Social Identity and Literary Form in the Victorian Novel: Race, Class, Gender and the Uses of Genre (Paperback)
Enormous social changes during the Victorian era inspired some of the finest novels in the English language. In the final decades of the century, rigid application of gender rules and class hierarchies began to relax. Consciousness of the injustice of class- and gender-based discrimination was growing. Meanwhile, bias against nonwhite peoples was worsening. The British used scientific racism to justify their relentless expansion in Africa and Asia. Viewing Victorian literature through the lens of these social changes gives the modern reader a fresh way to interpret the novels and to appreciate their relevance to contemporary issues. Nineteenth-century novelists deployed realism, satire, and the bildungsroman to resist or support leading ideologies of their time, including the separate spheres doctrine and British supremacism. Each chapter is an elaboration of the author's university lectures about Victorian classics. The tone is scholarly yet conversational, directed to the undergraduate student as well as the general reader or Victoriaphile. The text presents concepts in interdisciplinary social studies, discusses the uses of genre for rhetorical and social purposes, and exposes paradoxes of the era. The coherent style, abundant examples, discussion questions, and literary glossary make this book a valuable supplement for readers of the Victorian novel.
Jill Franks teaches English literature and film at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.