A Discussion on the Victorian Novel Canon and Underrepresented Sensation Women Novelists
The Victorians are known as a novel-writing and novel-reading society, which makes it nearly impossible to judge the exact number of novels that were published in the period. The novel industry was central to many Victorian concerns: novel-writing was a way of making money for numerous middle-class writers and novel-reading functioned as a domestic entertainment. Also, many novels were written as a medium of reflecting social, political issues and novel was used as a way of influencing reading populations. This is perhaps why the range of novelists in the Victorian era can be astounding. Countless number of middle-class novelists wrote novels just to make ends meet. Yet, salient political figures such as Benjamin Disraeli, a Tory politician, a Member of Parliament and also the Prime Minister (1868), produced novels to shape the public opinion. In spite of this variety, only a handful of Victorian novelists secured a canonical status today while numerous others were pushed to oblivion. This caused a tendency to categorize Victorian novelists as major, classical, canonical or minor, non-canonical, underrepresented. Many novelists in the latter category were popular best-sellers of their time but they were neglected because of the flexible and changing nature of the literary canon. Especially sensation women novelists of the period suffered from this. Even though they were the best-sellers of the period, they were excluded from the publishing market and lost their readership in time. This article will thus discuss the fluctuating nature of the literary canon with a particular emphasis on the formation of the Victorian novel canon. Finally, the reasons of exclusion and resurrection of two Victorian best-seller women novelists will be exemplified: Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915) and Ellen Wood (1814-1887).
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