Victorian Novel

Over time, literature has continued to evolve. The novel by Jane Eyre existed between 1832 and 1880. Jane Eyre is mostly seen as a profoundly realistic writer that ever existed. Her book has a story about how she suffered at Lowood and her struggle against the narrow role that 19th-century society allotted to women. It contains a substantial element of fantasy right from its beginning as Jane explains the story in the way of imagination. Jane Eyre was an orphan, and she was therefore raised by her cruel, wealthy aunt, Mrs. Reed. At some point, she meets Rochester where greatest fantasy was shown through myths and fairytales, even though they finally ended up together. The root cause of her fantasies is her childhood where it was her most fantastical side. This came about when she heard loads of stories woven by the Bronte children.

On the other hand, the novel ‘Great Expectations’ was written by Charles Dickens and was first published in 1861. The book turned out to be a great novel and a success to the author, and It addresses issues such as social class and human worth. The narrator, Pip (Philip Pirrip) tells a story from an unspecified time in the awaited future. He grew up in Kent, under the care of her sister and her sweet-natured husband. Through the story, he meets different people including a convict and a half-mad woman who overreacted when her lover left her. This essay seeks to compare and contrast the effect of combining realism and gothic elements in the above novels; that is, Jane Eyre and Great Expectations.

In Jane Eyre’s writings, the most important conflict is the division between realism and gothic (sensationalism). At the start of the narrative, the elements of realism are not only literally questionable by the differentiating gothic factors but also improbable coincidences (when Jane fortuitously ended up on the doorstep of her cousin). Besides, other notable occurrences were supernatural (for example where Jane hears Rochester calling her even though he was miles away from her), and also by the elements in the novel that are sensational which mark it out as a forerunner to the dramatic story. It is very problematic to offer an authoritative definition of sensation fiction. However, the features associated with this type of genre include a contemporary setting, the presence of villain, sometimes women known to commit crimes, a significant concern with the breach of boundaries of a traditional class, and also a great emphasis on themes such as madness, crime, marital failure, and bigamy. This genre had not been witnessed except in this case until recently when it was associated with the 1860s, with Collins’s The Woman in White which was officially cited as the earliest example of the form. However, Andrew Maunder disagrees with it as he argues that the genre was a fundamental form from 1855 until 1890 (Budge, 2007).

Some characters that appear in Jane’s novel to showcase this genre include; the patriarchal male authority figure and the poor governess who succeeds in breaking through the class barrier and attaining a degree of wealth and status. More mirrors of this genre can be seen through the discussed illicit affairs, illegitimate children (for example, Adele), marital conflict, bigamy, and madness. Other authors have subsequently drawn influence of this genre from Jane. For instance, Andrew Maunder’s work has greatly been influenced by Jane Eyre.

The undoubtedly most famous example of a dramatic reworking by Jane Eyre is Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. Both novels explain of a governess who was impoverished and later married into the upper class. There are also themes of bigamy and madness that have been featured in the story. In both stories, the mad woman has been used as a vital figure by feminists critics, mostly as a result of her perception about the authority of the patriarch. The rebellion showed the attempt made by the protagonist in each novel to kill the male oppressor as he sleeps, by starting a fire. However, unlike Bronte who does not relate at all with the figure of the madwoman as per the text, Braddon looks to appreciate the importance of the mad wife, and to try to mean that patriarchal structures may be to blame for her madness, and moreover, that she may have a right to get some pity from the reader. The character of Rochester would be a bigamist. As much as the behavior of the protagonist is condemned untimely, and is left to die in a mental institution, the writer makes it clear that he has a little chance of improving his life by marrying well. Even though the text about marriage almost shows that there is imprisonment and that there should be an escape, the narrative is quite damning and implies that if anyone is responsible for any ‘madness,’ it is the patriarchal society (Kendrick, 1976).

The theme of bigamy seemingly takes a greater significance in the genre of sensation fiction, because bigamous marriage is avoided at the last minute, and in which, necessarily, the potential bigamist is the upper-class male, for whom sexual indiscretions were more acceptable than for the respectable Victorian woman. Therefore, bigamy got a bigger space in as a popular device in sensation fiction, and notably, the bigamy novel has been perceived as a sub-genre of sensation fiction by some critics. Janes’s narrative does not anticipate the theme of bigamy so much compared to other readings and Winifred Hughes put it: “in the authentic sensation novel, … Jane no longer runs away from the would-be bigamist; she is much more likely to dabble in a little bigamy of her own,” Jane’s novel concludes the story with the marriage of the hero and the heroine.

