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Celebrating Octavia Butler & 5 Black Sci-Fi Writers She Inspired
Every once in a while a writer comes along and changes what we believe is possible. These writers challenge our understanding of the world and touch parts of us that we didn’t know were there. The late science-fiction legend Octavia Butler is one of those authors.
Born in the summer of 1947, Octavia E. Butler changed the face of science fiction — and it all started with a childhood trip to the movies. After watching Devil Girl From Mars (1954), young Octavia was convinced that she could write something better, and, from that moment, her journey as a writer began.
Octavia Butler and Her Classic Works
The Pasadena, California native was a deeply shy child who found solace in disappearing into language and stories. She spent much of her time as a young person in the library, devouring books and dreaming of being an author. Though she didn’t have any examples of Black women in science fiction, that didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion. Octavia Butler forged ahead — she held odd jobs, joined writing workshops and explored new characters and storylines. In 1976 she published her first novel — and the last chronologically in the Patternist series — Patternmaster .
Beyond expanding the Patternist series, Butler penned classics, including The Parable of the Sower . In addition to the Parable novels, she wrote stand-alone books and short stories, too. She’s perhaps best known for her novel Kindred , in which Dana, a time-traveling writer, confronts the realities of being an enslaved person in early 19th-century Maryland. Butler’s signature style blends the hallmarks of sci-fi stories with sharp social commentary, inviting readers to interrogate the constructs in their everyday lives.
In 2005, Octavia Butler published her final novel, Fledgling , and passed away the following year. Undoubtedly, she left behind an incredible legacy that has forever altered the science fiction genre. When she began her career, she was surrounded by white men — but, thanks in large part to Butler, the face of science fiction has changed. Today, more and more Black science fiction writers are emerging as a result of Octavia Butler’s singular influence.
Here, we’re honoring not only Octavia Butler’s direct contributions to the literary world but the new generation of Black science fiction writers that she inspired . Here, we’re highlighting five Black sci-fi writers with must-read books who are carrying that torch and expanding the genre.
5 Black Sci-Fi Writers Who Were Inspired by Octavia Butler
Tomi champion-adeyemi .
Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Tomi Champion-Adeyemi is best known for her fantasy novel, Children of Blood and Bone , in which her young protagonist goes on an epic journey to reconnect with ancestral magic.
As an adult, Champion-Adeyemi connected more deeply with her Nigerian heritage and is now committed to highlighting the richness of her culture. This novel is the first book in the Legacy of Orisha series which also includes Children of Virtue and Vengeance . Adeyemi is not only an incredible author but also a writing coach, who is passionate about facilitating growth in the next generation of writers.
Jelani Wilson (the Self-Proclaimed Octavia Butler “Super Fan”)
What do you get when you marry hip hop, sci-fi and a commitment to social justice? The answer is an incredible fiction writer and Octavia’s Brood contributor, Jelani Wilson. As a self-described Octavia Butler “super fan”, Wilson was excited to participate in the collection of social justice-focused science fiction, Octavia’s Brood .
An educator who was raised on sci-fi and comic books, Wilson’s contribution to Octavia’s Brood , 22XX: One Shot , was written with his students in mind. In an interview with Friction , Wilson shared that he “wanted them to see themselves in the future and to understand that even what seem like smallish acts of rebellion in the face of tyranny and injustice are important.” Clearly, he’s a writer who’s primarily interested in expanding imaginations in a way that can affect real-world change — and Wilson’s unique perspective is making waves on and off the page.
Humans living in the future fight to rebuild civilizations and prepare to withstand disaster in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. She has been heralded by The New York Times as “the most celebrated science fiction and fantasy writer of her generation”. Considering her impressive collection of awards and spellbinding fiction, it’s easy to see why.
Jemisin has won multiple Hugo awards, a MacArthur grant, a Locus Award and more, but her impact extends far beyond her accolades. From her debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to the development of a Broken Earth trilogy film, Jemisin has changed the landscape of the sci-fi genre and is positioned to continue doing so.
Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor captures the imaginations of children and adults alike with her otherworldly fiction. Okorafor hails from Cincinnati and defines her work as “Africanfuturism”. She has written for comic series like Black Panther but you may also know her thanks to her widely acclaimed novels, including Akata Woman , Noor and Binti .
Since her work is heavily influenced by the perspective that her “Naijamerican” identity provides, Okorafor purposefully highlights Nigeria and Black girlhood in her writing. Okorafor tackles subjects like racism, environmental issues and corruption — all while exploring magic and mystery.
Goliath author Tochi Onyebuchi also writes for young audiences and released his first book geared toward adults in 2020 with Riot Baby . Since then, the former civil rights lawyer has continued to captivate audiences with writing that spans from his newly released novel Goliath to comics and beyond.
Wilson has been praised for the way his work navigates issues of race, but he doesn’t shy away from the challenges that inform his writing. When asked about writing about race in the United States, Onyebuchi candidly stated, “To have to breathe it, to take the clay of it and have to build the castle of a compelling narrative out of it. It’s despair, so much despair. It’s an impossible place to live in. And yet, that is what writers of color — what Black writers — are so often asked to do.”
Onyebuchi’s authenticity and magnificent talent have just begun to impact the realm of science fiction; it’s already clear that this writer is a dynamic force.
