About the Journal
Nineteenth-Century Literature publishes articles on a broad-based group of transatlantic authors and poets, literary characters, and discourses—all discussed with a keen understanding of nineteenth-century literary history and theory.
The major journal for publication of new research in its field, Nineteenth-Century Literature features essays that span disciplines and which explore theoretical questions of gender, race, history, ecology and the anthropocene, cultural studies, empire, urbanism, and more. The journal also reviews select volumes of scholarship and criticism in nineteenth-century British and American literature, broadly conceived.
ISSN: 0891-9356 eISSN : 1067-8352
Published Quarterly: June, September, December, March
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Editors: Jonathan H. Grossman and Saree Makdisi
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A Reading List of the Best 19th Century Novels
This selection of influential works is categorized by writer
- Authors & Texts
- Top Picks Lists
- Study Guides
- Best Sellers
- Plays & Drama
- Short Stories
- Children's Books
- M.A., English Literature, California State University - Sacramento
- B.A., English, California State University - Sacramento
The novels of the 19th century remain some of the most taught literary works of any period. They not only continue to influence the canon but also cinema and popular culture. Get better acquainted with these groundbreaking works with this reading list, categorized by author. The most popular authors from the era--Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne--appear on this list in alphabetical order.
Alcott, Louisa May
- Little Women
- Mansfield Park
- Pride and Prejudice
Blackmore, Richard Doddridge
- Lorna Doone
Braddon, Mary Elizabeth
- Lady Audley’s Secret
- Wuthering Heights
Burnett, Frances Hodgson
- The Secret Garden
- Sartor Resartus
- Alice in Wonderland
- Through the Looking Glass
- The Moonstone
- The Woman in White
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan
- Rodney Stone
- A Study in Scarlet
- Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore
- The Last of the Mohicans
- The Prairie
- Red Badge of Courage
- Bleak House
- David Copperfield
- Dombey & Son D
- Great Expectations
- Little Dorritt
- Mystery Of Edwin Drood
- Nicholas Nickleby
- The Old Curiosity Shop
- Oliver Twist
- Pickwick Papers
- Tale of Two Cities
- Sybil, or The Two Nations
- Brothers Karamazov
- Crime and Punishment
- Sister Carrie
- The Count of Monte Cristo
- Three Musketeers
- Daniel Deronda
- Mill on the Floss
- Silas Marner
- Madame Bovary
- A Sentimental Education
- Wives and Daughters
- New Grub Street
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von
- Elective Affinities
- Far from the Madding Crowd
- Jude the Obscure
- The Mayor of Casterbridge
- The Return of the Native
- Tess of the d’Urbervilles
- The Woodlanders
- Under the Greenwood Tree
- Blithedale Romance
- Scarlet Letter
- Les Miserables
- The Hunchback of Notre-Dame de Paris
- The American
- The Bostonians
- Daisy Miller
- The Europeans
- Portrait of a Lady
- Washington Square
Le Fanu, Sheridan
- Uncle Silas
Melville, herman, meredith, george.
- Diana of the Crossways
- The Perpetual Curate
- Salem Chapel
Scott, Sir Walter
- The Antiquary
- The Heart of Mid-Lothian
- Black Beauty
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft
Stevenson, Robert L
- Catriona (aka David Balfour)
- The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
- Treasure Island
Stowe, harriet beecher.
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Thackeray, William M
- Barry Lyndon
- The History of Henry Esmond
- The Newcomes
- Vanity Fair
- Anna Karenina
- The Forged Coupon
- War and Peace
- Ayala's Angel
- Framley Parsonage
- Barchester Towers
- John Caldigate
- The Last Chronicle of Barset
- Phineas Finn
- The Prime Minister
- The Way We Live Now
- Fathers and Children
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Journey to the Center of the Earth
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
- Invisible Man
- Island of Dr Moreau
- The Time Machine
- War of the Worlds
- Picture of Dorian Gray
- Therese Raquin
- Notable Authors of the 19th Century
- Top 10 Books for High School Seniors
- A Brief History of Whaling
- Newspaper Sunday
- 10 Classic Novels for Teens
- Slavery in 19th Century America
- Biography of Charlotte Brontë
- Financial Panics of the 19th Century
- Top Book Recommendations for Boys From Librarians
- Why Bother with Beowulf?
- The Most Commonly Read Books in High School
- A Study Guide for Shakespeare's Sonnet 1
- Presidential Campaigns of the 1800s
- The Story Behind the Double Happiness Symbol
- Hispanic and Latino Heritage Books for Kids and Teens
- Winners and Losers of Julius Caesar's Gallic War Battles
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American Literature in Special Collections: 19th Century Literature
- 17th & 18th Century Literature
- 19th Century Literature
- 20th Century Literature
- 21st Century Literature
- Children's Literature
- Library Resources
- About Special Collections
- Works Cited
19th Century American Literature
Narrative-style writing, fiction, and the contemporary novel took grounding throughout the 19th century. Many scholars argue that the rise of the middle/working-class, “with its emphasis on social fluidity and individual self-determination,” led to increased literacy, reading, and thus production and consumption of novel-like texts (Lumen Learning). 19th century America welcomed a variety of literary genres, including novels, short stories, poetry, personal journals and letters, and writing addressing a myriad of topics like politics, science, religion, and philosophy. This page highlights a number of first editions and early editions from well-known 19th century writers: Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman, and Maria Ward.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott was a passionate, imaginative writer with a simple and elegant style. Born in Pennsylvania in 1832, she began writing at age eight and published her first book by age twenty two. Alcott studied under other writers like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and she was also inspired by the 19th century transcendentalist movement that both she and her parents were born into. Though Little Women is at times associated with a traditionalist outlook on womanhood, Alcott was actually progressive for her time, promoting women’s rights through her writing and becoming the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Connecticut.
