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Title:English Periodical Criticism of the Novel From 1845 to 1865: A Search for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty (Victorian)
Author(s):Brown, Mary Jane
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:A study of novel reviewing in major Victorian journals from 1845 to 1865 revealed a significant change in the nature of the criticism. In the forties, critics showed interest primarily in the moral effects of novels, even of such artistic elements as plot, characterization, and style. By the sixties, these artistic elements were the main force of critical discussion; moral concerns were kept separate. Concurrently, the status of the novel genre rose. In 1845, novels were considered "light" reading; by 1865, they were often called "works of art." Chapter I describes these two developments, and introduces the three basic questions mid-century critics asked about novels: Were they moral? Were they true-to-life? Were they artistic?
Many critics such as John Ruskin and George Eliot developed theories that attempted to show how art could be moral, true-to-life, and artistic, all at once (Chapter II). Such "Moral Aesthetics" provided a transition from moralistic to aesthetic theories of fiction, since they allowed discussion of specifically artistic issues without deserting moral concerns. Chapter III describes the conflicts critics found among morality, truth, and art in historical fiction that eventually led to a withdrawal of critical approval from the once highly-respected genre. Scott's historical fiction was influential though its reputation with critics is not precisely parallel to that of historical fiction in general. His works were regarded as having fulfilled all the requirements of a Moral Aesthetic.
Chapter IV illustrates how critics dealt with the theoretical problems posed by didactic fiction, which had moral aims, but which was often neither true-to-life nor artistic. Critics adopted a "truth ethic," a version of the realist notion that telling the truth is the most fundamental kind of morality, to attack the inadequacies of didactic fiction without attacking morality in general. Chapter V examines how critics developed their aesthetic sense of the novel by comparing it to other arts, especially painting. The association of the novel with the more accessible and more well-established art form helped it to gain status as an important art genre itself.
Issue Date:1986
Description:241 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1986.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8610908
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1986

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