Sensation Fiction

Matthew Rubery

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
Sensation Fiction

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Sensation fiction was a literary genre that achieved enormous popularity during the 1860s in Britain. The first and best known sensation novels were Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1860), Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861), and Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). The genre derived its name from the contemporary theater’s “sensation drama” noted for spectacular effects and displays of intense emotion. Sensation fiction drew on a variety of popular forms including melodrama, domestic realism, newspaper reports, Newgate novels, and gothic tales. The gripping plots of these novels involved scandalous events including murder, adultery, bigamy, fraud, madness, and sexual deviance often perpetrated by seemingly moral and upright individuals in familiar domestic settings. The genre’s popularity provoked alarm and hostility on the part of literary, political, and religious authorities who denounced sensation novels for eliciting intense physical responses from their readers. The broad appeal of sensation fiction made it suspect as serious writing for nearly a century until its critical reevaluation beginning in the 1970s. Sensation fiction has since moved beyond its scandalous origins to become an integral part of Victorian literary history.

Article.  7412 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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