Little Women; or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Louisa May Alcott
Call number: children's 813.4 a355l, alcott, louisa may, and hilda van stockum. little women: or meg, jo, beth, and amy. world pub, 1946., alcott’s most well-known novel which follows the stories of four 19th-century new england sisters: jo, meg, beth, and amy. little women is a coming-of-age story in which each of the four sisters comes to reconcile with her own distinct personality and aspirations. this beloved piece has remained at the forefront of the literary canon of american classics, as it features themes of sisterhood, love, maturation, and wisdom that surpass time and culture. this edition was published in 1946 and contains an inscription from a previous owner, reading: “marilyn pepperdine, december 25, 1948.” .
Moods by Louisa May Alcott
Call Number: Children's 813.41 m
Alcott, Louisa May, et al. Moods . Loring, Publisher, 319 Washington Street, 1864.
Third edition novel by Louisa May Alcott that has often been proposed as the first. Moods was Alcott’s first novel and features the challenges of womanhood through the interactions of a “little woman,” a spinster, and “fallen Cuban beauty” (Barnes and Noble).
Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas by Herman Melville
Call Number: PS2384 .O45 1847
First edition novel by Herman Melville, 19th-century American writer best known for his novel Moby-Dick , published four years later. Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas was Herman Melville’s second book, serving as a sequel to the story of Typee , his first novel. Omoo illustrates the influence of foreigners on Polynesian life. As Melville stated, “[-]t embraces adventures in the South Seas (of a totally different character from ‘Typee’) and includes an eventful cruise in an English Colonial Whaleman (a Sydney Ship) and a comical residence on the island of Tahiti” (qtd. Northwestern University Press).
Though Herman Melville is primarily known for his “novels of the sea” (Poetry Foundation), he was also a successful short story writer and poet. Melville undertook a variety of trades throughout his early life, including bank clerking, teaching, farming, and eventually seafaring, the experience which greatly inspired much of his writing.
Born with the name “Samuel Clemens,” Mark Twain was a 19th-century American writer to whom several literary classics are attributed, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Throughout his lifetime, Twain’s financial status fluctuated, as he created his own publishing company (The Charles L. Webster Company) and just a few years later suffered bankruptcy following several unsuccessful investments. During these challenging times, Twain turned to lecturing to regain financial stability, addressing dark and controversial topics in the process. Despite this adversity, Twain remains a central figure in the canon of American literature for his distinct regional style, humor, and profound thematic writing, and he is considered by writer William Faulkner to be the “Father of American Literature.”
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Call Number: PS1312 .A1 1879
Twain, Mark, et al. The Innocents Abroad, or, the New Pilgrims' Progress : Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City's Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land : With Descriptions of Countries, Nations, Incidents, and Adventures As They Appeared to the Author : With Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Illustrations. American Publishing Company, 1879.
Early edition travel book written by 19th-century author Mark Twain, listed here with a shortened version of the original title (as follows): The Innocents Abroad, or, the New Pilgrims’ Progress: Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City’s Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land: With Descriptions of Countries, Nations, Incidents, and Adventures As They Appeared to the Author: With Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Illustrations. In this book, Twain shares his stories traveling throughout Europe, effectively embedding humor through his exaggeration and satirizing of his fellow travelers. The Innocents Abroad was Twain’s best-selling book during his lifetime.
Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography; And, First Romance by Mark Twain
Call Number: PS1322 .M37 1871
Twain, Mark, et al. Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography : And, First Romance . Sheldon & Company, 677 Broadway, Under The Grand Central Hotel, 1871.
First edition book by Mark Twain, offering a comical and inaccurate “autobiography” featuring two main figures who are allegedly part of Twain’s lineage.
A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain
Call Number: PS1321 .A1 1880
Twain, Mark, et al. A Tramp Abroad . American Pub. Co, 1880.
Early edition novel by Mark Twain covering his travels abroad in Europe. A Tramp Abroad is often considered an “unofficial sequel” to The Innocents Abroad , through which he offers sharp-witted commentary on Old World culture and takes readers on excursions rafting down the Neckar river and climbing Mont Blanc.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Representative Men: Seven Lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Call Number: PS1600 .E83 1890
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Representative Men : Seven Lectures. Hurst, 1890.
A series of seven lectures written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century American writer known for his poetry, essays, lectures, and philosophical writings. According to Harvard University Press, Representative Men is “the most alien of Emerson’s books” and addresses the romantic concept of a single voice of truth realized through specific individuals. “It was an appreciation of genius as a quality distributed to the few for the benefit of many” (Harvard University Press).
Much of Emerson’s work discusses nature and is philosophically-driven with Transcendental and rationalist thinking. Emerson is known for his unprecedented exploration of Asian and Middle Eastern literature and religion. Interestingly, it is in Representative Men (specifically the lecture “Plato; or, the Philosopher” found within this collection) that critics point out Emerson’s flaws and limited understanding of the East in his writings. His use of generalizations suggest his lack of concern in distinguishing between the diverse Asian and Eastern cultures.
