19th Century Writers
From thoughts about the poor, to expressed nationalism, to reaching for the stars!
From how to treat the poor to the pompous nature of the evolving middle class to reach out to other worlds. All this and much, much more occurred in literature of the 19th Century.
There was the legends of King Arthur and his knights which were first expressed in the 19th Century in poetry by greats such as Walter Scott and then in the novel form. In 1889 Mark Twain's darkly humorous A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court came out.
Walter Scott wrote historic fiction with a sense of Victorian patriotism in such works as Ivanhoe (1819), in which Robin Hood makes an appearance, The Talisman (1825), involving Richard the Lionheart.
The 19th Century saw a hunger for books and for learning in general that hadn't been there before. If it had been there before then it could not be adequately expressed until this time in our collective history.
Education was on the rise. Generally, it had been agreed that every child in the western world should somehow be given the change to learn how to read and write.
More women were not only reading but also writing. Publishers seeing the rise in female literacy, wanted to more and more cater to their needs.
In many countries more and more state run libraries were emerging. What's more, it had been discovered that not only were men reading the novel but also large numbers of women.
It really wasn't the done thing for a publisher at the beginning of the 19th Century to have women writers. It was a male province. Some had women writers anyway.
The questions of health versus progress offered up by the ongoing Industrial Revolution would find their way into the novel.
Science and new scientific approaches to life would also be included. God verses science was also there. Could man, in his new approaches to science, go too far and bring hell down upon his own head? Mary Shelley explored this in her novel Frankenstein.
As sail gave way to steam, overseas travel became more affordable. Ordinary people could not only dream of going to far distant places but save up to do so. Some parts of the world were still financially out of reach for ordinary people but that's where the novel and also travel books came in.
It was theoretically possible to travel around the world in eighty days and Jules Verne wrote a novel expressing this wonderful possibility.
Travel by rail meant it was possible for the lower classes to holiday by the sea or in the mountains of your own country, away from city and big town squalor. All of this could and was expressed in the novel.
In the 19th Century some American authors stopped imitating British and European writers, the best striking off boldly in new, fantastic directions.
In other words, some time during the 19th Century, the writers of the USA lost their cultural cringe. The writer who led the way named himself Mark Twain.
Please note, though, that the 18th Century ended with readers enjoying plenty of Gothic romance and horror. Understandably, the 19th Century started with more fresh Gothic romance and horror on offer to eager readers.
Perhaps the most famous of the early 19th Century Gothic novels was actually written by a young woman. Her name was Mary Shelley and the novel was Frankenstein or The modern Prometheus (1818).
It is a work that questions the science of her day and where it might lead. Mary and her husband poet, Percy, were very much 19th Century Romantics wary of what the future might hold for humanity.
The main character of the book, Victor Frankenstein, goes too far in creating his monster then neglecting to take responsibility for what he had done. One result of what he did and the things he failed to do was the murder of the innocent.
In 1827 The Mummy by Jane C. Loudon saw print in three volumes for the first time. Unlike the creature Mary Shelley's Victor von Frankenstein had put together, however, the mummy Cheops is more the ancient philosopher than the death dealer after his life in the then present commences.
There were mummies from Egypt unwrapped in England to interested audiences in the 19th Century. This and the success of Napoleon's scientists in Egypt (1798 - 1801) had made the public curious about things Egyptian.
Up until the 19th Century tales about werewolves tended to feature the male transforming from man to wolf-man. In 1839, Frederick Marryatt's The Phantom Ship, which in one chapter features a female werewolf, saw print.
By the 1830s, cheap publications aimed at the working class known as Penny Dreadfuls began to make horror cheap, nasty and available to a wider audience.
A late entry into the horror of 19th Century writing was Bram Stoker's Dracula.
There was a time when vampires were predominantly female. Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer (1847) was an offshoot of the penny dreadfuls and made the male vampire a touch more appealing to female readers.
Dracula came out in 1897 and paved the way for the male vampire well into the 20th Century. Dracula even appeared in an episode of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was considered by Buffy to be a celebrity fang merchant.
How to Improve the Empire!
THE VICTORIAN AGE
Queen Victoria's reign over Britain and also the then growing British Empire began in 1837 and ended in 1901. She was empress of India from 1876 to 1901. This then was the Victorian Age.
It was an age marked with great change in politics and governing policy. Also there were great movements in art and commerce.
Science moved at a greater pace than in the past and the general public ran to catch up to it. Steam was the driving force. What steam could do was the wonder of the age.
The role of religion changed. Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species came out in 1859. Also what readers expected out of the novel was altering.
During the Victorian Age, the break away colonies that had formed the USA were developing in earnest their own brand of the English language. In some instances, this was done either in defiance or without much care as to whether or not the people living in the 'mother' country approved.
During the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, there was the possibility of an uprising equivalent to, and just as bloody, as the French Revolution had been.
There were minor uprisings in the countryside over protectionist policies that made grain imported from the European continent more expensive but nothing major. In the end, there was reform. This included better food, working conditions and, eventually, better housing for the working classes.