Of course, those are just a few of the brilliant Black writers defining contemporary sci-fi and shaping its future. Each of them brings a new understanding of their unique place in the world to the fantastic worlds that they create. Moreover, this is just a glimpse at the writers who are following in the wake of Octavia Butler’s marvelous legacy. Collectively, they are a reminder to the next generation of Black science fiction writers that they belong — and that their perspectives matter, too.
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Victorian Children and Life in Victorian Times
Famous Victorian Writers
Victorian literature is anything published during the time of Queen Victoria and her reign (1837-1901). It was a really interesting time for writing because it was full of changes and new ideas. Famous Victorian Writers from this time wrote some really cool stuff that bridged the gap between older Romantic styles and new Dark-Romantic writings of the early 19th century into the Edwardian era, and the early 20th Century. Science Fiction and fantasy for example really started to take off in this era.
Actual Victorian writers include the British writers who were living in Britain during Victoria’s reign, but the term has also been used to describe writers from America and Europe too.
We’re going to look at some of the most famous Victorian writers and poets of this classical British era in this post. You’ll get an introduction to Charles Dickens, who wrote amazing stories like ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Then there’s Wilkie Collins, known for his mystery novel ‘he Moonstone,’ and Thomas Hardy, who wrote about how society was changing at the time.
We’ll also learn a little about the Bronte Sisters, who lived together and wrote famous novels like ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights.’ And don’t forget about Lewis Carroll, who wrote the amazing ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ and Bram Stoker, who scared everyone with his vampire origin book ‘Dracula.’
There are so many more writers like Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who created Sherlock Holmes), and Rudyard Kipling, who wrote ‘The Jungle Book.’ These authors from the Victorian era have left us with stories and poems that people still love to read today. They’ve inspired lots of new writers around the world!
Below is a list of famous Victorian writers, novelists and poets who published their works during this classical British era:
Charles Dickens – (1812- 1870)
Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest and certainly most popular English novelists. Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire on February 7th 1812 into a large family. His early years were very difficult as he suffered from various illnesses and his father was put in debtor’s prison so young Charles had to leave school and go to work in a factory. His first novel “Sketches by Boz” was published anonymously in 1833. Charles Dickens went on to become the most popular Victorian author who helped define Victorian literature and he is still one of the best-selling authors today.
Charles Dickens’s works include: Pickwick Papers (1836) Oliver Twist (1837) Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9) The Old Curiosity Shop (1841-2) A Christmas Carol (1843) Martin Chuzzlewit (1844-5) Dombey and Son (1846-8) David Copperfield (1849-50) Bleak House( 1852-3 ) Little Dorrit (1857-8 )
Wilkie Collins – (1824- 1889)
Another prolific novelist of the Victorian era was Wilkie Collins. The son of a well-known artist William Collins, he was born in London in 1824 and is best known for his pioneering work in the detective and mystery genres.. In 1851 he met Charles Dickens and later became his close friend and literary collaborator, working together on many stories and plays.
He wrote many popular novels but is best remembered for ‘The Moonstone’ (1868) which is considered by many as the first true detective novel in the English language. This book introduced many elements that became standard in mystery fiction, like a complex plot, red herrings, and a detective analyzing clues.
He also wrote many mystery novels including Armadale (1866), No Name (1862), and The Woman in White (1860). But Wilkie Collins was more than just a mystery writer, he also tackled contemporary social issues in his books. In one example, his novel ‘The Woman in White’ explores the treatment of women in society and the legal limitations they faced during the Victorian era.
Collins’ writing style was ahead of its time and very influential on those that would follow him it the mystery genre. Using multiple narrators and weaving intricate plots that kept readers guessing made his work very popular and fresh in the Victorian era, and is still enjoyed today.
Thomas Hardy – ( 1840- 1928)
Perhaps the greatest novelist of Victorian England, Thomas Hardy’s novels express his view on the changing nature of society and its morals, leading to several literary and social controversies during his lifetime.
Thomas Hardy’s novels are renowned for their portrayal of the rural life and landscapes of southwestern England, which he named ‘Wessex’ in his books – a homage to the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. Hardy’s Wessex however, contained fictional names for the towns and places within. His writing often explored the struggles of the protagonists against their passions or social circumstance. Particularly focusing on how fate and the rigid social structure of the Victorian time impact people’s lives.
Born in 1840, he became an architect’s apprentice at age 16. He left the profession after his first novel ‘The Poor Man and the Lady’ was published in 1867 under a pseudonym. Hardy went on to publish many novels including Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886).
Some of Hardy’s work was very controversial at the time, particularly ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ (1891) and ‘Jude the Obscure’ (1895). After the mixed reception of ‘Jude the Obscure,’ Hardy turned away from novels and spent the last 30 years of his life focusing on poetry, producing several collections that are equally esteemed for their emotional depth and mastery of form and language.
Anthony Trollope – (1815- 1882)
Another well-known British novelist of the Victorian era was Anthony Trollope. He began work as a junior clerk at the General Post Office and worked there full time from 1840- 1859. While employed there wrote over 40 novels including Barchester Towers (1857). Trollope’s work explored ideas of the era around morality, class and modernisation.
Trollope created detailed characters and explored meaningful themes, but his contribution to literature extends far beyond his prolific output. His series of novels set in the fictional county of Barsetshire, are well known for their depiction of the clergy and the gentry. In his work, Trollope offers both a satirical yet empathetic look at the lives and struggles of these ‘men in position’ and offered a glance behind the curtain that resonated with his audience.
