Charles Reade Criticism - Essay

Oscar Wilde (essay date 1889)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Decay of Lying," in De Profundis and Other Writings, edited by Hesketh Pearson, Penguin, 1973, pp. 55-87.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1889 and reprinted in 1973, Wilde laments Reade's decision to abandon his sense of beauty in order to write realistic social-problem novels.]

I do not know anything in the whole history of literature sadder than the artistic career of Charles Reade. He wrote one beautiful book, The Cloister and the Hearth, a book as much above Romola as is above Daniel Deronda, and wasted the rest of his life in a foolish attempt to be modern, to draw public attention to the state of our convict prisons, and the management of our private lunatic asylums. Charles Dickens was depressing enough in all conscience when he tried to arouse our sympathy for the victims of the poor-law administration; but Charles Reade, an artist, a scholar, a man with a true sense of beauty, raging and roaring over the abuses of contemporary life like a common pamphleteer or a sensational journalist, is really a sight for the angels to weep over.

E. W. Hornung (essay date 1921)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Charles Reade," in London Mercury, Vol. 4, June, 1921, pp. 150-63.

[In the following excerpt, Hornung surveys Reade's novels.]

Charles Reade was the youngest son of a country gentleman, one of the Reades of Ipsden, in Oxfordshire, where he was born twelve months before Waterloo. His schooling was private and ferocious; but at seventeen, thanks to an English Essay well above the average, he gained a Demyship at Magdalen, and four years later was elected a Fellow of the college. From that moment he considered himself condemned to perpetual celibacy, and observed the letter of an oppressive law inflexibly; yet the other celibates did not altogether approve of...

(The entire section is 7868 words.)

Emerson Grant Sutcliffe (essay date 1931)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fœmina Vera in Charles Reade's Novels," in PMLA, Vol. 46, Autumn, 1931, pp. 1260-79.

[In the following excerpt, Sutcliffe discusses Reade's often negative portrayal of women and his depiction of women characters who disguise themselves as men or act in traditionally masculine ways.]

One of the commonest headings in the notebooks on which Charles Reade founded his novels1 is fœmina vera. He considered himself an authority on woman. In a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette he calls himself "a patient drudge, who has studied that sex profoundly in various walks of life."2 Certainly his women are more memorable, and the...

(The entire section is 8600 words.)

Emerson Grant Sutcliffe (essay date 1945)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Unique and Repeated Situations and Themes in Reade's Fiction," in PMLA, Vol. 60, March, 1945, pp. 221-30.

[In the following excerpt, Sutcliffe discusses plot devices in Reade's novels.]

Charles Reade had the romancer's fondness for startling and rare, even unparalleled incidents, and heaped up thousands of such incidents in his thoroughly documented notebooks.1 Yet throughout his fiction he utilized the same formulas and situations over and over again. Here is an anomaly which demands analysis and explanation.


The melodrama and the romance (and to some degree the epic) must be made up of swift successions...

(The entire section is 4820 words.)

Wayne Burns (essay date 1945)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pre-Raphaelitism in Charles Reade's Early Fiction" in PMLA, Vol. 60, December, 1945, pp. 1149-64.

[In the following excerpt, Burns considers Reade's theories of art and the influence of those theories on his novel Christie Johnstone.]

That Charles Reade was interested in art, along with Cremona violins, Scottish herring fisheries, and other such hobbies, has long been known. Coleman listed some of the paintings in Reade's private collection and declared him a connoisseur;1 Elwin pointed out that he had a genuine taste in art and was the best sort of collector;2 and Rives added still further information of much the same type.3...

(The entire section is 7069 words.)

Wayne Burns and Emerson Grant Sutcliffe (essay date 1946)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Uncle Tom and Charles Reade," in American Literature, Vol. 17, January, 1946, pp. 334-47.

[In the following excerpt, Burns and Sutcliffe suggest that Reade's style of documentary realism was influenced by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.]


Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) achieved an unparalleled popularity, both in America and Europe. That we all know. What is not so well known is the extent to which the novel, and the accompanying "Key" (The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1853) influenced the thinking and writing of European novelists—among others Charles Reade.

Several scholars have noted a...

(The entire section is 6059 words.)

Sheila M. Smith (essay date 1960)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Propaganda and Hard Facts in Charles Reade's Didactic Novels: A Study of It Is Never Too Late to Mend and Hard Cash, " in Renaissance and Modern Studies, Vol. 4, 1960, pp. 135-49.

[In the following excerpt, Smith contends that although Reade drew on factual sources for his didactic novels, he exaggerated and introduced melodramatic elements in the tradition of the sensation novel.]

'Eccentric fact makes improbable fiction, and improbable fiction is not impressive.'

