sensation fiction

19th c. genre centering on crime, transgression, and mystery and seeking to arouse intense emotion

The sensation novel, also sensation fiction, was a literary genre of fiction that achieved peak popularity in Great Britain in the 1860s and 1870s. Its literary forebears included the melodramatic novels and the Newgate novels, which focused on tales woven around criminal biographies; it also drew on the gothic and romantic genres of fiction. The genre's popularity was conjoined to an expanding book market and growth of a reading public, by-products of the Industrial Revolution. Whereas romance and realism had traditionally been contradictory modes of literature, they were brought together in sensation fiction. The sensation novelists commonly wrote stories that were allegorical and abstract; the abstract nature of the stories gave the authors room to explore scenarios that wrestled with the social anxieties of the Victorian era. The loss of identity is seen in many sensation fiction stories because this was a common social anxiety; in Britain, there was an increased use in record keeping and therefore people questioned the meaning and permanence of identity. The social anxiety regarding identity is reflected in novels such as The Woman in White and Lady Audley's Secret.Sensation fiction is commonly seen to have emerged as a definable genre in the wake of three novels: Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White (1859–60); Ellen (Mrs. Henry) Wood's East Lynne (1861); and Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (1862). Perhaps the earliest use of the term, sensation fiction, as a name for such novels appears in the 1861 edition of the Saunders, Otley, & co.'s Literary Budget.Neo-Victorian novels, such as Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, have been seen to draw on the conventions of sensation fiction; in the cited example, by its use of "suspect wills and forged documents, secret marriages, illegitimacy and opium".
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genre: sensation fiction

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