When the description “Victorian” is brought up, the image of corseted and bustled women in flouncing petticoats comes to the minds of many. Familiarized through film culture and popular imagination, many representations of the era are preserved through the literature of that period. Countless remakes and references to Victorian novels have been made throughout the centuries, making their authors household names. From Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, to Sherlock Holmes, these characters represent an age of change; a society where every aspect of conduct underwent rapid transformation: steam engines advanced technological production, urban development demanded coal mining, global exploits encouraged travel writing, and the rising awareness of feminists brought about discussions on gender.
With so much change going on in every dimension of life, it is difficult to truly define what characterizes Victorian literature. With change, however, there must be the struggle to adapt. The period, named after Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 to 1901, raises concern over the issues of the time. Many writers sought to appeal to a wider audience than ever before, speaking in a more colloquial fashion about poverty, class, and socio-economic problems to the middle and lower-class, while also helping to shape their taste in literature. This attempt to reach a wider audience was how serialization came to be, most notably used by novelist Charles Dickens, whose serial novels featured in newspapers and magazines brought him immense fame and fortune. It also helped catapult the status of the novel–once considered a lesser form of fiction–into eclipsing the popularity of poetry from the previous Romantic era.
Later Victorian novelists confirmed the initial popularity of novels by not only addressing contemporary problems, but also devising exquisitely-detailed plot lines and well-developed characters that rival the artistry of poetry. Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, and Lewis Carroll all signify the successful transition of the novel’s stardom, a preference that prevails and influences writers till this day. Whether it is intricate conspiracies or tragic love stories, try out our quiz below to see how many of Victorian literature’s most famous lines you can name.
Featured image credit: The Poultry Cross, Salisbury, painted by Louise Rayner. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.