There were writers who wrote, throughout the 19th Century, about how bad conditions for the working man had become.
By shining a light on the poor, it was hoped that remedies would at least be tried. By the end of the Victorian age, there was still a great deal of poverty in England let alone the rest of the British Empire. Even so, some strides had been made to improve the lot of the working classes.
It is perhaps best to start with Charles Dickens who became a popular writer at the very beginning of Queen Victoria's reign and had much to say in his writings about conditions in Britain.
The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, like many of his novels, first came out in sections as an ongoing serial. It appeared in Bentley's Miscellany (1837 - 1839). In 1838, before the completion of this first serial run, it was bound up and sold as a novel. It also had a further serial run.
This novel by Charles Dickens, which pointed to the cruelties inflicted on the young in workhouses, touched the public. This was very much a social novel with a message to the general public.
Charles Dickens had suffered poverty in his former years and so knew how to write about it in a compelling way. Were the poor responsible for the way they lived?
Dickens felt that if he could rise above the conditions he was once forced to live under then others might also be able to do the same. Hence for Dickens the answer was no. Poverty wasn't set in stone and those living in poverty, such as young children, were not responsible for their condition. With the right guidance someone like Oliver Twist could most definitely improve his lot.
Possibly the most beloved of Charles Dickens' fiction are the Christmas stories starting with A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Heath (1845) and The Battle of Life (1846). There is also The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1848).
In my opinion A Christmas Carol and The Cricket on the Heath stand tall above the others. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge the old miser is visited first by his dead partner and then by three spirits that represent the Christmas seasons.
In the end the miser is given the chance to repent his wicked ways and become more in tune with his fellow human beings. There have been a great many television and movie version of A Christmas Carol. There is even a recent Doctor Who version.
One of Charles Dickens more colorful novels was A Tale of Two Cities (1859) which dealt with two men who looked somewhat alike but came from entirely different backgrounds.
It was set during the French Revolution. The question of nobility arises and its overall meaning. Apparently there are good aristocrats as well as bad ones and, when push comes to shove, even someone not of noble birth can act in a very noble fashion.
William Makepeace Thackeray was another writer who did not feel that all the members of the middle class and aristocracy were necessarily born brilliant or necessarily managed to achieve brilliance. Where you are placed in society then become the luck of the draw of where and how you were born. He had a fondness for writing about intelligent upstarts that tended to put the wind up the more pompous members of the better classes.
In his famous novel, Vanity Fair (1848), Thackeray offers the reader Becky Sharp, a young lower class woman who manages to continually run rings around her so-called betters in both words and deeds.
Literature specifically written for children came to the fore during the Victorian age. There was Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes (1857) and was based on the author's own experiences as a school boy. Study,prayer and cricket were considered by Hughes to be the stuff that turns boys into men.
There were the marvelous Alice books by Lewis Carroll starting with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Here we have a writer experimenting and having at the same time with the language. Surrealism wasn't a term kicking around at this time.
Even so, the Alice books do have some wondrous surrealist moments. A present day surrealist writer friend of mine living in Scotland, Neil K. Henderson, has come up with the theory that the famous Cheshire cat that haunts Wonderland may have arisen out of a cat stamp used on Cheshire cheese as proof that it came from Cheshire.
The idea of the Cheshire cat might relate further to the notion of the cat getting the cream since Cheshire cheese apparently was and is very creamy.
As a writer I have been inspired by the Alice books and came up with Desk Job in which strange creatures are created by distrust in a politically correct environment.
One of the best writers of the late Victorian Age was Rudyard Kipling. He traveled a great deal and had his own adventures on the high seas, in India and in the USA.
Set to begin with off the coast of Newfoundland, one of his best novels was Captains Courageous (1897) about the spoiled son of a railway tycoon and how he was transformed into a decent chap by sailors on a fishing vessel.
Rudyard Kipling's Kim, about a white lad who travels across 19th Century India, came out in 1901. Both Kim and the Kipling's Jungle Books are forever connected to the Boy Scout movement. They are also works that pull few punches as to what life was really like in India in Kipling's day.
Toward the end of the 19th Century, science fiction was taking off. It was being spearheaded by two men. One was a French fellow by the name of Jules Verne.
Verne's most famous novels include: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870).
The other man was English and his name was H. G. Wells. Of the novels Wells wrote the most significant and memorable are possibly: The Time Machine (1895), The War of the Worlds (1898), and The Shape of Things to Come (1933). Among other things, science fiction provided new ways to comment in writing about society and where society was headed.
Of the 19th Century writers dealing with romance and social order, the Bronte sisters are perhaps the most well remembered. Like many female authors of the day, they wrote at first under assumed male pen names. As it turned out, 1847 was a big year for them.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte came out in 1847. It follows the adventures of a young woman which includes her education and her employment as a governess. Then there is her love for her employer and her eventual marriage. The novel explores various elements in society including sexuality. She dedicated the novel's second edition to fellow author William Makepeace Thackeray.
