Chief Characteristics of the Victorian Novel :
Charles Dickens is a representative novelist of the Victorian age. He highlights, in his novels, the various virtues and voices of the Victorian novel. As a novelist, he assimilated all the qualities of the novelists of his age. We come to know of certain common features which emerge from a study of the popular Victorian novelists including Dickens. These characteristics may be discussed as follows:
Loose and Ill-constructed
The novels produced during the Victorian age were largely in the fielding tradition. The plots were loose and ill-constructed. Their stories consisted of a large variety of characters and incidents. The incidents are connected together rather loosely. The Victorians fail to construct an organic plot.
An Extraordinary Mixture of Sentiments
n the Victorian novel, there is an extraordinary mingling of strength and weakness. The characters are lifeless and wooden. They do not appear to be real; rather they are artificial. Again there is much that is improbable, hence far from reality and originality. The Victorians fail to construct an organic, and ideal plot in which characters and events form an integral part of the whole.
Superfluous Characters and Incidents
Victorian novels have conventional plots in which several characters and incidents are superfluous. They have very little to do with the main plot. They cluster, around the hero. They do not contribute to the main story. The chief interest of the novelist lies in individual characters and episodes and not in the whole. He does not preserve the unity of tone. The novels are full of melodrama but they are incapable of arousing the emotions of fear and pity.
Limitations of Subject-matter and Range of Characterization
Victorian novelists have a very limited subject matter and range of characterization. They highlight only the follies and idiosyncracies of the characters. They do not deal with universal human weaknesses or general problems. Their characters do not belong to the class of intellectuals, statesmen, thinkers, philosophers, artists, or musicians.
Excellent Story Tellers
Though Victorian novelists do not aim at presenting human passions, they have the distinctive quality of being excellent storytellers. The plots of their novels may be improbable, but they can keep the readers engaged till the end. Commenting on this feature of the Victorian novel David Cecil says
that in it, “A hundred different types and classes, persons and nationalities jostle each other across the shadow screen of our imagination.” The best examples of such novels are David Copperfield and Vanity Fair.
Large Range of Mood
Victorian novelists are the authors of varied moods. They deal equally with realism and fantasy. They write indiscriminately about all aspects of society. “They write equally for the train journey and for all time; they crowd realism and fantasy, thrills, and theories, knock out farce and effects of pure aesthetic beauty, cheek by jowl on the same page.”
Victorian novelists possess the quality of creative imagination which, in ample measure works on their personal experience. Their novels are works of art, not craft. The real world presented by them and colored by imagination is not a photograph but a picture. Sometimes the picture is romantic and fanciful, at other times it is real and factual colored only by the novelists, individual idiosyncrasies, and experiences. They use the real world to create their own world.
The Entertainment Value of the Element of Humour
Since Victorian novelists are good storytellers, their novels make for interesting reading. Though their plots are faulty yet they possess great entertainment value. Every reader is eager to know what is going to happen further. He does not want to divert his attention from the novel till it is finished. All the great Victorian novelists are humorists, and each is a humorist in a style of his own.
Dramatic and Picturesque Incident
The creative imagination of Victorian novelists enables them to invent dramatic and picturesque incidents. Highlighting the importance of the invention of scenes and actions in Victorian novels, David Cecil writes that, “As a picture is an invention of time and color, so are these brilliant inventions of scene and action.” The incidents and the stories of the Victorian novels haunt the memory of the readers because they have been made dramatic and picturesque by the imagination of the author.
Although some of the characters in the Victorian novels are wooden puppets yet there are other ones who are real, living, and smart human beings. They contribute to the creation of humor either through dialogues or situations. They are immortal personages who linger in the memory even after the actual incident of the novel has disappeared from the mind.
Dickens as a Typical Victorian Novelist
Charles Dickens is the representative novelist of the Victorian age. Previous to his day, novelists only wrote of the life and adventures of the rich and aristocratic sections of society. Dickens was the first to introduce to the reading public, the life of the poor and the oppressed. It was with the publication of his novel Pickwick Papers in the year 1837 that this young writer of twenty-five years of age sprang suddenly into fame. He found himself the most popular of English novelists. Though he maintained the tradition of Smolet, he had a marked sense of humor and his appeal is to the heart rather than to the head. In short, he is a typical Victorian novelist.
Dickens read with great enthusiasm the novels of Smollet and regarded him as his master. He began his early novels Pickward Papers and Nicholas Nickleby in the tradition of Smollet. These novels, like his master’s novels, have loose plots. They may be called the bundles of adventures loosely connected. Their stories consist of a large variety of characters and incidents. There are episodes of mistaken identity, long-lost heirs, mysterious situations intrigues, and paraphernalia of romance. In Bleak House, there is a systematic attempt to connect the diverse trends of the story into a coherent plot. But it cannot be accepted that Dickens is a good artist.
Weakness and Strength Mixed
In novels of Dickens, there is a curious mixture of strengths and weaknesses. “There is hardly any book of Dickens in which there is not much false sentiment, false melodrama, and wooden characters.”
Dickens does not possess the gift of compact, logical, or artistic writing. “The type of narrative which best suits his inventive genius savors very much of the old picaresque model”…
Dickens’ pathos is overdone and exaggerated. He always tries to present it in a greater measure than it actually is. When we refer to the case of little Emily, we come to know that “Dickens not only underlines the pathos in the situation, he tries to increase it by the addition of foreign elements.”