Despite the similarities, there are significant differences, and to be specific in terms of the representation of the heroine. In Jane Eyre’s narrative, the women who are considered deviant (for example Bertha Mason, Adele’s mother) do not take the center of attention whatsoever, which is a different case in sensation fiction. The anti-heroine nature is a crucial element of this genre, and the appearance of Bertha Mason sparked enormous controversy and beautiful characters such as Braddon’s Lady Audley, hide the evil nature. In Bronte’s novel, the deviant women are sidelined and greatly marginalized; thus Adele’s mother, Bertha Mason, for example, is present only through Rochester’s description of her and appears as a stereotypical fallen woman (James, 2008).

Labelling Jane’s novel as an early example of sensation fiction can be quite problematic, because it does not only belong to any one literary genre but also because such an assertion gives a perception that there are drawn boundaries which is notably not the case here. However, like Jane Eyre, this type of genre can be seen to incorporate some features of the typical realist novel which fits the Victorian realism. The difference that can be noted in this literature remains hugely unresolved.

Realism in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, follows the life and struggles of the protagonist and narrator, Pip. Dickens constructs realism using techniques such as chronological, linear narrative, a supernatural narrator, celebrating the ordinary, and the resolution of the enigma to drive the moral undercurrents of Pip’s everyday existence. Such realism is significantly a representation of reality based on the idea of Dickens, offering social commentary and reflecting the values and attitudes of nineteenth century England. Great Expectations was structured to follow the development of Pip chronologically; from when he was an innocent child, to his disillusioned expectations, to him being rejected due to his high-class life. Pip’s learning process has been exemplified through his moral and emotional turmoil and provides the perfect moment to give a setting that is realistic to the movie. For instance, Pip described London as, ‘a most dismal place; the skylight eccentrically patched like a broken head, and the distorted adjoining houses looking as if they had twisted themselves to peep down at me through it.’ This description is archaeologically realistic, and hints a sense of foreboding, foreshadowing the futility of Pip’s expectations. This ideology developed through Pip’s learning process and is well crafted to make the fiction realistic (Meckier, 2015).

Later in the book, there is the part where Magwitch comes back and reveals to the horrified Pip that he is the benefactor. Pip writes, “The imaginary student pursued by the misshapen creature he had impiously made, was not more wretched than I, pursued by the creature who had made me, and recoiling from him with a stronger repulsion, the more he admired the founder he was of me and me.” At first, Pip seems to be comparing himself to the maker of the said monster but actually, he was not as in a real sense, he thought of himself as someone ‘pursued by the creature that had made me.’ There was a very significant turning point when Pip sees Miss Havisham for the first time and describes her as, ‘dressed in rich materials – satins, and lace, and silks – all of the white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about…’ Miss Havisham is both the victim of her abandonment and the dominant, powerful, even seductive, oppressor of Pip and Estella. The perfect idiom of her is gothic with its fascination with eroticism and death. Moreover, gothic is shown the moment Magwitch left the graveyard and started looking for Pip ‘as if he were eluding the hands of the dead people, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in.’

Gothic language style historically was derived from the word Goth, one of the many Germanic tribes.  This specific tribe was well known for cruelty and barbarism because they once attacked the Roman Empire between the 3rd and 5th centuries. Moreover, they had once captured Spain. Gothic style of language is among the elements which make a particular genre in a novel. Such a book will be classified as a gothic novel, and it makes use of some items to create things like horror, suspense or mystery atmosphere. Horace Walpole first introduced this kind of language style on his novel, the Castle of Otranto in 1764. Gothic as defined by, refers to, “noting or about a style of literature characterized by a gloomy setting, grotesque, mysterious, or violent events and an atmosphere of degeneration and decay.” As noted in the above definition, there is the depiction of dark feeling in characters, setting, plot and theme within the work. In the two novels, Jane Eyre and Great Expectations, the Gothic language is relatable with the tone and mood raised by the word that the authors used.

In the passage, there is the appearance of the supernatural. The story, however, is not just about ghosts because the narrator, Bronte, tells the readers the reasons behind supernatural events. For example, the ghost of Mr. Reed in the red-room is as a result of Jane’s stressed mind. On the other hand, Bertha is the ‘demon’ in Thornfield. In this novel, the consequences of the supernatural matter compared to its causes. The appearance of supernatural gives Bronte a chance to the psyches of her characters, especially Jane’s inner fears. The most notable supernatural moment in the novel occurs when Jane and Rochester get a telepathic connection. This is because, in the passage, Jane makes it clear that her relationship with Rochester was not supernatural to her. However, she thinks that what happened was as a result of a mysterious spiritual connection. Bronte goes ahead and makes their telepathy part of her conceptions of love and religion.

