These questions were originally created for English 394: The Victorian Novel from Dickens to Hardy, at the University of British Columbia, Summer Session Two, 1989. They have been augmented with pertinent excerpts from Tillotson's seminal criticism of the early Victorian novel for English 3412 (Victorian Fiction), Lakehead University, January through May 2004. For additional questions click on the "Contexts" icon at the foot of the screen.

Question 13. Part Twelve: Introductory (pp. 54-55)

Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Diamond Edition character study emphasizes the censoriousness nature of the well-to-do marine insurance broker in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend: Podsnappery (Ch. XI). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The novelist of the eighteen-forties was, then, allowed more licence for sentimental pathos than accords with modern tastes. . . . The death-bed might be public, but not the marriage-bed. . . . . It is too commonly supposed that Bowdler was a Victorian. He was, in fact, a contemporary of Shelley. He is also too commonly seen as a mere censor, whereas he was rather a popularizer, Many Victorian children met their first Shakespeare in Bowdler's edition [The Family Shakespeare, twenty plays, 1807], 1 and were not ungrateful. . . . . It is in Our Mutual Friend that Dickens introduces Mr. Podsnap, with his abhorrence of anything that might bring a blush to the cheek of the young person. Podsnappery in all its fulness is a phenomenon of the sixties, and is probably related to the rise of the shilling magazines which extended the family reading of fiction still further. A surviving Victorian has said that,

the (largely imaginary) prudery and reticence of the Victorians is chiefly due to this habit of family reading. It would take a tough father to read some modern novels aloud to his children. 2

One of those new shilling magazines, the Cornhill [founded in 1859] rejected a story by Trollope 3, and the editor responsible was, of all people, Thackeray. Trollope protested in vain against this "squeamishness," reminding Thackeray of precedents, some very recent — Effie Deans, Beatrix Esmond, Jane Eyre, and Hetty Sorrel — and added:

I could think of no pure English novelist, pure up to the Cornhill standard, except Dickens; but then I remembered Oliver Twist and blushed for what my mother and read in that very fie-fie story. [pp. 54-56]

Question Thirteen: Podsnappery and "The Tyranny of the Young Person"

13. What were "podsnappery" and "The Tyranny of the Young Person"? What produced these literary phenomena, and what problems did they pose for the nineteenth-century British novelist?

Notes, Page 54

1 The complete edition was first published in 1818, the sixth edition in 1831.

Notes, Page 55

2 E. E. Kellett, in Early Victorian England (1934), ii. 48 n.

3 "Mrs. General Talboys," published in Tales of All Countries, second series (1863).

Notes, Page 56

1 Letters, iv. 207.


Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Clarendon, 1955, rpt. 1983.

Created 21 October 2003

Last modified 21 January 2024