The 12 Best Victorian Literature Books You Should Read

The Victorian era was a period of great cultural, social, and economic change in England, spanning from roughly 1837 to 1901. The literature produced during this time reflects these changes, and has become some of the most beloved and influential works in the English language. Whether you’re a literary enthusiast or just looking for a good book, here are the 10 best Victorian literature books that you should read.

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Understanding the Victorian Era

Before diving into the literature, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the Victorian era. This period saw major advancements in technology, including the widespread use of steam power and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The industrialization of society brought about significant social changes, including the emergence of the middle class and the widespread availability of education. These changes are reflected in the literature of the time, which often explored themes of social class, gender roles, and industrialization.

It’s important to note that the Victorian era was not without its flaws. While the middle class was growing and education was becoming more accessible, poverty and inequality were still major issues. Many people were forced to work long hours in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, and child labor was a common practice.

Key Themes in Victorian Literature

One of the most prevalent themes in Victorian literature is the portrayal of the individual’s struggle against society. This is often seen in works such as Charles Dicken’s “Great Expectations“, which examines the oppressive nature of societal expectations and the struggle to break free from them. Another common theme is the exploration of the role of women in society, as seen in the works of the Brontë sisters and George Eliot. These authors often wrote about women who challenged traditional gender roles and fought for greater personal freedom and equality.

Religion was also a significant theme in Victorian literature. Many authors, such as Thomas Hardy in “Jude the Obscure“, questioned the traditional religious beliefs of the time and explored the tensions between faith and reason.

The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Victorian Literature

The Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on Victorian literature, particularly in terms of the way authors depicted the changes in society. Many writers, including Elizabeth Gaskell in “North and South“, explored the effects of industrialization on the working class and the tensions that emerged between workers and factory owners. Others, such as Charles Dickens in “Hard Times”, criticized the dehumanization and mechanization of society brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

It’s worth noting that not all authors viewed industrialization in a negative light. Some, such as H.G. Wells in “The Time Machine“, explored the possibilities of technological advancement and the potential for a utopian society.

In conclusion, the Victorian era was a time of significant change and upheaval, both in terms of technology and social structures. This is reflected in the literature of the time, which often explored themes of individualism, gender roles, and industrialization. By understanding the context in which these works were written, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the insights they offer into the complexities of Victorian society.

The Pioneers of Victorian Literature

The Victorian era was a time of great change and innovation, and literature was no exception. Several authors emerged as key figures of Victorian literature, paving the way for later generations of writers. These pioneers include Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot.

Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of the Victorian era, and his novels have become classics of English literature. Works such as “Oliver Twist“, “David Copperfield“, and “Bleak House” offered a nuanced portrayal of the social conditions of the time, highlighting the plight of the poor and the injustices of the legal and political systems. Dickens was a master of characterization, creating vivid and memorable characters that continue to capture readers’ imaginations today.

One of Dickens’ most famous characters is Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly protagonist of “A Christmas Carol“. The novel, which tells the story of Scrooge’s transformation from a cold-hearted miser to a generous and compassionate man, has become a beloved Christmas classic. Dickens’ ability to create characters that are both complex and relatable is one of the reasons why his work continues to be so popular today.

Charlotte Brontë

Villette (Wordsworth Classics)

Charlotte Brontë was a trailblazing writer who challenged societal norms and paved the way for future generations of female writers. Her novel “Jane Eyre” is considered by many to be one of the greatest novels of all time, and her other works, such as “Villette” and “Shirley“, are also highly regarded.

Brontë’s writing explored the inner lives and struggles of women, particularly through the character of Jane, who defies social conventions and challenges gender roles. Her work was groundbreaking for its time, and her influence can be seen in the work of later writers such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath.

George Eliot

George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, was a pioneering female writer who tackled complex philosophical themes in her novels. “Middlemarch“, often considered her masterpiece, examines the lives of multiple characters in a small English town, exploring themes of love, marriage, and social class.

Eliot’s work is celebrated for its psychological depth and its nuanced exploration of character. Her characters are complex and multifaceted, and she was known for her ability to examine the human condition with empathy and understanding. Eliot’s influence can be seen in the work of later writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

In conclusion, the pioneers of Victorian literature were some of the most influential writers in English literature. Their works continue to be celebrated for their timeless themes and their ability to capture the essence of the Victorian era. Through their writing, they paved the way for future generations of writers and left an indelible mark on the literary world.

The 10 Best Victorian Literature Books

Now that we’ve covered the historical context and key themes of Victorian literature, let’s take a closer look at the top 10 books you should read from this period. The Victorian era was a time of great change and transformation in Britain, marked by industrialization, social upheaval, and the rise of the middle class. These books reflect the complexities of this era, exploring themes of love, power, corruption, and redemption.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations

Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, an orphan who dreams of becoming a gentleman. Along the way, he navigates the complexities of society and falls in love with the enigmatic Estella. This novel is both a coming-of-age story and an exploration of societal expectations and individual identity. Dickens’ writing is celebrated for its vivid depictions of characters and its social commentary.

In addition to its literary merits, Great Expectations also provides a fascinating glimpse into Victorian society, with its rigid class structure and emphasis on social status. Through Pip’s journey, we see the ways in which society shapes our desires and aspirations, and the price we pay for trying to fit in.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre (French Edition)

Jane Eyre is a novel about a young governess who falls in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester. Brontë’s writing challenges traditional gender roles and explores the complexities of love, passion, and power. At its heart, Jane Eyre is a story of self-discovery and empowerment, as Jane learns to assert herself in a world that seeks to silence her.