Compared to many of his contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving embraced a rather hopeful, lighthearted tone. While this distinguished style brought him success in his selected genres, Edwin W. Bowen of The Sewanee Review argues that Irving’s appeal to “sensibilities” and “the heart” inhibited him from obtaining a broaderliteraryspan and impact: “There are notes he never sounded, depths and heights he ne v er reach ed. The trag edy of life, the profoundest problems of human existence, the realm of philosophical speculation— these were to Irving an unexplored country which his creative mind never entered” (181-182). Yet, it is undeniable that his language, content, and tone effectively capture the nature of “America,” establishing him as a notable force in American literature.
Life of Mahomet by Washington Irving
Call Number: BP75 .I7 1850
Irving, Washington. Life of Mahomet. Henry G. Pohn, 1850.
First edition written by Washington Irving, early 19th-century American writer known especially for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Life of Mahomet “ covers the period of Muhammad’s birth in 571 to the Moorish invasion of Spain in 710 A.D.” (Pirages). Critics argue that the piece is flawed with biases familiar to Irving’s time regarding Islamic life and culture, and yet the interest of a 19th century American writer in Islam and his ability to spread information and awareness of this culture is significant.
Call Number: PS2069 .C4 1876
Irving, Washington, et al. Old Christmas : From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving. Macmillan, 1876.
First edition book celebrating old English Christmas traditions through a selection of thematic chapters: "Christmas," "The Stagecoach," "Christmas Eve," Christmas Day," and "The Christmas Dinner." This edition has several physical distinctions, including a green cloth case binding and a monochrome wood-engraved illustrated title page.
Henry David Thoreau
Friendship, Love & Marriage by David Henry Thoreau
Call Number: PS3051 .F7
Thoreau, Henry David. Friendship, Love & Marriage. Roycrofters, 1910.
Philosophical book written by poet, essayist, and philosopher David Henry Thoreau, author of the well-renowned Walden . Much of Thoeau’s work is transcendental and reflective in nature, partially the result of his studies under mentor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, a marked transcendentalist.
Thoreau was a student of the classics and was influenced by the philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, in addition to his scientific contemporaries including Humboldt and Darwin. His works provide insight into an array of different studies including philosophy, existentialism, ontology, and politics.
Even as Thoreau grew in popularity and began producing more essays and lecturing, his main priority remained his connection with nature and the reflection of these observations in his writing, living according to his transcendentalist ideals.
James Fenimore Cooper
The water-witch: or the skimmer of the seas, a tale by james fenimore cooper , call number: ps1418 .w3 1860 cooper, james fenimore. the water-witch : or, the skimmer of the seas, a tale. w.a. townsend, 1860., early edition novel by james fenimore cooper, first published in 1830. this edition’s preface (written after the author’s death) argues that this is cooper’s most imaginative novel, and yet its attempt to blend realism with idealism proved too complex a task to be done successfully with the selected context and setting. featuring a narrative romance, the story of the water-witch comes off as more light-hearted and less morally-superior in comparison to some of cooper’s other works., james fenimore cooper was an early 19th century american writer, well-known today for his historical, romantic novel the last of the mohicans . after being expelled from yale for behavioral misconduct, cooper joined the united states navy, serving as a sailor and a midshipman. his experiences at sea in addition to his european travel inspired a number of his works, and some argue that his writing became increasingly political as he progressed., nathaniel hawthorne, nathaniel hawthorne , well-acclaimed for his classics the scarlet letter and the house of the seven gables, nathaniel hawthorne was a 19th-century novelist and short story writer whose works remain potent in the american literary canon. born in salem, massachusetts, much of hawthorne’s works illustrate the new england, puritan experience, “explor[ing]problems of sin, guilt, and hypocrisy through allegory and emphasis on the supernatural,” (new world encyclopedia) in addition to other spiritual theories such as transcendentalism. hawthorne’s contemporaries include walt whitman and herman melville, the latter of which is known for similar themes and settings in his writings., the complete works of nathaniel hawthorne by nathaniel hawthorne and george parsons lathrop , call number: ps1850 .e83 hawthorne, nathaniel, and george parsons lathrop. the complete works of nathaniel hawthorne. riverside ed., printed at the riverside press, 1883. , 12-volume collection of nathaniel’s hawthorne’s works, arranged by george parsons lathrop and published in 1883. only 250 copies of this edition have been printed. contents include the following: twice-told tales; mosses from an old manse; the house of the seven gables,;the snow image and other twice-told tales; a wonder-book: tanglewood tales and grandfather’s chair; the scarlet letter; the blithedale romance; the marble faun; our old home; english note-books; passages from the american note-books; passages from the french and italian notebooks; the dolliver romance; tales, sketches, and other papers., doctor grimshawe's secret by nathaniel hawthorne , call number: ps1856 .a1 1883a hawthorne, nathaniel. doctor grimshawe's secret. edited by julian hawthorne, printed at the university press, 1883., hawthorne wrote doctor grimshawe’s secret in 1861, but never actually completed or published the work during his lifetime. julian hawthorne, the 19th century writer’s son, published the work in 1883. literary critics and historians suggest that the novel is somewhat autobiographical in nature, contending that hawthorne reflects his own childhood guardian in the main character in addition to illustrating some of his own experiences of guilt and isolation., harriet beecher stowe, uncle tom's cabin, or, negro life in the slave states of america: with fifty splendid engravings by harriet beecher stowe, call number: ps2954 .u5 1852f, stowe, harriet beecher, and cairns collection of american women writers. uncle tom's cabin, or, negro life in the slave states of america : with fifty splendid engravings. the people's illustrated ed., clarke, 1852., uncle tom's cabin; or, life among the lowly by harriet beecher stowe, call number: ps2954 .u5 1853, stowe, harriet beecher, et al. uncle tom's cabin: or, life among the lowly. illustrated ed. ed., j.p. jewett, 1853., most females of the 19th century did not have the advantages or support to accomplish what harriet beecher stowe pursued as a young woman. with the opportunity to receive a formal, academic education and through her career as a writer, stowe had a unique capacity to use her voice, express her beliefs publicly, and provide income for her family. throughout her career, stowe published 30 books in addition to poetry, essays, and short stories. stowe is best known for her anti-slavery novel uncle tom’s cabin, which was first published as a series of installments in abolitionist newspaper the national era. stowe contended that the story “would ‘paint a word picture of slavery’” (qtd. harriet beecher stowe center). , stowe's exposure to slavery likely began as a young girl, as her home state of connecticut abolished slavery last of all the new england states. her husband and brother were involved with the underground railroad, and as an adult she had the opportunity to hear stories from former slaves directly regarding the cruelty and brokenness they experienced. stowe lost one of her children, samuel charles, when he was only 18 months old to a fight with cholera. grieving over the loss of her son reinforced the inhumanity of the mother-child separation inherent within the slave business. this adversity, in addition to the passing of the fugitive slave law and the growing racial tensions of the time, inspired stowe to write uncle tom’s cabin as a means of illustrating this unjust reality with the hope for change., the two copies of uncle tom’s cabin featured in special collections are both early editions, published in 1852 and 1853 respectively..
