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The Romantic Novel Major Romantic Novelists The Victorian Novel
Major Victorian Novelists Other Victorian Novelists of Note
Realism, Local Color, and NaturalismMajor 19th Century American Novelists

Keep in mind that eras in literary history are not fixed and that novelists writing in one era may have more in common with the novelists of another era.

Also note that my emphasis here is on the novel in English.

The Romantic Novel

Romanticism is a movement in art and literature that began in Europe in the late 18th century and was most influential in the first half of the 19th century.

Romanticism fosters a return to nature and also values the imagination over reason and emotion over intellect.

One strain of the Romantic is the Gothic with its emphasis on tales of horror and the supernatural.

Major Romantic Novelists


Bronte's major novel Jane Eyre (1847) is the model for countless novels featuring governesses and mysterious strangers.

EMILY BRONTE (1818-48)

Bronte's major work Wuthering Heights (1847) is full of Gothic elements.


Cooper's most popular novels of the frontier feature Natty Bumpo, a man at one with nature.

Major Works:

  • The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
  • The Deerslayer (1841)

Nathaniel Hawthorne


Hawthorne's novels are marked by his obsession with his Puritan ancestors and with the issue of guilt. His most famous novels feature elements of the Romantic and the Gothic.

Major Works:

  • The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  • The House of the Seven Gables (1851)


Melville's novels are about the sea and seamen. His masterwork Moby Dick (1851) is a study in obsession and its consequences as well as an exploration of the nature of evil.

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The Victorian Novel

The Victorian Age is marked roughly by the reign of Queen Victoria of England from 1837-1901.

The Victorian reading public firmly established the novel as the dominant literary form of the era. The novel is the most distinctive and lasting literary achievement of Victorian literature.

Earlier in the century Sir Walter Scott had created a large novel-reading public and had made the novel respectable. He had also strengthened the tradition of the 3-volume novel.

The publication of novels in monthly installments enabled even the poor to purchase them

The novelists of the Victorian era:

  • accepted middle class values
  • treated the problem of the individual's adjustment to his society
  • emphasized well-rounded middle-class characters
  • portrayed the hero as a rational man of virtue
  • believed that human nature is fundamentally good and lapses are errors of judgment corrected by maturation

The Victorian novel appealed to readers because of its:

  • realism
  • impulse to describe the everyday world the reader could recognize
  • introduction of characters who were blends of virtue and vice
  • attempts to display the natural growth of personality
  • expressions of emotion: love, humor, suspense, melodrama, pathos (deathbed scenes)
  • moral earnestness and wholesomeness, including crusades against social evils and self-censorship to acknowledge the standard morality of the times.

The Victorian novel featured several developments in narrative technique:

  • full description and exposition
  • authorial essays
  • multiplotting featuring several central characters

Furthermore, the practice of issuing novels in serial installments led novelists to become adept at subclimaxes.

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Major Victorian Novelists

Dickens was the most successful of the English Victorian novelists, a master of sentiment and a militant reformer.

We admire Dickens for his:

  • fertility of character creation
  • depiction of childhood and youth
  • comic creations

Major Works:

  • A Christmas Carol (1843), most popular Christmas story in the English speaking world
  • David Copperfield (1849-50), essentially autobiographical and Dickens' own favorite novel
  • Bleak House (1852-3), the first Dickens novel with a carefully-knit plot
Charles Dickens


Thackeray's chief subject is the contrast between human pretensions and human weakness. He excelled at portraying his own upper middle class social stratum.

His major work is Vanity Fair (1847).


Eliot is considered to be the first modern novelist, a creator of psychological fiction. She is known for her penetrating character analyses and convincingly realistic scenes.

In Eliot's novels plot did not need to depend upon external complications; it could rise from a character's internal groping toward knowledge and choice.

Major Works:

  • Adam Bede (1859), a love triangle set in pre-industrial agricultural England
  • Silas Marner (1861), the nearest thing to a perfect George Eliot novel with a plot about a miser who adopts a foundling and the theme of the regenerative power of humanity and love
  • Middlemarch (1871-72), the first English novel concerned with the intellectual life, the story of a city during the agitated era of 1832 reforms, the Industrial Revolution, the Evangelical movement, and the new scientific outlook

THOMAS HARDY (1840-1920)

The characteristic Victorian novelist such as Dickens or Thackeray was concerned with the behavior and problems of people in a given social milieu which he described in detail.

