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 17. Part Fourteen: Introductory (pp. 95-101)

Left: Robert Seymour's realisation of the scene in which Samuel Pickwick, retired merchant, chases his hat at a local field-day in Dickens's Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club: Mr. Pickwick in chase of his hat (Ch. IV) in the second (May 1836) instalment. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

'A time gone by' is perhaps all that the reader is meant to be imaginatively conscious of in Jane Eyre, though in the end the data give him, if he is attentive, a definite time-setting — for the main action, 1799 to 1809. 3 That is, not only past, but past beyond [95/96] personal memory. . . . Thackeray [in Vanity Fair] using, but extending, his own remembered experience and observation, Charlotte Brontë disguising or dissociating herself from hers (so that Jane is at Lowood a quarter-century before Charlotte was at Cowan Bridge), and Emily Brontë silently repudiating hers, and escaping from it into the older life of the moors around Haworth. Since all three were precocious readers, the wish to turn back to the period of novels read in childhood may also help to account [96/97] for the added recession; and for the Brontës the world in and of which their father 3 had written was experience at a still lesser remove. But even in Wuthering Heights the past has some positive point, and is not only, though it may be mainly, a means of detemporalizing the action. The eighteenth-century dating gives a certain warrant, in the somewhat politer eighteen-forties, for the violent behaviour and speech of the characters; it helps to define Joseph as a first-generation Methodist; and above all, it increases the aesthetic distance, underlining the distancing effect of Mr. Lockwood and Nelly Deans. . . . . The isolation of one village, one set of persons, from another belongs to the coaching age; the high-society chatter in the Thornfield house-party (so tediously criticized as unnatural by later readers) is surely an attempt at a period-piece of manners-painting [in Wuthering Heights] . . . . [97]

Notes, Page 95

3 This dating is based on the single precise reference, the mention in ch. xxxii of Marmion (1808) as "a new publication." The relative chronology is clear, and had obviously been carefully worked out by the author. Save for one date, we should probably place Jane Eyre's childhood in Charlotte Brontë's childhood. . . . . To make Jane Eyre the narrator older than herself (she was about twenty-eight when she wrote) would help to reduce the danger of self-identification.

Notes, Page 97

1 See below, p. 266.

Question Seventeen: A novel neither historical nor thoroughly contemporary

Why during the 1840s did a form of the novel that was neither historical nor thoroughly contemporary develop?


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

Created 25 December 2004

Last modified 23 January 2024