The women novelists form a class apart in Victorian novel. Mrs. Gaskell, The Bronte Sisters and George Eliot made memorable contribution to the development of English novel.
- Mrs Gaskell (1810-65):
Mrs. Gaskell used novel as an instrument of social reform. In her first novel Mary Barton, she presents a sociological study based on her experience of the conditions of the labouring classes in the new cities of the Industrial north. It is remarkable for passionate sympathy for the downtrodden. North and South is a better constructed sociological novel. Her next novel Sylvia’s Lovers is a moralistic love story in a domestic setting. Wives and Daughters is an ironical study of snobbishness which is her last and unfinished novel. Her most celebrated work is Cranford which is a fine study of female life and society. Mrs. Gaskell was also the pioneer of psychological novels.
- The Bronte Sisters:
The Bronte Sisters- Charlotte (1816-55), Emily (1818-48) and Anne (1820-49) were collectively known as the ‘Stormy Sisterhood’, who took the England of their times by Storm, were in actual life shy and isolated girls. All of them died young of tuberculosis.
Charlotte Bronte’s first novel The Professor is autobiographical in tone and the characters are drawn from her own personal acquaintances. Jane Eyre, her greatest work is also autobiographical in tone and reveals the love story of Charlotte. It combines realism and romanticism. Shirley is extremely realistic and fateful in character. The main incidents are historical and the places are real. Her last novel Villette is a direct autobiographical novel. Her characterisation is remarkable for great emotional intensity. Her prose is characterised by force and precision.
Emily Bronte’s only novel, Wuthering Heights is unique in English Literature. It is a story of passion that transcends the limitations of the world. The novelist skilfully blends romance with realism. It is a story in which extreme heights of poetry and mysticism are reached.
Anne Bronte’s novels are much inferior to those of her sisters. She lacks nearly all their power and intensity.
- George Eliot (1819-80):
George Eliot was a celebrated novelist, who imparted moral and philosophical dimension to English novel. Her first novel Adam Bede presents a fine picture of English country life among the humbler classes. The Mill on the Floss is a highly moving tragedy. Romola is a historical novel set in medieval Florence. A study of Provincial Life presents the complex picture of the life of a small town. Her last novel Daniel Deronda is overloaded with moral problems and considerations.
There lies a sense of tragedy in all her best works. Her characters are never static. They grow and change. She is a psychological novelist. She looks at the world from the point of view of a woman; her heroines are more vividly and convincingly drawn than her heroes. The women are vastly superior to their lovers. She is realistic in characterisation.