For a movement driven by a group as supposedly radical and freethinking as artists are supposed to be, the history of Western art prior to the twentieth century, especially literature, is marked by its adherence to convention. Perhaps it was economic need, if one wanted audiences to attend your plays or read your books, so you had to give them what they had come to expect. There were few troubling grey areas when it came to morality as questions of good and evil were defined by however Christianity was being filtered by the society of the day. Nineteenth century Britain, with its need to justify moral superiority over what it deemed inferior races, produced works that might question certain practices, but not even Dickens ever questioned the system which gave rise to the conditions described in his books or the morality that allowed them to exist.
A whiff of Aristotle's Poetics, with its definitions of what constituted tragedy and the other genres, kept pages and stages home to heroes from the noble class, yet relegating the baser elements of society to supporting roles or villainous undertakings. While there was nothing wrong with a funny servant, who would want to read an entire book about him? And of course, while there were occasionally female characters taking a central role, headstrong individuals who attempted to control their own destiny would end up rescued by a man or falling into ruin. A woman's usual place was in orbit around her man's gravitational pull and it was a rare thing to see one make her own way in the world.
However, change did come, eventually, with the twentieth century and fiction and stages began to more accurately reflect the faces of all society. Instead of heroes we now had anti-heroes, men and women who embodied few if any of the noble qualities that were once considered essential for a lead character in a play or novel. Not only aren't they royalty or even nobility, most of them have lived on the fringes of what society would even consider normal. Yet somehow they have struck chords within readers and developed followings.