The Bronte Sisters
In the heart of Yorkshire’s moors lies the cherished home of the Brontë family from 1820 to 1861. The three Bronte sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are often mentioned together because they shared this home called ‘The Parsonage’ in the town of Haworth in Yorkshire. Now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, this modest home was the birthplace of some of the most beloved works in English literature.
Each of the sisters wrote novels during the Victorian era with all three becoming published authors by 1846. Their most famous novels are probably Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ which was published in 1847, under the pseudonym Currer Bell, Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, and Anne’s ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ (1848).
The Brontë sisters remarkable story is unique in literary history. Living in a society where class often dictated one’s destiny, their education set them apart in their small village. The Parsonage, modest compared to the homes of wealthier clergy, was a haven where their creativity blossomed. Despite the Victorian era’s rigid social structures, the sisters’ novels broke barriers. They each wrote under pseudonyms that were both Christian and masculine. This ‘guise’ helped them to explore themes of love, class, and identity while concealing their true identity which may have been looked down on at the time.
Robert Louis Stevenson – (1850- 1894)
Another prolific Victorian author was Robert Louis Stevenson. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13th, 1850. His most famous works include ‘Treasure Island’ (1883), ‘Kidnapped’ (1886 ), and the collection of poems ‘New Arabian Nights’ (1882). In addition, he was also a poet and essayist whose ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes’ (1879) remains popular today.
Stevenson was not just a master storyteller, he was a remarkable traveller and adventurer too. These qualities deeply influenced his writing and his life was every bit as colourful and varied as his novels. Plagued by poor health, Stevenson often travelled in search of healthier and warmer climates. It was these travels and the experience that came from this that enriched his imagination and his literary works so well. None of his work captures his adventurous spirit quite as vividly as Treasure Island. A novel that set the standard for pirate adventure stories and introduced the iconic character Long John Silver.
In his work, the lines between good and evil are often blurred, with complex characters, reflecting his deep interest in the human psyche. It wasn’t just adventure books Stevenson excelled in though. One of his most prolific characters delving into the dark side, was introduced in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ (1886). This was a profound – often troubling – exploration of dual personalities and Victorian morality.
Stevenson’s diverse contributions, and his range including many introspective essays, have cemented his legacy as a versatile and enduring Victorian writer.
Lewis Carroll – (1832- 1898)
The pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was used by the famous Victorian writer best known for ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865). He was a mathematician who wrote under this pen name because he didn’t want to be associated with children’s stories. Lewis Carroll later wrote other popular novels including ‘Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There’ (1872).
Carroll’s influence extends far beyond his famous Alice books. But it is in these books that you get a glimpse of why he was such a pioneer of literary nonsense – a style that plays with language and conventions to create whimsical and fantastical tales. This is evident in his poem ‘The Jabberwocky,’ found in ‘Thr ough the Looking Glass,’ which is renowned for its inventive use of nonsensical words that somehow convey meaning.
Other famous works of Carroll include ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ (1871), ‘Sylvie and Bruno’ (1889) and ‘What the Tortoise Said to Achillies’ (1895). When not writing fantastic stories, Carroll also wrote many poems, and continued his work as a photographer and mathematician under his real name.
Bram Stoker – (1847- 1912)
Another author who was not known for his children’s stories, Bram Stoker is best remembered for his 1897 Gothic novel ‘Dracula’. Similar to Mary Shelley he had little formal education and worked as a civil servant. He first became interested in the theater after seeing Henry Irving act. His most famous work was published in 1897 and was a classic of Gothic horror fiction. Dracula has been adapted many times for film and other media including stage, opera, ballet, and graphic novels. it has also inspired a whole genre of fantasy writing in the vampire universe.
While Dracula is to this day, his most famous work, it was not his first and Stoker indeed wrote many pieces both before and after his vampire epic. Other notable work of Stoker includes – ‘The Snake’s Pass’ (1890) Stoker’s first novel, a romantic adventure story set in Ireland, ‘The Watter’s Mou’ (1895) A novel that explores themes of love and betrayal, ‘The Shoulder of Shasta’ (1895) A romance novel set in California, and ‘The Lady of the Shroud’ (1909) A vampire novel with a Balkan setting.
Alfred Tennyson – (1809- 1892)
One of the most famous Victorian writers and poets of all was Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson wasn’t just any poet, he was actually the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign. This lofty title meant he was officially appointed by the queen to write poetry for special occasions.
He often wrote about deeply philosophical questions, as well as other soul touching themes of nature and love. Portraits of dramatic moments of life, tales of heroic exploits, satire, romance, verse drama, prayer, conversation, prophecy, and elegies. All of these were typical of Tennyson’s work and much of Tennyson’s poetry was inspired by classical literature. His poetry is famous still to this day, for its beautiful language and rhythm.
One of his most famous works ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ is a narrative poem about a battle during the Crimean War. He also wrote ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.,’ a long poem mourning the death of his friend. Tennyson’s work often reflects like a mirror to the values and issues of the Victorian era. The struggle between science and religion for example. His poetry is timeless, every bit as enjoyable and meaningful today as it was in the 19th Century.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – (1859 – 1930)
Considered by many to be the greatest mystery writer of all time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has an incredibly impressive bibliography that includes novels, short stories, poems, plays, and books on spiritualism. He was born in Edinburgh Scotland where he became a medical student at age 18. His first novel ‘The Mystery of Cloomber’ was published in 1888 after being serialized but it wasn’t until 1891 when he created Sherlock Holmes that he received widespread fame.
