THE MID-VICTORIAN NOVEL
At about the very middle of the nineteenth century—say from 1845 to 1855 in each direction, but almost increasingly towards the actual dividing line of 1850—there came upon the English novel a very remarkable wind of refreshment and new endeavour. Thackeray and Dickens themselves are examples of it, with Lever and others, before this dividing line: many others yet come to join them. A list of books written out just as they occur to the memory, and without any attempt to marshal them in strict chronological order, would show this beyond all reasonable possibility of gainsaying. Thackeray’s own best accomplished work from Vanity Fair (1846) itself through Pendennis (1849) and Esmond (1852) to The Newcomes (1854); the brilliant centre of Dickens’s work in David Copperfield (1850)—stand at the head and have been already noticed by anticipation or implication, while Lever had almost completed the first division of his work, which began with Harry Lorrequer as early as the year of Pickwick. But such books as Yeast (1848), Westward Ho! (1855); as The Warden (1855); as Jane Eyre (1847) and its too few successors; as Scenes of Clerical Life (1857); as Mary Barton (1848) and the novels which followed it, with others which it is perhaps almost unfair to leave out even in this allusive summary by sample, betokened a stirring of the waters, a rattling among the bones, such as is not common in literature. Death removed Thackeray early and Dickens somewhat less prematurely, but after a period rather barren in direct novel work. The others continued and were constantly reinforced: nor was it till well on in the seventies that any distinct drop from first- to second-growth quality could be observed in the general vintage of English fiction.
One is not quite driven, on this occasion, to the pusillanimous explanation that this remarkable variety and number of good novels was simply due to the simultaneous existence of an equally remarkable number of good novelists. The fact is that, by this time, the great example of Scott and Miss Austen—the great wave of progress which exemplified itself first and most eminently in these two writers—had had time to work upon and permeate another generation