Europeans, cowboys and fiction about the 19th century

When Americans create fiction set in the 1800s, it’s very often about cowboys and the frontier. The protagonist is usually either a sheriff or a desperado being hunted/hunting the sheriff/other desperados. Aside from spaghetti Westerns, that’s seldom the case for Europeans.

So, do Europeans novelists, movie makers etc tend to have a favorite genre? How about the protagonist types or plots they most often use?

For precision’s sake, I mean:

So, do Europeans novelists, movie makers etc tend to have a favorite genre for fiction set in the 1800s? How about the protagonist types or plots?

Hitler, as a boy, was a big Karl May fan.

Mein Gott. Godwinned in Post 4.

Hey, no Godwinning intended. Just because Hitler liked something, it doesn’t automatically invalidate its artistic merit. I mean, look at Wagner.

You’re asking about modern European writers, right? Not writers from the 19th century?

Wouldn’t the genre simply be “historical”? Is that too general?

What was happening in Europe in the 19th century, after the Napoleonic Wars were finished? Hellifino. There was a lot of emigration to the US, the Industrial Revolution – what else? Exploration, discovery and colonization?

Is Karl May typical of European creative artists who create fiction about the 19th century?

As long as their story was set in the 1800s, it doesn’t matter to my question if the writers are from the 19th century or not.

A bit, yes. And writing about the past need not make a genre historical; A 2013 writer who writes a novel about 1860s cowboys wouldn’t make it a historical novel as commonly understood, it would be a Western.

I’m thinking that Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens may be the European equivalents. They and their style are distinctly 19th century European about 19th century Europe (well, and sometimes part of the late 18th century as it relates to the 19th century when set in France). Their best known stories often relate to prison, crime and stark class divisions.

There. You’ve answered your own question. :slight_smile:

When I think 19th century novels I think social problems, the breakdown of class structure, and the beginnings of feminism.

So Dickens and Hugo for sure. Also Emile Zola. He wrote twenty books covering three branches of one family. Zola was very interested in human nature and heredity, what makes us how we are. His characters were prostitutes, alcoholics, farmers, laborers, artists, entrepreneurs, and a few criminals. He was also interested in psychology – Therese Raquin is all about guilt.

There were adventure stories set in the colonies.
H. Rider Haggard: King Solomon’s Mine, She, and others.
P.C. Wren: Beau Geste and its sequels.
Rudyard Kipling.

There were also the “Graustarkian” or “Ruritatian” romances (The Prisoner of Zenda and its imitators).

British depictions of the 19th century tend to fall into three camps that I can think of:

  1. Aristocracy - parlour room manners and country estates, finding the right husband and someone running off with a waiter, think Austen, Downton Abbey (yes yes I know hat’s 20th century, but still)
  2. Deprivation, crime and debauchery amongst the working classes - think dark allies in smog covered London (Dickens being the classic example but hardly the only one).
  3. Stuff about the industrial revolution - set in factories and mills up North, or on the railways or such like, all smog and plucky workers, trade unions and votes for women

Obviously there’s loads more, it isn’t as narrow as ‘cowboy films’. There’s the whole empire thing for starters, though aside from ‘Zulu’, I’m struggling to think of examples.

“Adventure stories set in the colonies” was exactly what I thought when considering a European corollary for the Western.
How about beyond Britsh writers? Among the other countries that had colonies in Africa and Asia? Did the Dutch have a Kipling of their own? Was there a German Kipling? French? Portuguese?

Jules Verne, perhaps?

That is quite true. He seemed to have a much more positive view of the 19th century than a lot of other Europeans. In some ways, he was about exploring new frontiers (the moon, the bottom of the sea, the depths of the Earth, the whole world in 80 days) with science and technology like a cowboy would explore new frontiers with a horse and six-shooter.

Pick a better example.

Would you consider steampunk to be a genre using the 19th century, or does it have to be the real 19th century?

So, what genres did Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Hugo and Dickens write in? For Jules Verne, it’s sci-fi but for the other authors, what is it? Is it simply called “literary fiction”, for all of that term’s imprecision? It wasn’t really historical when they wrote it, especially Bronte and Austen.

Robinson Crusoe stranded on a desert isle variants too. I remember getting R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island (1858) as a Christmas or birthday present as a kid in the 80’s, a book which apparently has never been out of print.

When I think about British literature set in the 19th century, a lot of it would fall under the general heading of Bildungsroman, where you have a young man (or maybe woman) finishing school and having various speedbumps on the way to starting a family and/or a career.

Some popular 19th century plots, summarized in a few words:

  • Should I marry this nice guy/gal who’s slightly above/below my station in life? (…several hundred pages later…) Yes, love conquers all minor obstacles!
  • Oh no, I’m in some financial trouble. (…several hundred pages later…) Yay, a rich benefactor gave/bequeathed me some money, so I’m saved!
  • My rich relative is P.O.'d at me. (…several hundred pages later…) Yay, he had a change of heart and he forgives me!

Well if a made for TV movie set during the 19th century is aired, I can reliably bet the protagonist will be a progressive fighting the backward values of his/her time : a female doctor, or a teacher who wants to educate poor children, something like that.

If not, it’s an adaptation of a famous 19th century novel/short story : Flaubert, Maupassant, Hugo, Zola, Balzac…