Forgotten Victorian Literature

The Stanford Companion to Victorian Literature (1989) is an enyclopedia of literature by John Sutherland, It has entries for 554 novels from the Victorian period 1837-1901. They are arguably the best or most important of the roughly 60,000 Victorian novels published during those 64 years. Yet most readers have probably never heard of most of them beyond the classics like Dickens, Harding, Bronte. The Companion also has entries for 878 of the most important or best authors, most of them also now obscure, even though they are just the tip of over 7,000 authors working during this period who could be called novelists. All told, these 878 authors produced about 15,500 novels. Clearly, there is a vast territory of Victorian fiction waiting to be discovered. This does not mean there are hidden masterpieces, the really good stuff from the 19th C is well known to professionals, but rather the so-called "classics" have been narrowly defined into a small number of high-profile titles that are repeated over and over, while a large number of very good books are almost completely forgotten by the reading public, and schools. Luckily with book scanning projects like Internet Archive and Google Books most of them are now freely and easily available online.

As I've been reading through Sutherland's wonderful encyclopedia page by page (it's that kind of encyclopedia), I've marked works and authors that are new to me and that seem interesting enough to follow up on. The list follows. It is highly selective based on my own tastes - and Sutherlands pithy descriptions which caught my dandy (excerpted here in part). It is only a small selection of the 554 novels and 878 authors profiled in the book , but they seemed worthwhile highliting. This page is a work in progress, completed in stages, a letter at a time. Links are to Wikipedia or Internet Archive or Google Books. The Companion to Victorian Literature can be browsed freely online here for further inspiration. All quotes below by Sutherland. This page by Stephen Balbach.


*Carlton Dawe (1866-1935).
"..was all his life a traveler.. his (mainly short stories) anticipates that of Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham. Yellow and White (1895) is a collection of stories and sketches notable for its frank treatment of interracial sex. [As is] Kakemonos (1897). The Mandarin (1899) is a travel book disguised as fiction. The Emu's Head (1893) is a violent story of the Australian goldfields. [He] wrote many more novels in the 20th century."
*Alec John Dawson (1872-1952).
Dawson dropped out of grammar school, joined the merchant marines for a free ticket to exotic locales, went AWOL in Australia and bumbed around having adventures there and in North Africa. He eventually settled into a job as journalist and started writing about his adventures in a number of autobiographical novels including Daniel Whyte (1899) and The Story of Ronald Kestrel (1900), these being his best according to Sutherland. His African Nights' Entertainments is supposed to resemble Kipling. He wrote over 21 books in his life, see some early works at Internet Archive.
*George du Maurier (1834-1896).
"With Thackery, the most accomplished artist-novelist of the century. [His] best known novel is Trilby (1894).. popular to the point of mania.. it created the stereotype of bohemian artistic life which persists today.. it inspired the plot to Phanton of the Opera and many other works. "


*Talbot Baines Reed. The Fifth Form at St Dominic's (1881).
"The most famous of late-Victorian public school stories. The story is strong on slang, school types and such rituals as prize days and football matches."
*"Benda" (ie. Mrs. G. Castle Smith). Froggy's Little Brother (1875).
"Together with Hesba Stretton's Jessica's First Prayer, the best known of the `street arab` [street children] stories for children."


*Douglas Jerrold. A Man Made Of Money (1848).
"The story is one of Jerrold's most effective satires on capitalism."
*Arthur Morrison. Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894).
"General title for [a series of] detective stories. The most successful rival to Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes." See also A Child of the Jago (1896) the novel for which Morrison is most famous, which described in graphic detail living conditions in the East End including the permeation of violence into everyday life. Other "fine novels" on this topic include Tales of Mean Streets and The Hole in the Wall.
*Captain Marryat. Masterman Ready, Or The Wreck Of The Pacific (1841).
"Marryat's retort in fiction to The Swiss Family Robinson."
*Frances Trollope. Michael Armstrong, The Factory Boy (1839).
"Mrs Trollope undertook first-hand research in the textile towns of the North.. The theme (following Oliver Twist) concentrates on child abuse in modern England."
*William Harrison Ainsworth. The Miser's Daughter (1842).
"The works principal distinction is that it provided a platform for Cruikshank's finest illustration in fiction. The plot is complex and ill-knit."
*William Harrison Ainsworth . Modern Chivalry, Or A New Orlando Furioso (1843).
"A loosely strung, but sharply observed study of egoism and social uselessness. Although largely disregarded and slight, this work is better than most of what either Ainsworth or [co-author] C. G. F. Gore published as their major fiction."
*George Moore (1852-1933).
"The leading Naturalist novelist (cf. Emile Zola) of the late Victorian period. His first novel A Modern Lover (1883) was a frank homage to 'Zola and his odious school', as the Spectator put it. A Mummer's Wife (1885) entered new areas of sexual frankness for the Victorian novel. [Wikipedia says it "is widely recognised as the first major English language novel in the realist style"]. A vivid recollection of his early life is given in Confessions Of A Young Man (1888)."
*Fergus Hume. The Mystery Of A Hansom Cab (1886).
"The most sensationally popular crime and detective novel of the century."


*Samuel Butler. The Way of All Flesh (1903).
"The novel is the most savegly comprehensive critique of Victorian ideology to be found in fiction." (not forgotten!)
*William Harrison Ainsworth. Windsor Castle (1843).
"The most extraordinary collaboration between author and illustrator during the Victorian period. [The illustrations provide] an exhaustive guided tour of a castle. The main story line is little more than a pretext for the artists work."
*William Clark Russell. The Wreck of the Grosvenor (1877).
"The most popular mid-Victorian melodrama of adventure and heroism at sea."