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The order of the writers’ names is not alphabetical, but at best chronological and/as it follows the order of the lectures.

Chapter 4


Born: 7 February 1812 at Landport near Portsmouth. Portsmouth was Britain’s greatest naval base on the Channel. His father was a navy clerk. After 2 years in London, in 1824 Dickens’s father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison, where the family remained for 3 months, until they received a legacy that granted their freedom. Still, the family was not at all well to do, so that, as a child of 12, Charles, the eldest son, was employed in a blacking warehouse. Dickens’s schooling amounted to no more than two years in a local school in Kent, before the coming of the family to London, then another two years in a private school after 1827 (the Wellington House Academy); this, however, seems to have been enough for him to develop the bad feelings towards schoolmasters that were mirrored in many a novel he wrote. Among the odd jobs he took as a young man, which also left obvious traces in his fiction, was that of a clerk in a solicitor’s office; again, this explains both the intimate knowledge he had of the legal profession and his obsession with its villains. Before becoming a writer, Dickens maintained a close connection with journalism, an important source of immediate, realistic information about the world of his day. Being a member of the staff at the ”Morning Chronicle” then the ”Evening Chronicle”, he met the editor’s daughter, Catherine Hogarth to whom he  got married in April 1834. Dickens’s love–life was a never–ending story: from the early Mary Beadnell preceding Catherine Hogarth, to Mary and Georgina Hogarth, his sisters–in–law, then to the actress Ellen Ternan, in the 1860s, the restless Dickens was continuously heart troubled or heart broken, as the case may be, all the while, his lawful wife giving birth to his children every two years; by the time he separated from his wife, in 1867, they had had 10 children together.

From the journalistic ”Sketches of London”, published in 1834, to the 1836 ”Sketches by Boz”, Dickens invested an increasing amount of imagination in his literary creation, whose distinct turns can be inferred  if the titles of his novels are given in their full form:

·         1836 The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, containing a faithful record of the perambulations, perils, travels, adventures, and sporting transactions of the corresponding members. Edited by ’Boz’ (Boz was the facetious nickname of Dickens’s younger brother); the novel was a humorous picaresque, Dickens’s most amusing book;

·         1837 Oliver Twist: or the parish boy’s progress; a sombre picaresque in design;

·         1838 Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby: containing a faithful account of the fortunes, misfortunes, uprisings, downfallings, and complete career of the Nickleby family; already this narrative’s interest is more complex, since it follows the destiny of a family rather than an individual;

·         1840 The Old Curiosity Shop; focusing on an even more extended segment of old London’s community as typified in the shop and its inmates; published in Dickens’s own ”weekly miscellany”, Master Humphrey’s Clock, the first of the three weeklies owned and directed by Dickens in the 1840s and 1850s, the other two being Household Words and All the Year Round, which made him rich even before his income got copiously rounded off  by  public readings in and tours of America (1842, 1867), Italy or France (1855); it was as a result of such tours that Dickens produced travelogues: American Notes: for general circulation,1842 ( a savage picture of America), then Pictures from Italy,  1846, followed by novels whose settings were partially non–British , such as

·         1843 The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit: his relatives, friends and enemies…; a panoramic and trans–oceanic narrative. In the meantime, Dickens had also attempted a historical novel, Barnaby Rudge: a tale of the riots of the ’eighty, in 1842

·         1843 A Christmas Carol: In prose. Being a ghost story of Christmas; the first of a series of fashionable, learned ’twelve– days – of – Christmas fairytales or parables’ (The other titles are: The Chimes: a goblin story of some bells that rang an old year out and a new year in, 1844;  The Cricket on the Hearth: a fairy tale of home, 1845; (this could provide the label for the genre itself: ’a fairy tale of home’); The Battle of Life: a love story, 1846; The Haunted Man and the ghost’s bargain: a fancy for Christmas time, 1848;  Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings, in the Christmas 1860 number of his weekly ”All the Year Round”; Dr Marigold’s Prescriptions, in the Christmas 1865 number of ”All the Year Round”)

·         1846– 1848 Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son, Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation; an amplified criticism of the ’values’ of capitalism

·         1849 The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observations of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which he never meant to be published on any account); this famous book’s autobiographical design is clearly indicated in the bracketed comments of the subtitle

·         1852 Bleak House

·         1854 Hard Times: For these times (intended as a major, panoramic novel)

