A Forgotten Victorian Author and the Society He Knew

By Ford, Eric | Contemporary Review, September 1999 | Go to article overview

A Forgotten Victorian Author and the Society He Knew


Ford, Eric, Contemporary Review


It is well known that much can be learned about the past from the fiction of the period. The Victorian age in Britain is particularly well served in this respect from such writers as Trollope, the Brontes, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and Dickens. Many of these, admirably though they portrayed their times, tended to do so from a particular standpoint. Who, for example, depicts Victorian low life better than Dickens, illuminates the genteel classes like Thackeray and Trollope?

Industry and commerce, an important swathe of Victorian society, embracing professional people, businessmen, industrialists, engineers of all disciplines and industrial workers do not appear to have had the attention they deserve for their role in building the industrial and commercial might of Britain of that time.

One author who did turn his attention to this sector in a number of his novels was George Manville Fenn (1831-1909), now remembered, if at all, as the author of stories for young people, but who also wrote adult novels in which he turns a surprisingly critical eye on all aspects of the Victorian scene, including the contemporary world of business and industry. Just why he should have tended to show a certain open disregard for many conventional views of the Victorian scene is not clear from his own life and careen There is little evidence on which to base a judgement. Sadly, he left no autobiography nor did any of his contemporaries write his biography. What is known of his background does little to explain his attitude to the world of his time.

Born in Pimlico, 3 January 1831, his education was a mixture of private tuition and private schools, followed by three years at St John Training College for Teachers, Battersea, leaving in 1854 to become master at the National School (Church of England), Alford, Lincolnshire.

Teaching, however, was not to his liking and, as he wrote later, he 'felt it necessary to go into business and was drawn towards printing as the most congenial'. After gaining experience in the printing trade in London, he set up as a printer and publisher in Crowle, in Lincolnshire. This appears to have failed and, in 1864, he became part-proprietor of Herts and Essex Observer, which was equally unsuccessful and he now turned to authorship. His first success was a short sketch, entitled In Jeopardy, published by Charles Dickens, no less, in his magazine All the Year Round. Although he was to continue to contribute to various journals throughout his life, to sit in an editorial chair for a time and even to write several quite successful plays, it was as an author of both adult novels and boys' stories that he was to make his mark on the contemporary literary scene. From these early days until his death some 170 novels, appeared in rapid succession, covering a wide range of different subjects, settings, characters and plots.

Once embarked on a literary career, he was very much a southerner, and, after living for some time on a Sussex farm, he moved to a London Garden Suburb in Bedford Park in 1880, before setting up home in Syon Lodge, Isleworth and remaining there until his death in 1909. He never travelled overseas, unlike many of his contemporaries, although he wrote numerous stories for young and old on foreign subjects. There appears to be nothing in his life to explain how he came to adopt his generally critical attitude to much of the accepted Victorian ethos. Nevertheless, despite what may appear to be a somewhat sheltered existence, all his novels, for young and old, display a surprisingly detailed knowledge of all the many industries, trades, commercial practices and the many other aspects of the scenes and events with which he deals. A voracious reader, it may well be that he derived much of his background information from his library of some 25,000 books on every conceivable subject which he accumulated during his life.

Typical of his novels dealing with the commercial and industrial world is The White Virgin (1894) where the plot centres round the re-opening of a long-derelict lead mine in Derbyshire. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Forgotten Victorian Author and the Society He Knew
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.