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(2016) Nineteenth-century radical traditions, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Frederick William Robinson, Charles Dickens, and the literary tradition of "low life"

Anne Schwan

pp. 63-84

Frederick William Robinson, London-based journalist and author of over fifty titles of popular fiction, is easily dismissed as a hack writer who bowed to genre conventions and, under the pressure of commercial publishing, wrote too fast for his own good. The present chapter makes the case that Robinson's largely forgotten fiction of "low life", avidly read by his contemporaries and reviewed by writer colleagues such as Margaret Oliphant, deserves a closer look and critical reassessment similar to that recently bestowed on writers like Charles Reade.Contemporary reviews of Robinson's novels about social problems, including his tales of street children, former thieves, and their long road to social ascent—Owen: A Waif (1862), Mattie: A Stray (1864), and Christie"s Faith (1867)—praised the author for his originality, if not his writing skills. Placed in a wider context of cultural and literary influences, Robinson's oeuvre emerges as a missing link between the socially conscious literary traditions of Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, and mid-century social-problem novels, studies of working-class lives in investigations of urban poverty, British naturalism, and the slum fiction of the 1880s and 1890s. After an overview of Robinson's work, method, and influences, my discussion will offer a case study of Owen: A Waif, illustrating this eclectic writer's vision of class and family relations, working-class communities, and ideals of masculinity.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-59706-9_4

Full citation:

Schwan, A. (2016)., Frederick William Robinson, Charles Dickens, and the literary tradition of "low life", in J. Bristow & J. Mcdonagh (eds.), Nineteenth-century radical traditions, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 63-84.

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