XIX Century Literature
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Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812-1870), probably the best-known and, to many people, the greatest English novelist of the 19th century. A moralist, satirist, and social reformer, Dickens crafted complex plots and striking characters that capture the panorama of English society.
XIX Century Literature
1. Charles Dickens
2. George Bernard Shaw
3. John Galsworthy
1. Charles Dickens
Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812-1870), probably the best-known and, to many people, the greatest English novelist of the 19th century. A moralist, satirist, and social reformer, Dickens crafted complex plots and striking characters that capture the panorama of English society. He ranks as one of the most popular writers in the history of world literature. Although Dickens typically weaved social criticism, strong character development, and powerful detail into novels about contemporary 19th-century society, the same revealing qualities go into A Tale of Two Cities (1859), one of his infrequent ventures into historical fiction. A Tale of Two Cities takes place during the French Revolution. The books opening lines, recited by an actor, set a tone of ambiguity for the story of a mans discovery of his own conscience in the midst of tumultuous historical forces:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope it was the winter of despair . . . From The Tale of Two Cities
Dickenss novels criticize the injustices of his time, especially the brutal treatment of the poor in a society sharply divided by differences of wealth. But he presents this criticism through the lives of characters that seem to live and breathe. Paradoxically, they often do so by being flamboyantly larger than life: The 20th-century poet and critic T. S. Eliot wrote, “Dickenss characters are real because there is no one like them.” Yet though these characters range through the sentimental, grotesque, and humorous, few authors match Dickenss psychological realism and depth. Dickenss novels rank among the funniest and most gripping ever written, among the most passionate and persuasive on the topic of social justice, and among the most psychologically telling and insightful works of fiction. They are also some of the most masterful works in terms of artistic form, including narrative structure, repeated motifs, consistent imagery, juxtaposition of symbols, stylization of characters and settings, and command of language.
Dickens established (and made profitable) the method of first publishing novels in serial installments in monthly magazines. He thereby reached a larger audience including those who could only afford their reading on such an installment plan. This form of publication soon became popular with other writers in Britain and the United States.
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, on Englands southern coast. His father was a clerk in the British Navy pay officea respectable position, but with little social status. His paternal grandparents, a steward (property manager) and a housekeeper, possessed even less status, having been servants, and Dickens later concealed their background. Dickenss mother supposedly came from a more respectable family. Yet two years before Dickenss birth, his mothers father was caught embezzling and fled to Europe, never to return.
The familys increasing poverty forced Dickens out of school at age 12 to work in Warrens Blacking Warehouse, a shoe-polish factory, where the other working boys mocked him as “the young gentleman.” His father was then imprisoned for debt. The humiliations of his fathers imprisonment and his labor in the blacking factory formed Dickenss greatest wound and became his deepest secret. He could not confide them even to his wife, although they provide the unacknowledged foundation of his fiction.
Soon after his fathers release from prison, Dickens got a better job as errand boy in law offices. He taught himself shorthand to get an even better job later as a court stenographer and as a reporter in Parliament. At the same time, Dickens, who had a reporters eye for transcribing the life around him, especially anything comic or odd, submitted short sketches to obscure magazines. The first published sketch, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” (later retitled “Mr. Minns and His Cousin”) brought tears to Dickenss eyes when he discovered it in the pages of The Monthly Magazine in 1833. From then on his sketches, which appeared under the pen name “Boz” (rhymes with “rose”) in The Evening Chronicle, earned him a modest reputation. Boz originated as a childhood nickname for Dickenss younger brother Augustus.
Dickens became a regular visitor at the home of George Hogarth, editor of The Evening Chronicle, and in 1835 became engaged to Hogarths daughter Catherine. Publication of the collected Sketches by Boz in 1836 gave Dickens sufficient income to marry Catherine Hogarth that year. The marriage proved unhappy.
Soon after Sketches by Boz appeared, the fledgling publishing firm of Chapman and Hall approached Dickens to write a story in monthly installments. The publisher intended the story as a backdrop for a series of woodcuts by the then-famous artist Robert Seymour, who had originated the idea for the story. With characteristic confidence, Dickens, although younger and relatively unknown, successfully insisted that Seymours pictures illustrate his own story instead. After the first installment, Dickens wrote to the artist he had displaced to correct a drawing he felt was not faithful enough to his prose. Seymour made the change, went into his backyard, and expressed his displeasure by blowing his brains out. Dickens and his publishers simply pressed on with a new artist. The comic novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, appeared serially in 1836 and 1837 and was first published in book form in 1837.
