The Development of Fantasy as a Literary Genre
in Nineteenth- Century British Fiction
as Represented by Four Leading Periodicals:
Edinburgh Review, Blackwood's, Fraser's, and Cornhill
by Ruth Amelia Berman.
PhD thesis, U of MN, 1979, 358 pp. University Microfilms order
At the start of the nineteenth century British critics were confused by
the use of supernatural motifs in fiction. Such motifs, absent from most
eighteenth-century fiction (except the Gothic novels at the end of the century),
were popular in the work of James Hogg and other writers.
Francis Jeffrey and other writers in the Edinburgh Review (begun 1802)
until the mid-1830's condemned the use of such motifs as superstitious.
However, they accepted such motifs in fiction if used sparingly. John
Wilson, J.G. Lockhart, and other writers for Blackwood's (begun 1817) until
the mid-1830's liked tales of the supernatural, but found it difficult to
justify their preference. They suggested that superstitions believed in
the past were acceptable in historical novels, and that superstitions believed
in childhood could temporarily affect an adult and so could be acceptable
in adult fiction.
The supernatural fiction appearing in Blackwood's in the 1820's and in
Fraser's (begun 1830) in the early 1830's was dominated by James Hogg.
His stories were based on just such "believable," folkloristic
superstitions as the Blackwood's critics thought acceptable. On the average,
Blackwood's and Fraser's published two fantasies a year.
In the late 1820's and through the 1830's German Kunstmärchen became
influential. Many writers imitated Hoffman, especially, also Chamisso,
Novalis, Tieck, and Fouqué. The resulting stories made use of supernatural
motifs not found in folklore (e.g., a Diary kept by the Devil) and sometimes
took place entirely in original fairylands. The best of these stories,
by John Sterling, approached Hogg's quality. Apart from Hogg's work, most
of the stories which restricted the supernatural to the believable were
poorer than the stories based on German models.
From the mid-1830's to the mid-1870's (and, in the Edinburgh Review, the
early 1800's) the critics in the Edinburgh Review, Blackwood's, Fraser's,
and Cornhill (begun 1860) disapproved of the supernatural, even in poetry.
The only exceptions allowed were in children's literature and the works
of the Americans. Leslie Stephen, who showed the most appreciation for
Hawthorne and Poe, argued that supernatural fiction was peculiarly American.
During this period the magazines published little fantasy. On the average,
Blackwood's and Fraser's published only one fantasy a year, and Cornhill
one every two years.
The fantasy published in the periodicals in the middle years of the century
included much that was excellent, especially in the works of Edward Bulwer
Lytton, George Eliot, and George MacDonald. The stories not limited to
"believable" use of the supernatural continued to be better than
those which were so limited.
In the closing years of the century (mid-1870's on), the critics discovered
that "belief" in any literal sense was not necessary to artistic
use of the supernatural. New writers, including Robert Louis Stevenson,
Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare, and Andrew Lang, met with appreciation
from the critics.
The magazines printed more fantasy, averaging one and a half a year in
Cornhill, two a year in Fraser's, and two and a half a year in Blackwood's.
They included much that was excellent, especially in the works of Stevenson,
de la Mare, Lang, Thomas Hardy, Margaret Oliphant, Arthur Conan Doyle, Vernon
Lee and John Buchan. Except for traditional ghost stories (including some
by Oliphant) and some stories of "second sight," the distinction
disappeared between stories which were or were not based on "believable"
folklore. Stories mixed freely a wide variety of original and traditional
motifs. Fantasy had proved to be a valid, and versatile, way of writing
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