Sensation Quotation

  • “I feign probabilities; I record improbabilities: the former are conjectures, the latter truths: mixed they make a thing not so true as gospel nor so false as history; viz, fiction” (Charles Reade, Preface to “The Autobiography of a Thief”, qud. in Hughes 17).
  • “The sensation novel, be it mere trash or something worse, is usually a tale of our own times. Proximity is, indeed, one great element of sensation. It is necessary to be near a mine to be blown up by its explosion; and a tale which aims at electrifying the nerves of the reader is never thoroughly effective unless the scene be laid in our own days and among the people we are in the habit of meeting” (from the Quarterly, qtd. in Hughes 18).
  • “I know a great many excellent people who reason against plain experience […] who read the newspaper in the morning, and deny in the evening that there is any romance for writers or painters to work upon in modern life” (Wilkie Collins, No Name, qtd. in Hughes 18).
  • Description of the representative Collins production: “a kind of literary centipede of a hundred different joints, each separately alive, and each popping out of the one that preceded it” (“Aurora Floyd,” Spectator XXXVI (January 31, 1863), p. 1586, qtd. in Hughes 19).
  • Sensation novels depend on “breathless rapidity of movement; whether the movement be absurd or not matters little, the essential thing is to keep moving” (G.H. Lewes, qtd. in Hughes 24).
  • “the Novel and the Play are twin-sisters in the family of Fiction” (Wilkie Collins, Preface to Basil, qtd. in Hughes 24).
  • “If any one writes a novel, a play, or a poem, which relates anything out of the ordinary experiences of the most ordinary people–some tragedy of love or revenge, some strange (though not impossible) combination of events, or some romance of guilt and misery–he is straightaway met with a loud exclamation of ‘Sensational!'” (an unsigned article in All the Year Round entitled “The Sensational Williams,” qtd. in Hughes 28).
  • “life itself is similarly sensational in many of its aspects, and Nature is similarly sensational in many of her forms, and art is always sensational when it is tragic” (an unsigned article in All the Year Round entitled “The Sensational Williams,” qtd. in Hughes 28).
  • “The mystery of evil is as interesting to us now as it was in the time of Shakespeare; and it is downright affectation or effeminacy to say that we are never to glance into that abyss” (an unsigned article in All the Year Round entitled “The Sensational Williams,” qtd. in Hughes 28).
  • “What is held up to us as the story of the feminine soul as it really exists underneath its conventional coverings, is a very fleshly and unlovely record […] Now it is no knight of romance riding down the forest glades, ready for the defence and succour of all the oppressed, for whom the dreaming maiden waits. She waits now for flesh and muscles, for strong arms that seize her, and warm breath that thrills her through, and a host of other physical attractions, which she indicates to the world with a charming frankness […] were the sketch made from the man’s point of view, its openness would at least be less repulsive. The peculiarity of it in England is […] that this intense appreciation of flesh and blood, this eagerness of physical sensation, is represented as the natural sentiment of English girls, and is offered to them not only as the portrait of their own state of mind, but as their amusement and mental food” (Mrs. Oliphant, in an article for Blackwood’s, titled “Novels,” 1867, qtd. in Hughes 29-30).
  • “[Braddon] has brought in the reign of bigamy as an interesting and fashionable crime, which no doubt shows a certain deference to the British relish for law and order. It goes against the seventh commandment, no doubt, but does it in a legitimate sort of way, and is an invention which could only have been possible to an Englishwoman knowing the attraction of impropriety, and yet loving the shelter of the law” (Mrs. Oliphant, in an article for Blackwood’s, titled “Novels,” 1867, qtd. in Hughes 29-30).
  • “We think that the “Lady Audley” style is more national, more our own. A good sound, brutal murder, with plenty of blood in it, chimes in better with our patriotic feelings: it is not un-English […] If there must be sin and crime to give flavour to English fictions, we vote for murder” (J. Herbert Stack, “Some Recent English Novels,” Fortnightly XV (June 1, 1871), p. 739, qtd. in Hughes 32).
