- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Cara Battle
From one century to the next there are constant changes in society, altering the types of literature we read. The feeling of mystery and suspicion, framed by societal conflict in the Elizabethan era, was encapsulated by Shakespeare in the same way that Charles Dickens captured the Victorian industrial regeneration of the ‘city’ atmosphere. Our society today is characterized by its multiculturalism and its ability to operate at a much higher speed than could ever have been imagined by the horse drawn carriages of previous times.
The pioneers of fiction in the Victorian era catered to an immensely different audience, manipulating not only their content but also their language accordingly. Compare any Dickens novel to one written in the last decade or so and the gap in the preferences of the reader is clear.
The Victorian literary audience consisted of a middle class who read for leisure in between social engagements, or for the attainment of knowledge. It was considered essential to read popular fiction no matter what level of difficulty the language presented. Even children’s writing such as Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll presented worlds of linguistic complexity and complication. Authors today have to write fiction which is both enthralling and easily accessible to grasp the reader’s attention.The long working hours, fast pace and stress of the lives we lead all restrict our chances to sit down and read.
Novels aimed at children or young adults are topping the charts for perhaps precisely this reason. What starts off as a book being bought for teenagers soon graduates into a book read by adults, drawn to the unique world of escapism in children’s fiction. Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games are prime examples of recent extremely successful sagas aimed at younger audiences that have enjoyed global success.
This success, however, can be attributed to the aid of the adaption for film, making the stories even more accessible. The recent Dickens bicentenary brought an adaptation of Great Expectations to the silver screen with the first episode receiving 642,000 views on BBC iPlayer in two weeks. The endearing tale of little Pip, a ‘heavy going’ 544-page novel, was able to reach a wider audience more quickly on television.
Dickens needed financial success to sustain his career and originally wrote Great Expectations to save the magazine All The Year Round. He catered the novel to appeal to his readership, even altering the ending on advice of his publisher Bulwer Lytton in order to maximise sales and satisfy his readers. That meant resolving the conflict between Estella and Pip, removing them from the corrupting Victorian city and returning them to the country to live ‘happily ever after’.
Fiction has changed its course over the last few centuries. The easy-read genre is proving extremely popular, taking precedence over the ‘classics’ from the 19th to early 20th century such as Dickens, Wilde, Carroll and Conan Doyle. These works still live on in syllabuses across the world but as popular fiction they remain very much representatives of their time, bowing down to the almighty success of Mr Potter and his vampire accomplices.