Women Writers Who Used Male Pen Names #InternationalWomensDay #WWWBlogs

Nineteenth-century Britain was a time of great progress and reform, in British society due to industrialization and social upheaval. One of the most controversial debates were about the position of women in society. Aspects such as a wife’s right to own property, a mother’s right to custody of her children and ownership of her body, or right to vote, saw the birth of the movement for women’s rights, and the first suffragettes at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This was also the era of the professional woman writer, a time in which more women were writing professionally and demanded a place alongside men in the literary world.

The Bronte Sisters

One of the strategies these early women writers turned to was the use of male pseudonyms.

These have been referred to by 20th century feminist literary scholars such as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar as ‘metaphorical trousers’ or male pseudonyms in the 19th century, in order to be taken seriously as authors.

I wrote a post called Madwoman in the Attic in two parts with more information on the topic.

Here are a few of the most famous women who used male pseudonyms. The most well-known are probably the three Bronte sisters.

Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, is one of the most celebrated female novelists in all literary history. Charlotte Bronte originally published Jane Eyre and all her works under the name Currer Bell. This name represented the male identity necessary to succeed during the time in which Bronte was actively writing. Jane Eyre is regarded as one of the most influential works of literature in history and is now published under Charlotte Bronte’s true name.

Anne Bronte (1820 – 1849) wrote Agnes Grey, in 1847. Her second novel was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the story of a woman leaving her abusive spouse, was published the following year. She published her novels with the pseudonym Acton Bell.

Charlotte’s sister, Emily Bronte, published her only known novel, Wuthering Heights, under the male pen name Ellis Bell. The three sisters chose to write under masculine pseudonyms to deter any bias on the basis of their gender. Emily Bronte’s health was poor throughout most of her life, and she died at 30 in the year 1848. In 1950, Charlotte Bronte edited Emily’s novel and re-published it under Emily’s true name. Today, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are considered two of the most important English novels in history.

            Mary Anne Evans, pen name George Eliot

Mary Ann Evans: More widely known by her male pen name George Eliot, Evans was a prominent author and journalist during the Victorian Era. Evans is said to have published under a male pseudonym in order to distance herself from the female romance novelists of the time and to ensure that her works were taken seriously. After her first novel, Adam Bede, was published in 1859 and reviewed positively by critics, Evans revealed her female identity to the world.

On other occasions, women wrote under their married names, to endow them with greater respectability. Here are some examples.

Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant (née Margaret Oliphant Wilson) (4 April 1828 – 25 June 1897), was a Scottish novelist and historical writer, who usually wrote as Mrs. Oliphant. Her fictional works encompass “domestic realism, the historical novel and tales of the supernatural

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, née Stevenson (29 September 1810 — 12 November 1865), often referred to simply as Mrs Gaskell, was an English novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, and are of interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature. Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte, published in 1857, was the first biography of that author.

               Mrs. Henry Wood

Ellen Wood (17 January 1814 – 10 February 1887), was an English novelist, better known as Mrs. Henry Wood. She is perhaps remembered most for her 1861 novel East Lynne, but many of her books became international best-sellers, being widely received in the United States and surpassing Charles Dickens’ fame in Australia.

Mary Augusta Ward née Arnold; (11 June 1851 – 24 March 1920), was a British novelist who wrote under her married name as Mrs Humphry Ward.

There is plenty of proof as to why women had to use male pseudonyms or their husbands or brother’s names. I suggest those who are interested in the topic read my post Madwoman in the Attic Part II, for a more detailed account and bibliography.

I’m just going to include one eloquent example in this post. A letter the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey (1774-1843) wrote to Charlotte Bronte in 1836 in reply to her petition for advice on being a writer.

“Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life and it ought not to be.  The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity”.

Robert Southey was an English poet of the Romantic school, and one of the so-called “Lake Poets”. He was Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has long been eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Nevertheless, women authors achieved remarkable literary success in a profession clearly dominated by men. Many of them were able to successfully pursue their literary ambitions in spite of the patriarchal oppression they were subject to, and they passed the test of time with flying colours!

Fortunately, society, including men and women have come a long way since the 19th century, and nowadays, at least in the English-speaking/writing/reading literary market, as I perceive the situation, women and men write and publish with equal opportunities.

Nevertheless, as all social progress, it’s an ongoing struggle and unfortunately, there are many places in the world where women are still struggling to be heard.

