The Beginning of the Great Victorian Novel

           As Queen Victoria ascended to the throne and the Victorian Era began, an author who would prove to be almost synonymous with the period was getting his first taste of fame. In 1837 Charles Dickens was rising in popularity. The year 1837 saw the completion of Charles Dicken’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers and the start of one of his most famous novels, Oliver Twist. Both of these stories were originally published as series before being published as novels. 1837 was a big year for Dickens. It was the first year that he really experienced fame and the popularity that is associated with his name and novels as it is today.

            The Pickwick Papers started as a flop in 1836, but ended as a success in 1837. The story consistedof loosely connected stories revolving around the members of the Pickwick Cluband the club’s president Samuel Pickwick, who is a kind and wealthy old gentleman. The main content in these stories are men in this club going toremote places in England and reporting their findings to the club.[1]  The Pickwick Papers did not really take off until the December of 1836 when the character of Sam Wells was introduced in the tenth addition. Going into 1837 everyone wanted to get their hands on the new chaptersof the Pickwick papers that came out each month until the series concluded inthe October of 1837.

            Starting in the February of 1837 Dickens had a new storywhich started to be published in Bentley’s Miscellany magazine. This story was called Oliver Twist, and it was a success when it was first run off the presses. Oliver Twist can best be described as a novel that comments on the then current state of the poor in British society. It is about an orphan named Oliver Twist who was born in a work house. Poor Oliver was then sold to into an apprenticeship with an undertaker. He then ran away and joined a band of child thieves on the streets of England. [2]

            It was novels like Oliver Twist that raised social awareness about the terrible conditions that the poor faced in the workhouses and how the new poor laws really were not helping the poor in England. Dickens had some shared experiences with the character he created, Oliver. Dickens had to leave school and was forced to work in a factory when his father was locked away in debtors’ prison. [3] Dickens knew what it was like to be poor and treated badly because of your family’s economic status. His novel Oliver Twist brought attention to the treatment and lives of the poor and also made Dickens famous.

            1837 also saw the second to last novel written by Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. The novel she published this year was entitled Falkner. Falkner charts a young woman’s education under a tyrannical father figure.[4]In Falkner, a six-year-old orphan named Elizabeth Raby prevents Rupert Falkner from committing suicide. Falkner then adopts Elizabeth and raises her as his own. However, she falls in love with Gerald Neville, whose mother Falkner had unintentionally driven to her death some years before. But when Falkner is finally acquitted of murdering Neville’s mother, Elizabeth’s reunites the men she loves in her life.[5]

           This is the only novel of Mary Shelley’s where her heroine triumphs, which unintendedly mirrors the triumph of the young Queen taking the throne.  Falkner is considered by modern critics to beone of Shelley’s weakest novels, but she thought it was her best.[6]

             The last novel that is still relevant today is Veneti. The novel is not that famous anymore, but the author is very important to British History. Veneti is a minor novel by Benjamin Disraeli which was originally published in 1837. Disraeli would have a long career in English politics, even serving as Prime Minister under Queen Victoria, but 1837 was the year Disraeli was first elected to the House of Commons. The novel, Veneti is a lightweight romantic fantasy. It was popular at the time, and throughout the rest of the Victorian Period, but its popularity was not enduring like Dickens or Shelley’s works.

[1] Dickens, Charles, et al. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Piccadilly Fountain Press, 1932.

[2] Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Nabu Press, 2010.

[3] Watts, Alan S. The Life and Times of Charles Dickens. Crescent Books, 1991.

[4] Bennett, Betty T. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

[5] Shelly, Mary. Falkner. Saunders and Otley Conduit Street, 1837.

[6] Ellis, Kate Ferguson. “Falkner and other fictions”. The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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