Living with his little boy in a rural cottage, 
he had become friendly with Sir Alexander and Lady Duff 
Gordon, who were the center of a lively intellectual group; and 
he fell half in love with their forthright seventeen-year-old 
daughter, though the existence of his renegade wife, as well 
as fifteen years' difference in age, made any serious affair un 
thinkable. He portrayed the Duff Gordons as the Jocelyns, and 
his feelings toward Janet lent poignance to the scene in which 
Evan renounces Rose Jocelyn's love because of his inferior rank. 

Meredith tried to keep the story in the mood of high comedy 
throughout; and the Countess de Saldar, Evan's unscrupulous 
sister, is a triumph of witty characterization. But he is obviously 
preoccupied with the serious theme of class distinctions. Evan's 
ordeal by ridicule is totally different from Richard FevereFs 
emotional torture, but it is as significant in bringing him to 
maturity; and the lesson he learns is the same that Pip learned 
in Great Expectations the falsity of social ambition. 

Though the style of Evan Harrington is less ornate than 
that of Meredith's previous novel, he was still addicted to the 
abstruse and the oblique; and this quality, combined with lack 
of vigorous movement in the story, prevented it from being 
widely admired. Shortly after finishing it, Meredith became reader 
for the firm of Chapman & Hall, a position that earned him a 
meager income and required him to read stacks of inferior fic 
tion. He acquired a pathological contempt for the sentimental ex 
cesses of Mrs. Henry Wood and Ouida; and his next three novels 
show him in search of a form of fiction suitable to his idio- 
syncracies. In Emlia in England (later renamed Sandra Belloni), 
on which he worked painfully for four years, he undertook the 
difficult task of portraying the artistic temperament. His heroine, 
the daughter of an Italian street-musician in London, is gifted 
with a magnificent singing voice that attracts the attention of the 
three Pole sisters, the socially ambitious daughters of a rich but 
unpolished businessman. This gives Meredith an opportunity to 
expound his theory that the primary vice of contemporary so 
ciety is sentimentalism a conscious cultivation of artificial at 
titudes that results from lack of assurance in the newly influen 
tial middle class. The Pole girls with their anxious pose of 
aesthetic sensibility, and their brother with his stiff diffidence, 



368 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

are contrasted with Emilia's vitality and impulsiveness. Though 
Meredith, like Dickens, believed that social pretension based on 
wealth spells the doom of civilization, his kindly, vulgar Mr. Pole 
is a more likable person than Merdle or Podsnap because of 
Meredith's theory that the only good people are those who live 
according to the dictates of nature. 

When he went on to his next novel Meredith made an unwonted 
invasion of George Eliot's territory. The main setting of Rhoda 
Fleming is a farming community, and the central situation is 
close to that of Adam Bede. The difference between the two 
authors is thus brought out. Dahlia Fleming, the farmer's daugh 
ter seduced by a young gentleman, is depicted more sympa 
thetically than Hetty Sorrel; her sister Rhoda's integrity and 
determination seem ruthless to the verge of sadism, whereas in 
Dinah Morris the same traits were entirely noble; and certainly 
the principal male character, Robert Armstrong, is unlike Adam 
Bede, for he has been a drunkard and is afflicted with a vile tem 
per. In these respects Rhoda Fleming must be called more real 
istic than the Eliot novel had been. It stands apart from the rest 
of Meredith's work not only in its rustic milieu but also in its 
relatively straightforward narration and unadorned style. 

After this interlude Meredith wrote a sequel to Sandra Belloni, 
though it is a totally different sort of book. The previous one 
was high comedy, but Vittoria is his nearest approach to a full- 
dress historical romance. Emilia has now become a great prima 
donna and her girlish impetuousness has ripened into spiritual 
intensity. She dedicates herself to the Italian uprising against 
Austria in 1848. While writing this novel Meredith witnessed the 
more successful revolt of 1866 in the capacity of a war corres 
pondent, and therefore felt qualified to give a large panorama 
of the conspiracies and battles of the earlier affair. The resulting 
complexity is sometimes difficult to follow; but the essential 
atmosphere of suspicion and frustration is brilliantly evoked, and 
several big scenes, such as that in which Emilia gives the signal 
for the revolt while singing in La Scala, are magnificent. 

This novel provides a good example of Meredith's ambiguous 
position between realism and romanticism. Revolution against 
tyranny is among the most cherished of romantic themes; and 
Meredith idealizes his heroine to such a degree that she becomes 
a symbolic figure rather than a credible human being. Never- 



Realism 'Dominant 

theless he abstains from committing himself or his readers to 
wholehearted sympathy with the cause. Instead he remains aloof, 
emphasizing the ironical contrasts between the professed mag 
nanimity of the revolutionaries and their actual traits of jealousy, 
cruelty, and incompetence; and he insists on the uncomfortable 
fact that many people kept up their personal relationships with 
both sides. It is this sort of ambivalence that makes Meredith's 
novels distasteful to some readers, who object to being suspended 
between the romantic and realistic modes. 

In his next book he departed from this attitude of ironic re 
moteness, mainly because for once he adopted the first- 
personal narrative method. The result was a sharp increase in 
the romantic element. The Adventures of Harry Richmond ap 
peared anonymously in the Comhill Magazine in 1870-71, and was 
so unlike Meredith's usual manner that his authorship was not 
suspected. In order to sustain the illusion that the story was 
actually being told by a rather ordinary young man, Meredith 
was obliged to moderate his indulgence in epigram and recon 
dite allusion. The most remarkable effect of the autobiographic 
technique is a magnification of the principal character, Harry 
Richmond's father. Richmond Roy, as he calls himself, is a fas 
cinating adventurer, who insists that he is the true heir to the 
British throne and by his flamboyant effrontery convinces many 
people that his claim is genuine. Seeing him always through the 
admiring but embarrassed eyes of his son, who is dragged help 
lessly in his wake, w r e are never sure whether Roy is an impudent 
pretender or a self-deluded megalomaniac or whether per 
haps his claim is valid after all. Unscrupulous though he is, he 
assumes truly heroic proportions in his indomitable campaigns 
to marry his son to a German princess or to find him a seat in 
Parliament. 

The lovely and intellectual Princess Ottilia is another of 
Meredith's attempts to prove that women can be wiser and more 
unselfish than men if they have a chance to display their true 
individuality, and as such she is somewhat too perfect to be 
believable; but she is effectively contrasted with Janet Ilchester, 
an outspoken English girl. Harry Richmond's irresolute love 
for these two charmers is thoroughly natural. 

Much of the charm of this novel derives from the settings. 
Meredith's memories of his .schooldays on the Rhine provided the 



310 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

idyllic scenes in a German principality, where Harry becomes 
involved in court intrigues; but even more appealing to most 
readers' imaginations are the episodes among the gypsies in the 
English countryside. By the use of these beguiling backgrounds, 
along with the avoidance of deep psychological probing, Mere 
dith hoped that he might at last win a measure of popular esteem. 

Harry Richmond was not the only novel that indicated a re 
surgence of the romantic mood at the end of the sixties. A more 
thoroughgoing romance had been published in the previous year; 
and though it was so unlike the current fashions that it was not 
immediately acclaimed, it grew steadily in favor. The author was 
Richard Doddridge Blackmore, an Oxford graduate and Lon 
don barrister who found that he liked gardening better than 
law, and retired to a quiet village. When almost forty he wrote 
his first novel, Clara Vaughan, a sensational story of murder 
and apparitions of the Wilkie Collins stamp. This vein, however, 
proved uncongenial to him, and his next book, Cradock Novell, 
a Tale of the New Forest, was a gentle story with an overload 
of classical scholarship in the style. Then in 1869 he brought out 
Lorna Doone, a Romance of Exmoor. He had known and loved 
the West Country in his schooldays, and he captured its pic- 
turesqueness in descriptions of the Doone Valley. A ferocious 
clan of outlaws, with their lovely, high-spirited daughter, are 
suitable inhabitants for the wild region, and the Monmouth re 
bellion of 1685 provides an exciting historical framework. The 
peculiar attractiveness of the story lies in its being narrated by 
the hero, John Ridd, whose sturdy honesty and rustic 
humor are conveyed in his rhythmic, colloquial speech. Before 
long Lorna Doone took its place as one of the century's best- 
loved novels. 

Lorna Doone and Harry Richmond are isolated outcroppings of 
romance in a decade when realism was entrenching itself in the 
English novel. It must also be observed, however, that the 
same decade witnessed a remarkable output of fantasy. Indeed, 
not until then is fantasy (when not used merely as a device for 
satire) identifiable as a distinct mode in English prose fiction. 
Two important novelists, Meredith and MacDonald, had begun 
in the later fifties by writing fantasies of originality and beauty. 
Charles Kingsley, who published no novel after 1857 except 
Hereward the Wake (1866), a conventional historical romance, 



Realism Dominant 371 

brought out The Water Babies in 1863; and two years later Lewis 
Carroll produced Alice's Adventures in Wonderland^ which was 
followed in 1872 by Through the Looking Glass. While the books 
by Kingsley and Carroll were nominally addressed to children, 
they contained depths of satire, imaginative suggestion, and 
philosophical symbolism which only adults could fully appreci 
ate. George MacDonald entered this field of symbolic fairy tales 
in 1871 with At the Back of the North Wind,, and followed it 
with The Princess and the Goblin. 

Another type of fantasy this one positively not for children 
was the weird tale. Its fresh impetus came partly from Bui- 
wer-Lytton, who abandoned the domestic novel after another one 
attributed to Pisistratus Caxton, What Will He Do 'with It?, which 
came out in Blackinood's in 1858-59. He had already turned 
to the supernatural in 1857 in a powerful novelette of horror, 
The Haunters and the Haunted; and this vein was resumed in 
A Strange Story (1862). In place of the Gothic grotesquerie 
of Zanoni he no\v employed the realistic details of the sensation 
novel skillfully enough to make Collins grumble that "he beats 
one on one's own ground." Busy with his parliamentary career, 
which in 1858 had raised him to the Secretaryship for the Col 
onies and in 1866 earned him a peerage as Baron Lytton of Kneb- 
worth, he wrote no more fiction until 1871, when he brought out 
The Coming Race, an eerie picture of the remote future, when 
people live underground and have mastered all the present human 
problems of caste and sex. 

The chief master of supernatural fiction in this epoch was 
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a scholarly Irish journalist and poet, 
who began with historical novels and then produced a series of 
uncanny stories for the Dublin University Magawie^ of which he 
was editor. The best of these are The House by the Churchyard 
(1861-62), Wyldefs Hand (1863-64), and Uncle Silas (1864). 
Le Fanu's expert knowledge of occult lore, his sense of atmos 
phere, and his mastery of suspense make these perhaps the best 
book-length ghost stories in the language. He lived so intimately 
with his spooks that in later life he became a recluse and sur 
rendered to his nightmares and demons to the exclusion of normal 
human relationships. 

Similar psychopathic symptoms were beginning to afflict Wilkie 
Collins, who was succumbing more and more to laudanum and 



572 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

was experimenting also with opium-smoking. This artificial in 
fluence lent a sort of unearthly clarity to The Moonstone (1868), 
which rivals The Woman in White for the rank of his master 
piece. Again he used the device of telling the story through the 
composite narratives of several participants, so that the reader 
feels like a spectator at a trial. This time Collins gives an even 
more convincing touch by allowing the police investigators to 
play a major part in solving the mystery. It was fifteen years 
since Dickens had invented the first English fictional detective, 
Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, but it was The Moonstone that 
set the permanent pattern of the detective story. 

The immense success of The Moonstone depended also upon 
another factor: into his usual atmosphere of everyday English 
life Collins inserted a band of East Indian priests, searching for 
the great diamond that has been stolen from the idol in their 
temple. Thus he invoked all sorts of superstitious fears about 
the cruel and mysterious Orient, guaranteed to make any reader's 
blood run cold. The Moonstone combines so many effective ele 
ments that its triumph was inevitable: the murder of a man who 
lived a double life; a girl's suicide for unrequited love; a crime 
committed under the influence of drugs; a love affair developing 
in the midst of danger; the superstitious terror of the curse upon 
the stolen jewel; the cool, logical inductions of Sergeant Cuff; 
the psychological reactions of the diversified people who be 
come involved in the mystery; and generous touches of farcical 
humor. 

Dickens was undoubtedly influenced by the fame of The Moon 
stone when he planned his next novel. The very title emphasized 
the adoption of Collins's method, for he called it The Mystery 
of Edwin Drood. Ominous Asiatic strangers and gruesome opium 
dreams are introduced at the beginning, and Dickens follows 
Collins also when he heightens his effect by contrasting these 
exotic horrors with a familiar English environment this time 
a quiet cathedral town much like Trollope's Barchester. The most 
notable feature, however, is the attention to abnormal psychol 
ogy. The villain, John Jasper, with his schizophrenic and homo 
sexual symptoms, is a more subtle study of a murderer than had 
been Dickens' s earlier portrayals of the same type, Jonas Chuz- 
zlewit and Bradley Headstone; and Dickens seems to have in 
tended to present the climax in the form of a psychopathic con 
fession. 



Realism Dominant 313 

He remained loyal to his old system of publication in parts, 
and the first six numbers came out during the middle months 
of 1870. His power showed no sign of diminution in these chap 
ters, but without warning he suffered the penalty for years of 
overdriving his physical and mental energy: on June 9 he died of 
a paralytic stroke. 

His characteristic methods of work brought an ironic sequel 
As usual, he had written each installment shortly before it went 
to press; and he was so determined to keep the outcome a secret 
that he did not confide it even to his closest friends. The Mys 
tery of Edwin Drood therefore remains for ever a tantalizing 
mystery in a sense that Dickens did not foresee. Countless con 
tinuations and analyses have tried to solve the puzzle. Medium- 
istic communication has been invoked to wrest the answers 
from the author himself. The literary detectives are hopelessly 
divided as to whether a murder occurred at all; there is just as 
much controversy as to the method of the crime (if it occurred) 
and the identity of the detective (if one has appeared in the 
story as far as it goes). Since a perfect crime is one in which 
the perpetrator is never suspected, perhaps on similar grounds 
we are justified in calling Edvxn Drood a perfect mystery story. 