The runaway success of The Pickwick Papers, as it is generally known today, clinched Dickenss fame. There were Pickwick coats and Pickwick cigars, and the plump, spectacled hero, Samuel Pickwick, became a national figure. Four years later, Dickenss readers found Dolly Varden, the heroine of Barnaby Rudge (1841), so irresistible that they named a waltz, a rose, and even a trout for her. The widespread familiarity today with Ebenezer Scrooge and his proverbial hard-heartedness from A Christmas Carol (1843) demonstrate that Dickenss characters live on in the popular imagination.
Dickens published 15 novels, one of which was left unfinished at his death. These novels are, in order of publication with serialization dates given first: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-1837; 1837); The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1837-1839; 1838); The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839; 1839); The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841; 1841); Barnaby Rudge (1841); The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844; 1844); Dombey and Son (1846-1848; 1848); The Personal History of David Copperfield (1849-1850; 1850); Bleak House (1852-1853; 1853); Hard Times (1854); Little Dorrit (1855-1857; 1857); A Tale of Two Cities (1859); Great Expectations (1860-1861; 1861); Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865; 1865); and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished; 1870).
Through his fiction Dickens did much to highlight the worst abuses of 19th-century society and to prick the public conscience. But running through the main plot of the novels are a host of subplots concerning fascinating and sometime ludicrous minor characters. Much of the humor of the novels derives from Dickenss descriptions of these characters and from his ability to capture their speech mannerisms and idiosyncratic traits.
Dickens was influenced by the reading of his youth and even by the stories his nursemaid created, such as the continuing saga of Captain Murderer. These childhood stories, as well as the melodramas and pantomimes he saw in the theater as a boy, fired Dickenss imagination throughout his life. His favorite boyhood readings included picaresque novels such as Don Quixote by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes and Tom Jones by English novelist Henry Fielding, as well as the Arabian Nights. In these long comic works, a roguish heros exploits and adventures loosely link a series of stories.
The Pickwick Papers, for example, is a wandering comic epic in which Samuel Pickwick acts as a plump and cheerful Don Quixote, and Sam Weller as a cockney version of Quixotes knowing servant, Sancho Panza. The novels preposterous characters, high spirits, and absurd adventures delighted readers.
After Pickwick, Dickens plunged into a bleaker world. In Oliver Twist, he traces an orphans progress from the workhouse to the criminal slums of London. Nicholas Nickleby, his next novel, combines the darkness of Oliver Twist with the sunlight of Pickwick. Rascality and crime are part of its jubilant mirth.
The Old Curiosity Shop broke hearts across Britain and North America when it first appeared. Later readers, however, have found it excessively sentimental, especially the pathos surrounding the death of its child-heroine Little Nell. Dickenss next two works proved less popular with the public.
Barnaby Rudge, Dickenss first historical novel, revolves around anti-Catholic riots that broke out in London in 1780. The events in Martin Chuzzlewit become a vehicle for the novels theme: selfishness and its evils. The characters, especially the Chuzzlewit family, present a multitude of perspectives on greed and unscrupulous self-interest. Dickens wrote it after a trip to the United States in 1842.
Many critics have cited Dombey and Son as the work in which Dickenss style matures and he succeeds in bringing multiple episodes together in a tight narrative. Set in the world of railroad-building during the 1840s, Dombey and Son looks at the social effects of the profit-driven approach to business. The novel was immediately successful.
Dickens always considered David Copperfield to be his best novel and the one he most liked. The beginning seems to be autobiographical, with Davids childhood experiences recalling Dickenss own in the blacking factory. The unifying theme of the book is the “undisciplined heart” of the young David, which leads to all his mistakes, including the greatest of them, his mistaken first marriage.
Bleak House ushers in Dickenss final period as a satirist and social critic. A court case involving an inheritance forms the mainspring of the plot, and ultimately connects all of the characters in the novel. The dominant image in the book is fog, which envelops, entangles, veils, and obscures. The fog stands for the law, the courts, vested interests, and corrupt institutions. Dickens had a long-standing dislike of the legal system and protracted lawsuits from his days as a reporter in the courts.
A novel about industry, Hard Times, followed Bleak House in 1854. In Hard Times, Dickens satirizes the theories of political economists through exaggerated characters such as Mr. Bounderby, the self-made man motivated by greed, and Mr. Gradgrind, the schoolmaster who emphasizes facts and figures over all else. In Bounderbys mines, lives are ground down; in Gradgrinds classroom, imagination and feelings are strangled.
