Gone are the men and women of Dickens, say, or Hugo, whose exteriors are familiar to everyone, whose interiors are explored and forgiven by their authors. Also absent are characters who brood earnestly, and who seek God or the good or wisdom or love or, for that matter, money. We no longer examine the interior lives of characters much like ourselves. Instead, we watch from afar a caravan of alien grotesques in, as it were big hats.  . . . Gone are the trustworthy days of Trollope, the clear-headed days of Defoe, in which the author sat us down and told us a story . . . .
In the traditional novel, the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European novel, "character," means man and women in society. Central characters in the Stendhal novel, the Dickens novel, the James novel, interest themselves in blood, money, and advancement to an extent that is simply staggering to anyone who approaches literature through formal methods appropriate to modernism. . . . These characters, and presumably their authors as well, are more interested in a man's cash assets than in his bargainings with eternity. Conflict in such novels seldom, if ever, erupts between people and whales. At the European novel's close, characters do not, as in the American novel, ride off into the sunset. Instead they are drawn off in carriages to the bank .
1. Which Victorian novels contain charactres who are, as Dillard puts it, "forgiven by their authors"?
2. Where in novels and long narrative poems by Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning does this interesrt "cash assets" appear? And how central is that interest to the plots of these works.
Dillard, Annie. Living by Fiction. New York: Harper and Row/Perennial, 1988.
Last modified 21 August 2008