XIV 



Recognition of Technique 
(1870 - 1880) 



THE DEATH OF DICKENS marked the end of an epoch. For thirty- 
five years he had held unchallenged supremacy in the novel; 
and even though his methods had grown vastly more subtle, 
keeping pace with the experiments of his competitors, he re 
tained his fundamental traits of sensational action, unrestrained 
outbursts of sentiment, interludes of farce, and comic character 
ization by "humours." With his death, this type of fiction be 
came archaic, and even his principal disciples showed an abrupt 
decline in creative energy. Reade continued to write until 1884 
and Collins until 1889, but neither came anywhere close to re 
peating his earlier successes. 

Reade kept to his formula of melodramatic violence plus 
factual verisimilitude plus social polemics. Foul Play (1868) was 
an attack on the practice of overloading unseaworthy cargo ships. 
He made an exhaustive study of seamanship to be certain that his 
indictment could not be impugned as untrue to facts. A charm 
ing love story and an idyllic interlude on a desert island contrib 
uted to the book's popular appeal; but its main impact was made 

374 



Recog?2ttio?2 of Technique 315 

by the grim depiction of wealthy shipowners who welcome the 
loss of a ship because it is overinsured, oblivious to the suffer 
ings of the crew. The book had a direct result in the parliamen 
tary campaign of Samuel Plimsoll that led to reform of the mari 
time laws* 

Reade's next novel was equally topical. This was Put Yourself 
in His Place, in which he came to grips with what he con 
sidered to be the tyrannical power exerted by labor unions, and 
their ruthless tactics of sabotage. His view resembled that of 
Dickens in Hard Times, but Reade as usual embodied it in a 
quick-moving sequence of spectacular "big scenes," ending with 
a terrific flood rendered with the breathless immediacy of a 
newspaper report. 

The bane of the sensation novelist is the need for perpetually 
increasing the voltage of his shocks. Inevitably this leads to 
overstepping whatever may be the currently accepted bounds of 
propriety. Reade had already been accused of salaciousness in 
Griffith Gaunt, and fiercer condemnation was incurred by A 
Terrible Temptation, \vhich came out in 1871. The specific 
target of this book was again the iniquity of private lunatic asy 
lums, which Reade had already assailed in Hard Cash; but what 
attracted most attention was the revelation of scandalous conduct 
in high life. Reade coolly tells how a baronet discards his mis 
tress when he is about to make a suitable marriage, and how the 
bride's family accepts his conduct quite serenely. The intimate 
description of the seductive mistress stirred up a storm of moral 
indignation among reviewers, who stigmatized Reade with such 
epithets as "a slimy, snaky, poisonous literary reptile." 

To modern readers the most interesting feature of the book 
is the complacent self-portrait of the author as Mr. Rolfe, who 
writes novels by Reade's elaborate system of selecting the neces 
sary ingredients from a vast accumulation of "facts, incidents, liv 
ing dialogue, pictures, reflections, situations," all classified on filing 
cards. Reade defiantly justifies his method through Rolfe's decla 
ration that "I feign probabilities, I record improbabilities." When 
the hero is committed to an asylum by his cousin, Rolfe is recom 
mended to the distressed wife as the only person who can help: 

"What we want is a man of genius, of invention; a man who will 
see every chance, take every chance, lawful or unlawful, and fight 



316 The English Novel (1860-1870) 

with all manner of weapons. . , . He is a writer; and opinions vary 
as to his merit. Some say he has talent; others say it is all eccen 
tricity and affectation. One thing is certain his books bring 
about the changes he demands. And then he is in earnest." 

Few writers would have the effrontery to proclaim their merits 
so blatantly; but this invincible self-confidence is a main source 
of Reade's strength. 

Among Reade's subsequent novels, the only one of some in 
terest is A Woman Hater (1877), not so much for its exposure 
of unsanitary conditions in cottages as for the characterization 
of a woman physician who exemplifies the new independence 
of her sex in professional and public life. 

Whereas Reade's novels after 1870 are of diminishing impor 
tance because he was merely repeating the pattern of his earlier 
work, Wilkie Collins suffered a disastrous decline because he 
shifted into a different mode. With Man and Wife, in 1870, he 
flung himself into propaganda fiction: he attacked what he con 
sidered to be inequities in English marriage law, and for good 
measure he included a brisk foray against the cult of athletic 
sports. At first sight, his humanitarian novels resemble Reade's; 
but in inner spirit they are quite unlike. Reade gives the im 
pression of a kind-hearted, short-tempered man who flails im 
petuously at every abuse that catches his attention. Collins is 
frigidly rational, like a visitor from another planet who has be 
come aware of the contemptible follies of mankind and exposes 
them with a sort of exasperated pity. 

In large measure this attitude was due to Collins's remote 
ness from normal human habits. His bad eyesight, his physical 
frailty, and his complicated array of maladies excluded him 
from many activities, and his drug-taking made him all the more 
detached. His personal relations, too, were unconventional: when 
the original "woman in white" terminated their companionship 
after fourteen years and married a plumber, Collins installed in 
her stead a younger woman who bore him three children. Thus 
many reasons combined to put him totally out of sympathy 
with current conventions and prejudices. 

His later propaganda novels include The New Magdalen (1872), 
the story of a streetwalker who rescues herself by stealing the 
identity of a respectable girl; The Fallen Leaves, also on the 



Recognition of Technique 377 

problem of prostitution, combined with advocacy of socialism; 
The Black Robe, a diatribe against the machinations of the 
Jesuits; and Heart and Science, a condemnation of vivisection. 
All of these retained enough of his sensational plots and his 
vivid settings to hold the public interest. What could be more 
startling than the central situation of Poor Miss Finch, the mar 
riage of a blind girl to a man who has turned blue from sil 
ver-nitrate treatment for his epilepsy? Or what more bizarre 
than a prominent character in The Law and the Lady, a legless 
but lecherous maniac who trundles about in a wheel chair? 
Nevertheless, the intrusion of social conscience was a disap 
pointment to his old admirers, as expressed by Swinburne in 
a plaintive couplet: 

What brought good Wilkie's genius nigh perdition? 
Some demon whispered, "Wtlkie! Have a mission I" 

While the sensation novel was lapsing into decrepitude, Trol- 
lope tranquilly continued with his chronicles of everyday life. 
In 1867-69 he serialized a novel which broke new ground by 
dealing with politics. This was Phineas Finn, the Irish Member, 
which is not one of his greatest achievements, but which oc 
cupies a key position in his second major series of linked stories. 
One of the subsidiary plots in an earlier novel, Can You For 
give Her?, had concerned a certain Lady Glencora Palliser, 
who is married to a dull, conscientious Member of Parliament, and 
who comes close to eloping with a handsome philanderer. In 
this story the political element was negligible; but some of the 
same characters reappear in Ph'meas Finn, now interwoven 
with full details of election campaigns and parliamentary sessions. 
The author himself, having resigned from the postal service in 
1867, stood as a candidate in the election of the next year, and 
though defeated he learned the unvarnished facts of political 
life. 

During the next thirteen years the "parliamentary series" ac 
cumulated to six novels (the same total as the Barsetshire chron 
icles), but, as before, Trollope had no preconceived plan for a 
sequence, and no less than thirteen other novels were inter 
spersed among them. In the third book in the series, The Eustace 
Diamonds, the political element again is subordinate, for the 



3^8 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

story centers in an unscrupulous woman and the detection of 
an ingenious theft; it is Trollope's nearest approach to the Col 
lins technique of mystification. Some of the parliamentary char 
acters, however, reappear in it, and the next book of the series 
brought them back to the foreground. At the end of Phineas 
Finn the hero's career was blighted because he stood trial 
for murder; but in Phineas Redux he returns to Parliament and 
wins himself a clever wife. 

The characters who figure consistently in these four novels 
are Plantagenet Palliser and his wife, and in The Prime Minister 
(1875-76) they move to the center of the stage. In Can You 
Forgive Her? Lady Glencora was a sophisticated young woman 
with more charm than self-discipline, and Palliser a colorless 
though conscientious public servant, who arouses in the reader 
a mixture of respect and annoyance when he quietly ignores his 
wife's escapade and accepts her without reproach when she gives 
up her lover. Gradually in the subsequent novels the couple's 
characters become more complex and mature, until Palliser 
rises to heroic stature by his integrity and his sense of duty, 
though never in fiction had a hero been so drab. When he be 
comes Prime Minister he soon loses his office because he will not 
stoop to political compromises; and in the last novel of the group, 
The Duke's Children (1880), as a lonely widower, he struggles 
with the emotional problems of his son and daughter and ac 
quiesces in their marriages to a brisk American girl and a young 
man with neither rank nor wealth. Shy and hypersensitive to 
the end, he represents the everyday tragedy of the introvert. 

The parliamentary novels are not entirely dissociated from 
Barsetshire, since the Duke of Omnium, the great landowner of 
that county, plays some part in the new series; and Plantagenet 
Palliser, his nephew, had first appeared in The Small House at 
Allingtoji. Thus the whole set of twelve novels forms a com 
pendious view of English social life in the principal professions 
the church, politics, law, medicine and in typical environ 
ments London, a provincial town, and the countryside. Cer 
tain important aspects are omitted, especially the working class 
and the new manufacturing cities with the industrial system 
that they represented The picture is therefore distorted insofar 
as it gives a misleading impression of permanence and security, 



Recognition of Technique 319 

without recognition of the forces of change that were soon to 
render Trollope's England as archaic as that of Surtees. 

The gap is only partly filled by The Way We Live Now 
(1874-75), which deals with corruption in business. Trollope had 
become sickened with what he considered the monstrous greed 
and self-seeking of current life, with its flouting of ethical stand 
ards, and he wove as many as five separate narrative strands into 
this long novel in order to give an inclusive array of profligates 
and cheats. Not since Vanity Fair had an English novelist of 
fered so savage an indictment of human nature, and the reviewers 
were as annoyed as they had been by Thackeray's so-called mis 
anthropy. Though an undertone of similar contempt can be de 
tected in several of Trollope's other late novels, he evaded the 
risk of alienating his public by another overt offensive against 
their entrenched bias. 

It is impractical to speak individually of all Trollope's forty- 
seven novels; and his general average of competence is so high 
that critics are hopelessly at odds in nominating his best ones. 
Among the others that appeared after 1868, high rating can be 
assigned to He Knew He Was Right (a grim psychopathic 
study), The American Senator (a perceptive contrast of Old 
World and New World attitudes), and Dr. Wortle's School (a 
sympathetic treatment of bigamy). Even his last completed 
novel, Mr. Scarborough's Family (1883), which is a return to 
his cynical mood, can be ranked among his successes. 

Shortly after Trollope finished the Barsetshire series, and 
while he was beginning to embark on the parliamentary novels, 
George Eliot wrote her largest and most ambitious book, Mid- 
dlemarch, which was first published in eight monthly volumes 
in 1871-72. Closely modeled upon Coventry and its environment 
as George Eliot had known the region in her early life, Middle- 
march can almost be regarded as an attempt to rival the whole 
Barsetshire panorama within the limits of a single work; indeed 
it was originally conceived as two separate novels. In spite of 
being now regarded as the greatest living novelist in England, 
she still felt uncertain of her ability and endured miserable dis 
couragement whilst she was at work on a book. Though his 
torical events play no direct part in the action, she studied news 
papers of the years 1830-33 and compiled elaborate notebooks in 



380 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

order that the incidental allusions to current events should be 
accurate. The same careful planning is perceptible also in the 
structure of the novel, which intertwines the two major stories 
and several secondary ones so as to give a survey of the principal 
social classes and the typical vocations of the region. 

The individual story Lines have just the right degree of sep- 
arateness and intermittent contact to reproduce the caste system. 
The Brooke family is of the country gentry, not rich but 
secure in the possession of a landed estate and ancestral prestige, 
and living much the sort of life depicted by Jane Austen. The 
Vincys are of the newly prosperous bourgeois class, with the 
practical vigor of the parents beginning to degenerate into the 
snobbish ambitions of the daughter and the irresolute self-in 
dulgence of the son. The Garths represent the stolid but de 
pendable yeoman farmers. 

George Eliot tries valiantly to maintain an attitude of judicial 
impartiality, but her personal bias keeps breaking through. She 
is fond of the Garth household because it resembles her child 
hood home. She sympathizes with Lydgate because he symbol 
izes the new spirit of scientific research and its application to 
human welfare. Above all, she tends to idealize Dorothea Brooke, 
who is as much a portrait of the mature George Eliot as Maggie 
Tulliver had been a portrait of adolescent Mary Ann Evans. In 
the same way she is antagonistic toward Casaubon because he is 
a desiccated pedant who lacks humanitarian sympathy; and the 
handling of Rosamond Vincy recalls that of Hetty Sorrel in 
its contempt for a pretty girl's shallow selfishness. 

Nevertheless the author's sense of justice restrains her pre 
possessions. She allows Rosamond to behave with temporary 
generosity under the impact of Dorothea's appeal to her better 
nature; and while Casaubon is never endowed with the touches 
of nobility that Trollope eventually granted to Palliser, the reader 
does begin to feel some pity for his introverted isolation. 
Similarly, George Eliot develops real psychological complexity 
in Lydgate by showing how his dedication to science and pub 
lic health is frustrated by the pressures of political expediency 
and worldly ambition. She even admits that Dorothea is im 
practical and actually egotistical in her stubborn idealism. 

The action of the novel moves slowly and without much 
drama. There is a trace of sensation fiction only in one of the 



Recognition of Technique 381 

secondary plots, involving a banker with a disgraceful secret and 
an unscrupulous rascal who threatens to expose him; but in such 
a wide survey of a community a single example of criminal 
intrigue seems like a necessary touch of realism rather than a 
concession to melodrama. 