Walt whitman is considered one of america’s most renowned 19th-century poets and is known for his celebration of “democracy, nature, love, and friendship” (poetry foundation). his style and approach were progressive for his time, for he often strayed from traditional rhythmic and meter patterns and echoed much of the discourse and rhetoric of biblical verse. leaves of grass, the collection from which the following edition originated, is whitman’s most well-known circulating piece., the poems of walt whitman (selected) by walt whitman, call number: ps3203 .r45 mla: whitman, walt. the poems of walt whitman (selected). walter scott, 1886. , collection of poems drawn from walt whitman’s leaves of grass, selected and arranged by ernest rhys and published by walter scott in 1886. countering the intended “literary elite” audience of the 1868 edition, rhys strove through the 1886 edition to market whitman’s work to a broader range of social and economic classes. in the book’s introduction, rhys suggests that whitman is a voice for all to hear and follow in his view of “ leaves of grass as a new poetry of love and comradeship at this time of social misgiving” (x). appealing to previously excluded audiences, rhys contends that the poet’s works “are touched with a wider spirit, and in their sweeping music take in the whole scope of time and space open to the modern mind” (x). .
Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman
Call Number: PS3202 1897 Whitman, Walt. Complete Prose Works. D. McKay, 1897.
Compilation of walt whitman’s prose writings through six distinct sections: “specimen days,” “collect,” november boughs,” “good bye, my fancy,” “soma laggards yet,” and “memoranda.” though celebrated chiefly for his poetry, whitman also produced beautiful and successful prose works addressing the 19th-century new york city experience, memories of the civil war, and other settings relevant to his time., female life among the mormons: a narrative of many years' personal experience by maria ward, call number: bx8641 .w37 ward, maria, et al. female life among the mormons : a narrative of many years' personal experience. j.c. derby, 1855., a unique narrative selection written by maria ward, wife of an elder in the mormon church. ward addresses what she perceives to be the oppression and cruelty of the mormon church, presenting her initial claims in the novel’s introduction: “knowing, as i do know, the evils and horrors and abominations of the mormon system, the degradation it imposes on females, and the consequent vices which extend through ramifications of the society, a sense of duty to the world has induced me to prepare the following narrative, for the public eye” (ward v-iv). female life among the mormons is ward’s only known piece, but historical critics have questioned the true authorship of the work in more recent decades..
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- NINES - Nineteeth-century Scholarship Online Provides enhanced access to digital research on the 19th century and serves a peer-reviewing body for digital resources in this area.
- Nineteenth Century Fiction (Chadwyck-Healey) A collection of 250 British and Irish novels from the period 1782 to 1903, stretching from the golden age of Gothic fiction to the Decadent and New Woman novels of the 1890s. Major novelists of the period such as Austen, Scott, Mary Shelley, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy and the Brontës feature alongside popular romances, sensation fiction, colonial adventure novels and children's literature.
- NCSE: Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition Online runs of six Victorian periodicals: Monthly Repository (1806-1837) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), Northern Star (1838-1852), Leader (1850-1860), English Woman’s Journal (1858-1864), Tomahawk (1867-1870) and Publishers’ Circular (1880-1890).
- At the Circulating Library A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837-1901. Lists nearly 7800 novels, including many from periodicals. Can be browsed by author, title, publisher, year, and genre (just in case you need a quick list of deceased wife's sister novels), and groups. Links to online versions of many texts.
- Victorian Plays Project Digitized selection of 350 plays published in T. H. Lacy's Acting Edition of plays.
- Early American Fiction 1789–1850 (Chadwyck-Healey) Facsimile page images and keyword-searchable full text for more than four hundred works of American prose fiction published before 1850, including key titles such as James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. more... less... Early American Fiction 1789–1850 is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of Virginia Library, and published by ProQuest Information and Learning in collaboration with the University of Virginia.
- Early American Fiction 1789–1875 (Chadwyck-Healey) A unique collection of American fictional prose sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of Virginia Library, and published by ProQuest Information and Learning in collaboration with the University of Virginia. more... less... Early American Fiction 1789–1875 offers the full text of 875 first editions of American novels and short stories by such authors as Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain, as well as a host of minor writers of the period.