Do men and women writer have equal opportunities as readers and writers where you live?

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens! #amreading #amreviewing Oliver Twist

Today’s a very special day for English literature. On this day, 7th February, in 1812 , Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, United Kingdom.

On this special day, I’d like to suggest you read one of his novels, so I’m including my ‘special tribute review’ of Oliver Twist, which you can read for free as a kindle ebook on amazon, thanks to a community of volunteers who converted this novel from its physical edition to the digital format.

oliver-twist

My Review

If you only read one of Charles Dickens’ books, or if you don’t know where to start reading his books, I recommend you read Oliver Twist, the unforgettable story of a poor orphan boy, who spent his early years in a work house, before being recruited by a gang of pickpockets.

It’s not an easy book to read, and is not meant for children or the faint of heart, because it portrays some harsh events, many of which Dickens had experienced himself, or had personally investigated, and that is one of the main attractions of this book; It’s real.

You may read about child labour and the plight of the many orphaned children in Victorian England, but no history book will describe a workhouse, the inside of a prison, the starving dogs and hungry rats, the life of a pickpocket, a thief, a pimp, or a gang leader, a public hanging, or the cruelty of London slums, the way Dickens does.

Read it if you want to know what really happened, what the streets, people and life was like for Victorian Londoners.

I never tire of rereading it myself. Dramatic, yes, exaggerated, I doubt it, realistic, shockingly.

The plot is a page turner, and the characters come to life in every scene. We see their gestures, smell their ragged clothes and listen to their lies and truths.

I love Dickens’ use of the English language. It may be wordy by contemporary standards, but it’s smoothly done. A real pleasure to read for anyone who loves the English language and wants to take a short trip to Victorian London.

A book to read once and reread all your life. 

Although I usually read my paperback, this free kindle version makes it even easier to read. A big thank you to the volunteers who made this edition possible.

As a writer, I often read a random chapter or passage before I sit down to write. Dickens humbles me, but he also gives me great encouragement by showing me how the English language can convey so much using the right combination of words.

‘Capital!’ As Dickens would say.      

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I’ve written a piece of Flash Fiction based on Oliver Twist, and included some information about child labour and orphans in Victorian England in this post.

I’d like to include one of Dickens’ quotes, which is one of my favourite.

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Dickens wrote his books with the aim of making the world a better place, which he did, through numerous campaigns and by building awareness among the reading public, but his greatest legacy was the belief in the power of words to improve our world.

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As well as influencing me as a writer, Charles Dickens also makes a personal appearance in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, my sequel to Jane Eyre, and is a vital part of Jane’s recovery in Midsummer at Eyre Hall, although he is no longer physically present.

Here is the page with the moment Charles Dickens arrives at Eyre Hall to spend a few days with Jane Eyre, now Mrs. Mason.

They spoke about their private lives, the craft of fiction, and also about current affairs such as child labour and abuse, public hangings, and the dangers of the slums of London. It’s one of my favourite chapters.

Which is your favourite novel by Charles Dickens?

Why not write a review and share on a blog post to celebrate his birthday!

 

Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction Challenge: The Mourner

This post was written in response to Charli Mills’ weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.   

January 12, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that expresses a strong concern, something to give a crap about. Something that brings out the feeling to stand up. How can you use it to show tension or reveal attitudes?

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The Mourner

The undertaker pointed to the sullen lad. “He looks like a good candidate, Mr. Bumble.”

“Any job requiring silence will suit this hard-working boy, Mr. Sowerberry.”

“No speaking required,” he said, then turned to the pauper. “Just crying, preferably bawling his eyes out.”

“Indeed?”

“He’ll be working as a mourner at children’s funerals.”

“Excellent. We’ll be sorry to see him go, but it’s our duty to help destitute orphans.”

Good riddance, he thought. Nobody gives a crap about any of the blighters.

He’d paid a fiver to get rid of Oliver Twist.

Troublemaker.

How dare he ask for more!

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Oliver Twist may not be Dickens’ best novel, but it’s my favourite. It’s a novel which is very dear to my heart. I read abridged versions as a child and I’ve read and reread the complete novel many times.

Oliver Twist is Dickens at his rawest, most melodramatic, and outspoken. I can almost hear his pen scratching the paper as he writes and see his head shaking with anger at the injustices remembered and portrayed.

