Left: Portrait of Jane Austen from J. E. Austen A Memoir of Jane Austen (1886). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

These questions were originally created for English 394: The Victorian Novel from Dickens to Hardy, at the University of British Columbia, Summer Session Two, 1989. They have been augmented with pertinent excerpts from Tillotson's seminal criticism of the early Victorian novel for English 3412 (Victorian Fiction), Lakehead University, January through May 2004. For additional questions click on the "Contexts" icon at the foot of the screen.

It is now, I think, too late to talk about "Victorian novels"; their range is too vast and vague to lead to any useful generalization. So vague, indeed, that the common reader's picture of the Victorian novels is a phantasmagoria of stage-coaches, Barsetshire, women in white, and Hugh Thomson illustrations; and a class of undergraduate students, invited to expose their knowledge of the field, will begin by happily hazarding Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. [Tillotson, "Part 1: Introductory," 1]

Tillotson's Four Chief Novels from the 1840s

Question 1. Part One: Introductory

Above: Two artists' portraits of the principal novelists of the period: George Richmond's Mrs. Gaskell; Richmond's William Makepeace Thackeray; Richmond's Charlotte Brontë; and Samuel Laurence's 1838 portrait from the National Portrait Gallery: Charles Dickens (chalk). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

The secrets of chronology are well guarded by some popular critics and some modern reprints, which also commonly deprive the novels of their preliminaries and even their full titles. These instances may be extreme; the wanting information can be found; but there remains, at any level, the insuperable difficulty of doing critical justice to the novels of sixty-three years [1837-1900] in a single book. (No one would attempt it for the fifty-three years of our own century.) The time has surely come to break up "the Victorian novel" into manageable segments; not by novelists, or categories, or phases, but simply by concentrating upon a decade or so at a time. Replaced in their original context of time and opinion, the novels may be found to make better sense, to take on values new to us, which modify or substantiate the old. [Tillotson, pp. 1-2]

Question One: Novels of the 1840s Only?

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.


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 25 December 2004

Last modified 24 January 2024