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English Literature


19th-century literary traditions

Remember that Great Expectations was primarily a commercial project - it had to sell, to save Dickens' magazine All Year Round.

By 1860, although most people in Britain could read and write, books were well beyond the income of ordinary people. Because of this, Dickens' novels were serialised. Great Expectations was published in 36 weekly parts in All Year Round, priced 2d (two pence in old money).

But would people want to buy it? Five main kinds of novel were popular in the mid-19th century. As befits a novel trying to win back readers, Dickens crammed elements of all of these genres of Victorian writing into one book:

  1. The 'Silver Fork' novel - stories about rich people fascinated poor people.
  2. The 'Newgate' novel - people were enthralled by stories about jail, crime, the criminal underworld and gruesome murders.
  3. The 'Gothic' novel - horror stories, such as Frankenstein, set in bleak locations or scary mansions.
  4. The 'Romantic' novel - love stories such as Jane Eyre (especially where the lovers were socially mismatched).
  5. The 'Social-purpose' novel - stories such as Oliver Twist, written to bring social issues to the notice of the general public.

Can you match the element to the genre?

  • a. The novel opens in a misty graveyard. Satis House is a scary mansion, and Miss Havisham is mad.
  • b. This novel was written by Dickens to show that being 'a gentleman' has nothing to do with wealth and status, but dutiful and gentle behaviour. It was therefore an attack on Victorian social snobbery.
  • c. There are a number of lawyers, criminals and murders in Great Expectations. And it is as much the story of Magwitch as it is of Pip.
  • d. The book tells the story of Pip's love for Estella. Dickens rewrote the ending so that Pip got Estella in the end. Also, Biddy marries Joe (although he is 20 years older than her), and Herbert marries Clara Barley (even though she is socially inferior to him).
  • e. Pip becomes a gentleman, and there are lots of descriptions of the rich and elderly Miss Havisham.

toggle answer

1-e, 2-c, 3-a, 4-d, 5-b

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