The Times, 2 Jan. 1864, reviewing Hard Cash.

'All fiction, worth a button, is founded on...

(The entire section is 6200 words.)

Wayne Burns (essay date 1961)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: " It Is Never Too Late to Mend: The Immortal Part of the Work," in Charles Reade: A Study in Victorian Authorship, Bookman Associates, 1961, pp. 155-71.

[In the following excerpt, Burns discusses the epic qualities of the novel version of It Is Never Too Late to Mend.]

In a letter to The Times (August 26, 1871) Reade wrote: "A noble passage in The Times of September 7 or 8, 1853, touched my heart, inflamed my imagination, and was the germ of my first important work."2 Taken literally—the way it has so often been taken—this statement implies that Reade had never thought of prisons or prison reform as a subject for a novel...

(The entire section is 6661 words.)

Wayne Burns (essay date 1961)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Griffith Gaunt: 'The Great Passions that Poets Have Sung,'" in Charles Reade: A Study in Victorian Authorship, Bookman Associates, 1961, pp. 231-67.

[In the following excerpt, Burns discusses Reade's portrayal of feminine psychology and sexuality in Griffith Gaunt.]


In the midst of this turmoil [over the stage version of It Is Never Too Late to Mend] Reade still managed to keep up his Notebooks, and to start work on a new novel, although, duplicating the practice he had followed after completing his prison epic, he did not immediately attempt another matter-of-fact romance. After Hard Cash and The...

(The entire section is 11909 words.)

C. H. Muller (essay date 1971)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Charles Reade and The Cloister and the Hearth: A Survey of the Novel's Literary Reception and Its Historic Fidelity," in Unisa English Studies, Vol. IX, No. 1, March, 1971, pp. 18-26.

[In the following excerpt, Muller explores the reasons for the popularity of The Cloister and the Hearth.]


Numerous reasons can be put forward to explain why nineteenth-century critics declined to place Charles Reade in the foremost rank of novelists; but there are three main and obvious reasons: his polemical purpose was frequently injurious to, and incompatible with, his artistic purpose, his reliance on documentary sources like law reports and...

(The entire section is 5697 words.)

Elton E. Smith (essay date 1976)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Novels: On Social Issues," in Charles Reade, Twayne, 1976, pp. 104-34.

[In the following excerpt. Smith discusses Reade's general approach to writing novels about social issues and discusses specific aspects of It Is Never Too Late to Mend.]

The last sentence of Put Yourself in His Place reveals Charles Reade's intention for his novels about current social issues: " … I have taken a few undeniable truths out of many, and have laboured to make my readers realize those appalling facts of the day which most men know, but not one in a thousand comprehends, and not one in a hundred thousand realizes, until fiction—which, whatever you may have been told...

(The entire section is 4114 words.)

Dianna Vitanza (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Cloister and the Hearth: A Popular Response to the Oxford Movement," in Religion and Literature, Vol. 18, No. 3, Fall, 1986, pp. 71-88.

[In the following excerpt, Vitanza observes that The Cloister and the Hearth not only faults the enforced celibacy but also the isolation from worldly concerns associated with the Oxford Movement.]

Charles Reade, the nineteenth-century novelist whom the young Henry James called "to our mind the most readable of living English novelists and … a distant kinsman of Shakespeare" (207) and who, in the estimation of many of his contemporaries, "after the death of Thackeray and of Dickens … divided with George...

(The entire section is 6858 words.)

Daniel Barrett (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "It is Never Too Late to Mend and Prison Conditions in Nineteenth-Century England," in Theatre Research International, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1993, pp. 4-15.

[In the following excerpt, Barrett discusses the controversial premiere of Reade's play It is Never Too Late to Mend.]

The première of It Is Never Too Late to Mend at the Princess's Theatre on 4 October 1865 marked the appropriately tumultuous return of Charles Reade to the London stage after an absence of nine years. That night, one of the most memorable disturbances in the nineteenth-century theatre occurred when the drama critics in attendance, led by Frederick Guest Tomlins of the Morning...

(The entire section is 7601 words.)

Michael Hays (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Representing Empire: Class, Culture, and the Popular Theatre in the Nineteenth Century," in Imperialism and Theatre: Essays on World Theatre, Drama, and Performance, edited by J. Ellen Gainor, Routledge, 1995, pp. 132-47.

[In the following excerpt. Hays discusses the way Reade 's play It is Never Too Late to Mend reflects the newly developing ideology of harmony between the social classes in England based on exploitation of the colonies.]

[If] we turn to the melodrama of the early 1860s, we can do so with the sense that the discursive unity [Edward] Said discovers in the age of Conrad had not only not (yet) prevailed earlier in the century, but that it...

(The entire section is 5481 words.)