When he revealed his all-time top 10 in August, he named four novels by women. In all, however, works by female authors accounted for only one in five of his chosen titles. View image of (Credit: Richard Rothwell/wikimedia commons). Bbc cultures poll draws shredder exclusively on the views of non-British critics. So what accounts for the findings of bbc cultures poll? For starters, it focuses strictly on British rather than international or English-language literature. Another difference is that it doesnt limit itself to a particular period of time, but takes in everything from Daniel Defoes Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719 and widely held to be the first English-language novel, to works published this decade. Yet these differences fail to explain why our poll would yield more works by women far from.
Again, women dominate thanks to woolf and Austen, who join Dickens with four titles each. View image of (Credit: Getty Images). Women on top, these results stand in stark contrast to most such polls over the past decade. When the bbc conducted the big read, its 2003 quest to find the uks favourite novel, just four books by female authors made the top. In 2008, the times set out to determine the 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945. Only a quarter of them were women. In 2014, the telegraph named its 20 Best British and Irish novels of All Time, including eight by women a slightly more representative figure but still fewer than 50 and not, sadly, indicative of a trend. Earlier this year, when that same newspaper offered up another list 100 novels everyone Should read women authors accounted for only three of the top 10 books, and a dismal 19 of the full 100. Meanwhile, the Observers chief literary maven, robert McCrum, spent two years drawing up his ultimate list of 100 best novels in English.
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The British Isles mightiest novelists are women. Bbc cultures critics poll of the 100 greatest British novels, which places george Eliots Middlemarch at number one, followed by virginia woolfs to the lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway. Charlotte Brontes Jane eyre, emily Brontes Wuthering heights, and Mary Shelleys Frankenstein also feature in the top 10, leaving room for just two male authors to muscle in: Charles Dickens with Great Expectations, Bleak house and david Copperfield, and William makepeace Thackeray with Vanity fair. View image of (Credit: Alexandre louis François d'Albert Durade/wikimedia commons). Look more closely, and youll find that books by women account for fully half of the polls got top 20 titles. Scroll all the way down to 100, and they make up nearly 40 per cent a notable achievement given that our critics have favoured works that have already stood the test of time, and were written back when it took infinitely more pluck and grit.
(Middlemarch may occupy the top spot, but lets not forget that Mary Ann evans felt obliged to publish it under a mans name.) Almost a third of the polls titles date from the 18th and 19th Centuries, and a further 22 were published before 1950. Women account for half of the polls top 20 titles. Only 13 novels originate in our own century, and of these, the majority are by women. Two of the three newest, all published in 2012, are by women: Ali Smiths There but for the, and Zadie smiths nw (the third is Edward St Aubyns Patrick melrose novels). Women also account for two of the polls three best-represented living authors: along with Alan Hollinghurst, zadie smith and jeanette winterson both have two books apiece. And which author wins overall in terms of the number of titles theyve had chosen?
It wasn't until the 1880s and '90s that complaints about the circulating libraries' prudishness began to emerge, seriously eroding much of their influence by the turn of the century. In another example, professor Spurgin offers a sampling from the opening passage of Dickens's. Bleak house —among the most famous openings in English fiction, indeed in all of fiction. The passage is filled with extraordinary bits of description, such as "Smoke lowering down from chimney pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of a sun.". But as Professor Spurgin points out, air pollution in Victorian London was far more than the stuff of literary detail. As the Industrial revolution intensified, it became an increasingly serious problem, one that would persist for many years in spite of legislation aimed at addressing.
As late as 1952 people continued to die in London because of outbreaks of smog; in that year, in fact, it is believed that as many as 4,000 people perished in such an outbreak. Dickens's familiarity with the hard realities of London life was gained by far more than observation. And it is characteristic of Professor Spurgin's approach that Dickens the man receives as much attention as Dickens the writer. For us to learn, for example, that Dickens's father had been sent to debtor's prison, forcing young Dickens to go to work in a factory, casts his novels in a whole new light. Dickens never got over the shattering of his youthful hopes of achieving some sort of distinction—even after he had done exactly that—and it is impossible for us now to read his tales of the desperately poor or disinherited, anxiously searching for a better place. Glimpse the human lives, in the same way, professor Spurgin leaves you with a new appreciation for what each of this course's writers meant to the development of the English novel—and to literature as a whole—and an understanding of the person behind the words. By placing more than two centuries of great English novelists in the context of British history and showing how their lives intersected with the creation of their art, The English novel offers a fascinating look at a form of enduring popularity and importance whose influence.