In chapter two of the novel, two servants, Bessie Lee, and Miss Abbot, haul at Jane while she was struggling at the stairs. This made Jane get violent, and she thus got scolded for disrespecting Mrs. Reed who was her benefactress and master. The servants told Jane that she should be very aware that she depends on Mrs. Reed’s generosity and if she loses that, then she will have to go to her poor house. Therefore because of her unfortunate social status, Jane is a prisoner of Mrs. Reed’s ‘generosity’ and also the red room. Adopted children like her scarcely had any options of their own. Jane was also once locked all alone in the red-room where she catches sight of a reflection in the mirror and broods on the injustice of Gateshead Hall, and she was being insulted and mistreated while the other Reeds enjoyed all the privileges. To her, she knew she would not be going through all that if Mr. Reed was alive and it was Mr. Reed’s greatest wish that Jane would be taken care of by Mrs. Reed just like the other children.  In the same room, she thinks about the dead and how they can arise and revenge. Suddenly, Mr. Reed’s ghost appears to her and overwhelmed by his presence in the room, and therefore she screams for help. The servants opened the door, and upon hearing her story, they refused to believe her or let her out of the room. Consequently, Jane faints.

One evening after school, Jane busted in tears because she thought that everyone hates her. Helen Burns, however, comes to her rescue and reassures her that she is pitied and not despised by her peers and also promises her that she will be there for her all the time when she needs love and friendship. Above all things, Jane cannot bear rejection and hatred. She was searching for meaningful connections to others and her own beliefs and it is where Helen helped her out. Jane, Ms. Temple, and Helen shared a great sisterhood of humility, persistence, and honesty. As they were having a discussion, Ms. Temple and Helen portrayed their intelligence and Jane just watched them in awe as she hopes she would once be like them too. Their argument was about Jane, and she promised them that she is not a liar. Fortunately, Ms. Temple believes her and promises to write Mr. Lloyd to confirm that Jane’s assertion that she is not a liar. Fortunately, Mr. Lloyd believed her and made it public in front of the whole school that Jane is not a liar. This brought back Jane’s reputation to normal, and she now had peace of mind.  Later, Jane went back to studying with new strength and passes in French and drawing, and this made her prefer Lowood even though it is impoverished to the luxurious Gateshead. Basically, to her, money is not everything because she feels enriched by her friends and studies at Lowood (Pyrhonen, 2010).

There is also the psychology of horror and terror. In the novel, Bronte gives Jane a very great sensitivity to different colors in her environment as a reflection of her psychological state. In every place she goes, from the luxurious Gateshead to Lowood School, Thornfield, Moor House and finally, Ferndean, the important colors change. The color that Jane saw depended on her emotions during various scenarios. The colors generally create a visual image for the readers and help them understand Jane’s overall character. Throughout the novel, Bronte skillfully uses colors to show personality, especially the red color. The first color was red used in the red-room to symbolize violence and oppression.

When cousin John Reed beats Jane in a fight, she strikes back at him and is therefore punished by being locked in the ‘red-room’ where her uncle Mr. Reed died nine years ago. Bronte described the room that it was decorated with very many red images like massive pillars of mahogany, curtains of deep red damask, the red carpet, a crimson cloth that covers the table and the walls of ‘a soft fawn color, with a blush of pink in it.’  The purpose of the color red is to show how Jane was relentless and depressed. Red made it harder for Jane as it made the world look more horrifying than before in her eyes. Since she believes that her uncle’s ghost is visiting her, the red color exaggerates it and makes it more frightening for her by catalyzing the red paintings and making it look like her uncle coming towards her with a lantern. Even in a healthy society, the red color usually signifies blood and violence. Moreover, the red-room is dominated by darkness and thus gives the readers a sense of immersion, simulating the unbearable oppression Jane feels, both physically and mentally. She finally lost consciousness in the red-room.

The frequent occurrence of the red-room in the novel sets the psychological developments of Jane. When she was left in the red-room alone where she finally fainted and lost herself completely because her fears and violent griefs overwhelmed her. Again at Lowood when Mr. Blocklehurst openly humiliated her for being a liar, she remembered the red-room, the depression, and oppression that comes with it and also how everyone hates her at Gateshead. Jane is terrified at being rejected and hated by people; she said it was equivalent to imprisonment. Luckily, she learns how to handle it in a better way, and that night, the red-room symbol reoccurs. Other gothic elements like the old mansion and the difficult events that led to the suspense of the novel were incorporated. They show psychological and emotional tensions that Jane had. The most notable gothic element here is at Thornfield, an old mansion built in a lonely place, secluded by ‘mighty old thorn trees’ and was very quiet and secluded. Other descriptions that are gothic in the novel include; the poetics of the sublime, the occurrence of a hero/villain, a sense of mystery and dread, the distressed heroine and strong moral closure.