The novel as a whole acquires its unity not so much from the 
occasional linking of the separate plot lines or from the geo 
graphically restricted setting as from the paralleling of certain 
major themes. The most significant of these is that of compati 
bility in marriage. This topic had been of primary concern to 
Jane Austen also; the difference is that in her novels the main 
characters discover their danger in time to avoid matrimony, 
whereas in Middlemarch the two principal couples get married 
early in the story, while totally deluded as to one another's real 
personality. Dorothea admires Casaubon as a great scholar; he 
thinks that she will be a compliant and industrious servitor. Lyd- 
gate is attracted to Rosamond because she is pretty and viva 
cious, while she expects him to achieve social and professional 
eminence. The main body of the novel traces how all four of 
them slowly and painfully discover the truth. 

Sentimental fiction would have developed a feeling of affinity 
between Dorothea and Lydgate, and might have ended by pairing 
them off after some opportune loss of their spouses. Avoiding 
this obvious gambit, George Eliot surprises her readers by in 
troducing Will Ladislaw, an apparently unstable young man who 
turns out to be a suitable second husband for Dorothea, while 
Lydgate is abandoned to a miserable life of material success and 
spiritual stultification under his wife's relentless compulsion. 
Though critics are inclined to grumble that Dorothea's marriage 
to Ladislaw is an unconvincing effort toward a conventional 
happy ending, the author could have justified it in terms of her 
own experience: Ladislaw in many ways resembles the lively, 
versatile G. H. Lewes, while Casaubon was perhaps a somewhat 
resentful portrait of Herbert Spencer, who had been so unre 
sponsive to Miss Evans's hero worship. Since the unconvention- 
ality of the Eliot-Lewes union could not well be used in the 
novel, she found an equivalent by giving Ladislaw other handi 
caps than a renegade wife foreign blood, low social origin, 
and poverty. 

This leads into the second unif ying theme of the novel the 



382 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

impact of the outsider on a tightly closed society. Ladislaw 
outrages Middlemarch by having a Polish father, an actress 
mother, and a cosmopolitan wit. Having no predetermined place 
in the social structure of the town, he serves the technical func 
tion of tying several main lines of the action together. The 
theme of the intruder is repeated in Lydgate, who is as earnest 
as Ladislaw is frivolous, but who also falls foul of the local 
vested interests when he tries to impose alien standards upon 
the routines of the community. And the sensational mystery 
element of Bulstrode and Raffles depends upon their being in 
vaders from the unpredictable world outside, like Satan in a com 
placent Eden. In this view Middlemarch is indeed a microcosm 
of the Victorian age, showing the disturbing encroachment of 
unorthodox new ideas upon doctrines and ways of life that 
seemed impregnable. 

Middle-march was the masterpiece of George Eliot's realistic 
method. She lived for eight years longer but she wrote only 
one more novel, Daniel Deronda, and it cannot be counted among 
her best books. She concocted it intellectually, without recourse 
to memories of her early days, and consequently it fails to come 
to life. The central topic has interest at the present day, being 
the project for a Jewish state in Palestine, a cause for which she 
felt deep sympathy; but she embodied it in too much sensational 
mystery and sentimental romance. Deronda is an incredibly 
perfect character who discovers his Jewish ancestry only after 
he rescues a lovely young Jewess when she is on the verge of 
suicide as an escape from starvation. They fall in love and dedi 
cate themselves ardently to Zionism. 

There is more psychological subtlety in the characterization of 
Gwendolyn Harleth, at the outset a selfish girl who marries a 
wealthy man for reasons of ambition, against the warnings of 
a woman who is the mother of his children. Gwendolyn be 
comes addicted to gambling and hates her husband so bitterly 
for his cruelty that she refrains from going to his aid when he 
is drowning; and in a revulsion of feeling she accuses herself of 
being guilty of his death. Being in love with the impeccable 
Deronda, she is now susceptible to his urging that she should 
discard her selfish attitude, and her repentance turns her into 
an admirable person. 

In her final years, afflicted with frail health, George Eliot 



'Recognition of Technique 383 

wrote some poetry as well as a volume of mildly satirical essays, 
The bnpressions of Theophrastus Such. Lewes died in 1878, 
and after seventeen months of grief George Eliot married John 
W. Cross, a bank official from New York. She was sixty and he 
was thirty-nine. She enjoyed only seven months of her belated 
status as a legal wife before she caught a chill, and died. 

The year 1871, when Middlemarch began to appear, witnessed 
also the first book by a new author who was destined to be 
George Eliot's successor in chronicling the problems and trage 
dies of English rural life. Thomas Hardy sprang from the same 
sort of yeoman stock as she did. The tiny village in which he 
was born gives a misleading impression of rural isolation and 
poverty. Actually the Hardys lived comfortably by the stand 
ards of the time and were proud of having flourished for cen 
turies in the same region of Dorsetshire. A kinsman was the 
captain of Lord Nelson's flagship, and rose to the rank of ad 
miral and baronet. 

In childhood Thomas Hardy absorbed a sense of the ageless 
past that invested every acre of the countryside with reminders 
of the Roman conquerors and the Anglo-Saxon invaders. In his 
early days the ancient patterns of living were almost untouched 
by modern changes; but the region had been disturbed by the 
threat of Napoleonic invasion in the opening years of the cen 
tury and Hardy was fascinated by the reminiscences of that 
crisis that he heard all around him. Another formative influence 
was music, as his father and grandfather played in the old-fash 
ioned church orchestra. The father being a building contractor, 
young Hardy was apprenticed to an architect in Dorchester at 
the age of sixteen. The firm specialized in ecclesiastical work, 
and Hardy made many drawings of village churches that were 
being restored. By the time he was twenty-two his work was 
good enough to gain him an appointment as assistant to one of 
the most eminent architects in London, and the next year he 
won two important prizes. In spite of this auspicious beginning 
for a career, however, he disliked life in the metropolis and 
felt more drawn to the profession of letters. He had been writ 
ing poems and essays since his teens, and at the age of twenty- 
seven he went home to his native territory and set to work upon 
a novel. 

When he submitted the manuscript to Chapman & Hall it was 



384 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

read by George Meredith, who told the young author that it 
contained too much radical propaganda and indiscriminate satire, 
and advised him to strive for a stronger element of plot. Hardy 
conformed by imitating the Collins type of intricate structure 
in Desperate Remedies, which came out in 1871. The story is 
redeemed from its sensationalism by some evidences of poetic 
sensibility and philosophic meditation; but the chief recogni 
tion that it received was a devastating review in the Spectator, 
accusing it of immorality, because it included a wealthy un 
married lady with an illegitimate son. 

For his next book Hardy went so far in the opposite direc 
tion that it contained only a slender trickle of narrative, scarcely 
justifying its being classified as a novel at all. The title was 
Under the Greenwood Tree, and it was accurately described in 
the subtitle as "a rural painting of the Dutch school," for, 
like George Eliot in A dam Bede, he had lavished his greatest care 
on the simple details of country life. The charm and humor in 
his pictures of the parish choir and the love affairs of a village 
coquette showed that he had found his metier. 

He tried a more dramatic situation in A Pair of Blue Eyes a 
sentimental title for a story of painful irony, in which a young 
woman vacillates between two lovers and ends by alienating 
both. The denouement comes as a hideous shock, when both 
men, upon returning to England from abroad, decide to seek 
reconciliation with her and find themselves traveling in the same 
train, only to discover that her dead body, en route to her 
funeral, is in the luggage car. A final ironical twist is the revela 
tion that she has married a nobleman during their absence. 

Hardy at this time was wooing a young lady in Cornwall, sis 
ter-in-law of a rector whose church he had helped to restore; 
and traces of this experience appear both in the Cornish scenery 
of the novel and in the cast of characters a clergyman and 
his daughter, a literary man, and a young architect of humble 
birth. Both the suitors contain some traits of Hardy himself, 
and Elfride's exasperating indecision in the novel reflects the 
fluctuations of Hardy's love affair, for Miss Gifford had a strong 
sense of her social status and doubted the wisdom of encouraging 
a penniless young man who could not decide whether to be 
an architect or an author. 

The gravest defect in A Pair of Blue Eyes is the style, which 



Recognition of Technique 385 

is intolerably pretentious and awkward, full of long words and 
scholarly allusions. The conversation, particularly, is too formal 
and ponderous to be credible. 

The modest success of Under the Greenwood Tree had brought 
Hardy an invitation to contribute a serial to the Cornhill Maga 
zine, and Far from the Madding Crowd came out in it during 1874. 
Like the three previous stories, it was anonymous, and some 
readers were positive that it was by George Eliot. When pub 
lished in volume form it carried the author's name, and Hardy's 
fame was established. 

The book \vas written at his father's home in the country, 
and \vhen Hardy ran out of paper he would use large dead leaves, 
chips left by woodcutters, and fragments of slate or stone. An 
intimate feeling for nature and primitive life seemed to pass 
through these media into the very texture of the novel. It com 
bined the idyllic rural setting of Under the Greenwood Tree 
with an adequately dramatic plot, and the ending was not too 
tragic to gratify the average reader. The greatest advance, how 
ever, was in characterization. The heroine, Bathsheba Everdene, 
is a woman of passionate temperament, in revolt against the re 
strictions of stolid country life; the masterful Sergeant Troy is 
a fitting foil for her; and the farm workers provide a comic 
chorus for the drama. After Bathsheba marries Troy and is 
ill-used by him, the dashing sergeant is murdered by Farmer 
Boldwood, who has been driven half insane by frustrated desire 
for the capricious Bathsheba. With Boldwood safely in a mad 
house, she is free to marry Gabriel Oak, a loyal shepherd who 
has always worshiped her in silence. 

When the popularity of this book led to a request for another 
serial in the same magazine, Hardy tried comedy in The Hand 
of Ethelberta. Again the central character is a woman of strong 
determination, but this is the only novel of Hardy's in which 
the central woman character is guided by common sense instead 
of by emotion, and therefore achieves her purpose instead 
of being the victim of circumstance. A less unscrupulous ver 
sion of Becky Sharp, Ethelberta is an ex-governess who married 
her employers' son and was soon left a widow with limited 
means. She struggles to hold a place in society and to conceal 
the fact that her father was a butler. We admire her humor and 
tenacity and enjoy her triumph when she marries a dissolute 



386 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

old peer; but the author's attempts at social satire suffer from 
his inadequate familiarity with fashionable society. 

In each of his five novels Hardy had undertaken a different 
genre tragedy and comedy, melodrama and idyl. With his 
sixth one he combined the best features of them all into a homo 
geneous work of art. The increased stature of The Return of the 
Native is partly due to the maturing of his philosophical outlook. 
Brought up in the Church of England, he always retained an 
affection for its ritual, its music, and its Gothic architecture. As 
soon as he grew up, however, his interest in science made it im 
possible for him to accept the Bible literally, while his human 
sympathies led him to reject the Old Testament concept of a 
God of Wrath. He was nineteen when The Origin of Species 
came out, and from the evolutionary theory he drew the infer 
ence that the universe is ruled by blind chance rather than by 
any conscious power, either benevolent or malign. He was per 
petually aware of the ruthless struggle for survival, as exem 
plified among plants and animals, so that nature for him was not 
the kindly foster-mother that Wordsworth loved, but a horrify 
ing spectacle of incessant destruction. To him the most tragic 
outcome of the whole accidental process was the development 
of the human mind, since it makes man conscious of his helpless 
predicament and endows him with wishes and hopes that stand 
no chance of fulfillment. 

The scientific theories made Hardy cognizant of the incal 
culable size and age of the universe, with its geological strata 
and its astronomical light-years. Long discussions of fossils 
and prehistoric monsters intrude digressively in A Pair of 
Blue Eyes. Against this background of time and space the ambi 
tions and agonies of any individual become ludicrously trivial. 
And yet Hardy was abnormally responsive to human suffering, 
so that his own relatively comfortable and untroubled life ren 
dered him all the more keenly aware of other people's unhap- 
piness. Every instance of frustration or unmerited misery 
seemed to him to be further proof of the callous injustice of 
circumstances. In defending himself from the charge of being 
too gloomy in his novels, he explained: "Differing natures find 
their tongue in the presence of differing spectacles. Some natures 
become vocal at tragedy, some are made vocal by comedy, and 
it seems to me that to whichever of these aspects of life a 



Recognition of Technique 387 

writer's instinct for expression the more readily responds, to 
that he should allow it to respond." 

Therefore he saw the persons in his fiction as embodiments of 
the elemental life force, struggling furilely against the influ 
ences of heredity and environment. Wider reading ultimately 
made him aware of the pessimistic doctrines of Schopenhauer and 
von Hartmann; and these reinforced his own vision of mankind 
as the helpless victim of cosmic forces. 

This concept of man's relationship with nature contributes 
to another distinctive merit of The Return of the Native 
its imaginative and symbolic use of landscape. It is often said 
that Egdon Heath is the most important character in the story. 
By this time Hardy had applied to his native region its historic 
name of Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom that covered four 
or five modern counties of southwest England. He retained all 
its geographical features in his novels, merely giving fictitious 
names to actual places. This is different from Trollope's Barset- 
shire, which was a composite of various counties, with an imag 
inary though precise topography. Nevertheless the recurrence of 
familiar places throughout Hardy's later novels adds to the il 
lusion of reality as in Trollope's series, because the reader is 
reminded of the previous stories which took place in the same 
area. 

But Hardy's Wessex provides more than realistic details or 
even a picturesque background to enhance the emotional effect 
in crucial scenes, in the tradition that goes back through Collins 
all the way to Mrs. Radcliffe. As well as serving these purposes, 
the setting always symbolizes the timeless, unchanging power 
of nature itself. The opening chapter of The Return of the 
Native describes the Heath, without a human character in sight; 
and the description not only uses images that suggest a colossal 
living creature but also emphasizes that this is "a face on which 
time makes but little impression." The Rainbarrow, on which 
the first action occurs, is not only a large conspicuous hill that 
dwarfs the human beings who stand on it; it is also a Celtic 
burial mound of prehistoric date. The structure of the story, too, 
is adjusted to the rhythms of the Heath, for it covers exactly a 
year and a day, and the episodes fit into the cycle of the seasons 
and the variations of weather. 

