chapter  14
9 Pages

The Diffusion of Knowledge

The Victorian novel was not merely a form of entertainment; it often also had the high moral purpose exemplified in the work of George Eliot, or the political and social function perhaps best seen in Dickens. Dickens and George Eliot, however, created literary masterpieces out of moral and social concerns. In the far larger ranks of the lesser novelists there were many for whom literature was subordinated to outright polemics. A few of these are remembered for other reasons: Cardinal Newman’s fictional works, Loss and Gain (1848) and Callista (1856), are of interest for their author rather than their intrinsic merit, and indeed the Oxford Movement spawned a whole family of novels even less memorable than these.1 Edward Jenkins, radical MP and social reformer, was another who exploited the power of the novel to make points which were perhaps more acceptable, and certainly more forceful, by their embodiment in fictional form.2 These, however, were the middle classes talking to each other; the polemical purpose of fiction and non-fiction alike was at its most intense in the great battle for the hearts and minds of the working classes, above all in the attempt to teach them middle-class values which would divert them from the lurking danger of revolutionary ideologies.