- Bibliography of American Literature (Chadwyck-Healey) Recognised as one of the greatest achievements of twentieth-century scholarship, the Bibliography of American Literature describes in exhaustive detail the works of America's most important literary writers from the time of the Revolution to 1930. More than 37,000 works are listed, essentially the complete printed record of American literature from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
- Library of Congress Digital Collections Online access to manuscripts, ephemera, images, maps, and more.
- Making of America (Cornell) Along with Michigan, contains over 10,000 monographs and thousands of journal articles published in the U.S. in the 19th century.
- Making of America (Michigan) Along with Cornell, contains over 10,000 monographs and thousands of journal articles published in the U.S. in the 19th century.
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- English Poetry, Second Edition (Chadwyck-Healey) English Poetry, Second Edition contains over 183,000 poems, essentially comprising the complete canon of English poetry of the British Isles and the British Empire from the 8th century to the early 20th. Drawn from nearly 4,900 printed sources, more than 2,700 poets are represented. English Poetry, Second Edition redefines the English poetic canon for the 21st century, building on the achievement of the original English Poetry collection with the addition of more than 20,000 poems from several new categories.
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19th Century British Literature
The nineteenth century, like no other single century before or since, was for the inhabitants of the British Isles an era of change. The general population would nearly triple while some twenty million Britons--driven by desire and, in many cases, desperation--emigrated to destinations across the globe. A vast internal migration at the same time turned villages and towns into large cities and made London the world’s most populous urban center. And while various scientific enterprises disclosed the need to gauge the earth’s history by factors of tens of millions of years, the rise of electrified, steam-powered systems for transport and communication were said to annihilate barriers of space and time. The size of the planet, many observed, seemed to shrink even as astronomers and physicists began to imagine an expanding universe of infinite scope.
These transformations were only the backdrop for further social change born in class conflict and various demands for equality before the law. As industrialization in general accelerated forms of material production, writers expressed their creativity in experimental, innovative literary forms. Narratives of self-invention achieved prominence while tradition was mined in an effort to adjust to the disorienting advent of modernity. Popular genres—notably the domestic novel and a new colloquial poetry of everyday life—would gain influence and prestige. But democratic and demotic literary manifestations would also be echoed and betrayed by authoritarian and hieratic notions of cultural authority.
In our teaching and research in Romanticism, we consider how the national epic and the romance tradition (as part of an alternative “classicism” as well as an interest in pre-modern England) are revised, and revived, often with proto-psychoanalytic and politically hegemonic undercurrents. In studies of the novel, as the century progresses, we are interested in the widening of readership and reading communities within an expanding public for the consumption of print media of all kinds. Other areas of emphasis include novel theory, Victorian material culture, book history (Who reads what and why? Who prevents whom from reading what and why?), the literary consequences of growing religious liberty, and the increasing dialogue between assertions of aesthetic value and notions of national or personal vitality.
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Literature in English: Resources
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- Literary Journals: Fiction, Essays, and Poetry
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Does a journal seem to be missing? Check the Top Journals in Literature section on the guide homepage .
- BARS Review
- Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly
- Brontë studies: Journal of the Brontë Society
- Charles Lamb Bulletin
- Dickens Quarterly
- English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920
- ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture
- Essays in Romanticism
- European Romantic Review
- Gothic Studies
- Henry James Review
- J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
- JVC: Journal of Victorian Culture
- Keats-Shelley Review
- Kipling Journal
- Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies
- Mark Twain Journal
- Nineteenth-Century Contexts
- Nineteenth-Century Literature
- Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film
- Romantic Circles Praxis
- Romantic Circles Reviews
- Romanticism on the Net: RoN
- Romantic textualities : literature and print culture, 1780-1840
- Studies in Romanticism
- Thoreau Society Bulletin
- Victorian Literature and Culture
- Victorian Poetry
- Victorian Review
- Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature
- Victorian Studies
- Walt Whitman Quarterly Review
- Wildean: Journal of the Oscar Wilde Society
- Wordsworth Circle
Periodical Indexes and Bibliographic Databases
- 19th Century Masterfile Indexing to 19th century periodicals. Includes Poole's Index to Periodical Literature (1802-1906), which includes date and title information not in the print version, Stead's Index to Periodicals (1890-1902), known as the "British Poole's," Jones and Chipman's Index to Legal Periodicals (1786-1922), and Richardson's Index to Periodical Articles in Religion (1890-1899). (Penn subscribed to Series One only.) For more indexing of nineteenth century periodicals, see also Periodicals Contents Index.
- American Periodicals Series Online 1740-1900 Includes digitized images of the pages of 1,100 American magazines and journals published from colonial days to the dawn of the 20th century. Titles range from Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine and America's first scientific journal, Medical Repository , to popular magazines (some still in print), such as Vanity Fair , Harper's and Ladies' Home Journal .
- British Periodicals British Periodicals tracks the development and growth of the periodical press in Britain from its origins in the seventeenth century through to the Victorian 'age of periodicals' and into the 20th century. On completion this digital archive will consist of more than 460 periodical runs published from the 1680s to the 1930s, comprising six million keyword-searchable pages and forming an unrivalled record of more than two centuries of British history and culture.
- Proquest Historical Newspapers Multi-database search interface that allows for simultaneous searching of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Defender, Pittsbugh Courier and Wall Street Journal
Does a database seem to be missing? Check the Core Databases section on the guide homepage .
- Accessible Archives Accessible Archives offers several historic collections, from African American newspapers to Civil War periodicals.
