This course will consider a number of novels that became best-sellers when they were published in the 19th century but have since either been eclipsed by better known novels by the same writer or simply forgotten due to the vagaries of literary taste and popularity. Taking one novel from each decade of the second half of the 19th century we will look at the changing styles of literature trough the period.
This course will study the following novels: From the 1850s we will look at the 1857 novel by Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days. In the 1860s we will consider the 1867 novel by Rhoda Broughton’s Not Wisely But Too Well. In the 1870s we consider the 1873 novel by Thomas Hardy A Pair of Blue Eyes, while Thomas Hardy is by no means a forgotten author this is one novel that has, arguably, been somewhat eclipsed by novels such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. From the 1880s we will consider the 1886 novel by George Gissing’s Demos and from the 1890s we will look at the 1896 novel by H G Well’s The Island of Dr Moreau. These novels were all best-sellers when published but have all waxed and waned in terms of fortune and popularity since their original publication in the 19th century. We will consider their literary merits and what they still might have to offer a 21st century reader. There are many novels which sold in quantities that matched or even eclipsed writers like Collins, Dickens and Trollope but whose work is now no longer studied or, indeed, easily available. This course will try to throw some light on what these novels offered their contemporary readership and will discuss ideas about why they have not been able to maintain the consistent popularity and availability of other novels from the period. We will consider use of language, narrative style, themes and ideas in order to have these discussions.
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