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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Charles Reade: a study of a literary reputation McGechaen, John


This essay seeks to explain why Charles Reade's fiction, which was once so popular, is no longer of interest to modern readers. By referring to the available material on the sale of his books, and by considering what reviewers in his own day said about them, an attempt is made to estimate his popularity with contemporary readers. His novels were melodramatic in style and sensational in content, for he exploited the social abuses common in England during the second half of the nineteenth century. Modern critics of the novel believe that Reade failed to turn his material into sound and probable fiction. His plots are weak and his characters poorly drawn. For this reason his books ceased to interest readers as soon as the abuses with which he dealt were corrected. A certain amount of agreement is shown to exist between the opinions of modern students of the novel and those of Reade's more discerning contemporary critics who, throughout his career, urged him to change his method of writing fiction. The shortcomings of his fictive theory are discussed and the inevitability of the eclipse of his fame is set forth in conclusion.

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