I occasionally get a bit tired of people asking me what on earth is the point what I do. The Victorians are great for Christmas costume drama, but study them? What for?
Usually I make the effort to explain; but sometimes the frivolous approach is the better one. Tell the cross-examiner, for instance, that without the Victorians we would be unlikely to have Harry Potter.
No really, think about it. Not only were the Victorians, of course, instrumental in the development of the modern novel, but in addition the number of parallels between especially the early Harry Potter novels and your average Victorian Bildungsroman are certainly numerous. An orphan, like most Victorian child protagonists, the eleven-year-old Harry of The Philosopher’s Stone suffers a distinctly Dickensian ‘bringing up by hand’, living a bizarre childhood in his cupboard under the stairs, and besieged, much like Pip in Great Expectations, by strangers apparently at liberty to treat and confuse him any way they like, until mysterious machinations and unknown benefactors transfer him to a new environment more conducive to his personal development.
Much like Jane Eyre, his experience at an isolated boarding school (where he throws himself into Quidditch as Tom Brown embraced football and cricket) somehow gives him the strength to take on whatever the evil outside world chooses to confront him with, even when he, like Jane, deliberately leaves his safe environment.
Throughout his adventures, he is surrounded by a Dickensian cast of teachers and helpers, each with their own bizarre looks and absurd character traits. In a setting composed of Andersen fairytale elements, furthermore, there is room for the Wuthering Heights-style uncanny, Poe-like cruelty, Goblin Market landscapes, and the purposeful Christmas Carol supernatural.
Draw from the above what conclusions you will: that your children will enjoy Great Expectations because they loved Harry Potter; that the modern youth apparently requires flying broomsticks to make classic narratives interesting; or that it is very rare for any author to write anything genuinely original. But now at least you know that one of the great joys of studying Victorian literature is that every time anyone tries to talk you into reading a new bestseller, you can safely tell them that you’ve already read the original.