A similar function is served by the superstitions that figure 



388 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

repeatedly in the story. Hardy inserts them not merely for local 
color or as curiosities of folklore. The Guy Fawkes Day bon 
fires and the Christmas mummers' play go back to immemorial 
pagan rituals, and Susan Nunsuch's melting of a wax model of 
Eustacia is a form of black magic that is world-wide. These age- 
old observances are linked with crucial moments in the life of 
Eustacia, the rebellious woman who dares to oppose the domi 
nance of the Heath; and the reader cannot help feeling a twinge 
of credulity when her death follows so promptly upon Susan's 
withchcraft, though Hardy sees only a touch of grim comedy 
in Susan's prospective pride in accomplishing something which 
actually results from sheer coincidence. 

This word "coincidence" points to another manifestation of his 
philosophy in his novels. A casual critic could accuse him of 
crudely overworking a typical melodramatic device, for coin 
cidences occur again and again as the controlling influence in 
the action. But analysis shows that they are not used as in sen 
sation fiction, to provide surprise or to keep the action moving 
neatly and vigorously forward, nor are they usually employed to 
help some character out of a predicament or to produce a happy 
ending. Instead, pure chance invariably steps in at the one mo 
ment when it can defeat the intentions of the characters and doom 
them to disaster. In Hardy the deus ex machina has become a 
diabolus ex machina. As first exemplified in the pitiless ending 
of A Pair of Blue Eyes, these climactic coincidences evoke an 
overpowering sense of irony not the sly detachment of an 
intelligent onlooker, such as we term "irony" in Jane Austen, 
but the "irony of fate," the inherent perverseness of life that 
thwarts human reason and human desires. 

The ironic implication is all the more distressing because the 
chance occurrence is in itself trivial, in grotesque contrast with 
the magnitude of its consequences. When Mrs. Yeobright goes 
to her son's cottage for a reconciliation with him and his wife 
(an action that could have resolved all the conflicts of the story), 
the timing of Wildeve's visit, her arrival, Clym's return home and 
his falling asleep, Eustacia's mistaken belief that he has heard 
his mother knock at the door, and Mrs. Yeobright's sitting down 
beside an adder, all combine to cause her death; while the 
further coincidence that a boy was picking flowers in the lonely 
spot provides the final misunderstanding, when his report leads 



Recog?2ition of Technique 389 

Clym to believe that his wife intentionally kept his mother out 
of the house. 

It is this ascendancy of blind chance that gives Hardy's major 
novels the fatalistic dignity of Greek tragedy. Just as every 
Greek tragedy centers upon someone who offends the gods by 
overweening pride and self-confidence, so in each of his novels 
the main character tries to exert his will against the forces of 
environment, and incurs defeat. Eustacia not only destroys her 
self but brings suffering to everyone within her orbit, whereas 
the compliant Tomasin and the unselfish Diggory Venn win 
through to a measure of happiness, and Clym Yeobright achieves 
stoic endurance by identifying himself wholly with the Heath. 

Hardy must have been aware of the parallel between Clym 
and himself. Both of them went counter to worldly standards 
by renouncing what promised to be a prosperous career in a 
great city and returned to the obscure surroundings of their 
origin. Clym's eventual vocation as an evangelist is thus equiva 
lent to Hardy's developing his creed of resignation. 

His style in The Return of the Native is still stiffly formal 
and learnedly archaic; but instead of being clumsy as in A Pair 
of Blue Eyes it has become appropriate to his total effect. Poetic 
use of metaphor combines with the sonorous vocabulary to pro 
duce a prose form with something of the stateliness of blank 
verse; and the unlikeness to contemporary speech reinforces 
the impression of timelessness. 

The doctrines that Hardy deduced from the Darwinian hy 
pothesis are basically similar to those of Meredith; but the anti 
thetical personalities of the two authors led them to different 
conclusions. They both saw that man's dethronement from pre 
eminence in the cosmos as the favorite protege of a benevolent 
creator meant that his ideals and desires have no guarantee of 
fulfillment. But Hardy emphasized the tragic irony of inevitable 
frustration, whereas Meredith sought to use comic irony to show 
his readers how to sublimate their selfish aggressiveness. 

In presenting this idea Meredith was faced with a paradox. On 
one hand, he believed in the virtue of natural human impulses 
and the viciousness of convention, hypocrisy, sentimentality 
all the artificial pretenses of modern civilization. On the other 
hand, self-assertion is undeniably a natural human impulse,, and 
yet he regarded it as the chief cause of evil in social relations. 



390 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

He resolves the paradox by insisting that self-assertion is a 
stupid survival of pre-human brutality, susceptible to control in 
anyone who uses his reason to recognize his own unimportance 
and the rights of others. Thus even when Meredith tells stories 
of defeat and disillusionment he is asking the reader not to 
pity characters caught in a hopeless trap but to recognize how 
they have blundered into it by losing their sense of proportion. 
Each of his novels is the chronicle of an "ordeal" by which the 
main character is taught the lesson of rational self-restraint. 

Beauchamp's Career (1874-75) ends with an episode that seems 
to resemble Hardy's capitulation to blind chance, when the noble- 
spirited hero is drowned in saving the life of a cottager's child. 
But the implication of the story is essentially different. Nevil 
Beauchamp, like Richard Feverel, is a headstrong young aristo 
crat whose humanitarian visions become inextricably entangled 
with his emotional life. He was modeled upon Meredith's dearest 
friend, Captain Frederick Maxse, who gave up a naval career in 
favor of Quixotic campaigns for political reform. Meredith helped 
him in an unsuccessful candidacy for Parliament, thus obtaining 
material for a detailed account of an election in the novel. This 
theme gives it some contact with Trollope's political series, 
which belongs to the same years. Meredith, however, is not con 
cerned mainly with the exposure of corruption or stupidity in 
public affairs. His topic is the tragic absurdity of Beauchamp's 
inadequate powers of judgment. 

The early chapters include an idyllic love story with scenic 
backgrounds in Italy and France. But the lovely French girl's 
family has arranged her marriage with an elderly nobleman, 
and so Beauchamp returns to England to fling himself into rad 
ical politics. When later Renee comes to him in flight from her 
unhappy marriage, he callously sends her home, partly through 
high moral rectitude but also because a scandal would be disas 
trous to his party. By this time he has quarreled with his re 
actionary family, who abominate his theories; and a rich English 
girl who loves him is important to him only because her money 
could be useful in his campaign. Thus he is tormented by con 
flicts between his personal feelings and his ideal of duty to 
ward humanity; and his final heroic deed is his one successful 
service to his fellow-beings. But even though he has proved the 
impracticality of a single-handed assault on the established so- 



Recognition of Technique 391 

cial system, he has gone through his ordeal and conquered him 
self. 

In contrast with the romantic fervor of Harry Richmond, the 
disillusioned astringency of Beauchamp's Career seems cold 
blooded. Meredith insisted that he was neither a romanticist nor 
a realist; an important digression in Beauchamp*s Career defines 
his stand: 

Those happy tales of mystery are as much my envy as the 
popular narratives of the deeds of bread and cheese people, for 
they both create a tide-way in the attentive mind; the mysterious 
pricking our credulous flesh to creep, the familiar urging our 
obese imagination to constitutional exercise. And, oh, the refresh 
ment there is in dealing with characters either contemptibly be 
neath us or supernaturally above! My way is like a Rhone island 
in the summer drought, stony, unattractive, and difficult between 
the two forceful streams of the unreal and the over-real, which 
delight mankind honor to the conjurors. My people conquer 
nothing, win none; they are actual, yet uncommon. It is the 
clock-work of the brain that they are directed to set in motion, 
and poor troop of actors to vacant benches! the conscience 
residing in thoughtfulness which they would appeal to; and if 
you are impervious to them, we are lost. 

The sarcastic tone in this and similar comments indicates that 
by now Meredith had relinquished all hope of winning a popular 
following. A lecture that he delivered in 1877 on "The Idea of 
Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit" served to crystallize 
his ideas on the value of laughter as a form of intellectual clari 
fication and emotional therapy. He held that perfect comedy is 
neither satire nor burlesque, but a dispassionate and clear-sighted 
perception of folly, sentimentality, and conceit. This attitude 
in his novels is partly responsible for the disfavor they evoke 
in some readers. He holds himself aloof from his characters and 
observes them with Olympian mockery at moments when the 
reader would prefer an illusion of sympathetic identification. 

As an outcome of this critical theory, Meredith's next novel, 
The Egoist, is his most consistently intellectual work. As though 
to serve as a barricade against ill-qualified readers, the first chap 
ter is a condensation of his lecture on comedy, couched in his 
most elusive phrases and embellished with parodies of the styles 
of other authors. The book's subtitle is "A Comedy in Nar- 



392 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

rative," and it is constructed with strict adherence to the uni 
ties of time, place, and action. The main setting is Sir Willoughby 
Patterned estate, and everything happens in about six weeks. 
As in a play, the story is presented largely in dialogue, even the 
chapter titles being often merely a list of the characters who 
appear in the particular scene. The tone of high comedy is main 
tained throughout, and yet the theme is the one that Meredith 
took most seriously the masculine aggressiveness that forces 
women to suppress their natural impulses and intelligence with 
a pretense of helplessness. Sir Willoughby seems to have all the 
best gifts rank, wealth, brains, good looks, athletic prowess; 
and from infancy he has been encouraged to believe in his own 
perfection. Three young women, however, successively discover 
that his unadulterated egoism renders him intolerable as a pros 
pective husband. The most important of them is Clara Middleton, 
a clever, charming girl who accepts his proposal of marriage 
under the usual romantic illusions. By the conventions of their 
caste in Victorian days, a broken engagement was almost as 
shameful as a broken marriage, and so Clara can find no one 
to understand her desperate determination to retract her promise. 

Very little happens. The nearest approach to overt action is 
when Clara walks two miles in the rain to a railway station, 
intending to go away to London, but is then persuaded to come 
back again. But in the prolonged sequence of conversations and 
subtle maneuvers, every facet of half-a-dozen principal charac 
ters is revealed in their relationships with one another. 

Sir Willoughby, in particular, is anatomized as no previous 
character in fiction had been. The author apparently despises 
him to the verge of loathing, and yet makes us realize that his 
contemptible behavior springs from traits that are present in 
every man. Sir Willoughby is not a villain. In the eyes of most 
people including himself he is a paragon. His final humilia 
tion, like that of Malvolio in Twelfth Night, awakens our pity 
more than our satisfaction. In his case Meredith's "ordeal" situa 
tion is reversed: because Sir Willoughby lacks any latent quality 
of nobility, his painful crisis merely reduces him to woeful ab 
surdity instead of releasing him to spiritual freedom. Clara, on 
the other hand, survives the test triumphantly; and Vernon Whit- 
ford, the man she finally marries, has already endured his pur 
gation before the story begins. 



Recognition of Technique 393 

As usual, the novel includes much of the author's own ex 
perience. Like Sir Austin Feverel, Sir Willoughby is in a 
predicament resembling Meredith's relationship with his first wife; 
the situation is kept within the limits of comedy merely because 
the conflict occurs before marriage instead of after. Clara and 
her father have many traits drawn from the first Mrs. Meredith 
and Thomas Love Peacock. Whitford is an exact portrait of 
Leslie Stephen, the critic, who was one of Meredith's favorite 
friends. 

The technical methods in The Egoist show the full develop 
ment of Meredith's individual manner. His love of apothegms 
is fulfilled by citations from an imaginary "Book of Egoism." 
Every paragraph of the novel is adorned with figurative language, 
including recurrent symbols and metaphors that supply a uni 
fying pattern. The most persistent of these is the tribe of sar 
donic imps that are mentioned as persecuting any human being 
whose conduct becomes irrational. Other details that acquire 
symbolic value are fragile porcelain, the Alps, and a double-blos 
somed cherry tree. In contrast with the ornateness of the descrip 
tive passages, the dialogue seeks to reproduce the inconsequential 
abruptness of real conversation, with its fragmentary phrases 
and vague digressions and delayed reactions. 

To Meredith's astonishment, The Egoist was better received 
than any of his previous books. The reason was not solely that 
it was under better artistic control Influence was now passing 
into the hands of a new generation of critics who had grown 
up during the twenty years since Meredith and George Eliot 
had published their first novels, and who thus had absorbed the 
concept of fiction as a subtle intellectual medium. Dissatisfied 
with the standardized product of the popular novelists, they ac 
claimed Meredith as their ideal. 

The contrast between his work and that of the current best 
sellers was obvious enough. Not only Reade and Collins but even 
Harrison Ainsworth was still prolific. A more astonishing ap 
parition from the past was Disraeli, whose flair for fiction had 
merely been suspended during his years of political leadership. 
Twenty-three years elapsed between Tancred and his next novel, 
Lothair, which came out in 1870 during an interval when his party 
was out of power. Then there was another ten-year lapse while 
he served a further term as Prime Minister, but his final retirement 



394 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

in 1880 enabled him to finish a last work, Endymion. Both these 
late novels deal with social, religious, and political questions in 
his old vein of sophisticated wit. Indeed, they have more re 
semblance to Meredith's novels than to the average output of the 
prolific professional novelists of the seventies. 

These were fixed in a pattern of competent entertainment, 
ranging between the sensational and the domestic types. Ouida 
and Miss Braddon and James Payn were at the peak of their suc 
cess. Blackmore brought out a series of tales distinguished chiefly 
by the local color of different parts of England the South 
Downs, Yorkshire, Dartmoor. The most popular newcomer in 
the field was William Black, a journalist from Scotland whose 
formula was a mixture of picturesque scenery, open-air adven 
ture, and wholesome heroines, as in A Daughter of Heth and 
A Princess of Thule. Melodrama and Dickensian humor played 
a larger part in the collaborative novels of Walter Besant and 
James Rice, especially Ready-Money Mortiboy and The Golden 
Butterfly (a story about an American oil millionaire in Europe). 

