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History of Realistic Victorian Novels


Realism began as a literary movement in response to and as a departure from the idealism of the Romantic period. Realism emerged in literature in the second half of the nineteenth century, most predominantly in novels. Realism was characterized by its attention to detail, as well as its attempt to recreate reality as it was. As a result, plot was no longer the central to the focus of the author, but rather creating interesting and complex characters took precedence. Realism also placed an emphasis on describing the material and physical details of life, as opposed to the natural world as characterized by the Romantic period. Realism emphasizes accurate descriptions of setting, dress, and character in ways that would have appeared inappropriate to earlier authors. Realism, which emphasizes the importance of the ordinary person and the ordinary situation, generally rejects the heroic and the aristocratic and embraces the ordinary working class citizen.

The Rise of the Novel

Prior to the Victorian Era, poetry had been the dominant form of literature. However, changes in class structure saw the novel rise in popularity. As the middle class expanded and more people became literate, the popularity of the novel exploded. These works also became more accessible as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of newspapers and the periodical press. Most notably, the works of Charles Dickens were frequently serialized in newspapers or journals, his first being Pickwick Papers in 1836. As a result of this serialization and a focus on character rather than plot, Dickens’ works are sometimes criticized for having weak plots. The subject matter of realistic Victorian novels also helped increase their popularity. Dickens particularly would portray the lives of working class people, creating characters that the new rising middle class audience could relate to. The realistic Victorian novel focused on characters and themes such as the plight of the poor and social mobility that was being afforded to a new middle class and the rising middle class were eager to consume these novels.

During the Victorian Era there was also a rise in female writers. Many of them published under a male pseudonym to ensure that their works would be given the same merit as male authors were granted.