Limitation of Subject-matter and Characterization
Dickens suffers from all the limitations of the Victorian novel. He does not touch many important aspects of human life. He shrinks from religion, politics, sex, human passions, art, and public affairs. His view of life seems to be partial and one-sided.
His art of characterization is faulty. The good is good, through and through; the bad is entirely bad. They have been presented as conventional characters, however, exceptions are there.
Incapable of Real Tragedy
Dickens’s novels lack the spirit of real tragedy because they do not rouse the emotions of pity and fear in the hearts of the audience. He may be good at comedy but he is not a good tragedy writer. It is because his pathos is overdone. So, he is unable to stir the profound feelings for which a tragedy is written.
Dickens’s range is limited in regard to plot, characterization, subject matter, and theme. “There are no intellectuals, no statesmen, and no artist among them. Deeper issues of human life are of no concern to them…he fails to draw an intellectual successfully, and he is no good, as a gentleman.’
A Good Story Teller
Dickens may fail to construct good plots, and he may fail to go beyond the limited range of subject matter but he cannot fail to be a good storyteller. He had the double distinction of being the best, storyteller of his time and the most versatile and amusing creator of characters. His motto was to let the story tell itself and in him “fiction was almost for the first time completely differentiated from history, philosophy, memoir, and moral essay.”
Morality and Pathos
Dickens is a true Victorian novelist in the sense that his narratives are colored with morality or pathos which have been dramatized in a peculiar way. His pathos, as we have discussed, heightens the sentimental tone. It is generally overdone.
The early circumstances of Dickens’ life have become an integral part of the themes of his novels. All the surroundings that contributed to the growth of Dickens have found expression in his novels under various names and symbols. Stray references to his parents, grandparents, maternal grandfather, and their wretched lodgings, are sufficient to prove that his bitter experiences of childhood days lingered in his memory when he wrote his novels.
Soft Corner for Children
Dickens is very kind and considerate to little boys and little girls. We are reminded of his delightful little Emily and Pip. He never misses any opportunity for painting the miseries of children. David Copperfield raises his voice against child labor and demanded reform of schools. He openly protects the innocence of childhood and the purity of womanhood.
Charles Dickens is a great humorist. Humour prevails upon him and he prevails upon humor. It was as a humorist that he made his name and fame. Humour is the soul of his work. He has created an immortal character in his novels, who provide sufficient laughter and merriment to the readers. Pickwick papers and David Copperfield abound in a number of humorous situations, however, there are some glimpses of farce too.
But the difference between farce and humor is quite obvious the worst type of humor is likely to resemble farce. In Nicholas Nickleby “Madam Mantalini wrung her hand for grief and rung the bell for her husband; which done she fell into a chair and a fainting fit simultaneously.” In Mantalini, we find nothing inspiring. On the other hand, both Tony and Sam Waller are humorous characters. They throw light on human nature. They present true humor which suggests a thought.
Commenting on farcical situations in the scene between little David Copperfield and the waiter in David Copperfield Gissing writes, “Farce, though very good; country innkeepers were never in the habit of setting a dish-load of cutlets before a little boy who wanted dinner, and not the shrewdest of waiters, of having devoured them all, could make people believe that it was the little boy’s achievement;
but the comic vigor of the thing is irresistible.” Curiously enough, Dickens had remarkable acquaintance with the inn waiters and his waiters are always entertaining. True humor pervades all the smallest objects and scenes if handled carefully.
As an Improviser: Picaresque Novels
Dickens’ novels of the first half of his career have ill-constructed plots. They may be read and remembered not as wholes but as episodes. In fact, his earlier novels are picaresque novels in which “The hero usually sets out on a journey.
What is important in such novels is what happens to the hero on the journey; or rather simply what happens and whom he meets.” This type of his novel represents only one aspect of his art. Even he received an immediate response from his readers because it contained something for everyone. Nicholas Nickleby and Martin Chuzzlewit are the best examples.
In spite of several faults in Dickens’ novels, there is background the belief that he is a typical Victorian novelist. He is not only the most famous of the Victorian novelists, but he is also the most distinguished of the writers previous to his age,
Who were famous Victorian writers?
Some famous Victorian writers include:
Edgar Allan Poe
Who are the best-known Victorian poets?
Some of the best-known Victorian poets are:
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Edgar Allan Poe
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Who was the first Victorian poet?
The first Victorian poet was Alfred Lord Tennyson. He was born in 1809 and became Poet Laureate in 1850. He is known for his poetry collections, including “In Memoriam” and “Idylls of the King,” and his poems such as “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “Crossing the Bar.”
What is Victorian poetry known for?
Victorian poetry is known for its focus on social and moral issues, as well as its use of traditional poetic forms and techniques. Victorian poets often explored themes of love, loss, and the human condition, and their work often reflects the values and beliefs of the Victorian era. Many Victorian poets were also interested in exploring the relationship between the individual and society, and their work often reflects their concerns about social justice and the role of the individual in the world. Victorian poetry is also known for its use of imagery and symbolism, and many Victorian poets were skilled at using language to create vivid and evocative descriptions of the natural world and human emotions.