Fakes, imposters, doubles: Nineteenth-century novels and the parodies they inspired

Peter M Witkowsky, Fordham University


Three quarters of a century of critical neglect and opprobrium have guaranteed that Victorian period parodies of novels are virtually unknown to most students of literature. Even those who have been made acquainted with Thackeray's or Bret Harte's have little reason to suppose them much more than mere ephemera—the fruits of a literary “apprenticeship” the sooner gotten over the better. Too many undoubtedly assume that the practice, born with Fielding's Shamela in 1741, succumbed while yet in infancy. The primary aim of Fakes, Imposters, Doubles: Nineteenth-Century Novels and the Parodies They Inspired is to remind twenty-first-century readers that their favorite nineteenth-century novels inspired a form of imitation at once flattering and potentially critical. Corollary aims include accounting for the phenomenon more than has yet been done, identifying targets in addition to the novels and novelists that were only sometimes what the parodists were most interested in, and—no less importantly—reconsidering that decline in “quality” that has so often been given as an excuse for consigning such works to oblivion. The project is divided into two parts. The first is comprised of a survey of the more typical of Victorian parodies and examines the most basic trends, from the condensation that had come to define the genre by the late 1840s, to the corresponding separation of the comic and critical impulses that, in a prior period, were more apt to be carefully balanced in most parodies of novels, to the expanding pool of authors and the “debasing of the moral currency” (George Eliot's term) that would eventually become a cause for concern among conservative literary critics. The second is comprised of readings of less typical parodies, works that (by virtue of their greater length and complexity) pose more of an interpretive challenge. That these readings conclude as prematurely as they do, with a parody published in 1868 (some thirty years before the period officially closed), is owing partly to the limitations of space and partly to the fact that Victorian parodies of novels had by that point begun to assume an essentially extra-literary character.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|American literature|Comparative literature

Recommended Citation

Witkowsky, Peter M, "Fakes, imposters, doubles: Nineteenth-century novels and the parodies they inspired" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3083164.