19th Century The arise of a book market

In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 18th Century and ultimately would forever change the civilization from agrarian to industrial, the situation for writers and their audience would change as well. The book market would change thoroughly thanks to the printing press–until now books had been expensive and exclusive. The printing press would make stories available for a much bigger audience (the lack of literacy would still make reading a matter for the minority, but it would still be a dramatic shift), and lots of new book publishers would go into business. Thanks to increased book sales and bigger economical profit due to the cheaper manufacturing costs an author could–given that the books became enough popular–for the first time earn a living by writing.

A step up for the status of the novel

The status of the novel was considerably lower than the poem until the 19th century. It also remained so in the beginning of the century in which the Romanticism flourished. Many novel writers published their works anonymously whilst the poets could become worshiped celebrities.

But successively the status of the novel did grow and, looking at the siècle in hindsight, many of the biggest names in literature are associated with the prose genres.

In Great Britain there were novelists such as Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. In France there were Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Anatole France and Émile Zola. The great force of culture, Germany, lacks a counterpart in the development of the novel. The big novelists would not turn up until the next century.

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The serial novel in England and France

The modernization of the printing press would also include newspapers and these would grow as literacy developed. The growing readership would be an important forum for fiction writers that would have their stories published. A new trend arose: the serialized fiction, consisting of shorter parts that formed serials. One of the first big successes was Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers that started go into print in 1836.1

The fact that the stories were published in sections would consequently influence how it was written. It led also to the birth of the cliffhanger, meaning that an episode of a story ends in an uncertain situation and as a result made the readers eager to read the next part.

Another effect given from the fact the stories being published for returning readers was that the newspapers editors would see a demand on certain stories. The writers could in such cases be persuaded to extend the stories. Alexandre Dumas was one of the most successful writers in France and his The Count of Monte Cristo would extend to 139 parts!2

This could of course be a negative factor for the literary quality and it show an early example of the commercial impact upon the fiction. A list of some of the more famous novels that once were published as serials in newspapers or journals:

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe in The National Era
  • Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary in La Revue de Paris
  • Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in The Russian Messenger
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov in The Russian Messenger
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short stories with the character Sherlock Holmes in The Strand magazine3.

The breakthrough of Russian literature

Besides the European countries that had dominated under a long time, the Russian literature became known to a wider audience in the 19th century. One of the first author that reach popularity in Europe was Ivan Turgenev, but many more names has come to be associated with the Russian literature of the 19th century. Writers such as Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anton Chekhov would earn wide reputations.

One of the first prominent figures in the Russian literature were Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). Yet, he would never become widely recognize abroad, partly due to the difficulties of translating his epic verses to fit other languages. Neither would the works of the celebrated playwright Alexander Gribojedov (1795-1829) become successful in other countries.

It was the writers of prose, novels and short-stories, that mainly became spread internationally. To this day, it is novels (together with a few dramas by Gogol and Chekhov) that for many are most associated with Russian literature in the 19th century.

France and the Realism

The novel would become more realistic to its nature in the 19th century and the term realism would by time categorize this tendency (the realism as a movement could be periodical for 1830-1860). In contrast to classicism and romanticism in which an artistic ideal was prevalent, the novel of the realism movement strives for a depiction of the world that can be said to be true; true in the meaning that where was an ambition to depict the world as it was without beautification.

It is easy to be confused by a term like realism. Realism in a literal sense had of course existed in novels and other fictious prose forms for a long time. An important part of the 19th century realism in literature was as a reaction against romanticism. It was a departure from the idealistic views and a step in the direction to depict the world from new perspectives, not at least from a social one. The movement of realism would also bring an objective view on characters and more detailed ways to depict them and the surrounding milieu.

Some of the authors linked to realism were French. Victor Hugo (1802-1885) wrote among other things Les Misérables (1862) depicting society, including criminals and prostitutes living under poor conditions. Stendahl (1783-1842) is most known for The Red and the Black (Le Rouge et le Noir, 1831) which depicted different parts of the society and especially a deep psychological journey into the emotional movements of its main characters.

The biggest name referred to realism was after all Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), it was Balzac that included most of the elements that have been linked to the realism in his books. He wrote lots of novels and in which a grand gallery of people is present. The scenes in his novels are spread from the rural to urban milieus and includes farmers and citizens from many classes and professions.

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The birth of American literature

Although American literature had existed before the 19th century, this century is considered as the beginning of the American literature history. A tradition of the novel is taking its outset with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Mark Twain as some of the leading names.

It is also during this century that writers and critics starts to talk about “the Great American Novel”. The long-lived term is originally associated with novels such as The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain.

The idea behind the term aroused from the fact the American literature was still in its rudimentary phase and lacked a solid identity. A great work of literature could change that and prove that the new nation in the West could create some fine art as well.

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Notes

1. Wikpedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_(literature)
2. Ibid
3. And the rest of the list: Wikpedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_(literature)