- 1740, Richardson, Samuel, Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded. This is Richardson's 'most widely read work. At once profoundly influential, yet heavily and publicly vilified, the novel's publication marked the beginning of one of the most astounding moments in literary history and laid the foundation for Richardson's status as one of the founding fathers of the modern novel.' (Batchelor 2002). Regis dedicates a chapter to it (2003: 63-74). You can read a brief description of the novel here, and see illustrations from five eighteenth-century editions here.
- 1778, Burney, Frances, Evelina: Or, The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World . This was 'a critical success, receiving praise from respected individuals, including the statesman Edmund Burke, and literary critic Dr. Johnson. It was admired for its comic view of wealthy English society, and for its realistic portrayal of working class London dialects' (Wikipedia). It was initially published anonymously, which led 'leading London society to speculate on the identity of the writer, who was universally assumed to be a man', though Burney's identity was later revealed and 'She was taken up by literary and high society and became the first woman to make writing novels respectable' (The Burney Society). Another aspect of Evelina which was of great significance for future women writers was that 'The "comedy of manners" genre in which she worked paved the way for Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, and other 19th-century writers' (The Burney Society).
- 1813, Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice. Sarah's already claimed Austen as a romance author, and this novel is so well-known and well-loved that it hardly seems to require any further description from me, but if you'd like the Spark Notes, they're here, and, as they say, 'Pride and Prejudice contains one of the most cherished love stories in English literature: the courtship between Darcy and Elizabeth'. Colin Firth's portrayal of Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation is extremely popular. The link to the text of the novel will take you to the Republic of Pemberley site, where you can find a wealth of information about Austen, her novels and her times. You can also see Regis (2003: 75-84), and the chapter's titled 'The Best Romance Novel Ever Written', which makes Pam's feelings on this novel extremely clear! My favourite Austen is Persuasion, but I know I'm in the minority on this.
- 1847, Brontë, Charlotte, Jane Eyre. If you haven't read it, and want a quick synopsis, there's one here, or you can look at the Spark Notes. The Victorian Web has plenty of very short articles on many aspects of the novel, including its political and social context, treatment of gender issues, and imagery/symbolism. See also Regis (2003: 85-91).
When Jane Eyre was published in 1847, it became a bestseller. The reviews were on the whole favorable. There was much speculation about whether the writer was a man or a woman [...]. When it became known that a woman had written such a passionate novel and seemed so knowing sexually, the reviews became more negative. [...] The reviewer for the Rambler expressed a criticism that was made against all the Bronte novels--coarseness. The reference to "grosser and more animal passions" is a roundabout way of saying "sex." (Melani 2005)
- 1847, Brontë, Anne, Agnes Grey. There's a synopsis here, where the observation is made that
Anne's first novel resembles in its calm naturalism nothing so much as one of the later Austen novels, with the vital difference that her heroine is a working woman. It deserves, far more than Jane Eyre, the description 'governess novel', because Agnes's experience is far more typical, and the predicament of the occupation is analysed much more closely. (Brontë Parsonage Museum and Brontë Society).Agnes Grey isn't as famous as Jane Eyre, but personally I prefer both it and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which 'A number of contemporary critics have recognized [...] as a landmark feminist text' (Downey, 2000) to the other Brontë novels. Whatever the reason, I can manage perfectly well without the brooding Mr Rochester (and particularly without the horrible Heathcliff).
- 1854, Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, North and South. There's a synopsis here. Unlike the Brontës, Gaskell shows us the industrial activity which contributed so greatly to the Victorian economy.
- 1861, Trollope, Anthony, Framley Parsonage. There's a synopsis here and it was with this novel that 'Anthony Trollope enjoyed his first popular success. It is the fourth of Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire - a set of six novels that share a fictional geography, interlaced characters, and a thematic preoccupation with the church in a Cathedral town' (Regis 2003: 93). Although a 'thematic preoccupation with the church' might sound a little dull, it really isn't. This is a church rife with the equivalent of modern office politics, and for those of you who like series of romances which follow a group of characters, Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire provide an example of rich and complex world-building. His other series, the Palliser novels, again involve politics, though this time the plots 'usually involve English politics in varying degrees, specifically in and around Parliament' (Wikipedia). Trollope was an extremely prolific author, and this may well have been a trait he learned from his mother:
Fanny Trollope [...] had been writing, industriously, a record of her crazy trip to America. She called it: Domestic Manners of the Americans. It was published, and quickly became a bestseller. [...] It gave Anthony an insight into how a professional writer should write. From his mother's example (she was constantly writing for many years, although she never quite achieved the same degree of success), he learned the habit of sheer hard work. (The Trollope Society)One might make comparisons with Nora Roberts' work habits, but unfortunately for Trollope, 'After his death Trollope's literary reputation sank low, and he was regarded as something of a journeyman of letters. This arose partly from the revelation in his Autobiography that he treated literature as a trade and wrote by the clock' (The Victorian Web). It rose again, however, as the mass of writing about his work testifies, and he still has plenty of enthusiastic fans in the UK, US and elsewhere.
The novel is famous as an "industrial novel" that engages [with] class struggle and suffering in newly industrialized Victorian cities like Manchester (or, as Gaskell calls it, Milton) and as an important female bildungsroman or coming-of-age novel. Margaret's public intervention in the strike ranks among the most exciting moments in Victorian literature. (Literature, Arts and Medicine Database)
- 1872, Hardy, Thomas, Under the Greenwood Tree. I know this isn't the most famous of Hardy's works, but it seems only right to include Hardy who is, as the Penguin Reader Factsheet acknowledges, 'one of the greatest novelists of the nineteenth century' and 'This charming, timeless story of rural life gave Hardy his first real taste of fame and success'. Or, as one reader candidly describes it,
it's a book with about the least plot you will ever find in a novel. It's also on the short side. Unusually for Hardy's novels. it has a happy ending - however Far from the Madding Crowd, the next one he wrote, does too - it was only as Hardy's reputation grew that he could afford to upset his public at the end of every book.I was amused to note that one of the minor characters, whom some consider a witch, is called Mrs Endorfield.
- 1908, Forster, E. M, Room with a View. As Regis observes, 'E. M. Forster may have ended this novel happily, but he was by no means sanguine about happy endings in general' (2003: 99). It's fame is probably due at least in part to the award-winning 1986 Merchant Ivory film. The Spark Notes are here.
Even incomplete as it is, what this list suggests to me is that (a) as we've discussed previously, men can write romance/romantic novels and (b) that the so-called 'constraints' of writing within the romance genre (which basically amount to the need to end a love-story happily) in no way preclude the creation of a work of literary merit.
- Regis, Pamela, 2003. A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).