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British Detective Fiction in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries  

Anne Humpherys

From ancient Greece on, fictional narratives have entailed deciphering mystery. Sophocles’ Oedipus must solve the mystery of the plague decimating Thebes; the play is a dramatization of how he ultimately “detects” the culprit responsible for the plague, who turns out to be Oedipus himself. In the Poetics, Aristotle defines a successful plot as one that has a conflict (which can include, and often does include, a “mystery”) that rises to a climax, followed by a resolution of the conflict, a plot line that describes not only Oedipus Rex but also every Sherlock Holmes story. A particular genre of mystery writing is defined by the mystery at the center of the story that is crucially, definitively solved by a particular person known as a detective, either private or police, who by ratiocination (close observation coupled with logical patterns of thought based on material evidence) uncovers and sorts out the relevant facts essential to a determination of who did the crime and how and why. The form of detective fiction throughout most of the 19th century was the short story published in various periodicals of the period. A few longer detective fictions were published as separate books in the 19th century, but book-length detective fiction, such as that by Agatha Christie, was really a product of the 20th century. Most critics of detective fiction see the beginning of the genre in the three stories of Edgar Allan Poe which feature his amateur detective, Auguste Dupin, and were published in the 1840s. Although Poe’s 1840s stories as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, which first appeared in the 1880s, are probably the most well known of 19th-century detective fictions, a number of other writers of generically recognizable detective fiction published stories in the almost fifty years between Poe and Conan Doyle, including a number that featured female detectives. Finally, from the 1890s into the early 20th century, a plethora of new detective fictions, still in short-story form for the most part, appeared not only in Britain but also in France and the United States. Detective fiction has always been popular, but serious critical interest in the genre only developed in the 20th century. In the second half of that century, this critical interest expanded into the academic world. The popularity of the genre has only continued to grow. Both detective fictions (now nearly all novel length) and critical interest in the genre from a variety of perspectives are now an international phenomenon, and detective novels dominate many best-seller lists.

Article

Domesticity in Victorian Literature  

Monica F. Cohen

When Victorian writers talked about the home, they invoked a range of contested ideas and complex affects about the material and imagined space where self and society meet. Emerging as a fully developed ideology by the middle of the 19th century, domesticity organized beliefs about the family, gender identity, sexuality, subject formation, socioeconomic class, work, civilization, and empire. As an ideology, Victorian domesticity pivots on two figures: the figure of separate spheres and the figure of the domestic woman. The binary logic of separate spheres identifies a private domain where femininity, leisure, feeling, and an ethic of care coalesce in opposition to a public domain where masculinity, work, industry, endurance, and an ethic of achievement preside. Governing the private sphere, the idealized middle-class domestic woman exercises a moral authority that derives from her naturally self-sacrificial spirit, a socioeconomic authority in managing a labor-intensive household, and a creative authority in using the materials of private life representing the family’s social status as a matter of financial and ethical respectability. In this sense, the home provided a rhetoric and narrative form for mapping an individual’s accommodation of social categories and economic forces. For better or worse, the image of the family hearth’s comfort, coziness and good cheer—its status as a haven in a heartless world—presided over a large swath of the Victorian imagination despite ripped patches that exposed domestic violence, sexual transgression, gender subordination, and socioeconomic coercion. For every sentimental Dickensian Christmas feast displaying a repentant miser breaking bread with a disabled waif, there were equally popular stories in which children are beaten, wives incarcerated, and households blighted by industrial suffering and bureaucratic indifference. Victorian domesticity thus relied on both mythologizing and demythologizing energies.

Article

Emigration and 19th-Century British Colonial Settler Narratives  

Tamara S. Wagner

Colonial settler narratives comprise chiefly fictional as well as autobiographically inspired or anecdotal writing about emigration and settler life. The 19th century saw an increasingly systematic mass migration across the globe that proceeded on an unprecedented scale. Global movements, including emigration and return, were facilitated by improved transport technology, new trading routes, and burgeoning emigration societies. A new market for writing about migration and the settler world emerged. The settler narratives of British colonizers present a valuable record of growing public interest in the experience of emigrants and settlers at the time. Whereas accounts of first-hand experience at first simply formed a central part of an expanding information industry and were promptly harnessed by pro-emigration propaganda, settler narratives quickly evolved into a diverse set of writing that consisted of (1) prescriptive and cautionary accounts, presented in narrative form, (2) tales of exploration and adventure, including bush yarns and mateship narratives, as well as (3) detailed descriptions of everyday settler life in domestic and increasingly also New Woman fiction. Equally important, writing produced within the settler colonies had a twofold relationship with British-authored literature, written at the imperial center, and hence participated in the formation of literary traditions on several levels. Exploring Victorian narratives of the colonial settler world helps map how genre travels and becomes transformed, shaping the literature of a global 19th century. These narratives provide a rich source of material for a much-needed reassessment of the diverse experiences and representations of emigration and settlement in the 19th century, while demanding renewed attention as an important part of literary history.