A few young novelists, however, were venturing into the Mere- 
dithian type of intellectual comedy. William Hurrell Mallock 
aroused some controversy with The New Republic (1877), which 
harked back to Peacock's use of country-house conversation in 
order to satirize current theories, and followed Peacock also 
in introducing recognizable caricatures of contemporary writers, 
such as Arnold, Pater, Mark Pattison, and W. K. Clifford. In 
The New Paul and Virginia he employed the same method to 
attack the opinions of the Positivists. A more gifted young satirist 
who was beginning his literary career at that date was George 
Bernard Shaw. Between 1879 and 1883 he wrote five clever, 
unorthodox novels in which he made fun of contemporary 
prejudices and proclaimed his cocksure opinions. The first, Im 
maturity, was rejected by Meredith in his capacity of publisher's 
reader; and no firm could be persuaded to accept it or the sub 
sequent stories. Four of them, however, got into print in 1884- 
88 as serials in obscure journals. 

The dominant new figure in the late seventies is one who 
does not fit neatly into the scope of the present book. Henry 
James is usually classified as an American novelist, because he 
was born in New York, studied at Harvard, and retained Ameri 
can citizenship until the last year of his life. Nevertheless, he 
was not domiciled in the United States after he grew up, and from 



Recognition of Technique 395 

1868 onward he lived mainly in England, with intervals in France 
and Italy. His friendship with English authors, and his advocacy 
of certain positive theories of fiction, not only by his practice 
in his novels but also in critical essays, made him the most in 
fluential personage in English fiction through the next half-cen 
tury. 

James's familiarity with English and Continental life, originat 
ing in visits during his boyhood, gave him a unique opportunity 
to contrast the manners and outlook of the Old and New Worlds, 
and this topic dominated the novels that he published between 
1876 and 1881 Roderick Hudson, The American, The Euro 
peans, The Portrait of a Lady. He dealt with the same social 
group as Thackeray and Meredith the wealthy, cultivated peo 
ple who talk well, read books, and travel abroad. His innovation 
was in centering each story upon a candid, idealistic American 
who comes to Europe and painfully discovers the intangible dif 
ferences between his or her background and that of the sophis 
ticated denizens of an old, established society. 

The importance of James was not so much in the novelty 
of his subject matter as in his method of handling it. The James 
family was endowed with an almost clinical curiosity about hu 
man behavior, which led the novelist's brother William to become 
the founder of the science of psychology in the United States. 
Henry James was the first novelist to recognize clearly that the 
materials of fiction and of scientific psychology are identical. 
He insisted that a novelist's primary duty is to reveal exactly 
what goes on in the inner workings of a character's personality. 
Furthermore, he condemned almost all preceding novelists for 
injecting their own interpretations into their books, whether by 
explicit comments to the reader or merely by idiosyncrasies of 
style. The novelist's function, James believed, was to keep him 
self invisible and to let the story seem to tell itself, giving the 
reader the illusion of analyzing the situation unaided. Like 
George Eliot, James was primarily interested in ethical dilemmas; 
but he did not seek, as she did, to discuss them in a philosophical 
context. 

One of James's contributions to fiction in English was his con 
necting it with the main current of European literature. Although 
most English authors since the beginning of the novel had read 
foreign fiction, they had remained essentially provincial in their 
own work. From boyhood onward, James had been as familiar 



396 The English Novel (1870-1880) 

with French literature as with English. By his standards the 
greatest of novelists were the French realists, Balzac and Flaubert; 
and he was interested too in the recent work of the brothers 
Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, who in Renee Mauperin and 
Germinie Lacerteux had written what is termed "impression 
istic" fiction, trying to reproduce the way in which experience 
is actually perceived by the individual through his senses. 

By this time the French authors were becoming acquainted 
with the novels of the Russians, especially Turgeniev, who fre 
quented the Parisian literary salons. Turgeniev's simplicity and 
naturalness of style, Tolstoi's massive realism, and Dostoievski's 
psychological insight all helped to prove that fiction could rep 
resent real life with truth and subtlety. The Russians were 
not employing realistic vividness merely as an end in itself, but 
seemed to believe that the novel was a valid medium for setting 
forth a profound interpretation of existence. 

From the French and the Russians, James acquired the con 
viction that the writing of fiction is a serious form of art. Eng 
lish novelists, with the exception of Meredith, still regarded their 
work primarily as a form of entertainment, governed by the 
practical consideration of giving the public what it liked. When 
they thought more seriously about their function, the Puritan 
tradition led them to teach moral lessons or promote humanitarian 
reforms. At this time, however, a few critics and poets, with 
Walter Pater as their spokesman, were preaching the doctrine 
of "art for art's sake," which meant that the artist should concern 
himself solely with conveying sensations of pleasure and beauty, 
unaffected by social or moral values. James's temperament made 
him a detached onlooker on life, and so he dedicated himself 
to this aesthetic creed insofar as it could be applied to fiction. 

Neither the material nor the manner of his writing can be 
called beautiful in any popular sense. There is nothing pictur 
esque about his characters or their behavior; and when compared 
with other novels of his era, his stories seem sluggish in move 
ment and deficient in energy. His precise vocabulary and formal 
sentence structures produce an effect of woodenness. But in his 
insistence upon the author's impartiality and upon the importance 
of technical skill, James brought the English novel into the camp 
of the aesthetes. 




XV 



Ethical Problems and Exotic 
Adventures 

(1880 - 1895-) 



WITH THE DECLINE of the sensational and domestic types of fic 
tion, a new genre that came into prominence was the problem 
novel. Deriving mainly from George Eliot, and paralleling the 
development of the problem play in the wake of Ibsen, it re 
flected the ever-expanding controversies over religious belief, 
the bases of morality, the status of women, and other fundamen 
tal matters, wherein accepted axioms were being challenged and 
overturned. Earnest authors depicted equally earnest characters 
making momentous decisions over their creeds, 

A remarkable example was John Inglesant, by Joseph Henry 
Shorthouse, a middle-aged chemical manufacturer in Birmingham, 
who had gone through a difficult transition at the age of twenty- 
seven when he gave up the Quaker faith of his parents and 
entered the Church of England. This conversion supplied the 
inner validity for his story of an aristocratic young Englishman 
of the time of Charles I, trained by the Jesuits, who remains 
loyal to the royalist cause and slowly learns the Christian law 
of forgiveness until in the end he spares the murderer of his 

397 



398 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

brother, on whom he had vowed vengeance. After working over 
it for ten years, Shorthouse made a privately printed edition 
of 100 copies of the novel in 1880. It was promptly bought by 
Macmillan & Company, and enthusiastic praise from Gladstone 
helped to give it immense circulation. Though it rivals Henry 
Esmond as a convincing reconstruction of a past epoch, with 
Hobbes, Crashaw, and other celebrities playing minor roles, the 
book's real value is its sincere study of spiritual dedication. 
Shorthouse said that his purpose was "to exalt culture above 
fanaticism of every kind." 

A similar 'pastiche of historical material can be seen in Marius 
the Epicurean, by Walter Pater, which came out in 1885 
after five years of gestation. Giving a scholarly picture of 
Roman life in the second century, it is so remote from the melo 
dramatic violence of The Last Days of Pompeii or Hypatia that 
it seems almost devoid of plot. The hero is a self-portrait of 
Pater, and the interest is centered in his intellectual and emo 
tional dilemmas, under the conflicting attractions of Christianity 
and rationalism, the love of beauty and the craving for spiritual 
insight. 

Another serious novel about religious faith, and also based on 
the author's o\vn experience, came out in the same year as John 
Inglesant 1881. This was The Autobiography of Mark Ruther 
ford, "edited by Reuben Shapcott." The real author, whose 
identity was long kept secret, was William Hale White. Bora 
in Bedford, where his parents were zealous adherents of the 
Bunyan meeting-house, White gave up his studies for the Con 
gregational ministry when he found himself questioning the or 
thodox tenets, and settled down to a dull career in the Civil Serv 
ice. In this book and its sequel, Mark Rutherford's Deliverance 
(1885), he flctionized his struggle to escape from a gloomy Cal 
vinism. The sensitive hero gains no spectacular victory, and has 
to school himself in stoic agnosticism, suppressing all impulse 
to challenge the inscrutable ways of God. Though this is based 
on premises quite different from the mystical quietism of John 
Inglesant, it reflects a similar rejection of sectarian dogmatism. 
White's next novel, The Revolution in Tanner's Lane, is an effort 
at historical fiction, depicting the poverty and unrest in England 
after the close of the Napoleonic Wars. The author's manifest 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 399 

sincerity gives his novels a somber power, in spite of colorless 
style and lack of technical dexterity. 

Though White was primarily occupied with religious doc 
trines, he also described the cultural bleakness of lower-middle- 
class life in English cities. This latter theme was developed with 
greater intensity by George Gissing, who discovered the cruelty 
of modern urban existence through long and bitter hardship. A 
sensitive, artistic dreamer, like Mark Rutherford, he too origi 
nated in the Midlands, and after attending a Quaker school he won 
a scholarship at Owens College, Manchester, where he learned to 
love the classics. At this time, however, he became involved 
with a prostitute, and in a Quixotic effort to rescue her from 
degradation he began to pilfer money from fellow-students to 
buy her a sewing machine. Too impractical to be a skillful 
thief, he was soon arrested and convicted. 

In the hope of living down this disgrace he took refuge in the 
United States, where neither teaching in a high school nor con 
tributing short stories to the Chicago Tribune proved adequate 
as sources of income, and he came close to starvation and suicide. 
He went back to England, still believing in the possible redemp 
tion of the miserable streetwalker; he married her and they 
spent several years of squalid poverty in London garrets and 
cellars. After she left him he went on supplying her with funds 
until she died of alcoholism. 

The miseries of this marriage can be recognized in his first 
novel, Workers in the Dawn, in which an idealistic young man 
patiently and vainly tries to give his ignorant, resentful wife an 
elementary education and to cure her of drinking. This is only 
one strand, however, in the long, incoherent novel, which Gis 
sing brought out at his own expense in 1880 when no publisher 
would accept it. A second story of the same type, The Unclassed, 
came out in 1884, and in it he divided the story of his marital 
disaster into two separate episodes: in one a young prostitute is 
redeemed by her pure love for a socially insurgent school 
master; in the other, a depraved girl ruins the life of her visionary 
cousin by making him marry her through appealing to his gen 
erosity. 

Since Gissing was writing primarily to earn a living, he ac 
cepted such current techniques of the popular novel as improb- 



400 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

able coincidences, elaborate interweaving of several plot lines, 
and explicit commentary on the action. An admirer of Dickens, 
he followed his master's method of exaggeration in portrayal 
of characters, whether they were virtuous, criminal, or comic. 
His material, too, was superficially comparable with that of 
Dickens, since both depicted life in the slums. But the total ef 
fect of a Gissing novel is entirely different. Instead of Dickens's 
irrepressible energy and abundant kindliness, Gissing seldom 
departs from a drably hopeless mood. Though not openly ex 
pressed, his self-pity provides a querulous undertone and pre 
vents him from fully understanding or sympathizing with the 
poor and illiterate people he describes; his attitude toward them 
partakes too much of disgust. He was actuated by no reforming 
zeal, because he did not believe that the lower class was capable 
of improvement. Repeatedly he portrayed an angry young man 
who sets out to remodel society, but he did not share any such 
faith in socialism or even in democracy; instead, he dreaded 
the result of putting political power in the hands of the proletariat. 
On this basis of passive endurance he conceived the writing 
of novels to be a task of representing accurately "the collection 
of phenomena" that he observed around him. One of the char 
acters of Workers in the Danjon advises another: "Paint a faith 
ful picture of the crowd we have watched, be a successor of 
Hogarth, and give us the true image of our social dress, as he 
did of those of his own day"; and to this idea he added, in 
The Unclassed, that "art now-a-days must be the mouthpiece 
of misery, for misery is the keynote of modern life." Osmond 
Waymark, in this book, a poverty-stricken young teacher and 
would-be novelist, who is obviously a self-portrait, announces: 

"The novel of everyday life is getting worn out. We must dig 
deeper, get into untouched social strata. Dickens felt this, but 
he had not the courage to face his subjects. . . . Not virginibus 
puerisque will be my book, I assure you, but for men and 
women who like to look beneath the surface, and who understand 
that only as artistic material has human life any significance." 

Indeed, two years before The Unclassed Gissing had written 
another novel, Mrs. Grundy's Eneimes, which was never pub 
lished because its treatment of sex was regarded as too daring. 
These tenets would seem to link Gissing with James as an 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 401 

uncompromising realist. But he differed from James in one es 
sential respect: he was unwilling to probe into the psychology 
of his characters. In the preface to his third published novel, 
Isabel Clarendon^ which was about people of a higher social 
caste, he explicitly denied any interpretative purpose, saying that 
a novelist 

must not pretend to do more than exhibit facts and draw at 
times justifiable inference. He is not a creator of human beings, 
with eyes to behold the very heart of the machine he has him 
self pieced together; merely one who takes trouble to trace cer 
tain lines of human experience, and, working here on grounds 
of knowledge, there by and of analogy, here again in the way 
of colder speculation, spins his tale with what skill he may till 
the threads are used up. 

This mingling of modesty and contempt toward his vocation 
is a clue to the inherent coldness that afflicts all Gissing's novels, 
no matter how sincerely he tried to record what he saw as the 
reality of life. 

Closer to Henry James in temperament and material was an 
other new novelist w T ho began to write about the same time as 
Gissing. George Moore's family owned large debt-ridden es 
tates in the far west of Ireland, and he was educated at a Jesuit 
school; but he rebelled against his parents' social and religious 
standards, and when he was twenty he went to Paris as an art 
student. Seven years in France made him an ardent disciple of the 
erotic poets and naturalistic novelists w T ho were then in vogue; 
he made friends with prominent painters and writers, and re 
turned to England with a determination to imitate the work of 
the French authors. Thus, like James, he was an alien in the tradi 
tional English literary milieu; and he resembled James also in 
being a detached literary observer, controlled by artistic theories 
rather than by creative fervor. 