I watched all the film adaptations, my absolute favourite is Carol Reed’s 1968 version. I watched numerous versions as school plays, throughout my school days. Years later I took my children to see Lionel Bart’s unforgettable musical adaptation live at the London Palladium in 1994. Here’s Jonathan Pryce as Fagin.

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Oliver Twist was an orphan who spent his early years in a workhouse, until he was found a job away from the other inmates, because he was considered subversive as a result of asking for more gruel.

This is the extract from the scene in Dickens’ Oliver Twist where he asks for more gruel:

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Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.

The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said, ‘Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!’

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

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Of course they were horrified, How dare he ask for more? How dare he speak up and challenge injustice? How dare he hope to improve his lot? He was obviously an upstart and it was then that they decided to find him a job away from the workhouse, because he would be a bad influence on the rest of the inmates.

i-want-some-more

Few people gave a crap about children in general, and even less so if they were orphans, in Victorian England.

Child abuse, including child labour, and exploitation, was rampant in Victorian England. Children who survived infancy were often put to work at an early age in textile mills, coal mines, and down chimneys, where working conditions often proved deadly. Girls from the age of five went into domestic service as nurses or maids, and rural children worked on farms, too. Workhouses and poor houses, like the ones in Oliver Twist were cruel places as Dickens himself experienced as a child.

lord_shaftesburycharles-dickens

Fortunately, many Victorians campaigned to improve the lives of poor children. Reformers such as Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885 in the picture above, left), were able to pass laws to protect children from exploitations, such as the 1841 Mines Act which made it illegal for children under the age of 10 to work in a coal mine. The 1847 Ten Hour Act which made it illegal for children to work more than 10 hours in a day. The 1874 Factory Act which banned the employment of children under 10 in factories. Of course if these laws were needed, it meant that children under the age of ten were working as if they were adults, and probably earning a great deal less. Lord Shaftesbury later became the president of the Ragged School Union, an evangelical organization which established hundreds of schools for the poor.

Charles Dickens’ novels revealed and condemned the exploitation of helpless children. When Dickens was twelve, his father was imprisoned for debt and he was sent to work in a blacking factory, an incident that haunted him his whole life. No wonder his novels depict plenty of neglected, exploited, or abused children and orphans.

Oliver Twist (1837) was written to expose and attack on these practices and the cruelty and injustice of workhouses and poor houses for the homeless, which subjected them to unhealthy and inhuman living conditions and hard labour.

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Orphans and their plight also featured predominantly in other Victorian novels, such as my beloved Jane Eyre. Many of the characters in The Eyre Hall Trilogy are orphans or abandoned children, too.

Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall includes an account of a dramatic case of child farming, child abuse and kidnapping, which, as Dickens’ novels, is based on real events.

In the following scene from Chapter XI, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. Michael is in London, searching for a child who had been kidnapped and sold. The following is his conversation with a representative of the law, who expresses the general opinion of many people within the establishment, at the time.

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Sergeant Wilson was a round sort of man. He had a round red–veined face, a large round belly, and fat chubby fingers. I imagined he was a man who enjoyed his food and drink over any other pleasures in life. When he spoke, his slurred and jovial voice convinced me he would never be seen chasing anyone or even organising a chase. I informed him of my suspicion that a woman under an assumed name was buying and selling babies. I was appalled at his lack of interest in the topic.

“There are too many children in London, Lieutenant Kirkpatrick, far too many. They are often born in the wrong families, who cannot feed them or clothe them, so they are taken to other better–off families. It is often a question of social justice. Many of the intermediaries are religious orders. Children are left on church or convent doorsteps, others sadly fall into the hands of dubious individuals such as the one you mention, but in any case, the children who survive will have a better life, don’t you think?”

I could not disclose the real events that had occurred, but I needed to be able to threaten her with some legal action.

“Of course I agree, Sergeant Wilson, but let us suppose a criminal had robbed children and was selling them for immoral reasons, such as prostitution or unpaid labour?”

“If it could be proved in a court of law that she stole the children and sold them, she would be taken to Newgate and later hanged. Unfortunately, none of the parents would miss a hungry baby, and call the police to deal with the crime.”

I tried to convince him that the plight of the babies was important, but he was unmoved.

