The novel was actually considered an inferior form of literature before the Victorians perfected it. Until that time, there were not many examples of full-length plot and character-driven prose novels. Thus, the novel was considered a lesser art form, kind of like popular fiction today. Ladies were discouraged from reading them, and especially from writing them. The attitude was very different than today. Many do feel that the novel was a leap forward in literature. There are other facets of the Industrial Revolution that are considered more forward-thinking inventions, but authors like Dickens and Austen used the novel to put a mirror up to society, and often create lasting social change. Authors continue to do this today.
While the novel was a huge component of Victorian age literature, some might say the role of women in literature of this time was equally or more important. Th changes taking place during this time allowed for women to have more rights and more voice--in the home, in public, and etc. Consider some of the most notable and still followed authors of that time--Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Bronte.