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A History of Victorian Literature

ISBN: 978-0-470-67239-6
480 pages
January 2012, Wiley-Blackwell
A History of Victorian Literature (0470672390) cover image
Incorporating a broad range of contemporary scholarship, A History of Victorian Literature presents an overview of the literature produced in Great Britain between 1830 and 1900, with fresh consideration of both major figures and some of the era's less familiar authors. Part of the Blackwell Histories of Literature series, the book describes the development of the Victorian literary movement and places it within its cultural, social and political context.
  • A wide-ranging narrative overview of literature in Great Britain between 1830 and 1900, capturing the extraordinary variety of literary output produced during this era
  • Analyzes the development of all literary forms during this period - the novel, poetry, drama, autobiography and critical prose - in conjunction with major developments in social and intellectual history
  • Considers the ways in which writers engaged with new forms of social responsibility in their work, as Britain transformed into the world's first industrial economy
  • Offers a fresh perspective on the work of both major figures and some of the era’s less familiar authors
  • Winner of a Choice Outstanding Academic Title award, 2009

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Preface xi

Note on Citations xv

Introduction: Locating Victorian Literature 1

Byron is Dead 1

Cultural Contexts 2

The Literary Field 11

An Age of Prose 14

The Situation of Poetry 19

Victorian Theater 21

The Novel After Scott 22

1 "The Times are Unexampled": Literature in the Age of Machinery, 1830–1850 27

Constructing the Man of Letters 27

The Burdens of Poetry 33

Theater in the 1830s 48

Fiction in the Early 1830s 50

Dickens and the Forms of Fiction 55

Poetry after the Annuals 66

Literature of Travel 70

History and Heroism 73

Social Crisis and the Novel 81

The Domestic Ideal 84

From Silver-Fork to Farce 86

Poetry in the Early 1840s 89

The Literature of Labor 95

Medievalism 98

"The Two Nations" 101

"What's Money After All?" 111

Romance and Religion 116

The Novel of Development 123

Art, Politics, and Faith 127

In Memoriam 137

2 Crystal Palace and Bleak House: Expansion and Anomie, 1851–1873 143

The Novel and Society 145

Crimea and the Forms of Heroism 156

Empire 164

Spasmodics and Other Poets 168

The Power of Art 182

Realisms 187

Two Guineveres 194

Sensation 200

Dreams of Self-Fashioning 207

Narrating Nature: Darwin 215

Novels and their Audiences 218

Literature for Children 228

Poetry in the Early 1860s 232

Criticism and Belief 244

The Pleasures of the Difficult 250

The Hellenic Tradition 259

Domesticity, Politics, Empire, and the Novel 267

After Dickens 275

The Persistence of Epic 282

Poisonous Honey and Fleshly Poetry 286

3 The Rise of Mass Culture and the Specter of Decline, 1873–1901 293

Science, Materialism, and Value 296

Twilight of the Poetic Titans 305

The Decline of the Marriage Plot 314

The Aesthetic Movement 325

Aesthetic Poetry 329

Life-Writing 333

Morality and the Novel 342

Romance 351

Regionalism 356

The Arrival of Kipling 360

Fiction and the Forms of Belief 365

Sex, Science, and Danger 370

Fictions of the Artist 375

Decadence 377

Drama in the 1880s 381

The New Woman in Fiction 386

Decadent Form 394

The Poetry of London 400

Yeats 405

The Scandal of Wilde 408

Poetry After Wilde 411

Fictions of Decline 416

Conrad 423

Epilogue 429

Works Cited 435

Index 451

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James Eli Adams is Professor of English & Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is the author of Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity (1995); the general editor of the four-volume Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era (2004); and co-editor of Sexualities in Victorian Britain (1996).

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  • A wide-ranging narrative overview of literature in Great Britain between 1830 and 1900, capturing the extraordinary variety of literary output produced during this era

  • Analyzes the development of all literary forms during this period - the novel, poetry, drama, autobiography and critical prose - in conjunction with major developments in social and intellectual history

  • Considers the ways in which writers engaged with new forms of social responsibility in their work, as Britain transformed into the world's first industrial economy

  • Offers a fresh perspective on the work of both major figures and some of the era’s less familiar authors
See More
"An award-winning overview of Victorian literature, considering key figures and their works." (Bookseller Buyer's Guide, 1 August 2011)

"This is a beautifully written, truly intelligent book that understands the Victorians. Reading this volume was a pleasure that brought home rather forcefully the relatively functional nature of so much professional academic prose." (Victorian Studies, Spring 2010)

"This elegant and far-reaching book offers a surprising source of optimism to those working in the humanities in Higher Education." (Dickens Quarterly, 2010)

"Throughout his prose is clear and unpretentious--in short, entirely appropriate for his intended audience. Though specialists may quibble over what Adams chooses to omit from this concise account, this book is a remarkable achievement." (CHOICE, October 2009)

"...its breadth of coverage is staggering. It includes all the major figures and genres of the age, hosts of relatively minor authors and works, and all the important subgenres. Also, by placing the individual works in their ever-shifting literary and cultural milieus, it provides a depth of insight lacking in more narrowly conceived studies.... Also, it may well stimulate an exploration of the work of such important but neglected authors as Ainsworth, Disraeli and Bulwer-Lytton, not to mention such utterly forgotten authors as Catherine Gore. Adams, in fact, seems to have read so much of the relatively minor and currently neglected literature of the entire period, and writes about it with such gusto and infectious enthusiasm that he extends the breadth and depth of the entire field of Victorian studies and will doubtless inspire specialists as well as less advanced students of the period to read works they might otherwise have viewed as expendable. The book is indeed so replete with valuable insights into so many works and authors that the reader who has taken in its chronological sweep by reading from the introduction through the epilogue will undoubtedly return over and over again via the index to review the readings of particular works". (New Books Online, September 2009)

"Herbert F Tucker's foreword to James Eli Adams's History of Victorian Literature waxes lyrical about its achievement in terms extravagant enough to arouse suspicion." (Victorian Studies, Spring 2010)

"A signal work of literary historiography: broad and sound in its fabric, detail richly textured in its detail.... The sheer quantity of this comprehensive history is matched by the genial quality of the historian who comprehends it, and whose infectiously self-renewing enthusiasm makes great learning look like great fun. It has been many decades, and several major reorientations in critical scholarship, since we last saw a literary-historical synopsis on this scale."
Herbert F. Tucker, University of Virginia

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