Victorian and Modern Comparison by Melba Cuddy-Keane

Comparison of Victorian and Modern Novel Characteristics

by Dr. Melba Cuddy-Keane

An exercise in relational definition:

Early comparisons between the Victorian novel and the modernist novel set up the following binaries: (Also compare the later binary oppositions posited between the modernism and postmodernism. How does the nature of the modernist novel “flip,” depending on the form to which it is being compared?)

Victorian / Edwardian 


 Alan Friedman: 
  • structure of a ladder
  • self in relation to social world
  • structure of a cobweb
  • private self as generative source of fictions

José Ortega Y Gasset:
  • art of adventures
  • realism
  • humanized representation
  • art of figures
  • game or
  • delightful fraud

John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury:
  • mimetic
  • material realism
  • autotelic
  • introversion

Alan Friedman:
  • closed form
  • resolution
  • open form
  • endlessness; ongoing flux of experience

James Gindin:
  • centrally coherent focus
  • formal, moral or theological absolutes
  • metaphysical truth
  • fable; myth
  • tradition of compassion (1875- )
  • inconclusive; partially conclusive
  • denial of formal, moral, or theological absolutes
  • sense of history or social process rather than metaphysical truth
  • fiction negotiates with experience of reader



1. Alan Friedman, “The Novel,” The Twentieth-Century Mind: History, Ideas, and Literature in Britain, 1: 1900-1918, ed. C.B. Cox and A.E. Dyson (London: Oxford University Press, 1972). 414-46.

2. José Ortega Y Gasset, “Notes on the Novel,” The Dehumanization of Art and Notes on the Novel, trans. Helen Weyl (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1948). 57-103.

3. John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury, “The Introverted Novel,” Modernism 1890-1930, eds. Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, (Harmondsworth; New York: Penguin, 1976). 394-415.

4. Alan Friedman, The Turn of the Novel (London: Oxford University Press, 1966).

5. James Gindin, Harvest of a Quiet Eye: The Novel of Compassion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971).

Many thanks to Dr. Melba Cuddy-Keane, Professor of English at the University of Toronto, for graciously allowing us to reproduce this page. You can find the original, along with a link to a modernism/postmodernism comparison, at her website:

This article is reprinted here for educational purposes,  with the permission of the author who retains copyright to this work.

Victorian Art


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