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 addition questions click on the "Contexts" icon at the foot of the screen.

5. One reason why the novel is particularly interesting in the eighteen-forties is that it was in process of becoming the dominant form. In the eighteen-forties critics began to say what they continued to say more forcibly for the next forty years or so, that the novel was the form of expression most suited to the age — "the vital offspring of modern wants and tendencies" 1 — that it had become what the epic and the drama had been in previous ages:

The novel is now what the drama was in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I; 2


The ground once covered by the Epic and the Drama is now occupied by the multiform and multitudinous novel. 3

People were very conscious of progress and change; they were beginning to be interested in extinct forms of life, 'vestiges of creation', and by analogy put the epic among them, In 1842 Tennyson, refusing to write an epic, for example, comments,

Nature brings not back the mastodon
Nor we those times. 4

When a Victorian poet did approach the epic, as Browning did in The Ring and the Book, he was obviously affected by the novel . . . . (p. 13-14)


Victorian Fiction (catalogue of an exhibition arranged by John Carter and Michael Sadleir, 1947); Graham Pollard, Serial Fiction in New Paths in Book Collecting (1934). The Cambridge Bibliography is erratic in noting the original form of publication, especially for minor novelists.

1 Prospective Review (1850), p. 495.

2 Op. cit. (1849), p. 37. This writer anticipates that the novel will "be the form in which much of the poetry of a coming time will be written."

3 Christian Remembrancer (April 1848), p. 405; and cf. Blackwood's (October 1848), p. 461. Carlyle had said the same thing much earlier: "We have then, in place of the wholly dead modern Epic, the partially living modern Novel" ("Biography" in Fraser's 1831, collected 1839).

4 Morte d'Arthur, in Poems (1842).

Question Three

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


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

Created 21 October 2003

Last modified 20 January 2024