The Female Novel

  • Brian Spittles
Part of the Writers in their Time book series (WRTI)


The development of the railways was perhaps, somewhat surprisingly, the first important influence on early Victorian reading habits. By the 1840s railway travel was expanding very rapidly. In 1838 only 500 miles of track were in operation, by 1848 5000 miles were in use, and most of the increase was due to passenger rather than freight transport. The change was so dramatic, the potential effects sufficiently widespread, for the issue to be raised in Parliament:

… the House must be fully aware that the present was a very important era in the history of railroads … this was the proper time and fitting opportunity to refer the matter to a committee to investigate the subject.

(Hansard, 5 February 1844)

The importance of the phenomenon is indicated by the fact that the speaker was not a backbench MP of no particular consequence, but William Gladstone, a future prime minister, and one of the most powerful political figures of the Victorian period. Railways were faster, cheaper and more comfortable than horse-drawn coaches — although comfort is a relative concept, which in this context emphasizes the awful discomfort of most coach journeys.


Freight Transport Direct Address Walk Away Reading Public Moral Scheme 
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© Brian Spittles 1993

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  • Brian Spittles

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