The latest conspicuous figure in French fiction was fimile 
Zola, who had transformed the realism of Balzac into a grimmer 
and more brutal frankness by rigorous application of scientific 
theory. Zola declared that the novelist's procedures ought to be 
identical with those of the surgeon. Since the evolutionary hy 
pothesis classified mankind as one of the genera of animals, Zola 
accepted the axiom that human behavior is motivated by the 
primitive; compulsions of survival and propagation. Necessarily, 



402 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

then, his novels dealt with the crudest manifestations of cruelty 
and lust. After attracting attention in 1867 by the gruesome 
vividness of Therese Raquin, Zola set out to rival Balzac's 
Comedle humaine by writing a vast series of novels all dealing 
with a single family, which would not only be a panorama of 
recent French society but would also illustrate the workings of 
the law of heredity. Beginning in 1871, the Rougon-Macquart 
chronicles in the next twenty-two years totaled twenty volumes. 
The critics named this new phenomenon un roman fteuve, "a 
flowing novel." The author's great notoriety came with UAs- 
soTnmoir (1878), dealing with drink, and Nana (1880), the story 
of a greedy, promiscuous burlesque-star whose only talent is the 
strip-tease. 

For two or three centuries, in the minds of respectable Eng 
lishmen, French fiction had been synonymous with indecency. 
When George Moore brazenly proclaimed himself a disciple of 
Zola and Gautier, the public was prepared to be shocked. His 
first novel, A Modern Lover,, used frank terms in telling the story 
of an egotistical painter and three women of different social clas 
ses who sacrifice themselves on his behalf. The most noticeable 
quality of the book, however, is not so much its impropriety as 
its atrocious literary style, even worse than Hardy's early awk 
wardness. At school Moore had been such an unwilling pupil that 
he had learned little even of grammar and spelling; and after his 
years abroad his idiom was a mixture of Irish, English, and 
French. 

His second novel, A Mwnmer*s Wife, was somewhat better 
written; but it gained more notoriety because Moore went to 
nauseating extremes in his physiological details. He had de 
cided to portray a drab industrial town, a subject of which he 
knew nothing. When reporters told him that Hanley, in the 
pottery district of Staffordshire, was the ugliest town in Eng 
land, he followed Zola's procedure by going there with a note 
book and compiling exhaustive data. As his story was to deal 
also with shabby theatrical life, he spent some weeks in travel 
ing with a light-opera troupe. On the basis of this research he 
constructed his story of a woman rebelling against narrow 
piety and a nagging husband; she elopes with an actor and after 
brief success on the stage she drinks herself to death. 

Because A Modern Lover had been banned by the circulating 
libraries, Moore's publishers challenged their monopoly by depart- 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 403 

ing from the expensive three-volume format and issuing A Mum 
mer* s Wife in a cheap single volume; and when this incurred 
the same treatment they inserted an advertising slip announcing 
that "this book has been placed on the Index Expurgatorius of 
the 'Select' Circulating Libraries of Messrs. Aludie and W. H. 
Smith & Son." Moore wrote a scathing pamphlet, "Literature 
at Nurse," defying all censorship of fiction: 

To analyse, you must have a subject; a religious or sensual passion 
is as necessary to a realistic novelist as a disease is to a physician. 
The dissection of a healthy subject would not, as a rule, prove 
interesting, and if the right to probe and comment on humanity's 
failings be granted, what becomes of the pretty schoolroom with 
its piano tinkling away at "The Maiden's Prayer"? 

In his next novel, A Dra?tm in Muslin,, which he called "a study 
of the life of a group of girl-friends," he dealt just as openly 
with the sexual frustrations of young women in the struggle to 
find mates. 

The whole development of the "problem novel," in fact, can 
be identified with changes in the relationship between the sexes. 
Apart from a few novels dealing with religious doubts, the cen 
tral theme always concerned women. The principal reasons for 
this obsessive interest were both the breakdown of rigid moral 
standards based on religious dogmas and the new legal, economic, 
and educational status that women were acquiring. The Marriage 
Act of 1858 had given average people their first suggestion of 
the possibility of divorce. Important financial rights were 
granted by the Married Women's Property Act of 1882. Female 
suffrage was almost included in the Reform Bill of 1884, and was 
extended on the level of county politics in 1888. Elementary 
education for girls became compulsory in 1870 and women's 
colleges were established at Cambridge during the next decade. 
New careers were opening: women were admitted to medical 
practice in 1876. 

The cumulative effect of these and other forces destroyed 
the conventional literary picture of innocent maidens needing 
the protection of generous men and achieving it by matrimony 
in the last chapter. George Eliot foreshadowed the change by 
her portraits of independent-spirited women Dinah Morris, 
Maggie Tulliver, Dorothea Brooke; but these still sought refuge 
in marriage. Meredith was more positive in insisting that a mar- 



404 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

riage can be successful only when the wife enjoys intellectual 
and emotional freedom. Hardy emphasized the negative side 
of the case by showing the thwarted struggles of passionate 
women like Bathsheba Everdene and Eustacia Vye to break the 
shackles of their environment. Gissing and Moore marked the 
final abandonment of traditional reticence in their clinical re 
ports of the emotional urges of both men and women. 

Perhaps the most remarkable example of the new outspoken 
ness was The Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner, 
a South African girl who came to England when she was 
twenty-six, bringing the manuscript of her novel, which she 
had written while working as a governess in remote regions of 
the veldt. Instead of the sentimentality expected of a young 
woman or the picturesqueness expected of a story about the 
colonial frontier, it was a somber, resentful summary of all the 
chief themes of the problem novel religious doubt, sexual 
antagonism, and women's rights. Not since Charlotte Bronte had 
a young governess vented her frustrations and her grudges with 
such intensity. When it was published in 1883 Miss Schreiner 
was acclaimed as a heroine of the radical intelligentsia, but she 
never wrote another novel of any consequence. 

Neither Meredith nor Hardy produced a masterpiece during 
the early eighties. Meredith undertook another study of egoism in 
The Tragic Comedians (1881), but he hampered his creative 
freedom by basing the action upon the love affair of Ferdinand 
Lassalle, a German Socialist leader, and Helena von Donniges, 
which had occurred only fifteen years previously. Using 
dramatic unity and condensation as rigorously as in The Egoist^ 
Meredith displays the doomed course of an affair between two 
sentimentalists who are of antithetical social and racial back 
grounds and who both are innately conceited and selfish. 

Hardy at this time wrote two novels of the class that he labeled 
"Romances and Fantasies" (The Tnmpet-Major and Two on a 
Tower) and one "Novel of Ingenuity" (A Laodicean). The 
action of The Trumpet-Major takes place during the Napoleonic 
Wars, and the story is more romantic than anything else he 
wrote, with a charming heroine of the conventional model and 
a good deal of genial farce. A Laodicean, which followed, was 
written during an illness to fulfill a contract for a magazine 
serial. Much of Hardy's early career went into this story of a 
young architect who makes drawings of village churches, sub- 



Ethical 'Problems and 'Exotic Adventures 

mits plans in a competition, and marries the woman who com 
missioned the new building. There is prolonged discussion of 
architectural topics, and the plot is unconvincingly sensational. 
Two on a Toiler is notable as the most extreme example of 
Hardy's symbolic use of vast and ageless settings to minimize 
the importance of human miseries. The hero is a young astron 
omer, and the stellar universe forms the "stupendous back 
ground" for "two infinitesimal lives" as he pursues a painful love 
affair with a woman many years older than he is, who secretly 
marries him and later learns that her missing husband was still 
alive at the time. This novel came in for some of the current 
condemnation of immoral fiction, and it was attacked also as a 
subversive satire on the Church of England because the heroine 
marries a bishop to provide a father for her unborn child. 

Meredith's Diana of the Crossivays, in 1884, became more popu 
lar than any of his previous books. It reverted toward the silver- 
fork school in being a polished rcrman a clef of life in high so 
ciety, with Lord Melbourne, Sidney Herbert, John Delane, and 
other eminent early Victorians as originals for the characters. 
As in The Tragic Comedia?2S, the defects arise from using the 
intractable material of an actual occurrence this time, a no 
torious political scandal of forty years earlier, in which the Hon. 
Mrs. Norton was blamed for having learned a crucial Cabinet 
secret from her lover and betrayed it to the editor of the 
Times. Meredith followed the legend faithfully; but when 
Mrs. Norton's aristocratic relations protested that he had resusci 
tated a baseless slander he felt obliged to insert a note in later 
editions insisting that the story "is to be read as fiction." The 
ironical consequence is that some critics find inconsistency in 
actions of the heroine which occur in the story because the 
author believed that they had occurred in actuality. The charge 
of inconsistency, however, can be refuted in terms of Meredith's 
purpose. He chose the subject as an illustration of how a beauti 
ful and clever woman can commit egregious blunders because her 
emotional impulses have never been regulated by systematic edu 
cation and social responsibility. He was so successful in depict 
ing Diana Warwick's generosity and charm that readers were 
misled into the belief that he intended her as a paragon of per 
fection. Newly emancipated young women, in particular, adopted 
the book as their manifesto because Diana had the spunk to leave 
an intolerable husband and support herself in a man's world as a 



406 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

writer. These self-elected champions then complained because 
she is depicted as selling a state secret. But Meredith's thesis was 
that even so brilliant a woman as Diana was incapable of acting 
discreetly because the false position of women in society ren 
dered her unstable. Like most of his other heroes and heroines, 
she goes through an agonizing ordeal before she learns self- 
discipline. 

Hardy's next novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is also a 
study of a strong but unstable character; but Michael Henchard's 
problem is neither religious faith nor sexual relations, but self- 
control. Physical strength, mental ability, personal magnetism, 
and ambition enable the itinerant laborer to become a rich busi 
nessman and impressive civic dignitary. His will power is strong 
enough to control his craving for liquor after he sells his wife 
and baby to another man in a drunken rage; but it is not strong 
enough to conquer his pride and his savage temper when he 
meets with business reverses and well-organized rivalry. 

This is the only one of the Wessex novels in which the action 
occurs mainly in a town, and therefore there is greater com 
plexity in the situations. But Casterbridge (Dorchester) is an 
ancient market town with Roman remains in its outskirts and 
farmlands all around, and from these Hardy derives his usual 
effects of nature's indifference and the folk-memories of the 
remote past. Several of the sensational episodes, such as involun 
tary bigamy, had already been used by Hardy in other novels, 
and the involved series of coincidences that cause Henchard's 
downfall become almost absurd in their pertinacity. This can 
not be attributed solely to Hardy's fatalistic philosophy: he ad 
mitted that it resulted partly from writing the story as a serial 
for the weekly Graphic and "aiming to get an incident into almost 
every week's part, causing him in his own judgment to add events 
to the narrative somewhat too freely." Yet in spite of defects, 
the picture of a potentially noble character ruined by tragic 
flaws and standing in solitary defiance against all his adversaries 
has something of the magnificence of Greek or Shakespearian 
tragedy. 

This novel was followed immediately by another that ranks 
among Hardy's best, The Woodlanders. By choosing a wooded 
section of his territory he was able to make the natural back 
ground particularly expressive of the relentless struggle for sur- 



Ethical 'Problems and Exotic Adventures 407 

vival that he saw as the primary law of nature. In no other 
novel is he more explicit in commenting on the "Unfulfilled 
Intention" the mechanistic control over the "great web of hu 
man doings." Inclusion of humor and folk customs, however, 
prevents the tone from being altogether somber. The illiterate 
peasant girl, Marty South, is a genuinely true-hearted character, 
contrasted with the genteel Grace Melbury, who gives up her 
laborer-sweetheart in order to marry the dissolute Dr. Fitzpiers 
because of his higher social rank. In this novel Hardy came 
closer to the problems of woman's freedom that were exercising 
Meredith and Moore, by explicitly condemning the rigor of the 
marriage laws that yoke Grace with her unfaithful husband. 
And yet he is scrupulously fair in showing that no character is 
individually to blame for what happens; all have good qualities, 
and even the seducer Fitzpiers cannot be held responsible for 
his fascination for women. 

An evidence of the new artistic self-consciousness of novelists 
is an epidemic of essays in which they expounded their theories, 
whereas those of earlier generations had been satisfied with brief 
prefaces or with digressive comments within the stories. Meredith 
had led off with his Essay on Comedy. Other examples were 
Moore's "Literature at Nurse," Hardy's "Candour in English Fic 
tion" (1890), and Gissing's "Realism in Fiction" (1895). The 
most significant were two that came out in 1884, and which set 
the lines for an open battle between the realistic and romantic 
factions. One was Henry James's article entitled "The Art 
of Fiction," which asserted that 

the only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does 
attempt to represent life. . . . The air of reality (solidity of 
specification) seems to me to be the supreme virtue of a novel. 
. . . Catching the very note and trick, the strange irregular 
rhythm of life, that is the attempt whose strenuous force keeps 
Fiction upon her feet. In proportion as in what she offers us we 
see life without rearrangement do we feel that we are touching 
the truth; in proportion as we see it with rearrangement do we 
feel that we are being put off with a substitute, a compromise 
and convention. 

This postulate was challenged in "A Humble Remonstrance," 
by Robert Louis Stevenson, who declared that 



408 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

no art does "compete with life." Man's one method, whether he 
reasons or creates, is to half -shut his eyes against the dazzle and 
confusion of reality. . . . The novel, which is a work of art, exists, 
not by its resemblances to life, which are forced and material, as a 
shoe must still consist of leather, but by its immeasurable difference 
from life, which is designed and significant, and is both the method 
and the meaning of the work. 