While Sherlock Holmes is by far his most famous and influential work, his literary prowess extended to other genres as well. He had a deep interest in Science Fiction which comes through in his work ‘The Lost World’ (1912), but also had a deep interest in medieval history which comes through in his ‘The White Company’ (1891) and ‘Sir Nigel’ (1906). His later writing revealed his deep interest in spiritualism, and this can be seen in ‘The Coming of the Fairies’ (1922) and ‘The History of Spiritualism’ (1926). He was an incredibly diverse, intelligent and deeply talented story writer.
Rudyard Kipling – (1865 – 1936)
Another author of the Victorian era whose work is still very popular today was Rudyard Kipling. He was born in Mumbai, India, and attended school there before going to England at the age of 16 to work as a journalist.
His first novel ‘Barrack-Room Ballads’ was published in 1892 and he is most well known for his poems including ‘Gunga Din’ and ‘If’. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 and was also awarded the C.B.E., Légion d’honneur, and Order of Merit.
Beyond poetry, Kipling’s literary catalogue includes a rich collection of short stories and novels. You can see in much of his work a reflection of his experiences in India, and his personal views on the British Empire.
His most famous work, ‘The Jungle Book’ (1894), is a collection of stories set in the Indian jungle. A much loved classic to this day, with its vivid storytelling and moral lessons. It was the inspiration to one of the earliest Disney animated classics, which itself is stil one of their most popular films to this day.
Other notable works include ‘Kim’ (1901), and ‘Just So Stories’ (1902), a delightful collection of children’s tales explaining various natural phenomena.
H.G. Wells – (1866 – 1946 )
One of the earliest science fiction writers in history, Herbert George Wells was born in Kent, England. He attended both public and boarding schools but didn’t have a very high opinion of his formal education. At age 17 he began working as a draper’s apprentice but it wasn’t until 1895 that he published his first book ‘The Time Machine’. Other well-known novels include The War of the Worlds (1898/9), The Invisible Man (1897), and The Island of Dr. Moreau( 1896).
It is perhaps The War of the Worlds for which Wells is most famous for. Due mostly to a radio broadcast of this work, that was said to have alarmed many listeners at the time. The broadcast made it sound as if it was a genuine bulletin rather than a work of fiction, for at least a minute or two until the nature of the broadcast became clear.
Wells was a pioneer of the science fiction genre and many of his books are still popular today. Many have also been dramatized in movies, TV or stage shows. Jeff Wayne’s musical adaption of the War of the Worlds still tours to this day.
Other Famous Victorian Writers include:
- William Makepeace Thackeray
- George Eliot
- Oscar Wilde
- Elizabeth Gaskell
- Matthew Arnold
- Edward Lear
- R.D. Blackmore
- Marie Corelli
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Thomas Hughes
- Robert Browning
- Gerard Hopkins
- Thomas Carlyle
- Christina Rosetti
- Thomas de Quincey
- George Macdonald
- George Gissing
- Edith Nesbit
- Mary Elizabeth Braddon
- Margaret Oliphant
- Olive Schreiner
- Anna Sewell
- H. Rider Haggard
- Mary Augusta Ward
Many great Victorian authors have helped to define the period for us with their excellent literature. It is interesting to note that many of these books, including The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, or Alice in Wonderland remain popular today. Their pieces are still read and continue to inspire new generations of authors around the world.
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Stewart, Suzy. "Famous Victorian Writers". Victorian Children . Accessed on December 3, 2023. https://victorianchildren.org/victorian-writers/.
Stewart, Suzy. "Famous Victorian Writers". Victorian Children , https://victorianchildren.org/victorian-writers/. Accessed 3 December, 2023.
Charles who? Just kidding. You know this guy.
An absolute titan of literature, he wrote fifteen novels, many of which remain household names (if novels can be household names).
I bet you can name a few (or at least recognise these titles): Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities (one of the best selling novels of all time).
This list goes on and on.
Dickens was put to work in a boot blacking factory when he was twelve, and was on intimate terms with Victorian poverty.
His novels feature a high degree of sympathy with the working classes, and he became a champion of the poor.
His works feature a superabundance of unforgettable characters getting into all-time scrapes.
Middlemarch, Middlemarch, Middlemarch.
A study of provincial life, which while cooly received at first, has come to dominate the lists of greatest works of all time.
Virginia Woolf adored this novel, referring to it as one of the few British novels for grown ups.
That should be enough of a recommendation for anyone to pick it up, considering Woolf’s status as one of the all time fiction greats.
Of course Eliot has numerous other classics to her name, including The Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda.
Unfortunately, Ms Eliot, real name Mary Ann Evans, is another writer who felt they had to publish under a male pseudonym to escape the prejudices of her age.
But thankfully no prejudice could prevent her genius from emerging to acclaim.
Wilde is probably best known for his play The Importance of Being Earnest which features some of the most witty lines of all time.
It’s also a showcase for his belief in Aestheticism, which pushed the notion that the beauty of a thing was enough to justify its existence.
Beauty for beauty’s sake: we don’t have to tie ourselves in knots finding more noble reasons for enjoying something.