- American Fiction, 1774-1920 Encompasses more than 17,500 works of prose fiction written by Americans from the political beginnings of the United States through World War I.
- American Poetry, 1600-1900 Over 40,000 poems by more than 200 American poets from the Colonial Period to the early twentieth century.
- Black Drama: 1850 to present, second edition Contains approximately 1,462 plays by 233 playwrights, together with detailed, fielded information on related productions, theaters, production companies, and more. The database also includes selected playbills, production photographs and other ephemera related to the plays. Some 600 of the plays are published here for the first time, including a number by major authors.
- British Literary Manuscripts Online Contains facsimile images of literary manuscripts, including letters and diaries, drafts of poems, plays, novels, and other literary works, and similar materials dating from roughly 1120-1900. Searching is based on tags and descriptive text associated with each manuscript. Note: Manuscripts themselves are not full-text searchable.
- Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels of Sir Walter Scott These 30 volumes make up the entirety of the Waverley series. The set contains all of the novels from the Edinburgh Edition, plus two volumes on the Magnum Opus Notes and Introductions.
- Electronic Enlightenment Searchable and browseable database offering extensive access to the web of correspondence between the greatest thinkers and writers of the long eighteenth century and their families and friends, bankers and booksellers, patrons and publishers.
- END: Early Novels Database The Early Novels Database (END) project generates high-quality metadata about novels published between 1660 and 1850 in order to make early works of fiction more available to both traditional and computational modes of humanistic study.
- English Poetry (600-1900), second edition Essentially the complete English poetic canon from the 8th century to the early 20th plus representation from Commonwealth and ex-colonial countries. Over 183,000 searchable full-text poems by more than 2,700 poets drawn from over 4,500 printed sources.
- European Literature: The Corvey Collection, 1790-1840 The collection includes the full-text of more than 9,500 English, French and German titles. The collection is sourced from the library of Victor Amadeus, whose Castle Corvey collection was one of the most spectacular discoveries of the late 1970s. The Corvey Collection comprises one of the most important archives of Romantic era writing in existence anywhere--including fiction, short prose, dramatic works, poetry and more--with a focus on especially difficult-to-find works by lesser-known, historically neglected writers.
- Irish Women Poets of the Romantic Period Includes more than 80 volumes of poetry by approximately 50 Irish women writing between 1768 and 1842.
- John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera This collection offers unique insights into the changing nature of everyday life in Britain in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th-centuries. Categories include 19th-century entertainment, the booktrade, popular prints, crimes, murders and executions, and advertising.
- Literary Print Culture: The Stationers’ Company Archive, 1554-2007 The records of The Stationers’ Company Archive showcase a diverse range of primary source material to represent the history of printing, publishing and bookselling. The Stationers’ Company played a central role in book history and the story of seventeenth and eighteenth century drama and literature which can be traced in the rare records made available in this resource. The records also offer a complete picture of an early London Livery Company through the membership, financial and administrative records.
- NCCO: Nineteenth Century Collections Online A multi-year global digitization and publishing program focusing on primary source collections of the nineteenth century; comprised of numerous collections to be released over many years. Includes a variety of material types: monographs, newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, ephemera, maps, statistics, and more--in one cross-searchable location.
- Nineteenth-Century Fiction Searchable full-text collection of 250 novels from the period 1782 to 1903, including works by all the major Victorian novelists such as Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontks, Eliot and Hardy, as well as the landmarks of Gothic and other fiction from the Romantic period.
- North American Women's Letters and Diaries, Colonial to 1950 Fulltext of letters and diaries, published and manuscript, of American women during the Colonial period through 1950. Biographical information is provided for each writer. Primary source materials are searchable by document type and subject, relevant historical events, and author-specific information including author name, date, age, marital status, maternal status, and geographical location when writing, age at marriage and at first childbirth, number of marriages and of children, nationality and race, religion, occupation, and relevant personal events.
- Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present "Orlando provides entries on authors' lives and writing careers, contextual material, timelines, sets of internal links, and bibliographies. "
- Victorian Popular Culture - Music Hall, Theatre & Popular Entertainment The primary sources in this module not only celebrate well-known and popular forms of entertainment [such as variety, vaudeville and theater] but also highlights lesser-known activities and leisure interests. Advertising posters, guidebooks, admission tickets and handbills represent the diverse forms of entertainment available to growing numbers of people from the late Georgian period and throughout the Victorian and Edwardian era. ...Highlights from the collection include a set of early pantomime programmes; unique material from the May Moore Duprez archive; and visual material related to Belle Vue, Manchester's popular Zoological Gardens.
- Women Writers Online Searchable, full-text collection of works in English by pre-Victorian women writers, 1526-1850.
- Wright American Fiction 1851-1875 A collection of 19th century American fiction, as listed in Lyle Wright's bibliography American Fiction, 1851-1875. There are currently 1752 texts included (1602 unedited, 155 fully edited and encoded) by 845 authors
Encyclopedias and Reference Works
- Cambridge Companions related to 19th-Century Literature
- Oxford Bibliographies: Victorian Literature
- Oxford Handbooks related to 19th-Century Literature
- Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers
- Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness Over 6,000 works of fiction—novels, short stories, poetry and song donated by Penn alumna Caroline Schimmel, CW’67.
- Collection of British and American Fiction, 1660-1830
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- Last Updated: Oct 19, 2023 11:11 AM
- URL: https://guides.library.upenn.edu/literature-in-english
19th century literature characteristics/historical context/topics
19th century literature
The literature of the nineteenth century developed in the midst of the various liberal revolutions that paved the way for the establishment of the bourgeoisie . Product of the reestablishment of the monarchies in Europe began the movement of Romanticism , which expanded easily thanks to the high levels of literacy reached at the time. In this article we will provide you information of 19th century literature with characteristics.
