English B1918 S18: The Victorian Novel

Observations and Reflections on Victorian Reviews of:

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

Charles Dickens’s Bleak House

George Eliot’s Middlemarch

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Observations and Reflections on Recent Criticism of:

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

Charles Dickens’s Bleak House

George Eliot’s Middlemarch

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde



4 thoughts on “English B1918 S18: The Victorian Novel

  1. Aquilah Jourdain

    Recent Criticism of Jane Eyre
    From: Aubrey L. Mishou

    “Surviving Thornfield: Jane Eyre and Nineteenth Century Evolutionary Theory” is written by Aubrey L. Mishou, who argues that Jane Eyre is an experiment of scientific thought, not a romance novel that supports Victorian principles. Mishou says that instead, Jane Eyre is a “Darwinian explanation of sex and gender and the evolutionary competition of a 19th century courtship.”

    Mishou theorizes that Brontë was familiar with theories of evolution by Robert Chambers who wrote Vertiges of the Natural History of Creation in 1844, which influenced Jane Eyre. She then outlines her argument by stating that the evolutionary tract of Jane Eyre can be separated into three segments.

    The first is the introduction of evolutionary theory and the presentation of the prime specimen, which is Jane, at Gateshead Hall. Then, Mishou segues into the second segment at Lowood which she describes as a “transitional space that allows for the creation of a small society within a marginally domestic sphere.” The third segment is the idea of sexual selection at Thornfield.

    Interestingly, Mishou describes Bertha Mason’s devolution due to her descent into madness while Jane is an “evolved specimen” because of her intellectual growth from childhood to womanhood at Gateshead, Lowood, and Thornfield. She also places Bertha and Jane as sexual rivals with Bertha’s death signifying Jane’s dominance and “superiority in terms of natural sexual selection.” Mishou concludes that the ending of Jane Eyre marks Jane’s ability to be an extension of Rochester and gives her the opportunity to pass along her superior traits to future generations.

    Though her article is mostly explores this theory, her findings to hint to a critique on the nature of Brontë’s novel and it’s aspects of feminism, as well as some questions regarding
    race and intersectionality of said feminism as discussed in class.

    Based on Mishou’s analysis, it would likely mean that her view towards the novel in this respect would be more critical of it’s themes and the way in which Jane and Bertha are presented as characters. Personally, I can see how Mishou comes to this conclusion, and find her connections between evolution and Jane Eyre interesting, but am still deciding on whether I agree with her findings and what they implicate in the novel.

    Works Cited

    Mishou, Aubrey L. “Surviving Thornfield: Jane Eyre and Nineteenth Century Evolutionary Theory.”
    Renascence, 1 Sept. 2014, pp. 255–272. CCNY Libraries, EBSCOHost, jane eyre.


  2. DGK

    What I appreciated most from the anonymous contemporary criticism of Dickens’ “Bleak House” published in the Spectator Review, September 1853, was the insistence on holding artists to some standard. Although the idea of artistry was hardly developed, the reviewer provided a rigorous enough analysis of Dickens’ work to glance an image, like a photo negative, of the ideal an artist ought always to strive for. Principally at fault was Dickens’ use of caricature. The characters of BH were flat, and often lacking motivation for their actions, beyond the prescript of their employment/dress. This criticism suggests that a novelist can and ought to bring humanity to the page, and to rely on stereotypes for a laugh is lazy. Parallel to this idea was an overarching plot that was overlaid upon, rather than integrated with the characters. The critic does not reject the option of a central conflict that affects all the principle characters; only that Dickens’ conceit – the waste, mismanagement, and vanity of the Chancery – and method – to provoke and joke – limited his ability to bring the story to life. Whether these faults are accurate or not, there is one point the Spectator and I can unthinkingly agree, reading Bleak House is a great way to “amuse the idle hours.”


  3. Nilima Islam

    Nilima Islam — Bleak House Review.

    Source: The Literary Examiner.

    The author of this review (who is left unnamed) was very impressed by Dickens’s Bleak House. He claims that the novel will keep Dickens remembered forever; he specifically states, “Mr. Dickens has a large public in the present, and we do not hesitate to declare our belief that he will have one hardly less large in the future” (p.644). As discussed in class, the reviewer was spot on.