The high expectations, on the other hand, has a particular geographic and historical setting in the marshes of Kent and then in London. However, it is one that is often filtered through the prism of Pip’s consciousness and what is witnessed in the novel is a lot of strange repetitions, hauntings, and doublings. The relationship to time and the past in the Great Expectations is very complicated. For example, someone like Miss Havisham wants to control time and get everything she desires at a particular moment. When she was left, all clocks were stopped, and she created an impression that she does not want ever to progress forward thus creating a peculiar and uncanny gothic space in the book. This was so that Pip, who is progressing well in his childhood is suddenly pulled back to his strange and traumatic past that generally is Miss Havisham’s. In the novel, the readers can see that Pip steadily went back to Satis House every time, and that was double repetition; because it is true that Miss Havisham cannot move on and somehow Pip can never move on: Thus this makes him to often go back there with the hopes that he will have some sexual satisfaction with Estella. However, in as much as we can read from the book, there was no sexual satisfaction. All that existed are unconsummated relationships and the symbol that supports all this is Miss Havisham’s house and Pip’s necessary repetitions in returning to it every other time (Hammond, 2016).

Repetitions show gothic elements are full in the novel. Almost all the events in the book are seen through the consciousness of Pip. The book tells of how he tries moving forward but failed constantly. However much he tries, he finds himself in the same scene over and over again. Again when Pip sees Miss Havisha for the first time, there is a way this is presented to us. It is as if Pip has seen a very new thing like he has never seen anything like Miss Havisham and to him, it is shocking and strange. The standard view is that for a boy to react like that, he needs to be caught and reprised within this kind of writing that takes you back to something that is already existing. The narrator says that this kind of reaction reminds him of things he has seen before as it reminds him of him seeing a corpse at the church or a waxwork at the fair. This can also stand as repetition as an element of the gothic style of writing, so it is both repetitions in language and also refers to a more profound repetition within plot and narration.

AlsoGothic allows Dickens in Great Expectations to explore them too much violence that mostly seemed to saturate or try to fill the already destroyed relationships in his novel. Miss Havisham was betrayed violently and turned out to be a great oppressor. Pip, a victim too whom the writer makes us feel pity for him, later becomes very violent and cruel to others. The rest too, that is Joe, Magwitch ans Estella turn out just the same way as Miss Havisham and Pip. All the sexual and romantic relationships of the book turned out to be unsuccessful. Most people view it as a romance novel and a lot of people stress the relationship between Pip and Estella. However in many ways, the relationship between Estella and Miss Havisham is equally impressive, therefore the desire of the same sex can be as essential as that of different sex. It is evident in the novel that Estella and Miss Havisham are in love, something that is very rare to find in a Victorian novel. At the end of the book, we find out that Estella is the daughter of Magwitch and Pip was adopted son to Magwitch so tentatively, there was an abusive relationship. This shows quite a deep pattern in the book, one in which eroticism and violence are blended. So many of those threads come together in Miss Havisham, and that strange, weird Gothic mansion that she lives in and that releases all this gothic energy around perversity and violence and sexual desire that is one of the structuring devices of the whole book (Meckier, 1993).

There exist some moments where Pip was psychologically stressed. First, there was a moment where Pip went to Satis House, then later Miss Havisham set herself on fire, and it had to be Pip helping her out which made it look like a scene of sexual violence, more of rape. Again, there was a moment Orlick, his greatest enemy captured him, and later arrested at the limekiln which put his life at stake. At that point, it seems like his whole life was disappearing, even worse when Orlick puts the blames on him because of all the messes that occurred because Orlick himself caused. These moments show great psychological stress both that gothic motif of imprisonment but also the gothic motif of doubling, both of them deployed to explore the most extreme kinds of psychological dislocation and suffering.

Generally, gothic and realism are essential styles of writing. They help blend the message delivered by the writer. Realism involves representing reality faithfully. It is a writing technique as well as shows a certain subject matter of middle-class life. It is against romanticism. Gothic on the other hand has elements like setting in a castle or old mansion, an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, an ancient prophecy, omens, portents, visions, supernatural events, high emotion, women in distress, women threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male and the metonymy of gloom and horror. The above has been explained pertaining to the two novels, Jane Eyre and Great Expectations.



Budge, G. (2007). Charlotte M. Yonge: Religion, Feminism, and Realism in the Victorian Novel. Peter Lang.

Hammond, M. (2016). Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations: A Cultural Life, 1860–2012. Routledge.

James, L. (2008). The Victorian Novel. John Wiley & Sons.

Kendrick, W. M. (1976). Balzac and British Realism: Mid-Victorian Theories of the Novel. Victorian Studies, 20(1), 5-24.

Meckier, J. (1993). Charles Dickens’s” Great Expectations”: A Defense of the Second Ending. Studies in the Novel, 25(1), 28-58.

Meckier, J. (2015). Dickens’s Great Expectations: Misnar’s Pavilion versus Cinderella. University Press of Kentucky.

Pyrhönen, H. (2010). Bluebeard Gothic: Jane Eyre and Its Progeny. University of Toronto Press.

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