In addition to Romanticism, the literature of the nineteenth century was characterized by the emergence of two other great movements such as realism and naturalism . Each one of them brought with them different and interesting styles, proposals and themes. In the case of Romanticism , its most prominent feature was individualism.
On the other hand, the literature of the nineteenth century handled a significant range of issues. However, the most predominant theme was related to love, nationalism, the Middle Ages , reality and life itself. For example, realism put aside rhetorical embellishments to objectively describe everyday events.
To some extent, the authors of the 19th century felt some kind of rejection by the modern changes that were coming and decided to anchor themselves in environments undisturbed by man. Some of the most prominent intellectuals were: Walter Scott, Lord Byron, José de Espronceda, Alejandro Dumas, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and Èmile Zola.
As mentioned at the beginning, the literature of the nineteenth century unfolded in a struggle between liberals and conservatives, in which the former almost always had the upper hand.
Later, at the end of the sixties, the industrialization process appeared and the intellectuals reflected the fear of society through texts set in unknown places.
The description of the previous panorama was located in Europe, specifically in Spain, where in 1875 the monarchical restoration stage began with the arrival to the throne of Alfonso XII. For a short time, political and social life seemed to gain stability, but the war between Spain and Cuba in 1898 shook the pillars of development.
On the other hand, in Latin America the process of modernization was experienced through the rural exodus, at the same time the path towards political freedoms made the writers portray the day to day in their works. All this was mixed with the love themes that arose with the arrival of Romanticism in Argentina through the pen of Esteban Echeverría.
Characteristics 19th-century literature with characteristics
To make references to the characteristics of the literature of the nineteenth century is to stop at the characteristics of the three movements that emerged at this time. The most outstanding aspects are described below:
This 19th century literary movement emerged in Germany in the 1950s and 1970s. In this sense, its birth dates back to the so-called pre-romantic current, whose main authors were: Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfang von Goethe. From then on, the historical novel was developed with the work Willhelm Tell.
One of the main features of Romanticism was the separation of the authors from the collective feeling to give way to the manifestation of individual emotions and thoughts. That meant the highest expression of “I”. As evidenced in the poem “Once I had a nail” by Rosalía de Castro.
The irrational prevails
The authors of Romanticism gave priority to the fantastic, dreamlike, symbolic and emotional elements within their works. In such a way, reason and logic were put aside. An example of this is “The Student of Salamanca” by Spanish José de Espronceda, where the ghost of a woman appears.
Freedom and idealism
In the literature of the nineteenth century, freedom was present in works through the defense and achievement of some ideals, often unattainable. The love , political, social and moral spheres were the most treated. This feature is evident in Bécquer’s “Rima LIII”, in which the idealization of love leads to disappointment.
This movement in 19th century literature originated in the late 1940s, as a result of the revolutionary movements that took place in France and resulted in the Second Republic. Consequently, democracy was activated and the working class began to participate in political decisions .
In this sense, the writers found it necessary to capture the reality of life in their works. All of this from a more objective perspective.
The texts were characterized by being precise and simple, that is, the authors put their emotions aside to focus on the truth of the everyday. Clarity, conciseness, and accuracy were predominant. A prominent representative was Benito Pérez Galdós with works such as: Fortunata y Jacinta or Doña Perfecta.
Predominance of the narrative
The representatives of realism chose the genre of the novel as the main window to expose the political, social, economic and individual realities of the time in which they lived. In this way, intellectuals such as Emilia Pardo Bazán, Leopoldo Alas Clarín, Gustave Flaubert and León Tolstoi stood out.
Constant presence of the omniscient narrator
The writers of the realism movement were in favor of the use of an omniscient narrator . Perhaps that “know-it-all” trait was essential to be able to expose the reality of the world. This characteristic is identified in novels such as: Los pazos de Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
Naturalism as a 19th century movement began to develop in France in the early 1970s.
This current arose from the motivations and concerns of Èmile Zola. The writer used writing as a scientific method in which it was necessary to study through observation, research and documentation of human behavior.
Objectivity 19th-century literature with characteristics
Objectivity was based on the expression of what was real without including feelings or emotions . In this way, the authors employed a know-it-all storyteller to tell the stories . This feature is observable in Federico Gamboa’s work Santa .
Literature as a laboratory
Naturalists used literature as the field to experiment with their characters, therefore the most developed genre was the novel. In this sense, they investigated future assumptions and hypothetical consequences according to their decisions . This characteristic is evident in most of the works of the father of naturalism Èmile Zola.
Pessimism about life and circumstances
Pessimism was an outstanding feature within this current of the nineteenth century. Because naturalists were inclined to reflect reality from a scientific point of view, their works carried the weight of negativity, disease , vices, evil and other aspects that are part of human life.
Topics 19th-century literature with characteristics
The themes of the 19th century works of literature were subject to the characteristics of the three movements that came to life at that time. So the authors wrote about love, heartbreak, hopelessness, customs, culture , history, everyday life, society and the existence of man. 19th-century literature with characteristics
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New book explores how 19th century Gothic literature helped scientists identify the characteristics of a serial killer
The authors of ‘frankenstein’ and ‘dracula’ challenged prevailing criminological theories and presaged the scientific study of psychopathy.