His novel The Picture of Dorian Gray contains such sentiments, all blended with Wilde’s incomparable wit and witticisms.
The novel shocked society upon publication due to the inclusion of horror and even satanic themes: wherein a man makes a deal with the devil to remain young and attractive while a portrait of him ages in an attic.
It’s a classic and the plot is totally unforgettable, all undergirded by Wilde’s ferocious intellect.
This Irish writer penned the epistolary (written as letters) Gothic horror classic Dracula: which has since become one of the most famous works in the English language.
Interestingly, during his own life he was actually better known as the personal assistant to theatrical titan Sir Henry Irving, and as a business manager at the Lyceum Theatre .
We all know Dracula, and what better way for a modern reader to dig into the roots of this excellent Victorian tale than by diving into the original material, and following along with Dr Abraham Van Helsing in the hunt of the beast.
So there you have it, if you love literature, the best Victorian novelists to read are the Brontë sisters, Dickens, Eliot, Wilde, and Stoker. The language of the time is still entirely accessible to modern readers, and the world’s they describe are distinctly familiar. Although we’ve got better medicine, and sanitation, thank goodness.
Jump into these novels as a starting place and you can’t go wrong!
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20 novels that shaped the Victorian era
With invention, imperialism and industrialisation all charging through the era, there was plenty to inspire the authors of the time. Charlotte Runcie rounds up the definitive Victorian novels.
There are few periods in history that have had such a transformative effect on the development of fiction as the Victorian era, which spans the reign of Queen Victoria between 1837 and 1901. Writers sought to encapsulate something of the spirit of the age and its people in condition-of-England novels, working at a time of enormous industrial and social change. And instead of originally appearing as whole books, novels were often written and first read in serialised instalments in popular magazines, so the reading experience was very different from the modern phenomenon of picking up a paperback in the bookshop.
Not all Victorian novelists sought to paint the whole of British society. Some novelists chose a narrower focus, examining a particular emerging scientific or ethical dilemma, or breaking new ground in humour and satire. To pick up a book and venture into the world of the 19 th -century writer is to explore a rapidly changing society structured around vast inequality, as well as thrilling scientific progress towards an alluring – and at times terrifying – possible future.
With so much going on, it’s no wonder that the Victorian era has also proved to be a popular period for modern novelists to set their books, too. Some of the best contemporary fiction has thrown open to doors to the Victorian age to tell gripping stories that also illuminate how we live today.
Here are 20 of the best novels written during, or about, the Victorian era. Be warned: there are plot spoilers below.
Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
This book by a future Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, is a portrait of the terrible conditions endured by the working classes, written to provoke outrage and sympathy. A strongly political condition-of-England novel, it’s not the most nuanced or elegantly written Victorian literature, but it shows a turning point in the purpose of the novel at the beginning of the Victorian period, as well as an insight into class politics and the intellectual priorities of an MP with a bright future.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
One of the great romances and a pioneering work of fiction, Jane Eyre is an intense psychological narration, a coming-of-age story, and among the most influential novels ever written. It spans the life of its title character from her hard and abusive childhood, including her education at Lowood School, through to her employment as a governess for the enigmatic Mr Rochester and their growing relationship. For a companion piece, it’s well worth reading Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea , an imagined prequel featuring Mr Rochester’s first wife, written over a century later.
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Victorian poetry and fiction.
The years 1837-1901 in which Queen Victoria reigned were highly influential in the development of modern literature; the period absorbed the early-nineteenth century works of the Romantics and the satirical novels of Jane Austen , and, in the legacy left behind by the Victorian novelists, paved the way for the creation of twentieth-century Modernist texts. The era saw great change and upheaval in numerous momentous events such as the scientific publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) and the steady expansion of the British Empire. These influential factors worked their way into the writing of the period, and it is possible to view Victorian literature as a textual catalogue of imaginative responses that answer the shattering, disruptive polemics that raged across the period. The novel became the leading form of literature and realism the predominant literary genre, evident in the immensely popular works of Charles Dickens , George Eliot , and Thomas Hardy .
This collection of Victorian Poetry and Fiction on the Great Writers Inspire site includes a selection of writers we feel to be particularly inspiring in an age dominated by authors and literature. Charles Dickens, champion of realism and the first famous author of the period, whose works helped popularise the serialised form of the novel, is here. George Eliot, the hugely successful female-author with an incredible intellect is also present, as her work directly intertwines with the scientific theories of the era, and thereby demonstrates the importance of context when studying literature. Thomas Hardy, who wrote not only fiction but highly influential poetry too, is part of the collection. His numerous novels, studied in sixth-forms and universities across the country, provide a realistic presentation of rural England and society in the nineteenth century. Robert Louis Stevenson's popular, Gothic-style work is showcased here because it demonstrates the influence of scientific theory and an manipulation of social fears - caused by the advancement of science - that invaded the domestic sphere of late-Victorian England.
Gerard Manley Hopkins and Walt Whitman are the two poets included in the collection. They were chosen because their work did not conform to the standard verse, metre, or conventional poetic form found in other poetry of the Victorian period. The use of free verse, new rhyme schemes, and unusual subject matter found in the work of these two different poets is truly inspiring; it laid the foundation for the poetry that would be written in the trenches of WW1; the form was adopted by modernist poets such as T.S Eliot and Ezra Pound ; and the free verse and specific subject matter present in their poetry has influenced the work of contemporary poets today.