    The review goes on to say that the general public’s reaction to Bleak House went several ways. There were some people that realized Dickens wasn’t completely faultless, making the author more human to them, and there were others who were claiming that they would have written the book differently if they were the authors. In class, Brenda brought to my attention that the public probably knew about Dickens’s affair with Ellen Ternan (his “faults”), and the reviewer chose not to expand on this issue—it was well-known, but very hushed up.

    It acknowledges that the novel had some major flaws, one of which was the plot. Since the story was written in parts, people believed that the finished-product didn’t feel “wholesome.” On this, the reviewer quickly defends Dickens by saying, “But let us in the present instance with no less justice remark, that the habit of reading a story in parts is equally apt to prevent many readers from noticing how thoroughly a work so presented to them is calculated from perusal as a whole” (p.644). In other words, for the reviewer, every event leads to another event, and none of the events are isolated incidents. If there happens to be anything irrelevant to the plot, it still maintains itself because it is a portrayal of real life. Another issue that the reviewer brings up is that there are too many characters within the novel. Nonetheless, every character is linked together, making them all connected and unified. Each character also “personifies some main idea, which are ever after found universally applicable” (p.644). On this, I agree with him wholeheartedly. Finally, the reviewer had an issue with Dickens making his protagonist reveal her own good qualities, which made her tone artificial at times. He then goes on to say that this can be ignored because Esther Summerson still has managed to catch so much of the public’s heart.

    Overall, the review was very positive. It struck me so much, though however, that the reviewer was willing to ignore many of the issues he found with Bleak House (unlike the Spectator review), and how much the public was willing to ignore some of the issues they found with Dickens as a man, simply because he was Charles Dickens. This speaks volumes on the author’s popularity and influence.

    Works Cited:
    “Bleak House. By Charles Dickens. Bradbury and Evans.” Review of Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. The Literary Examiner, 8 October 1853, pp. 643-645.


  4. Rumaisa Jumana

    Rumaisa Jumana
    Recent criticism on “Bleak House”

    The name of my article is “Home-made Savages: Cultivating English Children in Bleak House” and is written by David Plotkin who teaches at the University of California, Irvine. In this article, Plotkin analyzes the portrayal of Jo and some of the other children in Bleak House who are explicitly described as ignorant savages and reflect children who are utterly untrained and uncultivated.

    Through the representation of Jo and throughout Bleak House, Dickens indicates that unless children are born and reared within a carefully maintained household, not only do they suffer personally, but the idea of what it means to be English is itself questioned. As Plotkin states, “neatly ordered homes and proper families are necessary for the cultivation and growth of English children. The novel presents an anxiety that the lack of clear boundaries between household and world, a breakdown or blurring of borders, entails a breakdown of family and a threat to country” (Plotkin 17).

    For Dickens, “creating homes out of bleak houses occupies a central place in the plot of the novel, and this transformation, from disordered house to tidy, comfortable, familiar home translates into a yearning for an equally tidy, comfortable and familiar homeland” (Plotkin 18). Thus the connection between homes and homeland is repeatedly indicated throughout Bleak House. Moreover, as Plotkin states, “the novel also registers an anxious desire about cultivating Englishness, which, at its most basic level, must take place in well-ordered homes emulating the values of proper middle-class families. Order, cleanliness, a clear division between inside and out-these qualities define an ideal homeland on the figurative level; but they also literally define the ideal home, which is the precondition for truly English citizens” (Plotkin 18).

    In addition to this, Plotkin states that Dickens’s “fears about growing class difference are also fears about losing the common cultural ground, the imagined homogeneity, which supports an imperial nation. The uneducated and uncultivated become outsiders inside the nation, blurring the ideological distinction between center and periphery which is necessary for national identity in an imperial context” (Plotkin 19).

    Thus, through the portrayal of Jo, Dickens demonstrates what really happens to children when they are not reared in proper English families or households. I find Dickens’s approach to problems regarding a proper family and home quite interesting as it successfully points out the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor of urban England. Dickens manages to point out that there is a world within a world, a neglected England within a revered England. As a result, it can be seen that there are not only two nations within England, but two nations with different cultures and traditions.

    Source Citation:

    Plotkin, David. “Home-Made Savages: Cultivating English Children in Bleak House.” Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 32, No. 1, 1997, pp. 17-31.


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