Updated October 10, 2022
The development of English Novel owes immensely to the contributions of women novelists and those of 19th century especially. Although, a number of outstanding women novelists in the 18th century enriched this genre of literature, the trend gathered momentum in the 19th century.
In the particular, Victorian Era. More and more women started taking interest in writing fiction in this age. The transition period from the 18th to 19th century was dominated by Jane Austen.
Jane is perhaps the best women novelists like the Maria Edgeworth, Bronte Sisters (Anne, Charlotte and Emily), Mrs. Gaskell and George Eliot contributed immensely to the development of novel in the Victorian era (19th Century).
A critical evaluation of the major women novelists of the 19th century will give us a fair idea of the status and their contribution in the development of the English novels . Some of the major women novelists of the 19th century:
The Women Novelists Hugely Impacting The Space
Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849)
Maria Edgeworth is a vital link between the 18th and 19th century novels of manners. She became as a regional writer. She specialized in telling Irish tales. Her first important novel was “Castle Rackrent”. It traces the account of a family through several generations. It was followed by “Belinda”, “Lenora”, “The Absentee”, “Osmond”, etc. She laid emphasis on simplicity and morality.
Jane Austen (1775- 1817)
Jane was the most important novelist of the transition period from the 18th to the 19th century. She has been called as ‘the pure novelist’ who presented the country society in her novels with authenticity. Her first novel “Pride and Prejudice’ deals with men and manners. It is domestic comedy. “Sense and Sensibility”, “Northanger Abbey”, “Emma”, “Mansfield Park” and “Persuasion” are her other famous novels. Though her range is limited, she excels in characterization and plot construction. Her novels are also famous for Irony, wit and humour. Most of her novels are based on the theme of love and marriage.
The Bronte Sisters (Major Women Novelists)
They also known as the “Stormy Sisters” imparted the romantic note of imagination and passion to the English fiction. They explored the souls of their characters and brought forth the excruciating pain and suffering they were experiencing. The Bronte Sisters made a close study of the working of the feminine heart and presented the women’s point of view in their fiction. They started a new conception of heroine in English fiction. Their heroines like Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Agnes were women of vital strength and passionate feelings. The Bronte Sisters experienced life within a narrow confine but this did not stand in their success.
Charlotte Bronte (1816- 1855)– Charlotte Bronte is a major woman novelist of the Victorian Age. She wrote extensively and some of her works deserve all the praise they received. Her well known novels are “jane Eyre”, “Shirley”, “Villette” and “Professor”. Her greatest work is “Jane Eyre”. This novel is autobiographical and reveals the love story of the novelist. In all her novels, the main interest centres on the heroines.
Emily Bronte (1818- 1848)- She wrote only one novel but she earned an amazing name in the history of English literature. Her “Wuthering Heights” is unique in English literature. Here she has presented the wild aspect of nature. It is a story of passion where realism and romance are blended skillfully.
Anne Bronte (1820- 1849)- Her First novel was “Agnes Grey” and was published together with Emily’s Wuthering Heights in 1847. On the following year, she published her another novel, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” in three volumes. She was caught by Tuberculosis in the end of the year and died the following May. Her novels are inferior to those of her sisters because she lacks passion, power and intensity of her sisters.
Mrs. Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810-1865)
She was the pioneer of the psychological novel. Her novel “Cranford” is a fine study of female life and psychology. She believes that the novel is an instrument of social reform. Her “Mary Barton” presents a sociological study of the conditions of the labouring classes of the time. She also wrote a moralistic love story “Sylvia’s Lovers”.
George Eliot (1819-1880)
Mary Ann Evans, popularly known as George Eliot was a famous Victorian novelist of the 19th century. She enriched the English novels with moral and philosophical aspects. Her first novel “Adam Bede”, presents a beautiful picture of rural England. Her “Mill on the Floss” is a moving autobiographical account of the novelists which ends in a tragedy. “Silas Marner” is the most popular novel by George Eliot. It gives us excellent pictures of village life. “Romola” is the another important novel by her. Most of her novels are characterized by regional elements, sense of tragedy and moral earnestness.
On the whole, these women novelists were class apart in their literary space. And, they contributed immensely to the development of drama in the 19th century.