Emily Bronte's wind swept novel, Wuthering Heights, also came out in 1847. It is a work full of mystery and intrigue. It is principally about a man who makes good, Heathcliff, but who cannot leave or is not permitted to leave, the past alone.
Agnes Bronte's Agnes Grey made its first appearance in 1847 and dealt in some detail with what it is like to deal day after day with unruly Victorian upper class children.
From following Britain's lead to Striking out on your own
19th CENTURY USA
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper first came out in 1826. It is set during the fighting between the French and the English on American soil in the mid-1800s and should read like a rollicking good adventure. Unfortunately, the dialogue is rather stilted as if the writer is trying to please not only an American audience but a British one as well.
The writing of Edgar Allen Poe was not quite as inflexible in the dialogue department as that of James Fenimore Cooper but still there was that air of Europe and/ or of Britain about much of it. There were, of course, short stories set in Europe in a past age such as The Masque of the Red Death (1842) and The Cask of Amontillado (1846). There is marvelous innovation in The Tell-Tale Heart (1843) but nothing about it insists that it really had to be set in the USA. Growing up, I actually thought Edgar Allen Poe was a British writer.
Needless to say, I was surprised when I discovered Poe was actually an American.
He was born in Boston. Possibly the only work of Poe's that comes close to having an American flavor is his only complete novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). It provides the reader with the adventures and misadventures of a stowaway on a whaling ship,
Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850) was a step in the right direction. It was full of criticism for the unbending and sometimes horrific version of fanatical Christianity that came to America with the Puritans. Set in the 17th Century, it is a tale of adultery and of guilt on a grand scale. The scarlet letter A represents adultery.
Set during the American Civil War, Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is a very different look for its time at warfare. Today the elements of realism within it are still moving. It follows the adventures but more importantly the misadventures of a young private in his first major battle. Swear words were not permitted in novels at this time so Crane made up his own. Here the flavor is definitely American.
The writing of Mark Twain was the big breakthrough. Here there was a writer who wrote unashamedly in a fresh American style that was as close to 100 percent USA as you could get in the 19th Century.
There were critics in his day who hated Twain for his use of American expressions and slang of the day. There are also critics in the present who are not keen on him for doing this as well.
Twain took plain American talk and put it into various books. This had been done before in England with English talk. But the plain talk in Mark Twain's books was definitely American.
Possibly his most famous and controversial work (it was banned in parts of the South and there are those who would like to see it banned today) remains Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (first published in 1884 UK and Canada and in 1885 USA).
The Bulletin and Steele Rudd
19TH CENTURY AUSTRALIA
In the late 19th Century Australia was headed for federation. The various colonies that made up Australia would be united in 1901. There was a certain colonial pride turning national in this period. The Bulletin magazine provided a source of income and a launching site for many an Australian writer of the day.
For the Term of his Natural Life by Marcus Clarke came out in 1870. It dealt with Australia's convict past. A young man is transported for a murder he did not commit. Mentioned in some detail is the penal settlement in Tasmania which was the harshest of places for convicts in the early days.
Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood (1888) takes in the days of the gold fields and the highwaymen. There is also daring cattle theft. Featured are the exploits of the notorious bushranger, Captain Starlight.
Of the better writers pushing for a national identity, there was novelist Steele Rudd with his On Our Selection (1899). This novel was full of great Australian humor that had a great feel for the country as well as country life. Australians could laugh along with the antics of Dad and Dave.
It should here be noted that there were radical from Ireland who were sent out to New south Wales, Australia in the early days as convicts because they believed in an Ireland free of English rule.
Writers Wrote about Slavery, the Industrial Revolution and the Serial Killer
The British banned slavery in Britain and in the British empire long before slavery came to an end in the USA. For the USA there had to be a terrible civil war.
The 19th Century was a time of turmoil. The Industrial revolution in Britain and elsewhere created the type of pollution never before encountered by humanity. Poets and novelists reacted to it. Some harked back to an earlier, more pleasant seeming age while others attacked the bad conditions being created by it.
One thing that did come out of the industrial revolution that is still with us is the modern serial killer.
Readership had expanded greatly thanks in part to chap books. This meant writers could not only cater for the tastes in literature for the middle and upper classes but also for the lower classes as well. Dickens, for example, was read widely by all classes.
There is a great deal of material that could have been included in this romp through the 19th Century. Choices had to be made. I hope you found the read enjoyable and that I may have touched upon at least one of your favorite 19th Century novels.
More by this Author
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.
The Great Gatsby, The Red Badge of Courage, A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, Brave New World, 1984, Story of O, Tender is the Night, Wasp, Dune, Twilight Healer, A Study in Scarlet, Dracula, Jazz.
The 20th Century, Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Cold War, H. G. Wells, A Woman of Mars, The Hulk, Ian Fleming, Tarzan, A Clockwork Orange, Agatha Christie, Biggles.