·         1855 Little Dorrit

·         1859 A Tale of Two Cities (another historical novel, this time about the French Revolution as Dickens saw it)

·         1860 Great Expectations

·         1864 Our Mutual Friend, Dickens’s last finished novel, followed by

·         1870 The Mystery of Edwin Drood, interrupted by Dickens’s sudden death

It becomes apparent that the titles of the last novels become curt, less descriptive. This is in a paradoxical relationship with the increasing complexity of the artistic vision underlying these novels, although not in point of the general books’ design or their plot, which are not in any way… ”improved”;  rather, the internal pattern of Dickens’s imaginative vision becomes more and more symphonic, more and more eloquent in the order of each book’s own local meaning or in the formal order of the concrete universal, as John Crowe Ransom, the leading member of the American New Criticism, termed the artistic whole.

Dickens’s career also included another brand of popularity, coming from his acting or public readings. In 1848, Dickens acted in charity performances with Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, the latter, a performance before Queen Victoria. The public readings from his own books (some of them Christmas readings) inaugurated in 1858 and continued until the year of his death brought him an income of 45, 000 pounds, which, however meant only half of his considerable fortune derived from royalties. Actually, Dickens died a very rich man and a very famous writer, whose Works  were edited in 17 volumes, in a cheap edition, in 1847–68, then in a first 22 volume Library Edition, next in an 1861 edition in 30 volumes of the same title, followed by the 1867 Charles Dickens Edition in 21 volumes.  


Born: 11 July 1811 in Calcutta, the son of a high Anglo–Indian official of the East India Company, Richmond Thackeray and of ”the reigning belle”, as Martin Day puts it, of the fashionable Anglo–Indian circle. The careless, happy life that the bare fact of belonging to such a milieu spelled for the family came to a sudden end with the death of the father in 1815; the son was sent to England to live with relatives, went to Charterhouse, one of the famous British public schools, then to Cambridge, in 1829. These were not very happy years for the future writer hesitating between plans for a future profession: he contributed verses, caricatures and comic pieces to two undergraduate magazines; he was even ”shortlisted”, in today’s lingo, for the Chancellor’s prize in 1829, for his burlesque poem ”Timbuctoo”, but the prize was won by Tennyson, as Martin Day shows. Facts such as these indicated a satirist’s literary and artistic talent that prompted his trip to Paris, with a view to studying painting there, at the age of twenty–one. The previous year, Thackeray had entered the Middle Temple to study law, but this interest amounted to no more than a brief ”toying …with law” in Martin Day’s opinion. In addition to such vacillations, Thackeray also managed to ”destroy his patrimony” (cf. Martin Day, History of English Literature”, p. 182), i.e. he lost his inherited fortune, called a ”comfortable fortune” by D. C. Browning in the Thackeray entry of his ”Dictionary of Literary Biography”, being ruined by rashly investing in two newspapers that failed; he also gambled heavily and found himself involved in the failure of an Indian bank. The next unhappy project in which Thackeray’s life got entangled was his marriage to Isabella Shawe, the daughter of an Irish officer who became deranged and remained so all her life, i.e., for fifty ensuing years; the two daughters Thackeray had by her ”were left entirely on his hands”. This pushed him into a steady writing career, for a decade after 1840. He became an established novelist after the publication of ”Vanity Fair”, in 1847. Then, his reputation was enhanced by the American lecturing tours to the United States which, according to Martin Day ”smoothed American feathers ruffled by Dickens” (because Dickens’s (xeno)phobic and hypochondriac ”American Notes” of 1842 had offended the Americans). Also, Thackeray was the first editor of the prestigious Victorian magazine The Cornhill. The kind of distinction these literary activities conferred upon the father will have been one cause of the brilliant marriages contracted by Thackeray’s daughters, one of whom became ”Lady Ritchie, while the other married Sir Leslie Stephens” (cf. Martin Day, loc.cit). Sir Leslie Stephens was Virginia Woolf’s father, but Thackeray’s daughter was his first wife and Virginia Woolf was Leslie Stephens’ daughter by the second wife.