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In describing these aspects of the novel form, Professor Spurgin also tells how classic works of fiction were originally resume produced and consumed. Consider, for example, the circulating libraries on which most Victorian readers of fiction relied so heavily. These libraries, which might be likened to modern video stores, were not only outlets for the rental of books; they also exerted a profound influence on both form and content. Novels tended to be published in three volumes because such a format enabled three people to be reading—and renting—the library's novel at the same time. And because writers were dependent for their livelihoods on having their books available through circulating libraries, these institutions were able to exert tremendous market pressure on authors, discouraging them from writing about subjects that might embarrass or confuse young readers, especially women. minds Unfurnished with Ideas such a notion was not unusual for that era, and it was one that had been around for most of the novel form's history. Samuel Johnson, one of the great literary figures of 18th-century England, reflected the viewpoint of the time—that moral considerations were an essential part of literary evaluation—when he proclaimed in an essay: "These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle,. They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current presentation of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account.".
Thus, this is much more than a literature course. Indeed, it consistently reminds us that the essay English novel does not exist in a vacuum. New Forms of Literature, although all literary and narrative forms are shaped by larger historical movements, the novel may be especially well-suited to the tasks of sociological critique and psychological analysis. In fact, as Professor Spurgin argues, such tasks are taken up by the novel in especially interesting and exciting ways. "A great novel often seems to describe an entire society he explains, "creating a vivid image of the relationships among whole classes of people. It's no wonder that novels are frequently described as the forerunners of modern ethnographies and social histories. "Equally important to a definition of the novel form he adds, "is its interest in psychology. Unlike other popular narrative forms—film, for example, or even drama—the novel is free to probe the inner recesses of both mind and heart.".
some of their most distinctive features. In, the English novel, professor Spurgin identifies several especially important elements of the English novel tradition: A preoccupation with issues of class and status. A virtual obsession with stories of courtship, love, and marriage. A striking preference for "comedic" endings, in which virtue is rewarded and justice meted out. What's more, professor Spurgin relates the plots and characters of particular novels to larger movements in English history. He shows, to cite just two examples, that Austen's. Pride and Prejudice responds to deepening worries about the moral authority of the ruling classes, and that Hardy's. Tess of the d'Urbervilles reflects the influence of new discoveries in science, including Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
It is no surprise, then, that the great English novelists were eager to create something new and different. Breaking from traditions in which stories were usually centered on aristocrats and nobles, they focused on the thoughts and feelings of ordinary people, taking pains to capture the rhythms of everyday life. At the same time, they also reacted to a number of larger developments: industrialization and urbanization, democratization and globalization. What insights and attitudes do we owe to these resume writers? How do their lives and works fit into the larger history of the novel form—and what is the meaning of that history for us today? Professor Spurgin answers these questions and many others, tracing the novel from its beginnings in the 18th century, when Samuel Richardson penned. Pamela, to its culmination in the work of the 20th century modernists, including Lawrence, joyce, and woolf.
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Who can imagine life without novels? They have served not merely as diversions but as companions for so much of our lives, offering hours of pleasure and, at their best, insights few of us can ever quantify. And if the speed at which they pile up by our bedside being often exceeds our ability to read them, there's a security in looking ahead to the next enticing volume. But the simple joy of reading novels sometimes obscures our awareness of the deeper roles they play in our lives: honing our intellect, quenching our emotional thirsts, and shaping our sense of ourselves and of the world we live. Many of our most basic assumptions, as Professor Timothy Spurgin notes, have been shaped by novels. To the extent that we see society as complex and interconnected, or view human personality as the product of early childhood experience, we are—whether we realize it or not—under the influence of novelists like jane austen and Charles Dickens, george Eliot and Virginia woolf. The impact and significance of the novel form may be especially obvious in the case of the English novel. Through the period that gave rise to the novel, England experienced a convulsive social transformation—one that produced the world's first modern, capitalist economy. Along the way, traditional social values often appeared to be outdated, and so did traditional narrative forms.