Jane Austen is the first great English woman novelist. She raised the whole genre to a new level of art. Though, she wrote her novels in the troubled years of the French Revolution, which present calm pictures of social life. In her novel she shows a remarkable insight into the relation between social convention and individual temperament. Some of her great novels include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion and so on. She brought the novel of manners and family life to its highest point of perfection. Her novels have nothing to do with the ugliness of the outside world. Her knowledge of social life was very deep and true. She has painted her characters in a remarkable way, but the young men in her novels are less attractive.
Sir Walter Scott
He is known as the founder of the historical novel. In his work we find a deep sense of Scottish history and nationalism. At first, he tried to write poetry but soon discovered that he couldn’t write good poetry. Then he turned away from it, studied the works of other novelists and himself began to write novels. Perhaps Waverley is his first novel. Some of his other well known novels are Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, Old Mortality, Wood Stock and so on. His novels tell the stories of history, but they lack depth and interest. Sometimes his style is heavy and difficult because of the use of flowery language and Scottish dialect.
He is one of the greatest English novelists. He gave the English novel and new life, place and importance. His novels reveal the social evils of his time caused by the industrial development in England. He had a keen eye for lively characters and colorful urban life. Some of his major novels are Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby and so on. Most of his novels are crowded with characters like hungry children, thieves, murderers, men in debt, poor and dirty men and women. Unpleasant situations, sad and miserable scenes are very common with them. However, he has presented the exact picture of social evils, and in a deep sense, he had a corrective desire behind his writing.
William Makepeace Thackeray
Thackeray imitated the tradition of Fielding and Goldsmith. His novels are concerned with the higher state of life and people instead of poor. He presents the picture of eighteenth-century English society. His characters are not produced in order to express violent feelings, but we find strange qualities in his characters. His best known novel Vanity Fair is about the adventure of two girls. Apart from his historical novels he wrote Pendennis and The Newcomes.
She lived a lonely life in a village in Yorkshire. She was sensitive, passionate and sensuous by temperament. But she was involved in the external world more than her sister Emily. The Professor her first novel describes the events in the life of a schoolmaster in Brussels city. Her best novel is Jane Eyre. It is about a poor and ugly girl who is brought up by a cruel aunt. She is treated badly by her aunt and sent to a miserable school. As a private teacher, she goes to teach the daughter of Mr. Rochester and falls in love with him. When she knows that his wife is still alive, she leaves the house. Later on, she knows about his wife’s death and his miserable condition. Then she returns there, marries him and shares his sorrows. At times, we find the expression of strong feelings. In spite of its unattractive heroine, it is very successful novel. Her other novels are not so much remarkable.
She also passed a lonely life like her sister Charlotte. She wrote one of the greatest English novels, Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff, a passionate boy falls in love with Catherine. She ignores him and marries Edgar. Then Heathcliff begins a life of cruelly and revenge. He marries Edgar’s sister and treats her very cruelly. The novel is full of uncontrolled passions and emotions. The story of the novel is concerned with two families. Because of its strong emotional quality the novel has been compared to Shakespeare’s King Lear. In the opinion of some critics, no woman could have written it; but others say one man could not have written all the plays of Shakespeare! In fact, her only novel Wuthering Heights hold an important position in history of the English novel.
He was born and brought up in Poland. Nearly at the age of twenty-three, he went to Britain, picked up the English language and joined the British Navy. He had widely traveled in many places. His novels are written in his fine style better than many Englishmen. He had a good sense of loyalty and endurance which he considered to be the essential qualities of human being. In his novels, he has shown how the lack of faithfulness and morality and material greed corrupts human being and human relations. Usually his language is difficult and his outlook is very broad. His best novels are Lord Jim, The Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes, Heart of Darkness and Typhoon.
He is a great novelist of unusual power and integrity who added a new dimension to the familiar realism of the Victorian novel. His novels are set mostly among the trees, low hills, farms and fields of Wessex (the county of Dorset). His novels catch the picture of local color. The indifferent attitude of nature towards human happiness and destiny and mostly pictures of human beings struggling against their fate are the main facts underlying in all the novels of Hardy.
Hardy’s fourth novel Far From the Madding Crowd takes a closer look at the nature and consequences of human emotions. Its theme is the contrast between patient and generous devotion and selfish passion. Bathsheba Everdene is betrayed by the false love of Sergeant Troy. On the other hand, Gabriel Oak a shepherd loves her truly and remains loyal to her. At least his faithfulness is rewarded and he is married to Bathsheba Everdene. The novel has a beautiful pastoral setting. The human struggle against their blind faith has been finely portrayed in the novel.
The Mayor of Casterbridge shows a greater mastery of Hardy’s material than can be found in his other mature novels. It is genuine tragedy and most perfectly written work of Hardy. It presents the tragic story of Michael, who is destroyed by his excessive drinking habit. In the fit of drinking, he sells his wife and children for some money. Later he regrets for his mistake and gives up drinking. He becomes a rich man through hard work and is made The Mayor of Casterbridge. But when his wife returns after many years, he begins drinking again and dies miserably.
Among his other tragic novels, Tess of the D’ Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure are famous. Hardy also wrote a few novels of romance, which include A Pair of Blue Eyes and The Trumpet Major.
The Women Novelists of the Nineteenth Century
The Victorian Age is a great age of women novelists. Though Jane Austen started writing at the end of the eighteenth century, her important novels were written in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Austen’s novels are calm pictures of society life. She perfected the novel of family life. She had a true and deep knowledge of the social life of the English middle classes. She created living characters. Her plot construction, her characterization, her irony and satire made her a great novelist. Her first novel was Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811. Later came Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Mary Shelly, the wife of the famous poet P.B. Shelley, wrote a famous novel of terror Frankenstein in 1818. It was started as a ghost story. The Genevan student Frankenstein makes a human body and given it life. Because of its ugliness, the monster becomes lonely and destructive. Her The Last Man (1826) was about the slow destruction of the human race by disease.
Charlotte Bronte was brought up in Yorkshire in poor surroundings. She wrote her first novel The Professor (1846) in Brussels. Her next novel Villette was an autobiographical novel about a beauty less and moneyless teacher. Her finest novel Jane Eire also described the life of a poor and beautiful girl. Along with historical tradition, her novels have a mixture of realism and romance.
Charlotte’s sisters Emily Bronte and Anne Bronte also wrote novels. Emily wrote one of the greatest of English novels Wuthering Heights. It is a tragic novel of love, revenge and cruelty. Anne Bronte, the youngest, wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of the Wildfall Hall.
George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, who wrote intellectual novels. Her first novel Adam Bede (1859) was influenced by her childhood memories. He had the ability to draw characters and describe scenes skillfully. She also had pity and humor. Her other novels are The Mill on the Floss, Silas Mariner, the historical novel Romola, and Middlemarch.
Mrs. Elisabeth Gaskell used the novel as a medium of social reform. Her famous novel Cranford (1853) was a fine picture of life in a village. Her other novel Mary Barton showed deep feelings for the poor people working in the factories. Ruth was a story of an orphan girl. North and South showed the comparative English lives, the poor north and the happy south.