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Evoking the local: Wordsworth, Martineau and early Victorian fiction

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date11/2013
JournalReview of English Studies
Journal number267
Volume64
Number of pages19
Pages819-837
Early online date18/03/13
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Scholars have often recognized the 1830s and 1840s as the decades in which Wordsworth first achieved significant commercial success as a poet. Yet, during these same years the market for poetry in Britain was in decline. The present article attends to these two seemingly contradictory developments, arguing that Wordsworth's success in this period can be linked to a broader shift in literary tastes towards fictional works representative of human life in its most particularized and locally distinctive forms. After examining Wordsworth's sales figures and his relationship with the publisher Edward Moxon, the article proceeds to situate Wordsworth within this shift by combining close readings of his pastoral poem 'Michael' (1800) and Harriet Martineau's precedent-setting novel <i>Deerbrook</i> (1839). Long regarded as the first Victorian novel of provincial life and manners, <i>Deerbrook</i> is shown not only to anticipate the kind of locally distinctive qualities that distinguish the works of novelists ranging from the Brontes to Thomas Hardy, but also to embody the kind of literary sensibilities that made contemporary readers receptive to Wordsworth's verse.