  • “They [sensation novels] are unnatural because any one who would introduce the play of strong passions into the milk-and-water commonplace of modern society is forced to be unnatural” (Leslie Stephen, “The Decay of Murder,” p. 726, qtd. in Hughes 33).
  • “Crime, indeed, has always been a theme for dramatic poets; but with the old poets its dramatic interest lay in the fact that it compromised the criminal’s moral repose. Whence else is the interest of Orestes and Macbeth? With Mr. Collins and Miss Braddon (our modern Euripides and Shakespeare) the interest of the crime is in the fact that it compromises the criminal’s personal safety” (Henry James, “Miss Braddon,” p. 111, qtd. in Hughes 33).
  • “Although the picture was ugly, there was a strange weird attraction in it, and people went to see it again and again, and liked, and hankered after it, and talked of it perpetually all that season, one fraction declaring that the lucifer-match effect was the most delicious moonlight, and the murderess of the Earl the most lovely of womankind, till the fraction who thought the very reverse of this became afraid to declare their opinion, and thus everybody was satisfied” (from Eleanor’s Victory, by Braddon, qtd. in Hughes 37).
  • “I hate all mysteries […] And as for secrets, I consider them to be one of the forms of ill-breeding” (Lady Janet in Collins’ The New Magdalen).
  • “Among English novels of the present day, and among English novelists, a great division is made. There are sensational novels and anti-sensational, sensational novelists and anti-sensational, sensational readers and anti-sensational. The novelists who are considered to be anti-sensational are generally called realistic” (Trollope, from his Autobiography, II, 41, qtd. in Hughes 38-39).
  • “According to Miss Braddon, crime is not an accident, but it is the business of life. She would lead us to conclude that the chief end of man is to commit a murder, and his highest merit to escape punishment; that women are born to attempt to commit murders, and to succeed in committing bigamy” (“Sensation Novelists: Miss Braddon,” North British XLIII (September 1865), pp. 98, 101, 104, qtd. in Hughes 40).
  • “[M.E. Braddon] may boast, without fear of contradiction, of having temporarily succeeded in making the literature of the Kitchen the favourite reading of the Drawing-room” (“Miss Braddon,” North British, p. 105, qtd, in Hughes 42).
  • “Unhappily, the sensational novel is that one touch of anything but nature that makes the kitchen and the drawing-room kin” (“Sensational School,” Temple Bar, p. 424, qtd. in Hughes 42).
  • “It is on our domestic hearths that we are taught to look for the incredible. A mystery sleeps in our cradles; fearful errors lurk in our nuptial couches; fiends sit down with us at table; our innocent-looking garden walks hold the secret of treacherous murders; and our servants take $20 [in pounds] a year from us for the sake of having us at their mercy” (“Sensational School,” Temple Bar, p. 422, qtd. in Hughes 44).
  • “When women are thus put forward to lead the action of a plot, they must be urged into a false position. To get vigorous action they are described as rushing into crime, and doing masculine deeds. Thus they come forward in the worst light, and the novelist finds that to make an effect he has to give up his heroine to bigamy, to murder, to child-bearing by stealth in the Tyrol, and to all sorts of adventures which can only signify her fall […] It is not wrong to make a sensation; but it the novelist depends for his sensation upon the action of a woman, the chances are that he will attain his end by unnatural means” (E.S. Dallas, The Gay Science, qtd. in Hughes 45-46).
  • Detailism: “confounds truth with familiarity, and predominance of unessential details. There are other truths besides coats and waistcoats, pots and pans, drawing-rooms and suburban villas” (G.H. Lewes, “Realism in Art: Recent German Fiction” (1858), reprinted in Alice R. Kaminsky, ed., Literary Criticisms of George Henry Lewes, p. 87, qtd. in Hughes 48).
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