The Form of the Novel in the Victorian Period
The 19th century can be seen from different perspectives: on the one hand it is the age of progress, as science made great discoveries and moved forward in development. But on the other hand this epoch brings social unrest, caused by injustice, exploitation and poverty. Many writers of this period expressed thoughts and feelings on this topic in their novels. Dirty factories, unemployment, child labor, low wages and poor living conditions caused great rebels in society. The very term “Victorian” is often misleading. It often means bad taste and stodgy morals. Social problems were reflected in literature and distinguished it from that of previous decades. Science was put on the first place, although it caused certain disapproval among writers. Many of them stood up against the significance of scientific inventions and the well-being of middle class. Life in Victorian Age became the main point of literary works. Many prominent writers became aware of social injustice and tried to express it in literature. It led to appearance of new literary trend – Critical Realism. Among the greatest novelists of this age are Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Olive Shreiner. They used a novel as a way to protest against social evils and show reality as it was. They introduced new characters: the working class and demonstrated deep sympathy to its representatives. The writers described hard living and working conditions, and at the same time emphasized persistent struggle for human rights.
“Hard Times” by Charles Dickens is a nice example of Critical Realism. It gives a truthful description of people’s life. Dickens wrote about poor and unprivileged groups of society, sympathized with them and accused bourgeois system. Dickens disapproved the great contrast between rich and poor people and considered it abnormal. “Hard Times” is his strongest social novel. It is a protest against social abuses, such as corruption in courts and cruelly at boarding schools. Dickens vividly described life of English people during the Victorian epoch. The thing that distinguishes “Hard Times” from his previous works is the description of proletariat instead of bourgeoisie. The scene is set in a dirty factory town.
Dickens actually took an image of typical industrial town with grey and contaminated streets. In “Hard Times” he shows desperate attempts of poor working people to improve their lives. When Britain was the richest country in the world writers emphasized that all wealth belonged to a small group of capitalists, while common people were dependant on higher class. However it rarely occurred to those writers that the capitalist system itself was the reason of poverty. Dickens as well as other novelists tries to solve problems through the triumph of virtue. That’s why most Victorian novels have a happy ending when main heroes finally find the solution.
During the Victorian epoch traditional English novel turned into realistic, long and full of new characters. Olive Schreiner was another prominent representative of Victorian literature. “The Story of an African Farm” is an early example of Victorian fiction. The main heroes struggle against social repressions. Lyndall and Waldo strive for better and happier future. This novel raises problems of racism, class and gender inequality that are embodied in the hardships of Europeans who settled in Southern Africa. The story also deals with scientific and religious discontents during the Victorian era.
Victorian novels give a true picture of England in the 19th century. The hard life of people was expressed through wit and humor. It helped people to see themselves in a new light. This realistic method of narration was used by many English writers.
Oscar Wilde is known for his prominent story “The Picture of Dorian Gray» which was inspired by beauty and art. His literary views contradicted with Dickens’s style of writing. Unlike Dickens, he wasn’t inspired by people’s suffering. Instead his works worship the power of beauty. I think that it was caused by changes in social outlook. Oscar Wilde created his works in the end of the 19th century, when most writers still believed in science as a way to sweep away misery and poverty. Science was supposed to bring civilization. Oscar Wilde belongs to contradictory bourgeois writers whole literary works reflect the ideas of those times. They show emotional protest against social conditions in England. Wilde understood that art can’t exist under capitalist system. But on the other hand according to his ideology, art is the only thing which is really worth living for. Bourgeois morality is shown as the greatest social evil. Wilde could not help seeing injustice of contemporary life and revealed it in his novels. The Picture of Dorian Gray describes a handsome young man Dorian and his spiritual life. The author is concerned in art, morality and beauty in the first place.
In conclusion I’d like to say that critical realists created a new kind of novel – social novel. They also showed the necessity to improve existed social system. Each Victorian novel has its own peculiarities, as authors tries to express the topic from different perspectives.
Dickens for example wrote about common people, their sufferings and pains. Oscar Wilde on the contrary emphasized beauty and art. But nevertheless his stories also touch important certain social problems. Olive Shreiner raised questions of injustice, gender and race inequality. It was impossible for women to live independently according to their moral values. In this way Victorian social novel describes life of people in 19th century from different points of view. Some novelists preferred writing about the poorest and the most unprivileged ranks of society; others described contemporary life from the perspective of upper-class. Still others wrote about fighters for freedom, equality and better life.