When Scenes of Clerical Life appeared anonymously in 1853 the
Saturday Review pictured its author, George Eliot, as a bearded
Cambridge clergyman and the revered father of several children.
When Anthony Trollope published Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel
anonymously in 1867, the London Review argued that the internal
evidence required the author to be female.
Gender played a pivotal role in the reception of Victorian
novels and was not only an analytical category used by Victorian
reviewers to conceptualize, interpret, and evaluate novels, but in
some cases was the primary category. This book analyzes over 100
nineteenth-century reviews of several prominent novels, both
canonical and non-canonical, chosen for the various ways in which
they conformed with and deviated from conventional gender
stereotypes. Among these titles are Charles Reade's It Is Never Too
Late to Mend, Emily Bront's Wuthering Heights, Anthony Trollope's
Barchester Towers and Charlotte Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe.
This study goes beyond the intuitive notion that a double
standard existed in the Victorian era which undervalues the work of
women writers. Male writers, such as Trollope, were in fact also
vulnerable to the masculine/feminine hierarchies of Victorian
literary criticism. Some women writers, on the other hand, actually
benefitted from gendered evaluations. Charlotte Yonge, for
instance, conformed so closely to the ideal and idealized view of
feminine writing that she is chivalrously exempted from more
critical examinations of intellectual content. Having unearthed
often ignored or neglected sources, Thompson examines the ways in
which Victorian constructions of literary reputations were filtered
through preconceptions about gender and writing.
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