“Have you any idea how much crime, I mean serious crime, there is in London? Pickpockets, thieves, burglars, and debtors, they are our curse. They threaten the honest, hard–working citizens of London.”

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Fortunately, at least in Europe, we have a welfare system which caters for the underprivileged, makes education available and compulsory for children up to the age of 16 or 18, a national health service covers all citizens, and there are laws to protect children and other vulnerable citizens, such as immigrants, refugees and the unemployed. We should never forget that this hasn’t always been the case. Social care and civil rights were gained because many people fought for them, and now it’s our turn to make sure they are still guaranteed for our children and grandchildren.

More on the Victorians and child labour at the British Library

Why I write neo-Victorian Fiction

I’ve had a special and personal interest in Victorian Literature since I was about 12, when my teacher, Sister Catherine, used to read aloud to us, mostly Victorian novels, which I grew to love. She introduced me to the Victorians. I vividly remember listening to The Moonstone, David Copperfield, Little Women, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. I can still hear her soft sibilant voice tell us all those wonderful stories, which made us laugh and cry. I wrote a post about Sister Catherine some time ago.

 

Moonstone

I write historical fiction because I love travelling in time and space. I’m not interested in purposefully (I’m afraid I can’t control my subconscious) writing about myself or my contemporaries, at the moment. I prefer to lose myself in other places and eras. I’m especially obsessed with Victorian times and writers, because they have become my beacon in the sea of words and ideas I need to express.

I am fascinated by novels such as Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, Silas Marner, Persuasion, Tess of the d’Urbevilles, The Woman in White, etc. My inspiration and ideas come mainly from 19th and 20th century writers, especially the Victorians. The Eyre Hall Trilogy is a tribute to my Victorian ‘Masters’ who introduced me to the pleasure of reading and taught me the craft of writing. Many of these writers and their literary creations appear throughout my trilogy.

Jane Eyre

History is continuous, and understanding can only occur in retrospect. We need to stand back and expose the prejudice and injustices of the past in order to understand the present and move forward. This can only occur in retrospect. If you take a step back from a problem you have a better angle. You can now see the whole picture. It’s happened and it’s over. You can understand it better.

We congratulate ourselves because we have a fairer education system and more freedom of choice, gender equality, but I’m asking readers to walk in Victorian shoes, to understand our literary grandfathers and where we come from. How we fought to gain these social advances and why the struggle is ongoing.

All Hallows Museum

Which writers have influenced me?

My most important influence is Charlotte Bronte. Her literary creations, Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, Richard Mason, and Bertha Mason have come to life once more, twenty-two years after Jane Eyre ended. I have also brought to life the original setting and recreated a new residence for the Rochester family, after Thornfield Hall was burnt down, Eyre Hall.

Charles Dickens appears as a character in my novel. I have read many of his novels, letters, and biographies, so I have enjoyed recreating his voice and opinions in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. Charles Dickens’ London is also present in my recreation, and I have used many old maps of London, pictures and photographs of the time, to inspire me and take me around the city.

dickens

Robert Browning also appears, after his wife Elizabeth Barret Browning died, as Mr. Greenwood, Adele’s suitor. I read Thomas de Quincy’s detailed account of his opium addiction in Confessions of an Opium Eater, in order to write about the use and effects of opium at the time.

Jenny Rosset is based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s long poem, Jenny, about a Victorian prostitute. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson is referred to. Michael Kirkpatrick is partly a combination of Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth and Thomas Hardy’s Gabriel Oak.

The characters in the Eyre Hall Trilogy read and discuss novels such as, Treasure Island, Persuasion, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Silas Marner, and Wuthering Heights, among others. They also read and quote poems by Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Anne Bronte, and Robert Browning.

Dorian Gray

In my final volume, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, makes special reference to Maria or the Wrongs of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft, Frankenstein by her daughter, Mary Shelley, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by R. L. Stevenson, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, among others.

What are my aims in writing neo-Victorian novels?

I had four objectives when I decided to write The Eyre Hall Trilogy:

Firstly, my aim was to expose Rochester as a tyrant and revindicate Bertha Mason, the madwoman in the attic, as his victim. I am sure that Jane Eyre would have become another victim, given a few years, which is what is disclosed in my novel.

Secondly, I wanted to make sure that amends would be made, so Bertha’s daughter (my creation) would be reinstated, and Jane would find happiness and lasting love, with another, worthier man (my creation).

