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 Fifteen: The "Two Nations"

Left: Phiz's realisation of the scene in which Lady Dedlock visits Tom-all-Alone's with the tattered Jo the crossing-sweeper as her guide to see Nemo's grave, exemplifying Disraeli's "Two Nations" in Dickens's Bleak House: Consecrated Ground (Part 5: July 1852), Chapter XVI. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Sybil, Yeast, and Mary Barton were more precisely documented [than Dickens's and Thackeray's 'Newgate novels'] and propagandist. They were intended to open people's eyes to certain evils of the time. The ignorance they enlightened was indeed widespread in the novel-reading public. Not only did wealth and poverty exist at this time in extremes, but they were sharply disconnected. Social classes were then stratified, even isolated, not only geographically but within the limits of a single town. Some of the credit for breaking down this isolation must go to Dickens; as Arthur Stanley, the Dean of Westminster, said in his funeral sermon, "By him that veil was rent asunder which parts the various classes of society." 1 But it was these [78/79] lesser novelists who were more precisely instructive as to what was revealed when the veil was rent. Their factual detail was what really shocked the novel-readers of the eighteen-forties. . . . ." [This is] Manchester life," said a reviewer of Mary Barton, "not . . . Indian cholera, famines, or Piedmontese persecutions, or old Norman Conquest butcheries." 1

The sub-title of Sibyl, "The Two Nations," soon became a household word. . . . . [Disraeli's stranger, talking to the protagonist, Egremont, defines the social divide between RICH and POOR as] "Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets . . . ." 1

Notes, Page 78

1 Sermons on Special Occasions (1882), p. 134.

Notes, Page 80

1 Fraser's (April 1849, p. 430.

2 Book II, ch. v.

Question Fifteen: Part Twelve: Introductory (pp. 78-80)

15. How is Disraeli's conception of "The Two Nations" within British society (p. 80) so important to the development of the Victorian Novel?


Disraeli, Benjamin. Sibyl, or The Two Nations. The Young England trilogy. London: Henry Colburn, 1845.

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

Created 25 December 2004

Last modified 22 January 2024