Sensationalism - Sensation Novels of the Nineteenth Century

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Sensationalism - Sensation Novels of the Nineteenth Century

The "sensation novels" began to appear during the mid-to-late 1800's. The term first used by W. M. Thackeray, in his own Cornhill Magazine, was in reference to "a particular literary or dramatic phenomenon." Courtroom scenes, corpses, secrets, adultery, insanity and prostitution were all staples of the novel's plot that would offer the many unexpected twists and turns of the story. The author's goal was to have the reader feel basic sensations-shock, disbelief, horror, suspense, sexual excitement, and fear.

There are several reasons why sensation novels became so popular with Victorian society, and especially women, during this time period. Urbanization and industrialization were changing the face of the countryside by creating more and more big cities. This type of novel was a welcomed escape from the emergence of industry and capitalism in England and America.

Even though the times were changing, women were still expected to be subservient to men. They did not enjoy the freedom to vote or to own property. Because it is the Victorian era, they are still expected to control their emotions in front of men and to be supportive at all times.

As women started to shun this role, it was reflected in the sensation novel. The female became a strong character in these books. Female sexuality was used to show strength, rebelliousness and evil. They were often portrayed as seductresses and villains who would be punished by the ending of the book. Females were no longer the victim waiting to be rescued. The sensation novel reversed male and female roles with the man many times being victimized.

These novels with thei...

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...the strong female characters, his name was associated with both the male and female groups of authors.


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Mansel, Henry. "Sensations Novels." Quarterly Review 113 (April 1863): 251-68.

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