Questions based on the Introduction to Tillotson's Study (pp.1-156)

Left: Mudie's Library in the 1840s. Guildhall Library. City of London. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

My book is not what is sometimes called a 'decade-study'; I do not refer to all the main preoccupations of the time, but only to those that seem especially relevant to the novels. And, though I hope I am never careless of chronology, I do not proceed through the decade year by year, nut risk generalizations, some of which are perhaps more applicable to the late eighteen-forties. I have sometimes gone to other decades, esecially the fifties, for illustrative material, but my general policy has been to reserve this for the footnotes. . . . . The four novels chosen for detailed study are some of those which I believe stand to gain most from such an exploration of 'background; they are novels which are essentially 'of' the forties as well as 'for all time'. With intention, I was precluded from choosing the novel which on other counts demands full-length treatment — Wuthering Heights. This novel, which speaks so clearly to our generation, hardly spoke at all to its own. [Tillotson, "Preface," vii]

We need far more . . . information about the public for whom the novelists wrote, about their tastes and how they were formed, about what was expected in the novel of this time, how novels were brought before the public, the relation between writers and readers. It is exactly this [perspective] that Mrs. Tillotson gives us . . . . and this mass of fresh, copious, and detailed information makes it a delight to read. [Graham Hough, "Review," Listener]

Four Novels of the 1840s

Topics Addressed in the Introduction

Specific Questions on the Topics

Question One: Novels of the 1840s Only

1. Why, says Tillotson, has she chosen to confine her discussion to specifically English novels of the 1840s rather than pursuing a broader span of time and including, for example, American novels? Attack or defend her decision to thus limit herself, evaluating also the quality of her treatment of her topic.

Question Two: The New Historicist Perspective

2. How does Tillotson go about creating the "effect of making us more closely resemble the novels' first readers" (pages 11-12)?

Question Three: The Rise of the Novel as Supreme Among Popular Genres

3. Why, according to Tillotson, had the novel become the dominant literary form in Great Britain by the middle of the nineteenth century?

Question Four: Banning or Limiting the Availability of the Novel

4. Why did upper- and even middle-class parents in nineteenth-century England attempt to limit or even ban their children's reading of novels? (An example is Macaulay's father, p. 18.) Consider also why "Old Morality" (bookseller William Henry Smith, 1825-91) felt it necessary to limit the reading choices of railway passengers.

Question Five: The Predominance of the "Triple-Decker"

5. How did the three-volume, "triple-decker" novel become the standard format for the nineteenth-century British novel?

Question Six: The Rise of Part-Publication

6. How did part- and magazine-serial publication make possible "a kind of contact between author and reader unknown today" (page 26)? What were the disadvantages of the serial mode of publication?

Question Seven: The Pickwick Phenomenon

7. Why would the first monthly part of Dickens' Pickwick Papers be rare today, and thus valuable?

Supplementary: What would be unusual about the number of illustrations in this monthly number?

Question Eight: Part Publication versus the Triple-Decker

8. Why might Victorian authors and publishers alike have preferred part-publication to the production of the three-volume novel ("the triple-decker")?

Question Nine: The Illustrated Magazine and the Magazine Serial

9. What factors led to the eclipsing of part-publication by monthly and weekly magazines? What special problems did the magazine serial pose for authors and editors?

Question Ten: Just a Few Novelists of the 1840s

10. Although Tillotson mentions a good many novelists, she chooses to focus on just a handful. Which novelists does she repeatedly mention, and why do you think she has chosen to make these writers her focus?

Question Eleven: Victorian Readers' Reactions to Death in a Novel

11. How was the typical Victorian reader's response to death in a work of fiction (a short story, novella, or novel) different from that of reader in our own day? What might account for such a different response in our century?

Question Twelve: Readers' Responses to a Suffering Child in Fiction

12. What personal and societal considerations led Dickens to place a suffering child at the centre of so many of his stories?

Question Thirteen: Podsnappery and "The Tyranny of the Young Person" in the Novel

13. What were "podsnappery" and "The Tyranny of the Young Person"? What produced these literary phenomena, and what problems did they pose for the nineteenth-century British novelist?

Question Fourteen: The Newgate Novel

14. How, according to Tillotson, are The Luck of Barry Lyndon and Oliver Twist reactions to rather than simply examples of the Newgate Novel?

Question Fifteen: The Two Nations

15. How is Disraeli's conception of "The Two Nations" within British society (p. 80) so important to the development of the Victorian Novel?

Question Sixteen: Expanding the Social and Geographical Dimensions of the Novel

16. What were the advantages and disadvantages for novelists in attempting to expand the geographical and class range of the Victorian novel? Consider dialect, for example.

Question Seventeen: A Novel neither Historical nor Contemporary

17. Why during the 1840s did a form of the novel that was neither historical nor thoroughly contemporary develop?


Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Clarendon, 1955, rpt. 1983.

Vann, J. Don. Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985.

Created 16 October 2003

Last modified 21 January 2024