Article

Illustrated Victorian Fiction  

Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge

Victorians experienced a revolution in the novel’s form. In the early 1800s, books were largely unillustrated, perhaps containing a frontispiece (often a stock decorative illustration with little connection to content). Although Walter Scott and Jane Austen built their careers upon unillustrated fiction, by the 1830s and 1840s, technological innovations—wood engraving (developed in the 1790s) and steel engraving (popularized in the 1820s)—enabled the cheap, efficient integration of images and letterpress. Not all subsequent fiction was illustrated, but these innovations birthed the possibility of a new form that, upon a novel’s first publication, melded text and image as partners in meaning making: illustrated serial fiction (appearing either in periodicals or in individually wrapped numbers). Examples of the new form appear in Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836–1837), published in numbers and illustrated largely by Hablôt K. Browne (Phiz); Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1837–1839), published in Bentley’s Miscellany and illustrated by George Cruikshank; William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard (1839–1840) and The Tower of London (1840), both published in numbers and illustrated by Cruikshank; and William Makepeace Thackeray’s self-illustrated Vanity Fair (1847–1848), also published in numbers. All used visual elements—wrappers, chapter initials and heads, full-page images, and tailpieces—to establish character and setting, create ironies, and predict plot, uniting pen and pencil in a single art form. While authors such as the Brontës and, later, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell published all or most of their work unillustrated, the prevalence of literary illustrations rose dramatically. In 1842, the Illustrated London News announced the marriage of art and literature. By the 1860s, often recognized as book illustration’s golden age, illustration flourished. Family periodicals such as the Cornhill Magazine, Once a Week, and Good Words highlighted the collaborative work of prominent novelists and artists (including many Royal Academicians) as essential to middle-class culture. Periodical publication in installments overtook individually wrapped numbers as the dominant form of illustrated serial fiction. Editors paired Eliot with Frederic Leighton (Romola 1862–1863) and Gaskell with George du Maurier (Wives and Daughters, 1864–1866), both in the Cornhill; Harriet Martineau with John Everett Millais (her “historiettes,” 1862–1863), in Once a Week; and George MacDonald with Arthur Hughes (At the Back of the North Wind, 1871), in Good Words for the Young. (Notably, this list includes authors such as Eliot and Gaskell, whose work had been unillustrated upon their first break into the market.) The traditionally high art of painting intermingled with the traditionally lower craft of illustration: Luke Fildes transformed his illustration “Houseless and Hungry” into the painting Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, displayed at the 1874 Royal Academy, and Millais sold watercolor paintings of his illustrations for Martineau. From 1881, photographic reproduction revolutionized late-century book and periodical illustration. Images became even more economical to reproduce, enabling editor George Newnes to promise illustration on the Strand’s every page. The 1890s saw a bifurcation in illustrated texts: popular periodicals such as the Strand and Pearson’s Magazine exploited the text–image relationship with innovative layouts, wrapping images around letterpress (as in H. G. Wells’s 1897 The War of the Worlds, in Pearson’s, illustrated by Warwick Goble), whereas the experimental Yellow Book turned away from text–image complementarity in favor of stand-alone artwork by such artists as Aubrey Beardsley. The legacies of Victorian illustrated fiction appeared in the early 1900s, when cinematic adaptations of Victorian novels wowed audiences, the modernist revolution challenged conventional book design, and children’s literature flowered as Arthur Rackham’s and E. H. Shepard’s illustrations popularized Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), The Wind in the Willows (1908), and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926).

