The Victorian Age in Literature
G. K. Chesterton
When this book was included in the Home University Library series in 1913, the editors distanced themselves from its shockingness with the following statement: This book is not put forward as an authoritative history of Victorian literature. It is a free and personal statement of views and impressions about the significance of Victorian literature . . . . This is surely the alarmed academic disclaimer of real criticism. It is by being free and personal that Chesterton achieves a true authority of judgement.
He had three great advantages when it came to judging the literature of the age immediately preceding his own. Firstly he was not a university don and therefore could take the novel as a serious art-form when that was unheard of in the fledgling English departments. He did not need to be apologetic about Dickens or to rediscover Mrs Oliphant. Secondly he was himself a Victorian and had the first-hand interest in his subject of a practising poet and novelist.
The third advantage, of being Chesterton, is not generaliseable
Chestertons detailed comments are unfailingly lively, and he has things worth considering to say about all the great and most of the lesser Victorians. The book is a classic, though, firstly because of its seeing a large subject whole by way of its solid grasp of the role of literature in the whole age as the great positive response to the Benthamite-liberal-industrial orthodoxy. This is a perception far from superannuated, one we need to extend into our own time.
As a university lecturer in English I formed the strong opinion that there is unlikely ever to be a better short introduction to its subject than The Victorian Age in Literature. I frequently recommended it to anyone who could find a copy. It now gives me great satisfaction to be able to invite a new generation of students to test this opinion with this nicely produced reprint.
iii+246pp. demy 8vo paperback 978 0 907839 65 1 £6.00
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