Thirdly, I’ll admit I’m an irreverent, daring, and provocative writer, who looks to her favourite writers for inspiration. The Eyre Hall Trilogy is meant as a tribute to many Victorian (and some 20th century) authors, which I have already named.

Twelfth Night Billboard

Finally, I aim to write novels that will entertain readers and transport them to another time and place, to a pre-digital and pre-electronic age, where our great-great grandparents lived and loved, just as intensely as we do today, in spite of not having lightbulbs, cars, phones or tablets.

If my readers are encouraged to read or reread the classics, that would be an extra bonus!

I’ve written a previous article about writing prequels and sequels here: https://lucciagray.com/2014/11/08/sequels-prequels-reinterpretations-rewritings-and-writing-back/

How have I approached neo-Victorian fiction?

I’ve used the following literary strategies:

Intertextuality:  A literary device that creates an ‘interrelationship between texts’. I’ve included texts, plots, characters, from other novels in my novels.

My most important sources are the characters, plot and setting in the prequel Wide Sargasso Sea as well as Jane Eyre.

Metafiction: Literature talking about literature.

Charles Dickens discusses the process of writing with Jane, inviting the reader to think about literature and the process of literary creation. Jane also talks about the books she writes and her writing process.

Postcolonialism: Writing back to the ‘Empire’ and traditional Victorian writers.

I’ve done this by paying attention to the secondary or marginalized characters who would have been ignored at the time, such as the servants and the prostitute.

I’ve read between the lines of Charlotte Bronte’s unreliable narrator: a young, naïve woman who is in love, and looked below the surface for hidden meanings.

Feminism: Empower Jane to move on without/in spite of Mr. Rochester and I’ve made an attempt to reinstate Bertha Antoinette Mason.

Lucy writing

What’s my writing process like?

At this point, I ought to tell you that before I sit down and write, I have ‘seen’ the scene in my mind and heard the characters interacting. I usually jot down a few ideas and do lots of research which includes finding pictures and specific information, too.

The Eyre Hall trilogy is character driven. I plan a simple, loose plot outline, basically three parts and thirty chapters, and let the characters interact and move the plot forward. I need to know what my characters want, how they feel, what they’re wearing, looking at, thinking about, and doing, before I write. I learn more about them as I listen to them and watch them interact.

I’m overjoyed when readers recognize my sources, and I love it when they say they’re going to reread the original Victorian novels I mention, this isn’t my main aim. I’d like my readers to walk in Victorian shoes, to understand our literary grandfathers and grandmothers and where we come from.

My objective is to write novels that will entertain all types of readers and transport them to another time and place, where there were no light bulbs, phones, fridges, malls, emails, mobiles, planes, or cars; to the world where our great-great grandparents lived and loved just as intensely as we do today.

Are you interested in reading and reviewing my novels? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Why Read Neo-Victorian Novels Instead of real Victorian Novels?

In this post, which is a follow-up to yesterday’s post which proposes a description and definition of what neo-Victorian fiction is, I’d like to discuss what’s the point of reading neo-Victorian novels in the first place. Why not read the real thing?

I hope that many of my readers have read or will read some real Victorian fiction at some point in their lives, because it’s like taking a walk in the past in a guided tour by some of the most privileged minds of the times. Who could let that opportunity slip by?

On the other hand, I’m well aware that most readers aren’t going to read ‘real’ Victorian fiction, which was written 200 years ago, and these are some of the reasons why:  

Victorian novels are too long for modern tastes and often dwell generously on details which will often exasperate the modern, and often impatient reader. It takes a lot of dedication to read a dense, three volume novel, when you have tons of things to do and need to wind down after a hard day at work, after coping with a family and daily chores.

Contemporary novels are shorter and use economical prose. There are hundreds of articles and editors telling writers, for example, to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly, something no-one ever told Victorian writers! Many of us try to follow Vonnegut’s maxim:Time quote

 

These are our maxims today, and it’s what most readers want. Tell me your story as efficiently and beautifully as possible, but don’t waste my time. Show me what you want me to see, don’t tell me. None of this fits in with Victorian writing style, so it’s understandably tough for a modern reader.

