The Victorian era was a rich time of great accomplishments in music and literature, perhaps inspired by the more rigid restrictions on outward display of emotion and passion. Through the period literature, both the author and the reader were provided with a measure of permission to explore a world otherwise forbidden socially. Out of the times, came great novels, many of which have remained as great classics of timeless, or eternal value. Through reading these novels, we are given a special glimpse into the Victorian life and times, in a manner as to relive the story as it unfolds, from page to page. While personal interests and points of view come to play in determining the best publications of the Victorian or any time, there are some that at least can form a starting point. These share the most broadly extended popularity, across the board, and are well worth a recommendation for anyone desiring to experience the novels from that very distinctive time.
Significant Contributions from the Bronte Family
Bronte sisters Emily, Charlotte and Anne were all, in their own rites, important contributors to the literary greatness of the period. The sisters collectively published a volume of poetry in 1846, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Acton Bell was the masculine pen name under which Anne first published her writings exclusively. Her second book would sadly be her last, and if The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; 1848 (then classified as one of the first sustained feminist novels,) had not been prevented from republication after her early death at the age of 29 by sister Charlotte, Anne’s fame would have been far greater. The book is an excellent read, nonetheless. Sister Charlotte published Jane Eyre in 1847, with Gothic overtones permeating this passionate story of forbidden romance, which is lauded as the finest work from all three sisters. Sister Emily, AKA “Ellis Bell,” had only one novel, Wuthering Heights, which polarized readers, being mostly regarded as controversial in tone, in its portrayal of extreme mental and physical cruelty. It posed a threat to societal norms and ideals and dared to infer an undertone of hypocrisy, immorality and gender inequality in religion and the social classes of the day. All three novels were and are classics and highly praised.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy’s tragic masterpiece was published in 1891, and, in keeping with his preferred style, served to reject more popular forms of ending on a positive note. And Hardy relies on the formula of a “fallen woman” to create a thought-provoking story, pessimistically surrounding her and her plight, and engendering only sympathy from the reader.
This 1853 novel by Charles Dickens was outsold by his better known A Tale of Two Cities, yet is lauded as his best. Thought to be loosely based on a real-life account which endured over 100 years, and involved the British legal system. This story is formed as satirically biting, and mocks that legal system using tongue in cheek humor at its best. Its style is in the narrative, with half being from the voice of the novel’s heroine, and the other by a nondescript “very Victorian” third party.