For all the above–mentioned instances of personal ill luck successfully overcome, Thackeray remained a member of the upper middle class, which accounts for the tonality of his garrulousness which is urbane, ironic and mildly cynical. As the lecture showed, the difference between Thackeray and Dickens was one of class mentality, but also, in spite of an early friendship and the life–long mutual respect, the two greatest novelists of the same generation were on cold terms most of the time; as Stephen Wall showed in his biography of Dickens, they had, however, heartily made up their personal quarrel shortly before Thackeray’s death.

The bibilographical note for Thackeray should include the years of publication for his fiction, as follows:

·         Vanity Fair, 1847

·         Pendennis, 1848–50 (an autobiographical novel, with a sequel)

·         The Newcomes (this time ”a dynasty novel of three generations… supposedly narrated by Pendennis”, cf. Martin Day, loc. cit)

Thackeray is obviously biased in the direction of the past literary moralities and morality in general in both these latter works, the title of the former being lifted from John Bunyan’s theological morality, The Pilgrim’s Progress, while the drawings that Thackeray made for the title page of Pendennis ”indicate his [i.e., Thackeray’s] medieval morality, the pull of good versus evil” (cf. Martin Day, op. cit, p. 184)

·         Rebecca and Rowena, 1849 (a popular Christmas story and also a sequel to Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe)

·         The History of Henry Esmond, 1852 (called by Martin Day the greatest historical novel in English)

These two works demonstrate another steady interest of Thackeray’s fiction: the historical one. (In the first case, the romance, pseudo–fantastic concern with the past, while in the second case, the genuinely realistic, sociological interest which was shown in the first lecture on Victorian fiction to expand into the past the high–mimetic range of the 19th century imperial cynosure).

·         The Virginians, 1857–9 (a sequel to Henry Esmond; it transfers the Old World (i.e., the European )  ethos into the New World)

Chapter 5

ALFRED TENNYSON, first Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Farringford, commonly referred to, therefore, as LORD ALFRED TENNYSON (1809–1892)

Born:  8 August, 1884 Somersby, Licolnshire. The fourth son of a rector, also a minor poet. (There were two more brothers who wrote poetry in the rector’s family. This is why the title of the sons’ first joint literary entreprise of 1827 was Poems by Two Brothers.) Tennyson’s own poetic career was so successful that it changed his social status from that of a man with an ordinary middle–class background into that of an exemplary upper–middle class one that he enjoyed as the Poet Laureate to follow Wordsworth in 1850; this brought him the prestige of the national bard (also sustained by an annual pension of 200 pounds). He was elevated also to the dignified position of friend to the Royal Pair. But it seems the motive force that carried him forth so far in poetry and life was an unhappy one: the loss of his Cambridge friend and (poetic) mentor, Arthur Henry Hallam. This occasioned his great and long elegiac poetic sequence of In Memoriam, but also a number of popular poems of his on the theme of aspiration and death, such as Ulysses. Tennyson’s baronage title ” Baron of Aldworth and Farringford” recalls on the one hand the place of his residence until the time of his death, Farringford, and, on the other hand, his summer residence at Aldworth, an estate that hosted so many renowned figures of the Victorian age among whom Martin Day enumerates Gladstone, Swinburne and Hardy.

The years of publication for his collections of poetry are:

·         Juvenilia or Poems, Chiefly Lyrical , 1830 (incuding ”Mariana” and ”Song”)

·         The Lady of Shalott and Other Poems, 1832 (including the title poem plus ”The Palace of Art” and ”The Lotos Eaters”)

·         English Idylls and Other Poems and Enoch Arden, and Other Poems,  both published in 1842 (Among the English Idylls are ”Morte d’Arthur”, the dramatic monologue ”St. Simeon Stylites”, ”Ulysses”, ”Tithonus”, ”Locksley Hall” and the poem ”Godiva”)

·         The Princess: A Medley, 1847, to which volume were added in the revised edition of 1852 several of the odes mentioned in the lecture, as Tennyson’s public, occasional poetry

·         In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850

·         Maud: A Monodrama, 1855

·         Idylls of the King, 1869, 1872

·         Ballads and OtherPoems, 1860

Chapter 6

THOMAS CARLYLE (1795–1881)