 

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Victorian novels were naturally written for a Victorian audience. They knew what they ate, how they obtained their products, what they wore, what their routines were like, why they used candles and lived amidst shadows and darkness, how a message could take a month to arrive, and how a 50 mile journey would take a whole day by horse and carriage, or over two  hours by steam train. All these, and plenty more facts, are so obvious, they’re ignored, and the modern reader can easily get lost, bored, or frustrated.  

Neo-Victorian writers have to make sure, subtly, that modern readers understand and appreciate that life was slow, dark, extremely tough, and unsafe. A badly healed cut, a flu, or a hungry thief could kill you, not to mention cholera, smallpox, or rampant venereal diseases. Clothes were so heavy and complex to put on, due to the laces, strings, ribbons, and layers, that time and help were needed to get dressed. That there were no antibiotics, dentists, electric lights, or bathrooms, and that most people, including children worked from dusk to dawn, and ate plenty of stale bread and drank watered down ale.

Life was hard, look at these pictures of Dickens and Lord Tennyson in their twenties and in their fifties! Check out any other prominent Victorians and you’ll see how old and tired they looked in their forties and fifties.

 

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Finally, the contemporary writer has one great and undeniable advantage over the Victorians themselves. They had a lack of perspective of their own times that we have gained over the past 200 years. We can observe them in hindsight in their glory and their misery. We can stand back and understand and appreciate their struggle and their message in the bigger picture and transmit a more global, albeit biased, picture of their lives.

The obvious disadvantage is that we will be comparing them to us, which is unfair and biased, we must look at them from a distance, but we must make sure we are walking in their shoes as we do so.

In summary, reading Victorian fiction is like watching a black and white movie or photo, like the one above, it has a unique beauty, attraction, and value, but too much of it can tire a modern audience.

The pace, style, and richness of language are often unappealing to a contemporary audience, because it has become fixed, whereas neo-Victorian prose is alive and adapted to the taste and needs of a modern audience.

Do you read Victorian fiction? If so why?

Can you think of other reasons why contemporary readers struggle with Victorian fiction?

Have you read neo-Victorian fiction?

I’d love to know what you think.

 

What is Neo-Victorian Fiction?

As I consider myself a writer of neo-Victorian fiction, I thought I’d clarify the meaning for readers, students and scholars who are interested in the term.

Neo-Victorianism is a compound noun formed by the following two terms, ‘Neo’ and ‘Victorian’.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the prefix neo refers to: a compound referring to a new, revived, or modified form of some doctrine, belief, practice, language, artistic style, etc.

Ironically, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word ‘neo’ as prefix, was first used in Victorian times, in 1880.

The term Victorian isn’t as straightforward as it seems. It can refer to the period of Queen Victoria’s life (1819-1901) or her reign (1837-1901). It can also refer to the 19th century in general, and some historians consider it spans from the French Revolution in 1789 until the beginning of World War I in 1914.

It is an enormous amount of time, so many divide it into ‘early period’, ‘the Height of the Victorian Era’, or ‘The Mid-Victorian Period’ (1848-1870), which was the greatest period of economic prosperity and growth of the Empire, and the ‘late Victorian period’.

Neo-Victorian is a relatively new term, Neo-Victorian Studies journal, was first published in 2008. According to Marie-Luise Kohlke, founding editor of the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, Neo-Victorianism is “the afterlife of the nineteenth century in the cultural imaginary.

So, a loose definition would be that the term Neo-Victorian refers to contemporary re-engagement, reimagining or artistic revival, of everything related to the Victorian era, such as fashion, history, art forms, famous and infamous people, literature, including authors, novels, and characters.

Most contemporary views of Victoriansim have been and are largely derived from fictional narratives and their film and television adaptations. So let’s have a look at some examples of  Victorian literature and culture mediated through neo-Victorian representations such as:

Cartoons and children’s films such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, A Christmas Carol

BBC adaptations of the works of Dickens, Austen, Thackeray, Hardy, Mrs. Gaskell, George Elliot.

Films such as Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights.

Novels: Sarah Waters, Fingersmith, A.S. Byatt Possession are my favourites.

Characteristics of Victorian Novels.

Let’s look back at Victorian novels before returning to neo-Victorian fiction.

The world was rapidly changing in Victorian England, and so were people’s views of themselves and how they should interact with this evolving world.

The major changes were bought by the growth of the population due to expansion and colonization, the growth of the working classes and the advances in science and technology.