One of the most striking aspects of Jane Eyre is its portrayal of the Gothic, with its dark, brooding atmosphere and emphasis on the supernatural. This genre was hugely popular in the Victorian era, reflecting a fascination with the mysterious and the unknown. Through Jane’s encounters with ghosts and otherworldly phenomena, Brontë taps into this fascination, while also exploring deeper psychological themes.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is a dark, brooding novel about the obsessive love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Emily Brontë’s writing is renowned for its haunting, atmospheric quality, and its examination of the destructive power of love. Through its vivid depictions of the Yorkshire moors and its complex, multi-layered characters, Wuthering Heights remains a masterpiece of Gothic literature.

At the same time, Wuthering Heights also offers a powerful critique of Victorian society, with its emphasis on social status and its repression of individual desire. By portraying the destructive effects of love and passion, Brontë challenges the conventional morality of her time and offers a vision of human experience that is both tragic and transcendent.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch: Annotated Edition (Alma Classics Evergreens)

Set in a small English town, Middlemarch explores the lives and loves of a diverse cast of characters. Eliot’s writing is known for its psychological depth and its nuanced exploration of character. Through its vivid depictions of everyday life in Victorian England, Middlemarch offers a rich and complex portrait of a society in transition.

One of the most striking aspects of Middlemarch is its emphasis on social reform, with characters like Dorothea Brooke and Dr. Lydgate grappling with the challenges of improving the lives of those around them. Through their struggles, Eliot offers a powerful critique of the limitations of Victorian society and a vision of a more just and equitable world.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a gothic novel about a man who sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Wilde’s writing is celebrated for its wit, humor, and exploration of the darker side of human nature. Through its vivid depictions of decadence and corruption, The Picture of Dorian Gray offers a scathing critique of Victorian society and a warning about the dangers of unchecked desire.

At the same time, The Picture of Dorian Gray also offers a powerful meditation on the nature of art and beauty. Through the character of Basil Hallward, Wilde explores the relationship between the artist and his creation, and the ways in which art can both inspire and corrupt us.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles tells the tragic story of Tess, a young woman who faces prejudice and persecution because of her social status. Hardy’s writing is known for its depictions of the hardships of rural life and its exploration of fate and tragedy. Through Tess’s struggles, Hardy offers a powerful critique of the moral hypocrisy of Victorian society and a vision of a world in which justice and compassion prevail.

At the same time, Tess of the d’Urbervilles also offers a powerful meditation on the nature of love and desire. Through Tess’s relationships with Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare, Hardy explores the complexities of human passion, and the ways in which it can both inspire and destroy us.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair is a satirical novel that explores the corrupting influence of wealth and ambition. Thackeray’s writing is celebrated for its wit and humor, and its meticulous rendering of character and social commentary. Through its vivid depictions of the social climbers and schemers of Victorian society, Vanity Fair offers a scathing critique of the greed and hypocrisy of its time.

At the same time, Vanity Fair also offers a powerful meditation on the nature of friendship and loyalty. Through the character of Becky Sharp, Thackeray explores the ways in which ambition and self-interest can erode our relationships with others, and the importance of staying true to our values and principles.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White

The Woman in White is a mystery novel that follows the story of a young heiress who is pursued by a sinister figure. Collins’ writing is celebrated for its vivid depictions of character and its intricate plotting. Through its complex web of secrets and lies, The Woman in White offers a thrilling and suspenseful glimpse into Victorian society.

At the same time, The Woman in White also offers a powerful critique of the gender roles and social norms of its time. Through the character of Marian Halcombe, Collins explores the limitations placed on women in Victorian society, and the ways in which they can assert themselves and challenge the status quo.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House (EireannPress) (Bantam Classics)

Bleak House is a novel about the legal system in 19th-century England, exploring themes of justice, corruption, and redemption. Dickens’ writing is celebrated for its social commentary and its depiction of complex, multifaceted characters. Through its vivid depictions of the legal system and its corrupting influence, Bleak House offers a powerful critique of the institutions that shape our society.

At the same time, Bleak House also offers a powerful meditation on the nature of compassion and empathy. Through the character of Esther Summerson, Dickens explores the ways in which we can find redemption through acts of kindness and generosity, and the importance of seeing the humanity in others.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (ArcadianPress Edition)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a gothic novella about a man who transforms into a monstrous alter ego. Stevenson’s writing is celebrated for its exploration of the duality of human nature and its use of horror and suspense. Through its vivid depictions of the dark side of human nature, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde offers a chilling and thought-provoking glimpse into the human psyche.

At the same time, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also offers a powerful meditation on the nature of identity and the ways in which we construct and maintain our sense of self. Through the character of Dr. Jekyll, Stevenson explores the ways in which our desires and fears can shape our personalities and the importance of confronting our inner demons in order to live a fulfilling and authentic life.

Wrap-up

These 10 books represent the best of Victorian literature, offering insightful commentary on the social and cultural changes of the time and exploring complex themes such as justice, love, and individual identity. Whether you’re a seasoned reader of classical literature or a newcomer looking for a good book, these works are sure to leave a lasting impression.

FAQs

Is Victorian literature the best literary era?

That’s up to opinion, however, it can’t be denied that the Victorian era was progressive and gave us some of the most popular classics there are.

When was the Victorian era?

The Victorian era refers to the regal period in which Queen Victoria was on the British throne. She assumed the position of Queen in 1837 and died in 1901. However, sometimes literature in the surrounding years can be classed as Victorian literature due to their historical and thematic similarities.

Who are some popular Victorian authors?

Some of the most popular names that produced literature during the Victorian age are Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Browning.

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Eddison Monroe
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