Top 5 Victorian Novels

L’età vittoriana fu un periodo storico prolifico per la letteratura del Regno Unito grazie al progresso portato dalla Rivoluzione industriale. Ecco cinque dei romanzi vittoriani tra i più amati.

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Charlotte Brontë

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Victorian Britain saw a boom in books and many of the classics written then are still favourites today. The hunger for buying and reading fiction during Queen Victoria’s reign (from 1837 to 1901) can be explained by the huge social changes that were taking place. For the first time, more people were living in urban areas than in the country and, thanks to compulsory education, more people could read than ever before. It was also getting much easier to print books cheaply and distribute them because of mechanisation and the railway network. The market for affordable fiction expanded rapidly. And then public libraries opened where people could borrow books for free. Victorian fiction went viral!

Serial drama

Many Victorian readers enjoyed their fiction in serialised form through weekly or monthly magazines that published stories one chapter at a time. The complete story was usually printed in book form later but the first readers had to read in instalments as each new chapter appeared. For example, all Charles Dickens’ novels were published first in serial form. 

Here are five classic novels from the Victorian era that are still loved today. You might notice that several involve orphans, class and marriage. That’s no coincidence; these were among the key themes in Victorian fiction.

1. Jane Eyre(1847) by Charlotte Brontë

Jane is an orphan who, having survived a hard childhood, becomes a governess in the house of Mr. Rochester. Jane and Rochester eventually decide to get married despite the class difference. But Rochester is hiding a secret —a wife he keeps locked in the attic! Jane is horrified and runs away. A priest called St. John asks Jane to marry him but her passion for Rochester is too strong. Written under the male pseudonym Currer Bell, thus preserving Charlotte Brontë’s initials, Jane Eyre was an instant hit with the critics.

2. WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1847) by Emily Brontë

This novel by Charlotte Brontë’s sister Emily is also full of passion but is darker and more disturbing than Jane Eyre. Set on the wild Yorkshire moors, where the Brontë sisters lived, Wuthering Heights follows the obsessive relationship between a mysterious orphan called Heathcliff and his adoptive sister Cathy. The action involves violent physical and sexual revenge, haunting and even necrophilia. When it first appeared under the male pseudonym Ellis Bell, thus preserving Emily Brontë’s initials, many critics expressed shock at the content.

3. David Copperfield (1849-50)by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield is orphaned aged ten and must learn to survive in a world of larger-than-life characters. We meet, among others, his evil stepfather Edward Murdstone, the devoted housekeeper Peggotty, his eccentric great-aunt Betsey Trotwood, and Mr. Micawber, who is kind but financially incompetent. Dickens wrote that David Copperfield was his favourite novel and there are some elements that are clearly autobiographical. Note that David’s initials (D.C.) are those of Charles Dickens (C.D.) in reverse.

4. Middlemarch (1871-72) by George Eliot 

This long, complex novel is set in a fictional English town in the early 1830s and tells the interlinking stories of various middle-class families. Mary Ann Evans wrote the book under the male pseudonym George Eliot to escape from the conventions that restricted many female writers. Unlike many novels of the time, which ended happily with characters getting married, Eliot focuses on how marriage can be disastrous if entered into for the wrong reasons.

5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy 

Tess Durbeyfield is a beautiful but poor village girl who is sent by her family to the house of the upper-class D’Urbervilles. There, Tess is raped and gives birth to a child who soon dies. Later, Tess marries a man called Angel Clare, but when he finds out about Tess’ past, he’s horrified. The tragic and shocking finale occurs at Stonehenge. As in all Hardy’s novels, the rural landscape of Dorset in South-West England plays an important role.

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