The late Victorian era and the flowering of four literary types: A study in the sociology of literature

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




George V. Zito


Late Victorian England, Industrialization, Culture consumers, Max Weber, Robert Merton, Georg Lukacs

Subject Categories



Late Victorian England (1870-1900) was the era in which two distinct but related developments achieved full culmination. The first was the ascendancy of the middle classes to economic, social, and political power as a result of the industrialization of England. The second event was the full flowering of four new types of literature.

The middle classes of the late nineteenth century had, for the first time, the money, the leisure, and the education necessary to pursue various kinds of leisure time activities, including reading for pleasure. Not only did these new "culture consumers" create a demand for more reading material; they also provided a market for new types of literature. Concurrent with the industrialization of England and the emergence of the middle classes to a position of social preeminence was the development of four new types of literature: science fiction, fantasy fiction, detective fiction and society fiction. The problem thus explored in this dissertation is the explanation of the relationship between industrialization and modernization, and the emergence of these four literary types.

The theoretical work of Max Weber on ascetic Protestantism, instrumental rationality and modernization, as well as the related theoretical insights of Robert Merton, Georg Lukacs, and Ian Watt provide the theoretical underpinnings for this study. Concepts drawn from these theories provide the basis for a content analysis of random samples of five works of each of the four types of literature. The results of the content analysis show that these four types of literature which emerged during the late Victorian era can be understood in Weberian terms as expressions of the different responses to the domination of instrumental rationality in the modern world. These new types of literatures are reflections of both the hope and despair in late Victorian society, as well as the objective conditions that gave rise to such sentiments.


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