Born: 4 December 1795 at Ecclefecham in Scotland, the son of a stone – mason who encouraged his zeal for learning with a view to preparing him for the ministry. He attended Edinburgh University (and is said to have walked a hundred miles to get from his home to Edinburgh); here he completed the Arts course and some theological courses. Then he interrupted his studies to become a mathematics teacher at Kircaldy. (Later, Carlyle’s literary eloquence will draw on mathematical knowledge as a source for some of the analogies). The next round of learning and money earning included the study of law at Edinburgh, followed by the position of a private tutor, then by the study of  German thought which would inform his moral philosophy as well as, in general, his style, and copiously, too, starting with Sartor Resartus, his first original writing (a work whose idiosyncratic originality will remain unparallelled in the history of English letters). He published several translations: from German philosophy plus the translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and wrote biographies of Nelson, Montaigne and Montesquieu plus essays on Burns, Johnson, Voltaire, Diderot and Novalis which will provide him with the encyclopaedic and intimate information  later to be worked out into his system books: the already mentioned Sartor Resartus (1833–4), On Heroes, Hero–worship and the Heroic in History (a collection of lectures, published in book form in 1840–1). His reputation as the leading man of letters of his day was due to his History of the French Revolution or, in short The French Revolution (1837); here he both praised the French Revolution, which constituted a novelty for the British public, and criticised it for the raw, violent means it had employed in overthrowing tyranny, which, he insisted, had seriously damaged the potential reforming effects it could have had and inaugurated a modern history of crises rather than of just, righting actions. The ultimately unsettling French Revolution inaugurated, in Carlyle’s opinion, a new history represented by a series of chain–reactions of evils separated from the old history by the inadequacy of the means resorted to for the righting of the social ills; from now on, Carlyle will look to the past for solace and utopian social solutions which basically try to overlook or annihilate the separation line that the French Revolution had indelibly drawn between the past and the present. It is from this core that Carlyle’s other central writing stemmed: Past and Present, published in 1843. And it is also such ideas about the French Revolution that prompted Carlyle’s warnings in Chartism (1839) to the propertied classes in Victorian England that unless they treated more responsibly the masses, they might expect as serious social unrest as the one that had brought about the downfall of the French aristocrats at the time of the French Revolution. Early in his career, Carlyle also published lesser essays that repeated his dominant views on man and on history: The Signs of the Times(1829) and Characteristics (1831).The student can, therefore, start from these in the study of Carlyle’s prose.

Chapter 7


Charlotte was born: 21 April 1816 at Thornton, Bradford and she died in 1855; Jane Emily was born at Thornton on 20 August, 1818 and died in 1848 at Haworth.

The lives of the Brontė sisters are roughly similar: wild children in the home years at Haworth, on the Yorkshire moors, bent on literature and teaching afterwards, then ending suddenly in mid–life, with Charlotte, the elder, surviving her consumptive sister seven years, getting married but dying one year afterwards of childbirth illness. Emily was the first to write (poetry), the two sisters and Anne then published a joint volume, Emily and Anne being published with their separate novels immediately afterwards, Charlotte’s first novel, however, being rejected. Nonetheless, Charlotte was to become, eventually, the most professional writer of the two, as she lived to publish more fiction, also more to the official Victorian taste; consequently, she was introduced to Thackeray and to Elizabeth Gaskell, being admitted, therefore, to the literary milieus of the day (what is more, Elizabeth Gaskell  was to write Charlotte’s biography after her death). The unhappy, unorthodox or wild childhood of the Brontės (”the Brontės” is a term that includes the three sisters but also Branwell, the dissipated brother who died the first, of a fit of alcoholic delirium tremens, and apparently drew after him Emily, who caught a cold at his funeral from which she never recovered), their wild childhood was due to the death of cancer of their mother who was then replaced as the household mistress by an aunt, Elizabeth, who oppressed the children with her lack of sympathy. D. C. Browning writes about them in ”Everyman’s Dictionary of Literary Biography”: ”They ran wild on the moors, read grown–up literature, and wrote a miniature  series of romances to fit a regiment of toy soldiers” (p. 77) These professional child–writers were published by the real literary printing press to whom they thus bequeathed in reality their imaginary toy–country of Angria, many years after their deaths, i.e., the 1933 ”Legends of Angria”. Sent to the cheapest boarding schools of the vicinity, the children bore ill this new shock and were pursued by their deep mistrust of the existing schools, as could be seen in the autobiographical episode in ”Jane Eyre” of Helen Burns’s death at the Lowood school, modelled after the actual death of Mary Brontė due to the consumption contracted at the real Cowan Bridge school the Brontė children had all of them attended (Emily, only for a few months, which remained her only formal schooling before the father who was a clergyman took them back home and undertook to instruct them himself). Having been, it seems, as children a very determined group who always knew how to seek solace from the misfortunes of their real life (just as it happens in both ”Jane Eyre” and ”Wuthering Heights”), when they grew up they remained nonconformists. Thus, Charlotte and Emily made plans for starting a private school of their own, after attempting – and failing – to adapt to the official education tasks as they came in their day, working as formal teachers or governesses. In view of this, they attended a school in Brussels. Their project failed because they had no applicants. (When Charlotte then returned to teach in Brussels for a year, in 1843–4, she formed an attachment to the master of the school, M. Héger, probably a prototype for Mr. Rochester in ”Jane Eyre”). Patrick Branwell Brontė’s eccentricity was less constructive, as he took to drinking and dissipation and simply went down.