The pervading image of Little Dorrit is the jail. Dickenss memory of his own father's time in debtors prison adds an autobiographical touch to the novel. Little Dorrit also contains Dickenss invention of the Circumlocution Office, the archetype of all bureaucracies, where nothing ever gets done. Through this critique and others, such as the circular legal system in Bleak House, Dickens also investigated the ways in which art makes meaning and the workings of his own narrative style.
A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris during the French Revolution (1789-1799). It stands out among the novels as a work driven by incident and event rather than by character and is critical both of the violence of the mob and of the abuses of the aristocracy, which prompted the revolution. The successful Tale of Two Cities was soon followed by Great Expectations, which marked a return to the more familiar Dickensian style of character-driven narrative. Its main character, Pip, tells his own story. Pips “great expectations” are to lead an idle life of luxury. Through Pip, Dickens exposes that ideal as false.
Dickenss last complete novel is the dark and powerful Our Mutual Friend. A tale of greed and obsession, it takes place in an ill-lit and dirty London, with images of darkness and decay throughout. Only 6 of the 12 intended parts of Edwin Drood had been completed by the time Dickens died. He intended it as a mystery story concerning the disappearance of the title character.
The end of Dickenss life was emotionally scarred by his separation from his dutiful wife, Catherine, as the result of his involvement with a young actress, Ellen Ternan. Catherine bore him ten children during their 22-year marriage, but he found her increasingly dull and unsympathetic. Against the advice of editors, Dickens published a letter vehemently justifying his actions to his readers, who would otherwise have known nothing about them.
Following the separation, Dickens continued his hectic schedule of novel, story, essay, and letter writing (his collected letters alone stretch thousands of pages); reform activities; amateur theatricals and readings; in addition to nightly social engagements and long midnight walks through London. His energy had always seemed to his friends inhuman, but he maintained this activity in his later years in disregard of failing health. Dickens died of a stroke shortly after his farewell reading tour, while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickenss social critique in his novels was sharp and pointed. As his biographer Edgar Johnson observed in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (1952), Dickenss criticism was aimed not just at “the cruelty of the workhouse and the foundling asylum, the enslavement of human beings in mines and factories, the hideous evil of slums where crime simmered and proliferated, the injustices of the law, and the cynical corruption of the lawmakers” but also at “the great evil permeating every field of human endeavor: the entire structure of exploitation on which the social order was founded.”
British writer George Orwell felt that Dickens was not a revolutionary, however, despite his criticism of societys ills. Orwell points out that Dickens “has no constructive suggestions, not even a clear grasp of the nature of the society he is attacking, only an emotional perception that something is wrong.” That instinctive feeling becomes so moving in the novels because Dickens made the injustices he hated concrete and specific, not abstract and general. His readers feel the abuses of 19th-century society as real through the life of his characters. Underlying and reinforcing that illusion of reality, however, is a rich and complicated system of symbolic imagery resulting from superb artistry.
Through his characters, Dickens also touched a range of readers, which was perhaps his greatest talent. As his friend John Forster wrote, his stories enthralled “judges on the bench and boys in the street” alike. The illiterate, often too poor to buy installments themselves, pooled their pennies and got someone to read aloud to them.
Near the end of the serialization of The Old Curiosity Shop, crowds thronged to a New York pier to await the ship from London carrying the latest installment. As it came to the dock people roared, “Is Little Nell dead?” The pathetic death of the novels child-heroine, Nell Trent, became one of the most celebrated scenes in 19th-century fiction. Such public concern over Little Nells end guaranteed that Dickenss social message would be heard, not only by his avid readers, but also by those in power.
Dickens was a careful craftsman, with a strong sense of design; his books were strictly outlined. Any current notions that Dickenss novels are long because he was paid by the word, or sloppy because he wrote them under pressure of monthly deadlines, are simply untrue. What organizes Dickenss stories is sometimes not apparent at first glance, although it makes sense in novels that emphasize character. It is the logic of psychology, the tensions and contradictions of our drives and emotions, which Dickens plumbed, laying side by side the best and the worst of the human heart. This is a very different logic from the order of realism that rests on common sense. Dickens detested common sense, seeing in its seeming obviousness a form of tyranny.
The theater was a crucial influence on Dickenss work. As a young man Dickens tried to go on stage, but he missed his audition because of a cold. Not only did Dickens later write comic plays, melodramas, and libretti (words for musical dramas), he was also often involved in amateur theatricals for good causes, and spent his last two decades reading his own stories to packed audiences. Dickenss readings were as much a sensation in England and America as was his writing, and they proved as profitable. The readings revealed the part of the man that made him a practiced magician and hypnotist as well.
