Fiction based on fact : subversions of power and propriety in Charles Reade's matter-of-fact romances.
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Nydegger, Amanda L.
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As Charles Reade began to write It Is Never Too Late to Mend, he developed a method of research and writing that he would use throughout the remainder of his career. In the Memoir, he declares: “The plan I propose to myself in writing stories will, I see, cost me undeniable labor. I propose never to guess where I can know” (198). This obsessive drive to discover and integrate facts into his fiction can be seen in all of his novels, but none so clearly as in the five he subtitled “a matter-of-fact romance.” Since the early 1900s, Reade has been completely excluded from the literary canon, and few critics have devoted any significant attention to his works. His two long matter-of-fact romances, Hard Cash and Never Too Late have received the bulk of critical study, but these novels are too often relegated to sensation, novel-with-a-purpose, or propagandist fiction without exploring the five matter-of-fact romances together as a whole. This dissertation provides an analysis of all five matter-of-fact romances, treating them as a new genre with its own set of criteria rather than trying to pigeonhole them into traditional genres such as realism or sensation fiction. Reade uses the matter-of-fact romance to accomplish two distinct objects. First, he creates a woven fabric of intertextuality which he uses to invite readers to engage closely with the text, and through a number of different techniques he encourages the reader to remain in direct contact with his narrative. Secondly, through the self-conscious creation of a new genre at the height of the debate between realism and idealism, Reade subverts conventional nineteenth-century concepts of genre and art. This subversion of genre extends to the content of his matter-of-fact romances where Reade further subverts Victorian concepts of power and propriety. An evaluation of subversions of power in the prison and the asylum, subversions of propriety with regard to women’s rights and roles, and psychological subversions of power form the basis of this study.