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229 T Reclaiming Late-Victorian    Popular Fiction O nly LeoTolstoy’s moral earnestness and limited acquaintance with late-Victorian fiction accounted for his lofty appraisal that Mrs. Humphry Ward was the greatest novelist writing in English in his time. In the 1880s and 1890s, publishing flourished in an increasingly (if marginally) literate society. Memorable English novels appeared, some now canonical; yet with few exceptions, these attracted little enthusiasm on release while quickly forgotten works attuned to the market for mediocrity generated large profits. It was the age of Svengali, Dracula, Dorian Gray, Sherlock Holmes, Jekyll and Hyde, “Lord” Jim andTess Durbeyfield, but readers in greater numbers were also turning pages to follow Lucio Rimanez, Allan Quatermain, Robert Elsmere, Evelyn Innes, Laurence Stanninghame, Mrs. Orton Beg, and John Inglesant. On occasion—as now—a celebrity author’s name boosted sales. Benjamin Disraeli’s semi-autobiographical fantasy Endymion, his last completed fiction, appeared in 1880. The outgoing prime minister, a favorite of QueenVictoria’s, he was paid more as an advance on sales than any novel by Charles Dickens had received. Seldom now read, and out of print, Endymion has a vitality and period charm that endures.Also near the end of his writing career, Anthony Trollope in 1880 published The Duke’s Children, continuing the lives of memorable characters created in his earlier novels. William Hale White’s The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford, cautiously questioning religious orthodoxy, appeared in 1881, to considerable, if brief, acclaim, as “edited by Reuben Shapcott,” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s instantly popular Treasure Island, written as a serial for a weekly paper for children the same year, was published prudently as by “Captain George North.” Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, in 1881, continued, to polite reviews, his examinations of wealthy expatriate Americans confronting Old World sophistication . Another veteran whose critical reception was greater than his popular appeal, George Meredith found unexpected success in 1884 with Diana of the Crossways. Farewell,Victoria! 230 Frontispiece from early edition of Treasure Island Reclaiming Late-Victorian Popular Fiction 231 Writers of the next generation were finding publishers willing to take risks. Olive Schreiner’s unsentimental, feminist The Story of an African Farm (1883), published as by “Ralph Iron,”1 was the first significant novel featuring a young governess since Jane Eyre. George Moore’s second novel, A Mummer’s Wife (1885), was daringly published in a cheap single volume , challenging the expensive three-volume near-monopoly—and moral censorship—format insisted upon by the “circulating” (rental) libraries. Although not the classic which his realistic and moving EstherWaters (1894) would become, it punctured the firewall. George Gissing also probed the social depths, from his Zolaesque Workers in the Dawn (1880) through other bleak, unappealing novels, making his breakthrough in 1891 with New Grub Street. Seeking to sell books with In theYear of Jubilee (1894), he set it during Victoria’s fiftieth anniversary on the throne, but it lacked the gloomy cynicism that gave his unread novels their force.Thomas Hardy had been rather quietly producing “Wessex” fiction since the early 1870s. Then his The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), similarly set, challenged convention, encountering adverse reviews not only from the newspapers but from the pulpits. His publishers cringed, and blue-penciled him. After Jude the Obscure (1894) Hardy turned to poetry. James Barrie opted for the market, offering sentimental moralizing in The Little Minister (1891) and later novels, then trying sentimental fantasy for the stage rather than the page. Only his plays still live. A practicing physician, Arthur Conan Doyle, attempting to become the successor toWilkie Collins in detective fiction, introduced Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet (1887).Among new writers, like Conan Doyle breaking into publishing from other occupations, were Joseph Conrad, from sailing the sea into penning sea stories (Nigger of the“Narcissus,” 1897); and H. G. Wells, from teaching science, once he lost his job, into scientific fantasy (The Time Machine, 1895, and five more in the genre in the next five years). Mary Augusta (Mrs. Humphry) Ward, after social work, church history, translation and journalism turned out twenty-five novels, notably the earnest, almost secularly Christian Robert Elsmere (1888); and George du Maurier added to whimsical magazine illustration three dreamlike novels, creating the mesmeric, unforgettable Svengali in Trilby (1894). A medical intern at St.Thomas’s Hospital in London,W. Somerset Maugham employed his experience of the mean streets in Liza of Lambeth (1897), abandoning the scalpel for...


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