Dickenss love of the theatrical makes his works lend themselves readily to media adaptations. Motion-picture or television versions exist for almost every one of them. A Christmas Carol was one of the earliest to be adapted, first appearing as the silent film Scrooge (1901), directed by Walter R. Booth. The most notable adaptations include A Christmas Carol (1938), directed by Edwin L. Marin and starring Reginald Owen, and, probably the most famous of all, A Christmas Carol (1951), directed by Brian Desmond Hart and starring Alastair Sim. A later production titled Scrooged (1988) was directed by Richard Donner and starred Bill Murray. David Lean directed the most famous of the many versions of Great Expectations (1946). The film Oliver! (1968), a musical based on Oliver Twist and directed by Carol Reed, won six Academy Awards. Nowadays people are probably more familiar with the many BBC television miniseries productions of Dickenss works.
2. George Bernard Shaw
Shaw, George Bernard (1856-1950), Irish-born writer, considered the most significant British dramatist since Shakespeare. In addition to being a prolific playwright (he wrote 50 stage plays), he was also the most trenchant pamphleteer since the Irish-born satirist Jonathan Swift and the most readable music critic and best theater critic of his generation. He was also one of literatures great letter writers.
A visionary and mystic, inwardly shy and quietly generous, Shaw was at the same time the antithesis of a romantic; he was ruthless as a social critic and irreverent toward institutions. Leavening even his most serious works for the stage with a comic texture, he turned what might have been treatises in other hands into plays animated by epigrams and lively dialogue.
Shaw was born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin. His impractical father, an unsuccessful merchant, had emerged from the Protestant Irish gentry; for extra income his mother taught voice pupils. After attending both Protestant and Catholic day schools, Shaw, at the age of 16, took a clerical job; thereafter he was self-educated. When his parents marriage failed, his mother and sisters went to London, and Shaw joined them there in 1876.
The next decade was one of frustration and near poverty. Neither music criticism (written under the name of a family friend) nor a telephone company job lasted very long, and only two of the five novels Shaw wrote between 1879 and 1883 found publishers: Cashel Byrons Profession (1882), a novel about prizefighting as an occupation that anticipates the theme of prostitution as an antisocial profession in the play Mrs. Warrens Profession (1893), and An Unsocial Socialist (1883). By the mid-1880s Shaw discovered the writings of Karl Marx and turned to socialist polemics and critical journalism. He also became a firm (and lifelong) believer in vegetarianism, a spellbinding orator, and tentatively, a playwright. He was the force behind the newly founded (1884) Fabian Society, a middle-class socialist group that aimed at the transformation of English government and society. Through the Fabian Societys founders, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Shaw met the Irish heiress Charlotte Payne-Townshend, whom he married in 1898.
Shaws early journalism ranged from book reviews and art criticism to brilliant music columns (many of them championing the controversial work of the German composer Richard Wagner) from 1888 to 1890 under the signature “Corno di Bassetto” (basset horn), later under his own initials. Shifting to the Saturday Review as drama critic, a post he held from 1895 to 1898, Shaw became the champion of the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, about whom he had already written his influential The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891).
THE FIRST PLAYS
Shaws first play, Widowers Houses (produced 1892), combined Ibsenite devices and aims with a flouting of the romantic conventions that were still being exploited in the English theater. It was eventually published in his Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898). These first seven works for the stage (the others were Candida, The Philanderer, Arms and the Man, The Man of Destiny, Mrs. Warrens Profession, and You Never Can Tell) received brief runs at best or no productions at all. Mrs. Warrens Profession was banned by the censor as obscene. One of his Three Plays for Puritans (The Devils Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Captain Brassbounds Conversion), published in 1901, fared slightly better. The Devils Disciple, a spoof of 19th-century sentimental melodrama set in America during the Revolution, became a success in the United States because of its wit and the very melodramatic elements Shaw had set out to satirize. Shaws next work, Man and Superman (1903), transformed the Don Juan legend into a play, and play-within-a-play. Although on the surface it was a comedy of manners about love and money, its action gave Shaw the opportunity to explore the intellectual climate of the new century in a series of discussions; these are the substance of the nonrealistic, almost operatic, third act, “Don Juan in Hell,” often since produced independently. Man and Superman was in repertory with John Bulls Other Island (1904), originally written for the Abbey Theatre in Dublin but rejected as a slur on the Irish character; the pair established Shaws popular reputation in London as playwright and sage.
