Rediscovering Victorian Literature

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  • 1. In this section, you will find the titles of the most important novels written during the Victorian period, together with a brief overview of each of them.If you are looking for a deeper analysis, you should also visit the Victorian Web.
  • 2. Young Jane Eyre was orphaned and sent to livewith her uncle, who dies shortly after her arrival.Her step-aunt despises her and sends her toLowood School so that she can become agoverness.Jane completes her education there and obtains aposition as governess at a house called Thornfield.Jane’s student is Adele Varens, a petulant butloving ward of the master of the house, EdwardRochester (and possibly his illegitimate child).After a series of adventures and having run away,Jane returns to Thornfield and eventually marriesRochester.
  • 3. Alice sits on a riverbank on a warm summer day,drowsily reading over her sister’s shoulder, whenshe catches sight of a White Rabbit in a waistcoatrunning by her. The White Rabbit pulls out a pocketwatch, exclaims that he is late, and pops down arabbit hole. Alice follows the White Rabbit downthe hole and comes upon an unknown place,Wonderland.Alice shrinks and then grows, and then meetsvarious characters, such as the White Rabbit, theCaterpillar, the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, theCheshire Cat, and the Queen of Hearts.After being almost beheaded by the Queen, Alicewakes up and realizes that everything was a dream.
  • 4. The story centres on Charles Marlow, who narratesmost of the book. He is an Englishman who takes aforeign assignment from a Belgian tradingcompany as a river-boat captain in Africa. Heart ofDarkness exposes the dark side of Europeancolonization while exploring the three levels ofdarkness that theprotagonist, Marlow, encounters: the darkness ofthe Congo wilderness, the darkness of theEuropeans cruel treatment of the Africannatives, and the unfathomable darkness withinevery human being for committing heinous acts ofevil.
  • 5. The novel details the lives of Tom and Maggie, abrother and sister growing up at Dorlcote Mill onthe River Floss, probably in the 1820s after theNapoleonic Wars but before the Reform Act of1832.The novel spans a period of 10 to 15 years, fromTom’s and Maggie’s childhood up until their deathsin a flood on the Floss.
  • 6. The plot opens with John Durbeyfield, Tess’ lazy and poor father, who suddenly realices ofhis heritage and relation to a family named D’Urbevilles. As a result, John and his wife sendtheir daughter to ask for financial help from the D’Urbevilles family. There she meets Alec,her supposed cousin, who, some time later, seduces her. Tess gives birth to a child. She then meets and falls in love with Angel Clare, an apprentice at a farm, who is extremely conventional about morality. He is attracted to Tess but she hides her past to him for fear of being considered unworthy of him. They eventually get married but, during the honeymoon, Tess confesses everything to her husband. She is then deserted by her husband who goes to Brazil, and is obliged to live with Alec for economic reasons. After Angel’s return, she murders Alec but is finally sentenced to death by justice.
  • 7. On Christmas Eve, around 1812,Pip, an orphan of about seven, encounters anescaped convict in the village churchyard while visiting his mothers, fathers andsiblings graves. The convict scares Pip into stealing food for him, and a file togrind away his shackles, from the home he shares with his abusive older sisterand her kind, passive husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. The next day, soldiersrecapture two convicts engaged in a fight and return them to the prison ship. Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster, who wears an old wedding dress and lives in the dilapidated Satis House, asks Pips Uncle Pumblechook to find a boy to play with her adopted daughter Estella. Pip begins to visit Miss Havisham and Estella, with whom he falls in love. As a young apprentice at Joe Gargerys forge, Pip is approached by a lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, who tells him he is to receive a large sum of money from an anonymous benefactor and must leave for London immediately where he is to become a gentleman. Pip finally discovers that the benefactor is Magwitch, the convict he had met years before.
  • 8. Dr Jekyll, seeking to separate his good side from his darker impulses, discovers away to transform himself periodically into a creature free of conscience, Mr Hyde.The transformation is incomplete, however, in that it creates a second, evil identity,but does not make the first identity purely good. After committing several and brutal crimes while transformed into Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll decides to cease becoming Hyde. He tries to stop the transformations but they occur even without drinking the potion, and, assuming that he will soon become Hyde permanently, decides to kill himself.
  • 9. The novel begins on a beautiful summer day with Lord Henry Wotton, a strongly-opinionated man, observing the sensitive artist Basil Hallward painting the portrait ofa handsome young man named Dorian Gray, who is Basils ultimate muse. Afterhearing Lord Henrys world view, Dorian begins to think beauty is the only worthwhileaspect of life. He wishes that the portrait Basil painted would grow old in his place. Dorian discovers that the portrait changes as years pass by and following his more and more evil nature. He finally decides to destroy this last vestige of his conscience, and, in a rage, picks up a knife and plunges it into the painting. The portrait reverts to its original form and Dorian dies, gaining his true aspect: aged, withered and horrible.