The literary history events soon inserted themselves in this family’s history. The next joint venture was a literary one: ”Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell”, 1846 (Currer was Charlotte’s pseudonym, Ellis was Emily’s and Acton, Anne Brontė’s). They paid 50 pounds to get the book published and only sold two copies in the first year. Success came to them after another year: it came with the publication of Anne’s ”Agnes Grey”, of ”Wuthering Heights and ”Jane Eyre”. Anne lived to write yet another famous novel, ”The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”, which was published posthumously, in 1848. Emily Brontė died (of consumption) immediately after the publication of her only novel. Charlotte remained the most prolific of the three, with ”The Professor”, written in 1845 and published after her death, in 1857, ”Shirley”, 1849 and ”Vilette”, in 1853, to which can be added the unfinished ”Emma” published posthumously as a fragment, in the ”Cornhill Magazine”.


Born : 22 November 1819 at Arbury Farm near Nuneaton in Warwickshire where she lived (in Coventry, more precisely) until the death of her father for whom Mary Ann kept house (1849). After enlarging her strongly evangelical education as a result of her acquaintance and friendship with some free–thinkers of the day, Charles Bray and Charles Hennell and his wife, she started her writing career with the translation of a difficult book, David Strauss’s ”Life of Jesus” (published in German in 1835 and translated by Eliot in 1846), this being a monument of the then fashionable ”higher criticism” of the Bible, that considered the Bible as kind of Ur–Encyclopaedia; George Eliot, now turned into what has been termed a Victorian agnostic angel (namely a lucid and emancipated lay intellectual), became a regular contributor to the ”Westminster Review”, then its assistant–editor, between 1851–3. In this quality, as an unprejudiced, independednt woman, she entered an irregular union with another free thinker of London, the writer, publisher, actor and dramatic critic George Henry Lewes, who was her lifetime companion though they could not get married because Lewes never managed to get a divorce from his wife; Mary Ann, however, raised George Lewes’s children. This unorthodox union was the cause of her writing under a pseudonym or anonymously. (She only published one work in her own name: the translation of Ludwig Feuerbach’s ”Essence of Christianity”).

George Eliot only started writing fiction when she was almost 40. After publishing some stories (in ”Blackwood’s Magazine”), she issued her first volume ”Scenes of Clerical Life”, containing these and other stories, in 1858. There followed ”Adam Bede”, in 1859, ”The Mill on the Floss”, 1860, which was largely autobiographical in the first chapters. ”Silas Marner” was published in 1861. Probably nostalgic to a certain extent, George Eliot had a preference for presenting in her novels the regional life of the country–side, clerical or not, a life that seemed to typify, for her novelistic purposes, a healthier or at least more easily analysable world than the metropolitan one. Actually, George Eliot’s wider intellectual concerns, wider than those of any other previous Victorian novelist, prompted her in writing a historical novel, ”Romola” (1863), set in 15th century Florence, then a political novel, ”Felix Holt, the Radical” set in the Reform Bill decade of the 1830s (1866). Next, Eliot wrote her masterpiece ”Middlemarch, a Study of Provincial Life” (1871–2). Her last novel was ”Daniel Deronda” (1874–6).

George Eliot also wrote and published poetry between 1868 and 1871: ”The Spanish Gipsy”, ”Agatha”, ”The Legend of Jubal” and ”Armgart”. And one cannot wonder at her publishing essays, too, being endowed with the kind of analytical and rigorous mind that she had. Her essays were gathered under the title ”The Impressions of Theophrastus Such”.

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