In this essay and others that followed, especially "A Gossip on 
Romance" and "The Lantern Bearers," Stevenson proved him 
self a doughty spokesman for the antagonists of realism. With 
a background like Walter Scott's birth and education in Edin 
burgh and pride in Scotland's heroic past he combined a mer 
curial temperament and a poetic flair. Like George Moore, he 
had studied in a French artists' colony, but his was in the idyllic 
Forest of Fontainebleau and not the grubby attics of Montmartre. 
Intensely aware of the color of words and the rhythm of sen 
tences, he perfected his prose style by assiduous practice, chiefly 
through imitating the manner of various authors that he admired. 
After publishing two easy-going, humorous books of travel he 
brought out The New Arabian Nights in 1882, containing a 
group of stories contributed to magazines during the preceding 
four years. The situations in these partook of the sensationalism 
of Collins, but the graceful style and sophisticated wit banished 
the cruder elements of horror or sadism. In 1881 also, under the 
pen name of "Captain George North," Stevenson wrote two 
serials for a weekly paper for children. These were Treasure 
Island and The Black Arrow, which were soon recognized by 
adults as displaying more technical skill than average juvenile 
fiction. In 1885 came Prince Otto, which he openly labeled 
"A Romance" and which depicted a mythical mid-European 
country in a manner reminiscent of Meredith's Harry Richmond. 
These books inaugurated a spate of stories that exploited the 
standard romantic ingredients exciting adventure, reckless 
heroes, lovely heroines, exotic settings. Many of the books were 
historical romances, but they abandoned the ponderous gait of 
Scott, Ainsworth, and Bulwer-Lytton in favor of the gay vitality 
of Alexandre Dumas. The dominant note in all of them was a 
sheer zest for active life which appealed to readers who were 
depressed by the drabness of realism and the solemnity of prob 
lem novels. 



Ethical Proble?ns and Exotic Adventures 409 

The first of these young romancers was Henry Rider Haggard, 
who had spent several years in the British administration in 
South Africa. He began with Da^i, a conventional melodrama, 
and The Witch's Head, which is redeemed by some vivid scenes 
of the bloodthirsty Zulu war of 1879. His immense popularity 
came with King Solomon's Mines (1885), which he wrote in 
imitation of Treasure Island, employing the same irresistible theme 
of lost treasure and combining it with the weird ruined city 
of Zimbabwe that had recently been discovered in East Africa. 
This was followed by She, with the equally enthralling theme 
of a white sorceress ruling over a savage empire. Allan Quater- 
main and many other books maintained Haggard's popularity 
among lovers of vicarious adventure, and he was less successful 
whenever he tried to write more adult stories about English 
society. 

Another devotee of Stevenson was Stanley J. Weyman, a bar 
rister whose first historical romance, The Home of the Wolf, 
came out serially in 1883, and was followed by A Gentleman of 
France, Under the Red Robe, and many others. A more charm 
ing style distinguished the novels of Arthur Quiller-Couch, who, 
after a brilliant career at Oxford, became a book reviewer and 
published his first novel, Dead Marts Rock, in 1887, when he was 
twenty-four. He continued with Troy Tow, which is full 
of the local color of his native Cornwall, and The Splendid Spur, 
a story of the English Civil War. 

The most successful of all the Stevensonians was Arthur Conan 
Doyle. He was practicing as a physician when he wrote A 
Study in Scarlet (1887), which combined Collins's technique of 
the mystery story with the sprightly style of The New Arabian 
Nights. In France Emile Gaboriau had written vastly popular 
detective novels between 1866 and 1873. Doyle's detective, Sher 
lock Holmes, was modeled upon one of his medical professors 
at Edinburgh University, who had fascinated the students with 
his powers of induction. A second story of Holmes's ingenious 
solving of mysteries was The Sign of Four (1889). Doyle's real 
ambition was to w r rite historical romances, and he produced two 
masterpieces in this genre, Micah Clarke and The White Com 
pany. But the public was so avid for more stories about the sar 
donic detective that he had to continue supplying the demand. 

The vogue of these popular novelists was enhanced by changes 



410 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

in methods of publication. George Moore's rebellion against the 
three- volume format spread quickly among the publishers. Treas 
ure Island, King Solomon's Mines, and most of the other books 
of this description came out in one volume selling at five or six 
shillings, and consequently their total sales soared to unprece 
dented heights. By 1892 the "three-decker" was extinct. An 
equally profitable expansion of the market came with a new 
type of mass-circulation magazine, with smooth paper and lavish 
illustrations, notably Macmillari's, Longman's, and the Strand. 
They paid generously for serial fiction, but their chief influence 
was their demand for short stories. 

Until the eighties the short story in England had been medi 
ocre. Poe and Hawthorne in America, Merimee and Maupassant 
in France, had proved its artistic potentialities; but even such 
masters of fiction as Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, and Meredith, 
when they attempted to work in such a limited area, produced 
pathetic abortions. The new magazine market, however, en 
couraged the best authors to undertake short-story writing; and 
the opportunity for vivid word-painting and single emotional 
effect made it the ideal medium for Stevenson, whose greatest 
achievements are in this form. 

Conan Doyle, too, found it perfectly suited for providing 
variety, suspense, and surprise while retaining the central char 
acters of Holmes and Dr. Watson, and the now-familiar quarters 
at 221 A Baker Street. The short stories were collected at intervals 
into volumes, which eventually totaled five, while The Hound of 
the Baskervilles was a third book-length story. In the last tale 
of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1892), the detective met with a 
spectacular death (to the author's manifest relief) ; but the public 
protested so vehemently that he was soon resuscitated, and the 
final volume of the series did not come out until 1927. Few fic 
titious characters have ever assumed such a living identity in the 
minds of countless readers. 

The most accomplished of the romantic story-tellers confined 
himself almost wholly to the short story. Rudyard Kipling was 
uniquely equipped with exotic settings through his familiarity 
with India, where he spent his first five years and whither he 
returned after his schooling in England, when his bad eyesight 
excluded him from the army. As a reporter on an Allahabad 
newspaper he observed the English army officers and civilian 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 411 

administrators with a cynical eye, and became aware of the 
infinite contrasts between the European and native ways of life. 
The incisive short stories that he wrote for Indian papers were 
collected in seven cheap volumes in 1888, when he was twenty- 
two; within a few months they became known in London and 
New York, and his fame was instantaneous. 

Kipling's versatility and curiosity, his journalistic impudence 
and cynicism, his genius for making an unfamiliar scene vivid 
through expertly selected words and details, rendered him a 
master of the short story. His popularity, however, encouraged 
him to undertake a novel, The Light that Failed, which, though 
it is a skillful performance for a young man of twenty-four, 
lacks the emotional depth and psychological insight that the 
topic demanded. The scenes of London journalistic life and of 
desert warfare in Africa have reportorial effectiveness; but the 
idealizing of the army and of men of action a compensation 
for the author's frustration in being debarred from a military 
career betrays a tone of immaturity that is less perceptible 
in his short stories, even when they convey the same values. 
The portrayal of a hero who goes blind but still manages to live 
the strenuous life has some poignancy insofar as it reveals Kip 
ling's inner anxiety. He was mercenary enough to provide a 
conventional happy ending for the American serial issue, while 
retaining in the volume form the tragic conclusion that the situa 
tion demanded. 

Two years later Kipling attempted another novel, The Nau- 
lakha, in collaboration with his American brother-in-law, but 
this was not successful. His major significance in fiction, like 
Conan Doyle's, is in the new genre, volumes of short stories 
in which the same characters become familiar as they reappear 
in separate episodes. Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd in Soldiers 
Three, eternal types of the hard-drinking, loose-talking men in 
the ranks; Corkran, iM'Turk, and Beetle in Stalky c> Co., shatter 
ing the pious tradition of Tom Brown's School Days by revealing 
the obstreperous and brutal side of English school life; Mowgli, 
Baloo, and Bagheera in The Jungle Books, lovable characters 
even though two are quadrupeds it is through these that 
Kipling survives. He wrote only two other full-length narra 
tives, Captains Courageous, an adventure yarn for boys, and 
Kim, perhaps his masterpiece as a panorama of native life in 



412 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

India, which reverts to the episodic story line of the picaresque 
romance. 

Stevenson was more persistent in trying to produce a major 
novel; but his writing of fiction was interspersed with essays, 
travel books, poetry, and plays; and the ten years of life that 
remained to him after Treasure Island were broken into by long 
journeys in search of health to California, the Adirondacks, 
and finally the South Seas. In Kidnapped and its sequel Catriona 
(American title David Balfour) he was still producing books 
of adventure for boys, but with increasing attention to psycholog 
ical truth and historical detail, and with the warmth of emo 
tional identification that Scottish writers ever since Scott have 
felt when dealing with the Jacobite uprising. In 1888 came 
The Master of Ballantrae, his first fully adult novel and in some 
respects his best work. It too deals with the collapse of Prince 
Charlie's doomed enterprise, but now with a sinister gloom 
reminiscent of The Bride of Lammermoor. 

As a technician, Stevenson was always experimenting with 
point of view. The gripping reality of Treasure Island, like that 
of Robinson Crusoe, arises from its being told by a participant, 
and it has a dimension of irony in that young Jim Hawkins is 
often unaware of the full significance of what he observes. 
The device, however, is defective at one point, when the plot 
requires the inclusion of occurrences at which Jim is not present. 
Readers who have by this time identified themselves with him 
are forced to shift abruptly to another narrator, with only a 
chapter heading to warn them. Kidnapped and its sequel are 
cast as memoirs, and almost equal Henry Esmond in imitating 
the style of an earlier century. In The Master of Ballantrae 
Stevenson borrows rather from Castle Rackrent and Wuthering 
Heights to achieve both vividness and irony by presenting the 
story in the words of the old steward, Mackellar, who is fanat 
ically loyal to his scoundrel of a master. Again, however, Steven 
son was baffled by the problem of how to include episodes that 
the narrator could not have observed, and he had to insert long 
excerpts from the recollections of the Chevalier de Burke. 

Discussion of Stevenson's novels must entail references to pre 
vious authors, since his art war c o consciously cultivated. In 
explaining the genesis of The Master of Eallantrae he did not 
mention Scott or Maria Edgeworth or Emily Bronte, and paid 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 

merely incidental tribute to Thackeray's Barry Lyjidon; his start 
ing point was a less gifted novelist, Captain Marryat. "I had just 
finished my third or fourth perusal of The Phantom Ship. 
'Come,' said I to my engine, 'let us make a tale, a story of many 
years and countries, of the sea and the land, savagery and 
civilization; a story that shall have the same large features and 
may be treated in the same summary elliptic method as the book 
you have been reading and admiring.' " The whole of this pref 
atory note is a valuable record of how a novelist's mind works, 
revealed with all Stevenson's disarming candor; but his catalogue 
of diverse sources and influences is a clue to the book's structural 
weakness. It breaks abruptly in the middle, where there is a 
seven-year lapse of time; and the Indian fakir, necessary for pro 
viding the superphysical episodes, is a synthetic figure. Never 
theless the story illustrates Stevenson's characteristic ability to use 
settings for heightening emotional tension. Ranging from Scot 
land to India and the American wilderness, it demonstrates his 
theory that the atmosphere of a particular place can be the de 
termining element in fiction: "Certain dank gardens cry aloud 
for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain 
coasts are set apart for shipwreck." 

In the next few years Stevenson wrote three melodramatic 
novels in collaboration with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne 
The Wrong Box, The Wrecker, and The Ebb-Tide. But it was 
becoming apparent that his forte was the short story, wherein 
his verbal and atmospheric skill had full effect, without the 
novelist's responsibility for greater depth and firmer structure. 
He excelled equally in psychological studies like "Markheim," 
gay comedy like "The Treasure of Franchard," romantic inci 
dents like "The Merry Men," and above all subtly terrifying 
stories of superstition like "Thrawn Janet." It is noteworthy that 
his most famous piece of fiction, Doctor Jekyll md Mr. Hyde, 
is one of the few admirable works ever to emerge from the 
limbo of middle length between short story and novel. A mystery 
story in its suspense, a supernatural tale in its horror, a moral 
allegory in its implications, it has been admitted into the select 
precincts of modern folklore. 

Whether the reason was his failing health or inherent dilettant 
ism, Stevenson never achieved the major novel that he hoped to 
write. When he died he left half-a-dozen manuscripts in various 



414 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

stages of development, two of them being far enough along to be 
printed. St. Ives, a vivacious romance of a Napoleonic prisoner 
in Scotland, was completed for publication by Quiller-Couch; 
and Weir of Hermiston, so far as it went, promised to be his 
greatest work, again set in eighteenth-century Scotland, but with 
more solidity of characterization than he had previously attained. 
The romanticism of Stevenson, Kipling, and their school can 
not be described in the old terms of implausibly perfect characters 
and unrealistic remoteness of scene. Stevenson did not hesitate to 
show his heroes suffering from vanity or fright, and Kipling 
allowed his to get drunk or feel vengeful. Both authors make 
their settings immediate by graphic and precise details. A clue 
to their fascination was supplied by Stevenson in "A Gossip 
on Romance": 

In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process 
itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over 
a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, 
our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, 
incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. . . . The great cre 
ative writer shows us the realization and the apotheosis of the 
day-dreams of common men. His stories may be nourished with 
the realities of life, but their true mark is to satisfy the name 
less longings of the reader, and to obey the ideal laws of the 
day-dream. 

Perhaps it was because physical disabilities debarred both Steven 
son and Kipling from careers in the world of action that their 
particular daydreams acquired the necessary vividness to enrap 
ture countless readers "clean out of themselves." 

While the romance-writers were riding the wave of popular 
adulation, the realists kept doggedly on with their analysis of the 
commonplace. Gissing's attempt to depict a higher social en 
vironment in Isabel Clarendon and A Life's Morning evoked a 
friendly suggestion from Meredith that he might hope for "a 
foremost place in fiction" only if he would pursue "the low- 
life themes." Thus encouraged, he wrote Demos, a bitter por 
trayal of Socialist agitation, which came out opportunely in 
1886, when the newspapers were reporting proletarian riots and 
looting in London's West End. This timeliness brought the book 
a wider sale than any of Gissing's previous work, and rescued 
him from his deepest poverty and vindictiveness. 