Steam power, improved forms of transport, more jobs in factories and cities, scientific knowledge, improved many aspects of their lives, but also brought new problems such as overcrowding, increased poverty and crime.

The growing working classes required more social investment in education, health, and housing. Women were becoming more independent and demanding equal rights.

 

A new philosophy, Utilitarianism, advocated by John Stuart Mill was concerned with the promotion of happiness and wellbeing of the majority of the population, instead of the elite. More egalitarian and ethical modes of thinking led to increased social awareness.

As a result, the themes which interested the Victorians were:

Ethical: Right and Wrong / Good versus evil, which can be exemplified in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde

Industrialisation and progress: Class and Social issues such as prostitution, orphans, wages, living conditions, education, workhouses, addiction. These themes are prominent in Dickens.

Science versus religion and/or superstition. This can be seen in their interest in science Fiction and detailed and systematic crime fiction such as Sherlock Holmes.

Women and their role in society also figure prominently in literature as authors and main characters in novels.

However writers hadn’t abandoned Gothic, Fantasy, and Romance. Literature as a purely aesthetic endeavour providing pleasure and entertainment was also present.

The Victorians wrote about love and life and the torments and pleasures of loving and living. Their characters, stories and themes are still relevant and exciting for modern audiences as we have seen. So what did they write about? Well, they wrote about everything and anything.

You name the genre, they wrote about it first:

Detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle

Vampire novels: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dystopian: H. G. Wells The Time Machine, Trollope The Fixed Period

Fantasy: George MacDonald The Princess and the Goblin, the precursor of Tolkien / C. S. Lewis

Romance: Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte

Sensation Novel: Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

Comedy: Dickens, G. K. Chesterton, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde,

Social criticism: child labour, work houses, especially in Dickens’ Oliver Twist

Prostitution: Jenny a long poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Drug addiction: Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an Opium Eater

Erotic: The Romance of Lust, by Anonymous, The Pearl is a collection of erotic tales, rhymes, songs and parodies in magazine form that were published in London between 1879 to 1880.

Paranormal: The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde.

Adventure: Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson

History: Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

Science Fiction: H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds

Travel: Around the World in 80 Days, Kipling’s Jungle Book

War:  Kipling’s Soldiers Three

Poetry: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning.

Short Story: Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy all wrote short fiction.

Theatre: Oscar Wilde, G. B. Shaw

Musicals: Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, and music hall was also a popular form of entertainment.

The Victorians were avid readers. The number of readers was expanding. Even those who couldn’t read, read by listening to public or private readings. Reading aloud was a Victorian form of entertainment. Dickens gave many public readings of his work and reading aloud was a popular pastime for families.

Many novels were serialized and some were sold as magazines. Most of them were later printed into three volumes, also called triple deckers. Many were lent through the lending libraries.

‘Penny bloods’, which came to be known as penny dreadfuls was the name for booklets which told stories of adventure, such as gothic tales, pirates and highwaymen, and crime. They were published weekly with illustrations.

What is a Neo-Victorian novel?

Fiction written by a contemporary author which employs Victorian settings and/or styles to self-reflexively invoke the Victorian era for the present.

BUT

The aim is not simply to set a novel in the Victorian era due to nostalgia. There must be something more than an aesthetic or historic recreation.

In other words, fiction that is consciously and purposefully set in the Victorian era in order to reinterpret, rediscover, or make a statement concerning one or more aspects of Victorian literature and transmitting these findings, or conclusions to a contemporary audience.

Neo-Victorian novels have a specific and conscious aim to put forward an argument about Victorian culture and literature, which the author considers has a message or relevance for a contemporary audience.

Many of the neo-Victorian writers could also be called Postcolonial. Some have considered that Victorian authors and their works represented the mainstream or traditional Victorian society, which supported Colonialism and the Empire either implicitly or explicitly.

They could also be called Feminist because their aim is to discuss, raise awareness, and promote equal rights and opportunities for women in all walks of life, especially in education and employment. More on Feminism in Victorian Literature in this post: https://lucciagray.com/2014/03/24/the-madwoman-in-the-attic-part-i/ and

These writers are writing back to their imperialist forefathers. So for example, Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea is both Postcolonial, neo-Victorian and Feminist.

