A Companion to Sensation Fiction

A Companion to Sensation Fiction

A Companion to Sensation Fiction

A Companion to Sensation Fiction

Synopsis

This comprehensive collection offers a complete introduction to one of the most popular literary forms of the Victorian period, its key authors and works, its major themes, and its lasting legacy.
  • Places key authors and novels in their cultural and historical context
  • Includes studies of major topics such as race, gender, melodrama, theatre, poetry, realism in fiction, and connections to other art forms
  • Contributions from top international scholars approach an important literary genre from a range of perspectives
  • Offers both a pre and post-history of the genre to situate it in the larger tradition of Victorian publishing and literature
  • Incorporates coverage of traditional research and cutting-edge contemporary scholarship

Excerpt

Evidence enough has been adduced to show that sensation novels must be recognised
as a great fact in the literature of the day, and a fact whose significance is by no means
of an agreeable kind. Regarding these works merely as an efflorescence, as an eruption
indicative of the state of health of the body in which they appear, the existence of an
impure or a silly crop of novels, and the fact that they are eagerly read, are by no means
favourable symptoms of the conditions of the body of society. But it is easier to detect
the disease than to suggest the remedy. (Henry Mansel 1863: 267)

There has arisen of late years a popular idea as to the division of novels into two
classes, which is, I think, a mistaken idea. We hear of the sensational school of novels;
and of the realistic, or life-like school. Now, according to my view of the matter, a novel
is bound to be both sensational and realistic. And I think that if a novel fail in either
particular it is, so far, a failure in Art…. Let an author so tell his tale as to touch your
heart and draw your tears, and he has so far done his work well. Truth let there be;
– truth of description, truth of character, human truth as to men and women. If there
be such truth I do not know that a novel can be too sensational” (Anthony Trollope
1870: 124)

“We have become a novel reading people” observed Anthony Trollope in 1870, who certainly contributed his share to Victorian fiction: “Novels are in the hands of us all, from the Prime Minister, down to the last appointed scullery maid” (1870: 108). Indeed, the Victorian era was the great era of the novel: never had so many literate readers consumed so much fiction so affordably. John Sutherland estimates that 60,000 novels were published in the period (1988: 1), and of course novels were by no means the only literature, nor even the only fiction, that Victorians read. But novels were always considered somewhat suspect – by audiences ranging from evangelicals who distrusted all fiction to critics who particularly abominated the “light reading”

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