Thomas Hardy preferred to go directly for the elemental in human behavior with a minimum of contemporary social detail. He felt that man was an alien in an impersonal universe and at the mercy of sheer chance.

Though readers assume he is a pessimist he called himself a meliorist, yearning hopefully for a better world.

Major Works:

  • Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)
  • Jude the Obscure (1895)

The revolt in Jude the Obscure against indissoluble Victorian marriage (of Jude to Arabella and Sue Bridehead to Phillotson) aroused such a storm of protest over its religious pessimism and sex themes that Hardy turned thereafter exclusively to poetry.

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Other Victorian Novelists of Note


Collins is considered the father of the modern detective novel.

Major Works:

  • The Woman in White (1860)
  • The Moonstone (1868), the novel which G.K Chesterton termed "probably the best detective story in the world"


A mathematician, Carroll sublimated his anti-Victorianism in his writing.

Major Works:

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which remains one of the best-loved children's books in the English speaking world
  • Through the Looking-Glass (1871)
Realism, Local Color, and Naturalism

In the United States the latter half of the 19th century was marked by recovery from the Civil War, the movement from rural areas to the cities, and the rise of industrialism and business.

Protest movements--led by unions or blacks or feminists--challenged the status quo.

As the major Romantic writers such as Hawthorne and Melville died or stopped writing for publication, a new breed of novelists, trained initially as journalists, rejected romanticism and insisted that the ordinary and the local were suitable subjects for artistic portrayal.

Realists had what Henry James called "a powerful impulse to mirror the unmitigated realities of life."

As the realists rejected romantic idealism and dependence on established moral truths they began to present subtleties of human personality and characters who were neither wholly good nor wholly bad. This philosophical realism gradually became increasingly pessimistic and deterministic as seen by the later works of Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Theodore Dreiser.

One group of writers championed local color writing, an amalgam of romanticism and realism with romantic plots coupled with a realistic portrayal of the dialects, custom, and sights of regional America.

The local color movement was a bridge between romanticism and realism and can be viewed as a subdivision of realism. It resulted from the desire both to preserve distinctive ways of life before industrialization dispersed or homogenized them and to come to terms with the harsh realities that seemed to replace these early times.

Naturalism, which gained popularity near the end of the 19th century, is generally described as a new and harsher realism.

In an attempt to achieve extreme objectivity and frankness, naturalistic novelists portrayed characters of low social and economic class shaped by environment and heredity and moved by animal passions.

In the view of the naturalists, environmental forces, whether of nature or the city, outweigh or overwhelm human agency; the individual can exert little or no control over events.

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Major 19th Century American Novelists
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE (1811-96), whose novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was one of the many influences on the start of the American Civil War

HENRY JAMES (1843-1916)

James was not only a novelist but an influential critic of the novel whose prefaces to his own work were later collected in The Art of the Novel (1934). His exploration of point of view and his development of stream of consciousness technique have greatly influenced subsequent writers of fiction.

Major Works:

  • The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
  • The Wings of the Dove (1902)
  • The Ambassadors (1903)
  • The Golden Bowl (1904)

Mark Twain


Twain's best work breaks out of the local color genre.

Major Works:

  • Tom Sawyer (1876)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), generally considered to be the Great American Novel
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)
  • Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
KATE CHOPIN (1851-1904) was a local color writer whose works are set in the Creole society of Louisiana. The Awakening (1899) is an early feminist novel about a woman unhappy in her marriage.

JACK LONDON (1876-1916)

London's adventures in the Pacific Northwest and during the Alaska gold rush were the basis of his very popular short stories and novels such as The Call of the Wild (1903) and The Sea Wolf (1904).


Major Works:

  • Ethan Frome (1911)
  • The Age of Innocence (1920)

STEPHEN CRANE (1871-1900)

The Red Badge of Courage (1895), Crane's novel of the Civil War, is generally considered one of the greatest war novels of all time. Crane had never seen combat when he wrote this novel.


Major Works:

  • Sister Carrie (1900)
  • An American Tragedy (1925)
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The Romantic Novel Major Romantic Novelists The Victorian Novel
Major Victorian Novelists Other Victorian Novelists of Note
Realism, Local Color, and NaturalismMajor 19th Century American Novelists
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© 2005 Dr. Agatha Taormina
Last Revised: February 4, 2015
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