If reusing this resource please attribute as follows: Victorian Poetry and Fiction at http://writersinspire.org/content/victorian-poetry-fiction by Charlotte Barrett, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK).
British Literature Wiki
The victorian period.
We are living in an age of transition .~John Stuart Mill
The Old has passed away, but alas, the New appears not in its stead; the Time is still in pangs of travail with the New. ~Thomas Carlyle
The Victorian Era, spanning the duration of Queen Victoria’s rule from 1837 – 1901, is characterized by the expanding horizons of education and literacy, as well as by an increased desire of the people to question religion and politics. During this time period, publications such as Marx and Engles’ Communist Manifesto in 1848 and Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859, served as catalysts for political and religious controversy. These new notions of government and science signaled a turn from the idealism of the Romantics to a more empirical worldview. The Victorian era also marks a time of great economic growth, technological discovery, and industrialization. Many writers reacted to both the wonders of this Industrial Revolution as well as to the troubles of an industrialized society. Also during the Victorian Era, the influence of literature became more prevalent in society as reading evolved into a social pastime indicated by the increasing literacy rate. At the era’s beginning in 1837, it is estimated that approximately half of the adult male population was literate to a certain degree. Because of the new practices, compulsory education and technological advances in printing resulting in widely available reading materials, standard literacy was more or less universal by the end of the century (Greenblatt 993).
As reading became less of a privilege of the wealthy and more of a pastime of the common British citizen, publications such as periodicals flourished. These magazines provided monthly installments of news articles, satiric essays, poetry and fiction. These serial publications enabled many authors to easily share their work with the public and helped launch the careers of prominent Victorian writers such as Dickens, Eliot, Tennyson, and the Brownings (Norton). Because literature was an accessible and pervasive part of Victorian society, studying it is crucial in understanding the attitudes and concerns of the people who lived during this era. Much of the writing during this time was a reaction to the rapidly changing notions of science, morality, and society. Victorian writers also reacted to the writings of previous generations. George Landow argues that the Victorians wanted to escape what they saw as ‘the excessive subjectivity of the Romantics’ while at the same time keeping their “individuality, originality, intensity, and, above all, sincerity.” Thus Victorian literature tries to combine the use of Romantic subjectivity(~1798-1830) with the objectivity of the Augustans (~1660-1798). Landow argues that the birth of the dramatic monologue and autobiographical fiction were used to bring personal experiences to literature without the author seeming self-obsessed.
The Victorian Novel
The novel could be considered one facet of the Victorians’ literary exploration. It continued to develop and eventually became the prominent medium for written expression. In the framework of the novel, realism emerged as a notable literary characteristic of the period and showcased this combination of Romantic subjectivity and Augustan objectivity. In her work Adam Bede , George Eliot writes, “let us have men ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things.” As exemplified in this quotation, Eliot, and other realist writers like Dickens, held the belief that the purpose of literature should be to accurately mirror the world and portray realistic scenes with complex, life-like characters. This movement illustrates the return to Augustan objectivity through the use of empiricism and observation of the surrounding world.(Landow) Yet, the influence of the Romantic movement on Victorian writers is seen though the style in which they present these observations.
While the novel was the dominant form of literature during the Victorian era, poets continued to experiment with style and methods of story-telling in their poems. Examples of this experimentation include long narrative poems (epic poems) and the dramatic monologue as seen primarily in the writing of Robert Browning. Alfred Lord Tennyson, England’s poet laureate for a majority of the Victorian age, exemplified poetry of this era with his use of the dramatic monologue, a more lyrical style and a poetic voice that can be described as “picturesque” due to his use of description and mood-creating imagery. Two other minor movements, the Pre-Raphaelites (1848-1860) and the Aestheticism and Decadence movement (1880-1900), developed in relation to one another during the Victorian era. The first developed when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood wanted to create art for the modern age by practicing techniques of precision and simplicity in their written work. The movement of Aestheticism and Decadence began as a reaction to the Pre-Raphaelites. The members of this second movement believe, unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, that literature and poetry should be more reflective. This movement influenced poets such as Yeats and Hopkins. (Landow).
- The Victorian Crisis of Faith
- Victorian Prostitution
- Nature in the Late-Victorian Imagination
- The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
- Education, Literacy and Publishing in Victorian England
- The Realistic Novel in the Victorian Era
- Social Life in Victorian England
1837: Coronation of Victoria 1830: First Railroad operates between London and Manchester 1837: Registration Act required that all births, deaths, and marriages be recorded, this allowed legislators to know the age of minors and restrict their working hours. 1838: First regular steamship service across the Atlantic begins 1840: The London Library opens 1848: Marx and Engles’ Communist Manifesto is published 1851: The Great Exhibition in London 1859: Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species is published 1863: World’s first subway system, the London Underground, opens 1865: Transatlantic cable laid between London and New York 1871: The University Test Act abolished the law that all academics and students at Cambridge and Oxford Universities had to be practicing members of the Anglican church. This opened the universities to suitable people of all faith. 1876: Sandon’s Education Act created School Attendance Committees to encourage children to attend school and parents were made responsible for ensuring that their children received basic instruction. 1891: Education is made free and compulsory for children under 13 1901:First radio broadcast 1901: Victoria dies
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- Matthew Arnold
- Emily Brontë
- Charlotte Brontë
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Robert Browning
- Charles Dickens
- George Eliot
- Thomas Hardy
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Alfred Lord Tennyson
- Oscar Wilde
Abrams, M. H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition . NY: Oxford UP, 1953.
