English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Other Irish Story Writers
Thomas Adolphus Trollope
Poetry Of The Early Victorian Period
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Perhaps one of the most eccentric English authors was Charles Reade (1814-1884). He was born at Ipsden, near Oxford, graduated at that University, and was elected a Fellow of Magdalen College. This gave him independence, so that he was slow in beginning to write. After some unsuccessful attempts at drama, he published in 1852, "Peg Woffington," a brilliant short story. His "Griffith Gaunt" is a powerful but disagreeable picture of life in the Eighteenth Century. "It Is Never Too Late to Mend" (1856) is a tale of his own times, exposing the ill treatment of prisoners and describing mining life in Australia., "The Cloister and the Hearth" (1861) is his longest and greatest work, professing to relate the story of the father of Erasmus in the Fifteenth Century. Though he borrowed much from Erasmus himself, he added romance, passion and pathos. He used to accumulate newspaper clippings of strange facts and incidents, which he arranged and indexed in huge scrap-books, and then drew from these sources such details as he required for his powerful stories of modern life. Yet it was rather his own genius than this patchwork that enabled him to reveal the gloom of prisons, the horrors of mad-houses, the outrages of trade-unions, the perils of the sea. His stories show him a man of strong likes and dislikes. He assisted in dramatizing some of his stories, and had lawsuits and newspaper controversies about the copyrights.
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was a prominent member of Dickens' staff in the "Household Words," and was noted for his skill in constructing intricate plots. The reader of the serial was kept in anxious suspense from week to week until the elaborate tangle should be unraveled. This sensation was especially produced by the "Woman in White" (186o), in which was presented his most life-like character, the plausible, fat Italian, Fosco, adventurer and villain.
Judged by his books, George Borrow (1803-1881)' was a man of roving and adventurous temper, fond of the Gipsies and their wild life, yet he was also a thorough Englishman, devoted to his country and its institutions. For a few years he wandered over many lands and mingled with strange folk, yet he spent the last half of his life quietly in his native place. He was born at Nor-folk, the son of a soldier, and went to London, where he was employed in obscure literary work until, in 1833, he was selected by the British and Foreign Bible Society as a traveling agent in Russia and the East, and afterwards in Spain. Returning to England in 184o he married a lady of some wealth and published the books by which he is known. The first was "The Gipsies in Spain" (1841), soon followed by "The Bible in Spain" (1842) a wildly romantic book of travels, whose fanciful coloring makes them seem like the phantasms of a dream. His powerful novel, "Lavengro" (1851) partly autobiographic, tells the story of a man who joins the Gipsies and is full of fascination for a select class of readers. Its sequel, "Romany Rye" (1857), is of less interest. Besides these, Borrow issued some dictionaries and translations from strange tongues, and "Wild Wales," a book of travels in his former style.
The most successful attempt at portraying school-boy life is "Tom Brown's School Days" (1856), by Thomas Hughes (1823-1896), who afterward became a member of Parliament. The title page of his book correctly described him as "An Old Boy." Throughout his life, devoted to earnest endeavors to benefit workingmen and others, he retained much boyishness of spirit and interest in boys' affairs. He was really Tom Brown himself, while his friend, little Arthur, was afterwards Dean Stanley. The book was a tribute to Dr. Arnold and his system of education at Rugby. It was followed by "Tom Brown at Oxford" (1861), written with studious accuracy, but not the native force of the Rugby book. His other books were popular discourses on practical religion.