The nineteenth century was the great age of the English novel. This was partly because this essentially middle-class form of literary art was bound to flourish increasingly as the middle classes rose in power and importance, partly because of the steady increase of the reading public with the growth of lending libraries, the development of publishing in the modern sense, and partly because the form was best suited to depict the realities of contemporary life. If the novel of Dickens tended to focus on social issues, the Bronte sisters concentrated more on private passions. Of the three Bronte sisters, only two, Charlotte(1816-55) and Emily(1818-48) deserve special attention. Anne, the third sister, lacked their imaginative vitality and her novels and poems are dull affair.
The three sisters wrote under the alias of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis(Emily) and Acton(Anne) Bell. This anonymity, which was officially never broken in their lifetime, was not only a disguise that women writers of the period assumed but also reflection of their inwardness. This inwardness assumed fantastic length in the case of Emily as evident from her novel Wuthering Heights(1847). There is nothing in English Literature to match the smouldering passion of Wuthering Heights. It is the work of a woman who had cut herself off from deliberately from normal human interaction and lived in a private world of imaginary passion.
Charlotte, sensitive, passionate, and sensuous by temperament, became involved in the external world more than Emily ever did and make some attempt to cast her fiction into a mould that at least bore some resemblance to that employed by more conventional novelists. The Professor, her first novel, though published after her death, is a muted version of passages in her own emotional history. Jane Eyre(1847)- her first published novel- shows her writing with an almost melodramatic abandon, out of her own passions, dreams and frustrations. Shirley(1849), Charlotte Bronte’s next novel does not touch the height of Jane Eyre. Villette(1853), where she returned to her own emotional life, is based on her fierce and finally suppressed passion for her Brussels teacher. M. Heger; it is a kind of symbolic rendering of this chapter in her emotional chapter.
One of the greatest of the women novelists of the era is George Eliot (Marian or [Mary Anne] Evans) (1819-80). In all her fiction, George Elliot was concerned with moral characters of character, but she never abstracted her characters from their environment in order to illustrate their moral dilemmas. Beginning with comparatively slight descriptions of manners, such as found in the Scenes of Clerical Life(1858), George Eliot soon proceeded to more complex kinds of fiction. Adam Bede(1859), her first full-dress novel, combines element of pastoral idealism with social responsibility. The Mill on the Floss(1860) is a more complex novel and has a burning passion about it. Silas Marner(1861), a simpler novel, much quite in tone, is little more than a fable, though a brilliantly executed one. Romola(1863) and Felix Holt (1866) are of less interest than Middlemarch(1871-72), Daniel Deronda(1876) contains some of George Eliots’ most brilliant writing. George Eliot was on of the Victorian “sages” as well as novelist, one who had burning idealism but was not cut off from the reality around her. A sage whose moral vision is most effectively communicated through realistic fiction is an unusual phenomenon- or at least was unusual when George Eliot began to write. If it has become less unusual since, that is because George Eliot by her achievement in fiction permanently enlarged the scope of the novel.