Goodvin, Renee. http://literaryexplorer.blondelibrarian.net/litpdstxt.html
Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature . Volume 2, 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006.
Mahoney, Tina. http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/hanover_6.htm
Landow, George. “Victorianism as a Fusion of Neoclassical and Romantic Ideas and Attitudes.” The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/ 25 February 2008.
“Pre-Raphaelites: An Introduction.” The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/prb/1.html 19 March 2008
The Victorian Station. http://www.victorianstation.com/palace.html
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Writers of the Victorian Period
The Victorian era (20 June 1837 to 22 January 1901), was a long period of continuous development of economic and social welfare in Britain. This development was accompanied by the flowering of culture and arts. In literature the novel came to prominence as the dominant genre. William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Brontë sisters, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy were the major writers of that era.
Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)
Occupation: writer, social critic
Charles Dickens created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (also known as The Pickwick Papers) was Charles Dickens's first and personal favourite novel. His most important works include "Oliver Twist", "A Christmas Carol", "Dombey and Son", "David Copperfield", "Bleak House", "Little Dorrit", "A Tale of Two Cities", and "Great Expectations". You can find some of them on our online bookstore:
http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/works-of-charles- dickens-household-edition-the- pickwick-papers-vol-ii http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/works-of-charles- dickens-a-tale-of-two-cities- vol-i http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/works-of-charles- dickens-household-edition- dombey-and-son-vol-i
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811 – 1863)
Occupation: novelist, poet
William Thackeray was Dickens' great rival in the first half of Queen Victoria's reign. He is known for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, subtitled A Novel without a Hero, which is an example of a form popular in Victorian literature. Among his famous works are the novels "Pendennis", "Catherine", "The Luck of Barry Lyndon" and "The Adventures of Philip".
http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/works-of-william- makepeace-thackeray-pendennis- vol-ii http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/the-works-of-william- makepeace-thackeray-in-twenty- six-volumes-volume-x-the- adventures-of-philip-on-his- way-through-the-world-shewing- who-robbed-and-who-passed-him- by-in-two-volumes-vol-i
Occupation: poets and novelists
Three Brontë sisters, Charlotte (1816–1855), Emily (1818–1848) and Anne (1820–1849) published significant works in the 1840s. Charlotte's "Jane Eyre" was the first to achieve success, while Emily's "Wuthering Heights", Anne's "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" and other works were not immediately appreciated by Victorian critics.
http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/wuthering-heights-a- novel http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/novels-of-the- sisters-bronte-the-tenant-of- wildfell-hall-vol-i-thornton- edition
George Eliot (1819 – 1880)
Occupation: novelist, poet, journalist, translator
Mary Ann Evans, known by her pen name George Eliot, was one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels: "Adam Bede", "The Mill on the Floss", "Silas Marner", "Romola", "Felix Holt, the Radical", "Middlemarch", and "Daniel Deronda", most of which are known for their realism and psychological insight.
http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/romola http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/the-mill-on-the- floss-in-three-volumes-vol-i http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/silas-marner-the- weaver-of-raveloe
Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928)
Occupation: novelist, poet, short story writer
In the later decades of the Victorian era, Thomas Hardy was the most important novelist in the tradition of George Eliot. He was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism. His works include "Under the Greenwood Tree", "Far from the Madding Crowd", "The Mayor of Casterbridge", "Tess of the d'Urbervilles", "The Woodlandersand" and "Jude the Obscure".
http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/under-the-greenwood- tree-a-pural-painting-of-the- dutch-school http://leopoldclassiclibrary. com/book/the-woodlanders-a- novel
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Top 10 modern Victorian novels
Narrative tricks minted in the 19th century are still working in contemporary fiction by authors from Margaret Atwood to Sarah Waters
I n historical fiction, as in all things, fashions come and go. As we near the end of Hilary Mantel’s glorious Tudor revival, the ancient world is again getting a look in, with writers such as Madeline Miller and Pat Barker refashioning the Homeric epics to glittering effect. But these trends mask more durable patterns, at least from a crudely chronological point of view.
For one thing, the 19th century – the Regency and Victorian eras, in other words – remains vastly overrepresented. In an informal 2013 survey by the Historical Novel Society, it accounted for almost 30% of that year’s titles, second only to the 20th in popularity, and with almost as large a share as all other eras put together. What accounts for this enduring fascination? Proximity plays a part, naturally, and the richness of the documentary record probably doesn’t hurt either. Empires need prodigious bureaucracies, and if there’s one thing the Victorians were spectacularly good at, it was writing things down.
For my part – well, I won’t lie. Some of it comes down to aesthetics. In The House on Vesper Sands , I wanted to dramatise wickedness and secrecy. For that you need darkness, snow and plenty of orphans. More high-mindedly, I wanted to rehabilitate the Victorian sensation novel, in which – long before the modernists thought of it – the author’s own trickery is playfully advertised. In other words – and each of the books I’ve chosen reflects this in one way or another – the Victorians didn’t just perfect the English novel. They made it self-aware.
