The novel 1832 - 1880

From Charles Dickens to Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell to George Eliot, how did the iconic writers of this period experiment with fantasy, sensationalism, realism and social commentary? How did literature comment on class division, industrialisation, gender roles and perceptions of childhood?
Crime in Oliver Twist

Crime in Oliver Twist

Article by:
Philip Horne

Oliver Twist shows both the enticement and the danger of the criminal underworld. Professor Philip Horne examines how Dickens’s depiction of crime was influenced by public executions, contemporary slang and other literary works.

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Ghosts in A Christmas Carol

Ghosts in A Christmas Carol

Article by:
John Mullan

The ghosts in A Christmas Carol are by turns comic, grotesque and allegorical. Professor John Mullan reflects on their essential role in developing the novel’s meaning and structure.

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Crime in Great Expectations

Crime in Great Expectations

Article by:
John Mullan

Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.

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Oliver Twist and the workhouse

Oliver Twist and the workhouse

Article by:
Ruth Richardson

The hardships of the Victorian workhouse led to Oliver Twist uttering the famous phrase ‘Please Sir, I want some more’. Dr Ruth Richardson explores Dickens’s reaction to the New Poor Law, which established the workhouse system, and his own experiences of poverty and hardship.

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Hard Times: fact and fancy

Hard Times: fact and fancy

Article by:
Paul Schlicke

Paul Schlicke considers the contrast between fact and fancy in Hard Times, exploring how Dickens uses the excitement of the circus to challenge the doctrines of 19th-century philosophers and political economists.

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Dickens the performer

Dickens the performer

Article by:
Simon Callow

Simon Callow CBE examines Dickens as an actor who gave lively and emotional performances of his own works to an enthralled public on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Jane Eyre and the rebellious child

Jane Eyre and the rebellious child

Article by:
Sally Shuttleworth

Drawing on children’s literature, educational texts and Charlotte Brontë’s own childhood experience, Professor Sally Shuttleworth looks at the passionate and defiant child of Jane Eyre.

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Fairytale and realism in Jane Eyre

Fairytale and realism in Jane Eyre

Article by:
Carol Atherton

Dr Carol Atherton explores how Charlotte Brontë mixes fantasy with realism in Jane Eyre, making use of fairytale and myth and drawing on the imaginary worlds she and her siblings created as children.

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Jane Eyre and the 19th-century woman

Jane Eyre and the 19th-century woman

Article by:
Sally Shuttleworth

Professor Sally Shuttleworth explores how Charlotte Brontë challenges 19th-century conceptions of appropriate female behaviour through the creation of a heroine who works, demands respect and combines self-control with passion and rebellion.

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Melding fantasy and realism in Wuthering Heights

Melding fantasy and realism in Wuthering Heights

Article by:
John Bowen

Professor John Bowen explores the intertwined nature of fantasy and realism within Emily Brontë’s novel.

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Walking the landscape of Wuthering Heights

Walking the landscape of Wuthering Heights

Article by:
John Bowen

Situating Emily Brontë in her hometown of Haworth – a small Yorkshire mill town surrounded by moors – Professor John Bowen reflects on the representation of landscape in Wuthering Heights.

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Who is Heathcliff?

Who is Heathcliff?

Article by:
John Bowen

Professor John Bowen considers the enigmatic outsider of Wuthering Heights.

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Jane Eyre: mixing the familiar and the fantastic

Jane Eyre: mixing the familiar and the fantastic

Article by:
John Bowen

In her writing as a child and as a young schoolteacher, Charlotte Brontë moved effortlessly between ordinary and imaginary worlds. Professor John Bowen explores how this dual existence made its way into her novel Jane Eyre.

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The figure of Bertha Mason

The figure of Bertha Mason

Article by:
Carol Atherton

Carol Atherton explores the character of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre through ideas of the ‘Other’, Charlotte Brontë’s narrative doubling and 19th-century attitudes towards madness and ethnicity.

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Eating and drinking in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Eating and drinking in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Article by:
Philip Ardagh

Children's author Philip Ardagh looks at how Lewis Carroll transforms the highly-ritualised, rule-bound nature of 19th-century mealtimes into the madcap hilarity of the Hatter's tea party.

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Orphans in fiction

Orphans in fiction

Article by:
John Mullan

Why do orphans appear so frequently in 19th-century fiction? Professor John Mullan reflects on the opportunities they provide for authors, considering some of the most famous examples of the period.

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Middlemarch: reform and change

Middlemarch: reform and change

Article by:
John Mullan

Middlemarch is set in the period leading up to the 1832 Reform Act. Professor John Mullan explores how George Eliot uses the novel to examine different kinds of reform and progress: political, scientific and social.

