Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

VIVIAN GREY is one of those interesting, unsuccessful novels that appears at the juncture of divergent literary movements, and which, at the same time, is filled with intense personal and biographical energy. That such a story could achieve popularity in its time is neither a discredit to the youth of the author nor to popular taste. Reflected in VIVIAN GREY are characteristics of the romantic concept of the young man struggling with his soul, of the nature of the frightening elements when the utmost in horror and terror are presented. There are more than the qualities of an Ann Radcliffe or Monk Lewis in this book, however, for precepts and truisms of a particular nature are scattered throughout the length of the narrative. Many of these reflect the political life of the times, and all of them reflect the mind of the nineteenth century. As such, they deserve the study of any scholar or enthusiast for the activities of men. To read this novel is to understand better Lord Byron, Shelley, or William Godwin, and the intellectual world in which they participated.

In 1826-1827, when the two volumes of VIVIAN GREY were published, the novel in England was divided between those of the Romantics and those of the “fashionable” set. The former stream is, of course, best represented by Sir Walter Scott’s followers and the prose descendants of Byron. The latter, or “fashionable” novel, concerned itself with the habits, mannerisms,...

(The entire section is 578 words.)