Victorian Popular Fictions 5.1 2 Sparks


Reading the Women’s Sentimental Novel: A Romance

Tabitha Sparks

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In “Reading the Women’s Sentimental Novel: A Romance,” Tabitha Sparks considers a large and diffuse body of mass-market fiction written by and for Victorian women. She argues that the author-focused interpretive approach that underwrites the study of the canon neglects the attraction of formula fiction, and even the robust recovery efforts of Victorian scholars have largely avoided a taxonomic reading of these novels. In an effort to uncover their objectives and appeal, Sparks reads periodical reviews and discussions of the professional woman writer to better understand the commercial – not artistic – standards assigned to the prosaic “lady’s novel.” She examines a subset of novels by Annie S. Swan, Sarah Doudney, Emily Jolly, and Adeline Sergeant to uncover a repeated subplot in which these novels’ heroines become best-selling authors. The complete elision of the content of their best-sellers reveals and confirms the sentimental novel’s self-conscious withdrawal from the literary caste wars of the day. 


popular novel; non-canonical; women’s fiction; sentimental; authorship; periodical reviews

Date of Acceptance: 27 June 2023

Date of Publication: 5 July 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Sparks, Tabitha. 2023. “Reading the Women’s Sentimental Novel: A Romance.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.1: 3-20. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI: 

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