Shaw continued, through high comedy, to probe societys complicity in its own evils. In Major Barbara (1905, eventually made into a motion picture) and The Doctors Dilemma (1906), Shaw continued, through high comedy, to probe societys complicity in its own evils. In the first play, the principles and practices of a munitions manufacturer are discovered to be religious in the highest sense, in contrast to the public and private hypocrisies of the Salvation Army and its benefactors. In The Doctors Dilemma, Shaw produced a satire both on the professions and on the artistic temperament.
With the discussion plays that followedGetting Married (1908), Misalliance (1910), and Fannys First Play (1911)Shaw moved into what might be described as serious farce; intellectual comedy with his usual verve for dialogue, but introducing nonrealistic elements that he later exploited more fully. Although Fanny became his longest running hit up to that time, the most durable of the three has proved to be Misalliance. The mystical side of Shaw, meanwhile, found expression in The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet (1909), about the sudden conversion of a horse thief, and in Androcles and the Lion (1913), which concerned true and false religious exaltation, and used the traditions of the medieval miracle play and of the Victorian Christmas pantomime.
Shaws comic masterpiece, Pygmalion (1913; many years later popular also as a film and as the basis for the musical comedy My Fair Lady), was claimed by its author to be a didactic play about phonetics; it is, rather, about love and class and the exploitation of one human being by another.
THE POSTWAR YEARS
Pygmalion was as ebullient in its outlook as Shaws next major play, Heartbreak House (1919), exposing the spiritual bankruptcy of his generation, was pessimistic. The intellectual watershed of World War I (1914-1918) caused the difference. Attempting to find his way out of postwar pessimism, Shaw next wrote five linked parable-plays under the collective title Back to Methuselah (1921); they explore human progress from Eden to a science-fiction future. Despite some brilliant writing, the cycle is uneven in its theatrical values and seldom performed.
For Saint Joan (1923), Shaw received the 1925 Nobel Prize in literature. In Shaws hands Joan of Arc became a combination of practical mystic, heretical saint, and inspired genius.
THE LAST PLAYS
Shaw continued to write into his 90s. His last plays, beginning with The Apple Cart (1929), turned, as Europe plunged into new crises, to the problem of how people might best govern themselves and release their potential. These were themes he had handled before, but he now approached them with a tragicomic and nonrealistic extravagance that owed more to the ancient Greek comedies of Aristophanes than to Ibsen. Shaw died in his country home at Ayot St. Lawrence on November 2, 1950.
To the end, Shaw continued to publish brilliantly argued prefaces to his plays and to flood publishers with books, articles, and cantankerous letters to the editor. Among his other work, the novella The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God (1932) and The Intelligent Womans Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928) remain useful compendia of his ideas. Thousands of his sparkling letters have also been published, for example, those to English stage luminaries Ellen Terry and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
Although he founded no “school” of playwrights like himself, by forging a drama combining moral passion and intellectual conflict, reviving the older comedy of manners, and experimenting with symbolic farce, Shaw helped to reshape the stage of his time. His bold, critical intelligence and sharp pen, brought to bear on contemporary issues, helped mold the thought of his own and later generations.
3. John Galsworthy
Galsworthy, John (1867-1933), English novelist and playwright, who was one of the most popular English novelists and dramatists of the early 20th century.
He was born in Kingston Hills, Surrey, and educated at Harrow School and the University of Oxford. He was admitted to the bar in 1890 but soon abandoned law for writing. Galsworthy wrote his early works under the pen name John Sinjohn.
His fiction is concerned principally with English upper middle-class life; his dramas frequently find their themes in this stratum of society, but also often deal, sympathetically, with the economically and socially oppressed and with questions of social justice. Most of his novels deal with the history, from Victorian times through the first quarter of the 20th century, of an upper middle-class English family, the Forsytes.
The principal member of the family is Soames Forsyte, who exemplifies the drive of his class for the accumulation of material wealth, a drive that often conflicts with human values. The Forsyte series includes The Man of Property (1906), the novelette “Indian Summer of a Forsyte” (pub. in the collection Five Tales,1918), In Chancery (1920), Awakening (1920), and To Let (1921). These five titles were published as The Forsyte Saga (1922). The Forsyte story was continued by Galsworthy in The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), and Swan Song (1928), which were published together under the title A Modern Comedy (1929). These were followed in turn by Maid in Waiting (1931), Flowering Wilderness (1932), and Over the River (1933), published together posthumously as End of the Chapter (1934). Among the plays by Galsworthy are Strife (1909), Justice (1910), The Pigeon (1912), Old English (1924), and The Roof (1929). Galsworthy was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in literature.
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