novel: The English Novel

The English Novel

In Britain, Sir Walter Scott's Waverley (1814), about the 1745 Jacobite uprising in support of Charles Edward Stuart, inaugurated the historical novel. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1816), contemplating and satirizing life among a small group of country gentry in Regency England, initiated the highly structured and polished novel of manners. A variant with a wider scope is William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847–48), which dissects and satirizes London society.

The serialization of novels in various periodicals brought the form an ever-expanding audience. Particularly popular were the works of Charles Dickens, including Oliver Twist (1839) and David Copperfield (1850). Readers were drawn by Dickens's sympathetic, melodramatic, and humorous delineation of a world peopled with characters of all social classes, and by his condemnation of various social abuses. Further portraits of English society appear in Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire novels, which scrutinize clerical life in a small, rural town, and George Eliot's Silas Marner (1861) and Middlemarch (1871–72), which treat the lives of ordinary people in provincial towns with humanity and a strong moral sense. George Meredith's Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) and The Egoist (1879) are analytical tragicomedies set in high social circles. The conflict between man and nature is stressed in Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native (1878) and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891).

Although the great English novels of the 19th cent. were predominantly realistic, novels of fantasy and romance formed a literary undercurrent. Early in the century Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) explores a tale of horror. Later, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847) each present imaginative, passionate visions of human love. Robert Louis Stevenson revived the adventure tale and the horror story in Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). At the beginning of the 20th cent., horror and adventure were combined in the novels of Joseph Conrad, notably Lord Jim (1900) and Heart of Darkness (1902), both works achieving high levels of stylistic and psychological sophistication.

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