Literary Analyses

Literary Spinsters: The Single Heroine in 19th-Century Literature

Female protagonists in 19th-century novels were customarily used to facilitate the marriage plot. So the single woman, then commonly referred to as a spinster, wasn’t traditionally given heroine status. Here we’ll look at the concept of literary spinsters, and how they presaged the New Woman novels of the early twentieth century.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the single heroine begins to emerge in her own right. Some authors began to challenge the marriage plot and experiment with single female protagonists. Giving the single woman agency in the novel helped alter the traditional narrative trajectory for heroines.

Before the twentieth century, single female protagonists in novels were typically young and socially or financially powerless until “rescued” by marriage. Read More→


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George Eliot: Writing as Only a Woman Could

The probing Victorian novels of George Eliot (1819 – 1880; nom de plume of Mary Ann Evans) sealed her reputation as one of the greats of English literature. The insightful essay following argues that (masculine pen name notwithstanding) George Eliot wrote as a woman, as only a woman could, without any outlook that could be construed as a man’s.

George Eliot drew her characters with great compassion. Her politically and socially driven stories were populated with characters drawn with great psychological depth whether they were free thinkers, eccentrics, intellectuals, or complex women straining against societal strictures.

Eliot never looked down on her characters, whatever social class they belonged to, and she was especially compassionate to the women in her stories. From Adam Bede (1859) her first novel, through Daniel Deronda (1876), her last, her female characters were imagined fully formed, with dreams and desires of their own. Read More→


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Proto-Zionist Themes in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda (1876), the last novel completed by British author George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans, 1819 – 1880), is widely regarded as a proto-Zionist work, and one of the first works of literature sympathetic to Jews in 19th-century Britain. 

Like many of George Eliot’s novels, Daniel Deronda is considered a masterpiece. The examination of the novel’s Jewish themes presented here is from George Eliot by Mathilde Blind. Eliot wasn’t Jewish, but as this essayist points out:

“When she undertook to write about the Jews, George Eliot was deeply versed in Hebrew literature, ancient and modern. She had taught herself Hebrew when translating the Leben Jesu, and this knowledge stood her in good stead.” Read More→


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Amy Lowell on How a Poet Learns the Craft

The American poet Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925) was best known for a form of poetry called Imagism. She dedicated her career to perfecting her craft as a poet, and was practically an evangelist for the art of poetry writing. Lowell produced poetry prolifically and spoke widely about its art and craft.

Lowell defined Imagism as the “concentration is of the very essence of poetry,” and she aspired to “produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.”

The following is from the preface of her 1914 collection, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, in which she argues that a poet is not born but made. The writer of poetry must learn what she called their “trade,” comparable to how a cabinet-maker or any other craftsperson first learns technique and then builds upon it. Read More→


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Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1853): A Late 19th-Century Analysis

Presented here is a detailed analysis of Villette by Charlotte Brontë, the 1853 novel that, Jane Eyre notwithstanding, is considered her true masterpiece.

It also conveys the duress experienced by Charlotte, and the difficulties she had in writing Villette while grieving the deaths of her beloved sisters, Emily and Anne.

The following is excerpted from Life and Works of the Sisters Brontë (1899) by Mary A. Ward (sometimes writing as Mrs. Humphrey Ward), a 19th-century British novelist and literary critic. Read More→


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