Jean Rhys writes back to Charlotte Bronte by reimagining Bertha Mason’s life before during and after she married Mr. Rochester. Rhys takes a Creole woman, who was a minor character from the colonies, without a voice. Bertha had no rights in England. Rhys reinvented her life and gave her a voice and the central role in the novel, which brings us to why I wrote The Eyre Hall Trilogy, but more about that in my next post.

It’s an ample topic and I’ve skimmed through, but if you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know.

In my next post I’ll tell you why I write neo-Victorian fiction and I’ll discuss What’s the point of Reading Neo-Victorian Novels instead of reading the real thing.

Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction ‘Oliver and Trip’ A Tribute to Charles Dickens

This Flash Fiction was written in response to Charlie Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly prompt

Carrot Ranch 20th Jan
January 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a boy and his dog, showing the value or benefit of such a relationship. Be creative, uplifting and demonstrate that such a relationship has merit. If the prompt takes you somewhere darker, know that writing into the dark often retrieves the light. Let it have a purpose.

This week’s prompt has taken me to Victorian England. Those of you who know me will not be surprised!

Dogs feature prominently in Dickens’ work. He was a dog lover all his life. More about Dickens and his dogs here

Dickens walking his dogs
Dickens took long walks in the afternoon, ten miles or more, with the dogs as his sole companions. Illustration from Princes, Authors, and Statesmen of Our Time, Henry Bill Publishing Co., 1885

In my flash the boy and the dog will grow a bond because, sadly, they’re both given the same food to eat, and both wish to ‘join forces’ and escape from their cruel ‘owners’.

It’s inspired by an episode in my beloved Oliver Twist, but more later. Here’s my flash!

****

Oliver and Trip

An Undertaker’s Cellar. London, 1837.

The undertaker’s wife pushed me down the stairs into the coal-cellar, where I almost tripped over a shaggy dog. 

‘Oliver, you can ‘ave what Trip’s left on his plate. Probably found himself a big fat rat last night, so ‘e ain’t hungry this morning.’

She kicked the animal viciously. ‘Don’t be greedy and let the little beggar eat some o’ them bits o’ meat!’

Trip backed away and growled, but I was so hungry I decided to risk it and put my fingers on his food. 

‘We’ll get out of here together,’ I whispered as he licked my hand.

****

This flash is inspired by some characters and events in Oliver Twist, published by Charles Dickens in 1837.

Just in case you think I’m exaggerating in my Flash Fiction, there follows an extract from Dickens’ novel, where a similar event is described.

Oliver had just been ‘brought’ or ‘bought’ from the poor house to work at an Undertaker’s and he is given the dog’s food to eat, which he devours hungrily.

Notice also how, in the passage, Dickens, ardent and active social campaigner, directs his wrath at a ‘well-fed philosopher’, no doubt some contemporary politician/s, who will never witness the ‘ferocity of famine’.

Here’s the extract from the end of Chapter IV (The undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry, who has just collected Oliver from the workhouse is speaking to his wife, Charlotte. Trip is their dog.)

****

‘Here, Charlotte,’ said Mr. Sowerberry, who had followed Oliver down, ‘give this boy some of the cold bits that were put by for Trip. He hasn’t come home since the morning, so he may go without ‘em. I dare say the boy isn’t too dainty to eat ‘em—are you, boy?’

Oliver, whose eyes had glistened at the mention of meat, and who was trembling with eagerness to devour it, replied in the negative; and a plateful of coarse broken victuals was set before him.

I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall within him; whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the dog had neglected. I wish he could have witnessed the horrible avidity with which Oliver tore the bits asunder with all the ferocity of famine. There is only one thing I should like better; and that would be to see the Philosopher making the same sort of meal himself, with the same relish.

****

It pains me to listen to some critics/readers, both his and our contemporaries, say Dickens’ writings were ‘too melodramatic’. I’d reply, ‘You weren’t there. You didn’t walk down the cellars, or inside the chimneys, or live in the poor houses. Don’t you dare classify abuse and suffering as melodramatic!’

There can be no doubt in our minds that this ‘piece of fiction’ happened often enough to be described by Charles Dickens. We’ve come a long way, partly thanks to Mr. Dickens’ honest descriptions of cruelty and exploitation in Victorian England.

This is why I believe literature is more enlightening than history to understand our past. History tells us the facts, whereas literature tells the real story of what happened to real people, not only the names of the Kings and Queens who reigned or the battles fought.

Writers are telling the real story, so please keep writing, all of you!