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How to Read the Victorian Novel

ISBN: 978-1-4051-3055-4
200 pages
November 2007, Wiley-Blackwell
How to Read the Victorian Novel (1405130555) cover image


How to Read the Victorian Novel provides a unique introduction to the genre. Using examples from the classics, like The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, and Middlemarch, it demonstrates just how unfamiliar their familiarity is. The book attempts to break free of the sense that the Victorian novel is somehow old fashioned, moralizing, and formally careless by emphasizing the complexity, difficulty, and rare pleasures of the Victorian writers’ strenuous efforts both to entertain and to teach; to create serious “art” and to appeal to wide audiences; to respond both to the demands of publishing and also to their own rich imaginative engagement with a world heading into modernity at full speed.

Broad in its scope, the text surveys a wide variety of literary types and explores the cultural and historical developments of the novel form itself. The book also poses a series of “big questions” pertaining to money, capitalism, industry, race, gender, and, at the same time, to formal issues, such as plotting, perspective, and realist representation. In addition, it locates the qualities that give to the great variety of Victorian novels a “family resemblance,” the material conditions of their production, their tendency to multiply plots, their obsession with class and money, their problematic handling of gender questions, and their commitment to realist representation.

How to Read the Victorian Novel challenges our comfortable expectations of the genre in order to explore intensively a burgeoning and changing literary form which mirrors a burgeoning and changing society.

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Table of Contents


1. What’s Victorian about the Victorian Novel?.

2. The Beginnings and Pickwick.

3. Vanity Fair and Victorian Realism.

4. Jane, David, and the Bildungsroman.

5. The Sensation Novel and The Woman in White.

6. Middlemarch.


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Author Information

George Levine is the Kenneth Burke Professor of English at Rutgers University where he is also Director of the Center for the Analysis of Contemporary Culture. He is the author of Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England (2002), The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (2001), Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction (1991), and The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterley (1983).
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The Wiley Advantage

  • Offers a unique introduction to Victorian classics such as The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, and Middlemarch
  • Examines the complexities and the contemporary relevance of the Victorian novel, breathing new life into the genre for contemporary students
  • Uses sample readings and contextual analysis to illuminate the unique nature of the Victorian novel and its complexities
  • Surveys the variety of the genre and explores the cultural and historical developments of the form itself
  • Poses a series of “big questions” pertaining to form, and to race, class, money, and industry in Victorian novels
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"Reading How to Read the Victorian Novel, I found myself nodding along, admiring the vigor and clarity with which Levine articulate what we all ready know. . . until I was brought up short by the recognition that 1 didn't actually know these things, so simply and so fundamentally, until Levine had said them in this book." (Victorian Studies, Winter 2010)“Most interesting is his commentary upon the panoramic/encyclopedic nature of Victorian fiction, the commitment to recognizable generic modes, and the novelists’ interest in finding connections among diverse aspects of experience.” (Studies in English Literature, Fall 2008)

"A broad-ranging introduction to the genre using examples from the classics." (Times Higher Education Supplement)

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