Gothic literature foreshadowed modern concepts of medical psychopathy, as well as the characteristics of serial killers. The crime fiction that followed delved deeper into these ideas that were ultimately upheld by scientific research. That’s the main conclusion of a book ( El monstruo y el asesino en serie. De Frankenstein a Hannibal Lecter ) by criminology professor Vicente Garrido and criminal lawyer Virgilio Latorre that explores the history of serial killers in literature. They focus on how four books ( Frankenstein , Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula ) challenged prevailing criminological ideas in the 19th century and helped scientists identify the characteristics of serial killers . During the 20th century, crime novels and films brought psychopaths into the spotlight. This intersected with theories on marginalization and neurophysiology, linking criminality to social exclusion and neurofunctional changes.
Question. What do the characters in these Gothic novels have in common?
Vicente Garrido. They all have a need to kill and display the traits of psychopathy , along with the absence of any feelings of guilt. They are all upper-crust characters, so the books have a revolutionary message: don’t look for these monsters among the poor and indigent.
Virgilio Latorre. The four books share a common focus on how identity is built. Failures in the identity building process are the catalysts for violence.
Q. How did your book come about?
VG. I’ve been intrigued by novels and films for years, especially Gothic literature and crime novels. I wanted to explore if they adhered to the established ideas and conventions of their time. When I discussed this with Virgilio, we discovered that scientific research eventually aligned with writers in portraying the characteristics of psychopaths and serial killers.
P. What clues about serial killers does Frankenstein give that were later confirmed by scientists?
VG. Frankenstein challenges the paradigm of physiognomy, which was that horrible-looking people couldn’t be kind or intellectually gifted. It was the prevailing thesis of the time but Mary Shelley describes Dr. Frankenstein’s creature as an eloquent and innocent man.
VL. The creature represents fractured identity. You can’t establish your identity based solely on the recognition of others, because it often leads to marginalization and violent actions. What’s truly monstrous isn’t an individual’s appearance, but the crimes he commits.
Q. What about Jekyll and Hyde?
VG. In this book, Robert Louis Stevenson creates a double identity. Early criminologists espoused the theory of the born killer. Scientists only recognized after World War II that environment alone does not create murderers. The seemingly respectable Dr. Jekyll secretly created another identity that felt no remorse for his crimes. Stevenson’s book explores the origins of a serial killer. Similarly, Dorian Gray delves into the concept of a socially integrated psychopath who manipulates and corrupts using their good reputation.
VL. [The story of] Jekyll and Hyde predates the theory of the shadow, which explores the darker side of one’s personality. Published in 1886, the book portrays Jekyll’s struggle with his own shadow, ultimately leading him to contemplate suicide. Psychiatrist Carl Jung emphasized the importance of integrating the shadow and conscious self for a healthy identity. Similarly, The Picture of Dorian Gray explores a man with a separate, alternate identity that led to very destructive consequences. Crime novels also delve into similar themes, providing detailed insights into human behaviors and underlying mechanisms. The way these books presage later theories is truly astonishing.
Q. Why are serial killers so fascinating?
VG. There are biological, anthropological and cultural reasons for this. Throughout our evolutionary history, we have primarily been hunters, and this fact leads us to be inherently alert to danger. It’s not morbid — it’s part of our nature.
VL. Several aspects of serial killers attract our attention. There’s the romantic aspect of a villain eluding the police, representing desires we are incapable of acting upon. Also, the idea of having a scapegoat to punish is reassuring and helps us repress desires we don’t dare pursue.
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Sibyl & Dorian’s intertwined deaths
In the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray , the main character Dorian is responsible for the death of his ex-lover, Sibyl. He states, “I loved you because you were marvelous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art,” (Wilde 74). In this scene, Dorian’s anger gets the best of him and foreshadows his own fate. After Dorian says this to Sibyl, she takes her own life. The words he uses surrounding her are things that do not have to do about their relationship, instead, they are just beautiful words to describe someone that he may not have even known very well. By using the word art in this line, it can be taken as a nod to the own art that exists of Dorian, the portrait that hangs in his house. In this way, his fate is sealed. After she dies, Dorian states “the birds sing just as happily in my garden” (Wilde, 85). This lack of empathy towards her death shows that Dorian saw her as no more than just his muse and his “one love.” This mirrors the way that Basil views Dorian, as his muse, his only muse. Much like Sibyl, Dorian is no more than a blank canvas where people paint their own ideas onto it. Unfortunately for Dorian, both Lord Henry and Basil painted their ideas on his canvas which turned him into a muse with both good and evil. Ultimately, because he is just a muse to Basil, Basil or himself must die to escape the tragedy of Sibyl’s fate. Luckily for Dorian, he kills Basil, his creator. Muses cannot live without the admiration of their creator; they live off the attention and approval of their artist. They give “substance to the shadows of art.” In this way, Sibyl and Dorian are both very similar and their deaths are equally as tragic. While Sibyl is pure and a beautiful canvas that gets splashed by a paint bucket of hate, Dorian is a canvas that was equally splashed, a fight between good and evil artists. If Dorian and Sibyl are both just muses of other people, then this makes them character that only exist due to the other characters in the novel. While Dorian is the main character, he would not exist without Henry and Basil. During this time, there were many outside influences, fake protectors like Sherlock, scary stories like Frankenstein, and the soulful horror of Dorian Gray. The novel shows the readers that everyone can be influenced, art influences the reader, and everyone is connected by the way they influence each other, we are all a canvas to be imposed upon. This is important because it shows that Dorian is not a character on his own, “it is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors” (Wilde, Preface).
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