Today, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charlotte Brontë, and Charles Dickens are generally recognized as four of the greatest authors in English literature. But how did their contemporaries view them? Were their works appreciated? And how did the 19th century public feel when three of them, still in their prime, met an untimely end? To discover the answers to these questions, one might delve into the legions of biographies written over the years or have a look at their letters, journals, or contemporary reviews of their poems and novels. However, since it is less than a week until Halloween, I thought we might instead take a brief look at their obituaries.[…]Continue Reading
According to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, a Gytrash is a goblin or spirit which takes the form of a horse, mule, or large dog. Typically found in the North of England, the Gytrash “haunted solitary ways” and often surprised unwary travelers as they journeyed alone in the dusk. Jane Eyre herself encounters what she believes to be a Gytrash one bleak, January evening as she is walking from Thornfield Hall to post a letter in the nearby village of Hay. Alerted to its arrival by a loud, clattering noise, Jane observes:[…]Continue Reading
During the 19th century, a gently bred young lady with no fortune, no family, and no prospects had few options for making her way in the world. She might hire herself out as a companion, of course. Or if she was particularly adept with a needle, she might take in a bit of sewing. Both were respectable, genteel occupations for a lady down on her luck and, as such, both are well-represented in historical novels. However, despite the undoubted romantic appeal of the penniless companion and the impoverished seamstress, neither position provides the wealth of literary possibilities inherent in the role of governess.[…]Continue Reading
Miniature portraits first appeared in England during the 16th century. Small, portable, and easily displayed or concealed on one’s person, their popularity flourished – both in life and in literature. By the 19th century, their presence in romance novels and Gothics was practically de-rigueur.
Ann Radcliffe uses miniatures to great effect in several of her novels, including The Mysteries of Udolfo (1794) and The Italian (1797). In the following passage from The Italian, we get a glimpse of the enormous dramatic impact a miniature can have if produced at the right moment in the story.[…]Continue Reading
The reading and writing of letters plays an important role in many of our most beloved nineteenth century novels. And it is no wonder why. In an era defined by its social constraints, a well-written letter can achieve what the characters cannot accomplish through ordinary dialogue. […]Continue Reading