The hero of Demos is an ambitious and intelligent workman, 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 

who inherits a prosperous business (by the outworn melodra 
matic device of a capricious will) and sets out to share his profits 
with his employees. Gissing does not idealize the brash Alutimer, 
however, but emphasizes the conceit that drives him to abandon 
his working-class sweetheart in favor of a genteel girl who 
marries him for his money. Indeed, Gissing's own pretension 
to gentility enlists his sympathy with the mercenary wife and 
the elegant dilettante who is her lover. But in spite of the 
author's apparent hostility to Alutimer's confident visions of lead 
ership, the story eventually gains something like the tragic dig 
nity of The Mayor of Caster bridge as Mutimer's business collapses 
and he is attacked by a mob of the workers he tried to help. 

This book was followed by Thyrza, a more sympathetic novel, 
dealing with a working girl of superior sensitivity and some 
musical talent who is undecided between two suitors, a thoughtful 
workman trying to acquire culture and an idealistic businessman 
ineptly hoping to improve slum conditions by extension lectures 
on literature. In contrast with this gentle story, Gissing's next, 
The Nether World, is the most sordid and pessimistic of his 
works, almost rivaling Zola in its delineation of sensual behavior 
and the bestial violence of crowds. Every character is impelled 
by the crassest sort of self-interest except perhaps one man 
who feebly tries to escape from the general squalor, only to be 
dragged back by dim loyalty to a spiritless wife. Throughout 
the book the weak characters are helpless and the strong ones 
have merely an animal energy. 

Having explored the lowest social depths in three novels, 
Gissing turned to the white-collar class, and at the same time he 
undertook a greater degree of psychological analysis. About this 
time he read some treatises on clinical psychology, as well as 
the fiction of the Goncourts, Maupassant, and Dostoievski. These 
new influences are perceptible in The Emancipated (1890), which 
is one of his less effective books, partly because it was another 
attempt to deal with people of some wealth and refinement, but 
also because he adopted a Jamesian situation without James's 
talent for revealing the slow growth of self-understanding. ^Im 
mediately afterwards, however, came what is perhaps Gissing's 
best novel, New Grub Street, based on his own experiences as a 
struggling writer. Eugene Reardon, the author's counterpart, is 
contrasted with Jasper Milvain, a cocksure professional, who de 
scribes Reardon scornfully: 



416 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

"He is the old type of unpractical artist. . . . He won't make 
concessions, or rather, he can't make them; he can't supply the 
market. . . . Literature nowadays is a trade. Putting aside men 
of genius, who may succeed by mere cosmic force, your suc 
cessful man of letters is your skillful tradesman. He thinks first 
and foremost of the realities; when one kind of goods begins 
to go off slackly, he is ready with something new and appe 
tizing." 

Reardon, who prefers to discuss Greek poetry with a scholarly 
friend, and whose novels are "almost purely psychological," fails 
not only as a writer, because his work seems dull to the public, 
but also in social relations, because poverty makes him self-con 
scious and awkward, and as a husband, because he cannot earn 
enough to keep his wife happy. 

Probably the greatest weakness in Gissing's novels is the un 
convincing treatment of sex, in spite of his pose of frankness. 
Partly this may have been due to his fear of antagonizing the 
critics and libraries, but also it must be attributed to the ineptness 
of his own relations with women. Three years after his miser 
able wife died he married a quiet young woman whom he met 
in a coffee shop, and soon found that she was incompetent and 
shrewish. The women in his novels are apt to be either drunken 
wantons like his first wife, or querulous naggers like his second, 
unless they are incredibly intellectual and altruistic, reflecting his 
dazzled admiration for two or three ladies of refinement who 
were courteous to him. 

While Gissing was painfully documenting the frustrations of 
poverty, a new writer sprang into prominence with an equally 
somber report of spiritual frustration among the cultivated and 
the prosperous. Mrs. Humphry Ward was a perfect embodiment 
of the upper-class assurance that Gissing envied from afar. Born 
Mary Augusta Arnold, she was a niece of Matthew Arnold and 
was brought up in the rarefied intellectual atmosphere of Oxford, 
where she married a scholarly tutor. She was a personal friend 
of both George Eliot and Henry James. Her first books were 
a children's story, an insignificant novel about an actress, and 
a translation of Amiel's Journal Intime. Then in 1888 she won 
notoriety with Robert Elsmere, a novel which had something of 
George Eliot's moral earnestness in its account of the torments of 
conscience endured by a sensitive clergyman who finds his reli- 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 417 

gious faith being destroyed by scientific rationalism and the higher 
criticism of the Bible. This problem, which had distressed the 
author's uncle and other brilliant men, such as Arthur Clough 
and Leslie Stephen, for thirty 7 years past, was now seeping into 
the minds of the general public, and her novel had just the right 
balance of serious discussion and dramatic emotion to impress 
the average reader. In the conclusion Elsrnere leaves the church 
and undertakes social work in a London slum, where he 
dies in the high Victorian tradition of renunciation and hu 
manitarian service. 

Robert Elmiere gained extraneous interest through the rumor 
that the characters accurately portrayed the Oxford circle of 
thinkers, including Mark Pattison, Thomas Hill Green, and Walter 
Pater, w r ho had been treated satirically by Mallock in The New 
Republic. The book's fame was assured when Gladstone, who 
had become a literary oracle in his old age, wrote an extensive 
article deploring its religious skepticism, and Huxley (whose son 
was married to Mrs. Ward's sister) defended it. Seldom before 
had any novel become the topic of so much ideological dis 
cussion. 

The scenes of London poverty at the end of Robert Elsinere 
link Mrs. Ward's novel with Gissing; and in her next, The History 
of David Grieve, she uses his type of situation a poor youth 
whose intellectual ambitions are endangered by sensual tempta 
tion. The difference is that Mrs. Ward's hero survives his perils 
and achieves a serene "natural religion." By this time Mrs. Ward 
had herself founded a rescue mission in London's grimy East 
End, and realized that her influence with the public might be 
used on behalf of her objectives. Therefore Marcella (1894) and 
Sir George Tressady (1896) are political novels advocating legis 
lation to improve the conditions of the poor. In Helbeck of 
Bannisdale she deals with the problem of mixed marriage be 
tween a Roman Catholic and a Protestant. 

Mrs. Ward was deficient not only in humor but in a novelist's 
essential gift of being able to create living characters. Her 
people are seldom more than dummy figures to express con 
flicting opinions. Nevertheless she captured the mood of her 
decade so completely and her books were so solidly constructed 
and so tolerantly reasonable that Tolstoi was not alone in declar 
ing her to be the greatest living English novelist. Henry James, 



418 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

on the other hand, was aware of her shortcomings and patiently 
lectured her on the art of fiction, though he confessed that he 
doubted whether the good lady comprehended one word of what 
he told her. He must have been wryly aware, too, that each of 
her novels, wooden though it might be, automatically became a 
best seller, whereas his subtle psychological studies were ap 
preciated by an ever-narrowing audience. 

James's earlier and relatively straightforward manner ended 
in 1886 with The Bostonians, one of his few stories dealing 
wholly with the American scene; and he moved into a more 
complex style in The Tragic Muse (1890), his first that w^as re 
stricted to England in both setting and characters. The diffi 
culty in reading this and his subsequent novels arose partly from 
his theory that the action must be presented through the con 
sciousness of one character only, and partly from his effort to 
achieve the exact shade of meaning in each sentence by laby 
rinthine qualifications and parentheses. 

Meanwhile Gissing seemed to be providing a disillusioned 
antidote to Mrs. Ward's idealistic view of moral dilemmas. Born 
in Exile inverts the problem of Robert Elsmere by showing a 
young clergyman of humble origin who is determined to use 
his profession as a means for social advancement. Totally lacking 
in religious conviction, Godwin Peak is equally ready to satir 
ize or to extol the reconciling of theology with science, as 
circumstances warrant. His opportunism is unsuccessful: dis 
credited by the church, he loses his influential friends and the 
girl who seemed ready to marry him, and ends in the social 
limbo he started from. Gissing has enough fellow-feeling for 
Peak to give a tolerant record of the interior monologues in 
which he rationalizes his casuistry and his defeat. 

From the church Gissing turned to politics, as Mrs. Ward did, 
and in Denzil Quarrier, a hastily written novel, he uses an 
election campaign as the setting for a study of envy in which 
a would-be candidate ruins his rival by revealing that he is 
bigamously married to the wife of a convict. The Odd Women 
(1893) is also marred by melodramatic complications of plot, but 
it has a significant social theme the excess of women in the 
English population and the inadequacy of opportunities for them 
to support themselves. Three daughters of a doctor, left penni 
less and untrained at his death, suffer a variety of degradations. 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 419 

The most effective element in the novel, bringing it into con 
tact with Meredith's recent work, is the character of Rhoda Nunn, 
a strong-minded girl who believes in complete freedom for 
women, not only politically and economically but also in sexual 
relations. Gissing's incompetent manipulation of plot is equally 
conspicuous in his next book, In the Year of Jubilee, a vigorous 
but diffuse attack on bourgeois vulgarity and pretension. 

While Gissing was wrestling indecisively with the difficulties 
of construction, George Moore was slowly mastering the me 
chanics of English prose style. Oscar Wilde remarked that 
"Moore conducts his education in public." Falling under the spell 
of the melodious language and hedonistic doctrine in Pater's 
philosophical semi-novel, Marius the Epicurean, Moore abjured the 
ponderous manner and calculated brutality of Zola; but his new 
aesthetic sensibility produced several inferior novels. His best 
work at this stage of his career is an egotistical autobiography, 
Concessions of a Young Man (1888), in which, with the realistic 
precision of fiction, he narrates (and perhaps exaggerates) his 
Parisian exploits. In contrast with it, his Spring Days is a shoddy 
portrayal of suburban vulgarity and the sex problems of silly girls; 
and Mike Fletcher, tracing the degradation of an insatiable sen 
sualist, reads like a burlesque. Adverse criticism of these two 
novels inspired an unwonted mood of self-distrust, and in Vain 
Fortune he gives a revealing study of a writer whose talent is 
inadequate for his grandiose pretensions. 

Of the older novelists, only Meredith and Hardy survived, and 
both were nearing the end of their careers in fiction. The success 
of Diana of the Crossways, especially in the United States, had 
drawn belated attention to Meredith's previous work, and he was 
acclaimed as the greatest living English novelist. Finding himself 
with an income sufficient for his modest needs, he was able to 
end his thirty years of servitude as publishers' reader; and though 
handicapped by increasing deafness and paralysis, he gained 
legendary renown as a brilliant talker. The verbal agility and 
oracular allusiveness of his conversation are evident in his last 
major novel. One of Our Conquerors (1891), which is the ex- 
tremest specimen of his cryptic style. Even the title is sarcastic, 
for the central character is a business magnate representing the 
opportunism that seemed to Meredith to be obliterating all ethical 
standards. Victor Radnor is no vulgar money-grubber; he has 



420 The English Novel (1880-1895) 

great personal charm and a real appreciation of the arts. But 
he is another Meredithian sentimental egoist, who is living biga- 
mously with a lovely and unselfish woman under constant peril 
of exposure by his legal wife, many years his senior, whom he 
married for her money in order to start his career. The novel's 
main implication is the inhumanity of rigid marriage laws, as 
demonstrated by Radnor's degeneration of character as a result 
of his incompatible early marriage, and also by the perpetual 
nervous tension that eventually kills his Nataly with a heart 
attack, by the illegitimacy that overshadows their delightful 
daughter, and by the ironic parallel when she too falls in love 
with an unhappily married man. Rather than being a propa 
ganda treatise for easier divorce, however, the book is a subtle 
psychological study of Radnor, using whole chapters of interior 
monologue to reveal how his genial prodigality masks the in 
tolerable double strain of financial speculations and illegal marital 
status, leading to final insanity. 

After this brilliant and difficult novel Meredith brought out 
two more that are something of an anticlimax. Lord Ormont and 
His Aminta treats again of incompatibility in marriage: a roman 
tic girl marries an aged general through admiration of his mili 
tary heroism and later elopes with a childhood sweetheart who 
is establishing a progressive school in Switzerland. The Amazing 
Marriage, which Meredith had partially written a dozen years ear 
lier, was completed and published in 1895. It too begins with the 
marriage of a beautiful young girl and a picturesque old adven 
turer, but unlike the preceding story, their romance is bliss 
fully happy. The theme of loveless wedlock comes later, when 
their high-spirited daughter is treated ignominiously by her ar 
rogant nobleman-husband. 

Though the two final novels are below Meredith's highest 
achievements of psychological analysis, they mark a recurrence 
of the romantic charm and the gusto for life that characterized 
~Richard Feverel and Harry Richmond. In his sixties, and a 
widower for the second time, Meredith retained a strong attrac 
tiveness for women, and there is more than a trace of personal 
identification in these two stories of mating between an old man 
and a young girl. No longer able to indulge in athletic exercise, 
he poured all his love of muscular energy into his youthful 
characters, and gave radiant descriptions of the mountain and 
ocean scenery that he could never again enjoy. 



Ethical Problems and Exotic Adventures 421 

Hardy's final novels were synchronous with Meredith's in date, 
but antithetical in spirit. Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) became 
the most widely read of all his books. The old comparison of his 
work with George Eliot's was revived, not merely by the setting 
of lush farmland (unlike the bleak heath and the choked woods 
of his preceding rural stories) but also by a situation reminiscent 
of Ada?n Bede, the seduction of a naive dairymaid by a selfish 
young gentleman, and her eventual trial for murder. The obvious 
difference is that Hardy's sympathy is entirely with the girl, 
as indicated by his defiant subtitle, "A Pure Woman Faithfully 
Presented." Equally significant is the deterministic principle that 
dominates the course of the action. The most notorious of 
all Hardy's crucial coincidences is that in which Tess's letter 
to Angel Clare, which would have enlightened him about her 
past, is slipped under his door and vanishes beneath the rug. 
And unlike George Eliot's melodramatic ending, when Hetty 
is saved from the gallows at the last minute, Tess goes hopelessly 
to