Article

Irony  

Claire Colebrook

Irony is both a figure of speech and a mode of existence or attitude toward life. Deriving from the ancient Greek term eironeia, which originally referred to lying, irony became a complex philosophical and rhetorical term in Plato’s dialogues. Plato (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 bce) depicts Socrates deploying the method of elenchus, where, rather than proposing a theory, Socrates encounters others in conversation, drawing out the contradictions and opacities of their arguments. Often these dialogues would take a secure concept and then push the questioning to a final moment of non-knowledge or aporia, exposing a gap in a discourse that his interlocutors thought was secure. Here, Socratic irony can be thought of as a particular philosophical method and as the way in which Socrates chose to pursue his life, always questioning the truth of key ethical concepts. In the Roman rhetorical tradition irony was theorized as a rhetorical device by Cicero (106–43 bce) and Quintilian (c.35–c.96 ce), and it was this sense of irony that was dominant until the 18th century. At that time, and in response to the elevation of reason in the Enlightenment, a resurgence of satire emerged: here the rigorous logic of reason was often repeated and in a parodic manner. At this time, modern irony emerged, which was subtly different from satire in that it did not simply lampoon its target, but suggested a less clear position of refined and superior distance. The German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) was highly critical of what came to be known as Romantic irony, which differed from satire in that it suggested a subtle distance from everyday discourse, with no clear position of its own. This tendency for irony to be the negation of truth claims, without having any clear position of its own, became ever more intense in the 20th century with postmodern irony, where irony was no longer a rhetorical device but became a manner of existing with no clear commitment to any values or beliefs. Alongside this tradition of irony as a distanced relation to one’s speech acts, there was also a tradition of dramatic, cosmic, tragic, or fateful irony, where events might seem to act against human intentions, or where human ambition would seem to be thwarted by a universe that almost seems to be judging human existence from on high.

Article

Jane Austen’s Global Influence  

Katie Halsey

Jane Austen (1775–1817) is a writer with a global reputation. She is one of a very few writers to enjoy both a wide popular readership and critical acclaim, and one of even fewer writers of her period whose name has instant recognition. Her literary reputation rests on six novels—Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816), Northanger Abbey (1818), and Persuasion (1818)—a handful of unfinished works, and three manuscript notebooks of juvenilia, but this small oeuvre has been translated into almost every known language, has been adapted for film and television across the world, and has spawned an enormous number of sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remediations, and other fan fictions in both print and digital media. Critics have, for more than two centuries, attempted both to describe the technical brilliance of Austen’s work and to account for her surprising popularity with very diverse audiences. Her works describe the daily realities of life in Georgian and Regency England but clearly still speak to modern, worldwide audiences. She is known simultaneously as a romance writer par excellence and as a deeply ironic and skeptical social commentator. Her style is characterized by economy, brevity, and wit, and through a series of technical innovations in the craft of writing, Austen transformed the genre of the novel and thus its status from the 19th century onward. Her international success, however, can be attributed only partly to the brilliance of her literary output and must, in part, be ascribed to the work of successive film adaptations of her novels, in particular the 1940 and 1995 versions of Pride and Prejudice, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, respectively. Across the world, many people now know Austen’s works primarily through the medium of film adaptations of her novels and biopics that fictionalize her life. “Jane Austen” has become a lucrative brand, existing almost irrespective of the original works.

Article

Orientalism in the Victorian Era  

Valerie Kennedy

Orientalism in the Victorian era has origins in three aspects of 18th-century European and British culture: first, the fascination with The Arabian Nights (translated into French by Antoine Galland in 1704), which was one of the first works to have purveyed to Western Europe the image of the Orient as a place of wonders, wealth, mystery, intrigue, romance, and danger; second, the Romantic visions of the Orient as represented in the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, George Gordon, Lord Byron, and other Romantics as well as in Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh; and third, the domestication of opium addiction in Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Victorian Orientalism was all pervasive: it is prominent in fiction by William Thackeray, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, and Rudyard Kipling, but is also to be found in works by Benjamin Disraeli, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Louis Stevenson, among others. In poetry Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat is a key text, but many works by Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning also show the influence of Orientalist tropes and ideas. In theater it is one of the constant strands of much popular drama and other forms of popular entertainment like panoramas and pageants, while travel writing from Charles Kingsley to Richard Burton, James Anthony Froude, and Mary Kingsley shows a wide variety of types of Orientalist figures and concepts, as do many works of both popular and children’s literature. Underlying and uniting all these diverse manifestations of Victorian Orientalism is the imperialist philosophy articulated by writers as different as Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx, supported by writings of anthropologists and race theorists such as James Cowles Pritchard and Robert Knox. Toward the end of the Victorian era, the image of the opium addict and the Chinese opium den in the East End of London or in the Orient itself becomes a prominent trope in fiction by Dickens, Wilde, and Kipling, and can be seen to lead to the proliferation of Oriental villains in popular fiction of the early 20th century by such writers as M. P. Shiel, Guy Boothby, and Sax Rohmer, whose Dr. Fu Manchu becomes the archetypal version of such figures.