1. Possession by AS Byatt (1990) While literary critics have occasionally embraced historical fiction, academic literary theorists have taken a harder line. They take a dim view of representing things generally, but especially of representing the past. This novel isn’t just aware of all this; it gleefully writes it into the plot. Its intricate parallel narratives involve a pair of fusty academics who discover both a secret affair between two Victorian poets and a hesitant passion of their own. The resulting novel (or rather, “romance”, both in the literary sense and the usual one) manages to be both extravagantly learned and utterly charming.
2. Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (2014) Since this novel’s appearance in 2014, Moss’s star has rightfully risen. Bodies of Light deserves consideration alongside her finest work, and exhibits her peculiar gift for slipping among disparate settings (from Greenland to the Outer Hebrides) while maintaining unusual strands of continuity. Here again she is preoccupied with motherhood and the fragility of the self, and while her Victorian foray begins with the unearthing of infant bones, she is always digging into the human soul, including – or so it can often seem – the reader’s own.
3. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (2002) This justly celebrated reinvention of the Dickensian novel is not so much a reboot as a kick in the arse. Unlike Dickens, Faber has no time for the sanctified waif or the virtuous simpleton. As in Bleak House, we are introduced first to the city itself, with a warning that we must start at the very bottom. In Faber’s London, the fog hides nothing and the veils are all drawn back. Here a prostitute squats unceremoniously over her bowl to scour herself, while outside the blood runs among the cobbles “like a winding crimson weed”.
4. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002) A landmark of lesbian fiction, this suffered the unusual fate of becoming famous for the wrong reasons. The novel’s central love story should never be whitewashed, but it spawned a cottage industry of softcore Victoriana that overshadowed its author’s virtuosity. With its loveable rogues and dastardly schemes, Fingersmith has all the elements of the worst kind of knockabout pastiche, yet what Waters fashions from them is almost miraculous. From intricate plotting to exquisitely subtle observation, she is that rare prodigy: an author who is good at everything . Like her heroine, Sue, we see as a small child does “what I had never seen before – how the world was made up”.
5. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988) The unlikely love story that begins when Lucinda Leplastrier encounters Oscar Hopkins on a ship bound for Australia has become one of the most cherished of recent times. Yet it is a love story, Carey has confessed, that he ended up writing almost by mistake. Instead, the novel’s glittering and unforgettable central motif, a glass church floating on a river, had struck Carey as crystallising (if you will) Pascal’s notion of religious belief as a grand gamble. Oscar is an inveterate gambler, of course, but if he accepts Lucinda’s bet out of compulsion, agreeing to transport her fragile edifice into the remote outback, his persistence in this harebrained undertaking has given us one of literature’s most monumental acts of love.
6. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996) Atwood has always given us big ideas, but she hasn’t always shown as much interest in people. Alias Grace is as much a novel of ideas as any she has written, but is centred for once on a transfixing study of character. Grace Marks was a real (and notorious) historical character, an Irish maid convicted in 1843 of a brutal double murder. While brilliantly dramatising the Victorian urge to medicalise femininity, this novel dignifies its central character even as it wrings from the question of her guilt a merciless degree of suspense.
7. The Prestige by Christopher Priest (1995) Christopher Nolan’s darkly glamorous film version made this the best known of Priest’s books. While it did justice to the novel’s duelling Victorian stage magicians, it jettisoned its contemporary framing and, in doing so, much of its psychological subtlety. In Priest’s original telling, the historical rivals are discovered by a down-on-his-luck writer named Andrew Westley. As the magicians stalk one another, each maddened by the mystery of the other’s “prestige” (or trick), Westley is haunted by a phantom twin, and it is the reader who must discover the true nature of the illusion.
8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013) Set in the New Zealand of the 1860s, this novel transports us not to the midst of Victoria’s reign but to the very periphery of her possessions, a disparity that Catton’s immense novel ingeniously exploits. Taking on the guise of a genteel pastiche, its customs seem familiar at first, but we soon find ourselves in unmapped territory. The intricate plot (involving a vanished prospector, a missing fortune and an ailing prostitute) is absorbing but becomes almost incidental, with Catton’s fiendish use of omniscient perspective purporting to show us everything while keeping us artfully in the dark.
9. Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge (1998) Shortlisted for the Booker prize five times, it was not until after her death in 2010 that Bainbridge was finally honoured with a specially created award . Although it was chosen from among her novels by a popular vote, Master Georgie is one of Bainbridge’s most challenging and austere works. Indeed, she herself remarked that most people needed to read it three times before they understood it. She may have been right. With its carefully modulated perspectives and slyly observed details, this refracted Bildungsroman follows a young surgeon’s almost helpless progress towards the muck and depravity of the Crimean war, and it reveals new and brilliant facets no matter how often you come back to it.
10. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds (2009) Set in Epping Forest in 1840, The Quickening Maze examines the unlikely circumstances that brought the poets John Clare and Alfred Tennyson into brief conjunction. Clare’s alcoholism and declining artistic fortunes have brought him to High Beach Asylum, while the young and untested Tennyson, a guest of the asylum-keeper, is so self-absorbed that he scarcely notices the amorous attentions of his host’s young daughter. Animating such looming and disparate figures could have made for heavy going, but Foulds gives them human scale and careful shading, illuminating all he touches with his swift and shimmering prose.
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £14.99. It is available from the Guardian bookshop for £11.49 including free UK p&p .
- Margaret Atwood
- Sarah Waters
- Peter Carey
- Michel Faber
- Adam Foulds