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Railways in Victorian fiction

Railways in Victorian fiction

Article by:
John Mullan

The first railway line in Britain opened in 1830, transforming how the public travelled and communicated – and read fiction. Focusing on the work of Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and George Eliot, Professor John Mullan explores the influence of the railway on Victorian novels.

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Understanding Alice

Understanding Alice

Article by:
Kimberley Reynolds

Professor Kimberley Reynolds explores how Lewis Carroll transformed logic, literary traditions and ideas about childhood into the superbly inventive and irreverent Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

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The Gothic in Great Expectations

The Gothic in Great Expectations

Article by:
John Bowen

Professor John Bowen considers how Dickens uses the characters of Magwitch and Miss Havisham to incorporate elements of the Gothic in Great Expectations.

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The origins of A Christmas Carol

The origins of A Christmas Carol

Article by:
John Sutherland

Professor John Sutherland considers how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol engages with Victorian attitudes towards poverty, labour and the Christmas spirit.

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Realism and research in Adam Bede

Realism and research in Adam Bede

Article by:
Rohan Maitzen

In Adam Bede, George Eliot sets out her commitment to realism as a literary genre – a commitment she would continue to develop over the course of her career. Dr Rohan Maitzen explains how detailed research and Eliot’s own experience fed into the realist project, enabling her to express her beliefs about religion, sympathy and understanding.

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The Mill on the Floss as bildungsroman

The Mill on the Floss as bildungsroman

Article by:
Rohan Maitzen

Dr Rohan Maitzen explores how George Eliot uses education, literature and her own experience in The Mill on the Floss to subvert the traditional bildungsroman, or novel of development.

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Deathbed scenes in fiction

Deathbed scenes in fiction

Article by:
John Mullan

The deathbed is an iconic scene in Victorian fiction. Professor John Mullan considers its potential for sentimentality and satire.

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Oliver Twist: a patchwork of genres

Oliver Twist: a patchwork of genres

Article by:
Claire Wood

Dr Claire Wood examines how Dickens blends multiple genres in Oliver Twist, including melodrama, the Gothic, satire and social commentary.

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Great Expectations and class

Great Expectations and class

Article by:
John Bowen

The world of Great Expectations is one in which fortunes can be suddenly made and just as suddenly lost. Professor John Bowen explores how the novel’s characters negotiate and perform class in this atmosphere of social and financial instability.

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An introduction to Mary Barton

An introduction to Mary Barton

Article by:
John Sutherland

Professor John Sutherland explores the personal and social circumstances that prompted Elizabeth Gaskell to write Mary Barton, her novel describing industrial poverty in Manchester during the 'hungry forties'.

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Victorian readers

Victorian readers

Article by:
Kate Flint

Kate Flint explores how Victorian readers bought, borrowed and read their books.

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An introduction to The Woman in White

An introduction to The Woman in White

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

The Woman in White was the first great sensation novel. Roger Luckhurst considers how Wilkie Collins's intricately plotted novel borrows elements from realist and Gothic fiction, and combines suspense and stimulation.

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An introduction to Jude the Obscure

Writing, publishing and revising Far From The Madding Crowd

Article by:
Elizabeth James

Elizabeth James traces the development of Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel, from inspiration to post-publication revisions.

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Realism

Realism

Article by:
John Mullan

Professor John Mullan explores the key features of realism and the different ways in which Victorian writers used them.

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An introduction to The Moonstone

An introduction to The Moonstone

Article by:
Robert McCrum

Robert McCrum considers how Wilkie Collins combined plot, character and the imperial drama of India to create the first Victorian detective novel.

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George Eliot's women

George Eliot's women

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes

Why do so few of George Eliot’s female characters fulfil their potential? Professor Kathryn Hughes considers Eliot’s attitudes towards women’s rights, education and place in society, and how she expresses these in her novels.

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An introduction to Silas Marner: fairytale, realism and labour

An introduction to Silas Marner: fairytale, realism and labour

Article by:
John Mullan

Professor John Mullan explores how George Eliot draws on fairytale elements in her self-described ‘realistic treatment’ of a pre-industrial weaver and his work.

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Further themes

Romanticism

What inspired the iconic poetry of the Romantic period?

The Gothic

What characterises Gothic literature and what does it reveal about the periods in which it was written?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

The novel 1780-1832

From Georgian gentry to Gothic horror, what characterised the literature of this period?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Popular culture

From music hall to pleasure gardens, explore the extraordinary range of entertainments on offer in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

Poverty and the working classes

How did Victorian writers respond to the shocking inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence the literature people read?

Technology and science

How did 19th century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

The middle classes

How were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored in the literature of the period?

Visions of the future

How did the 19th-century literature reflect contemporary fears of social, political and technological change?

Gender and sexuality

How were gender roles embedded in the literature of the period and were they ever subverted?