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Humanities LibreTexts

2: The Victorian Age

  • Page ID
    41773
    • 2.1: The Victorian Movement in Literature
      Victorian writers reacted against the Romantics by moving away from what may be considered individual subjectivity toward a more objective stance. While the Romantics alluded to Greek and Roman mythology and art, the Victorians added Greek and Roman classics, especially in terms of structure, subject, and character expression. Rather than the Romantic emphasis on the individual, the Victorians embraced social responsibility, engaging with the people, problems, and ideas of their time.
    • 2.2: Historical Context
      The Victorian Age can be divided into two sections, with the fulcrum occurring around 1870. The first part was characterized by optimism in material, cultural, and social progress. The second part, however, was affected by the Depression of 1873, which continued until the end of the century. England in the 1860s was at its zenith as a world power, followed by a slow decline over the next 100 years. The paramount characteristic of the Victorian Age was rapid change and concomitant conflict.
    • 2.3: Recommended Reading
      This page contains a list of texts which are recommended by the author for further reading.
    • 2.4: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
      Elizabeth Barrett Browning both epitomized the condition of women in the Victorian age and refuted it. Her literary reputation grew to such an extent that she was suggested as a successor to Wordsworth as the Poet Laureate—a position that went to Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). Much of her work reflects her interest in individual—particularly women’s—rights, child labor, prostitution, abolition, and the plight of the poor and downtrodden.
    • 2.5: Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
      Although born in the Victorian era, Alfred, Lord Tennyson felt much affinity for the Romantic era. As with the Romantics, his first impulse was to think rather than do, and he relied more on emotional intelligence rather than rational judgment. They may have been fostered by his painful childhood and early adulthood. His famous works include the poem In Memoriam: To AHH, “The Palace of Art” (1832), “The Lady of Shalott”, Maud (1855), and “Ulysses.”
    • 2.6: Robert Browning (1812-1889)
      Browning was born into an apparently conventional middle-class Victorian household. Critics deemed Browning’s first published work, Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833), as too inclined towards Romanticism. He consequently moved towards more objective expression, in both dramatic and poetic form, particularly his Dramatic Lyrics (1842). Many poems in this collection take the Dramatic Monologue form which became a popular form in the Victorian era probably due to a reaction to Romanticism.
    • 2.7: Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
      Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, the three surviving of the five daughters born to the Reverend Patrick Bronte and Maria Branwell, were early on inspired to climb to Olympian heights as poets and writers. Emily’s especially deal with the Victorian Crisis of Faith with her original and self-actuating—almost supernatural—spiritual vision. In 1848, Emily died of tuberculosis, having seen the mixed success of her work. Nevertheless, Emily’s distinctive, lyrical, and powerful voice speaks out for itself.
    • 2.8: George Eliot (1819-1880)
      Like many Victorians, George Eliot began to doubt the validity of Christian faith. Her reading and her intellectual discussions with friends drew her increasingly towards Christian humanism. Her novels consider infanticide, familial betrayal, prejudice, and self-sacrifice with depth of psychological insight combined with moral purpose, a desire to motivate social change. George Eliot’s writing prepared the way for the leaner experimental novels of the twentieth century.
    • 2.9: Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
      In his poetry, Arnold worked through both private and public preoccupations, particularly with the desire for genuine communication and relationships, uncertainty over authentic identity, and despair in the face of a Crisis of Faith. He ultimately moved away from his own poetry, which he saw as lacking in system and too emotional and subjective. As he reached middle age, Arnold turned exclusively to prose. He advocated for an educated public, well-versed in the classics, and open to culture.
    • 2.10: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
      Charles Dickens was born in a working-class family. His Sketches by Boz (1836) followed by The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836) soon won Dickens an avid following. Dickens turned his professional activities to writing serial novels and publishing magazines. With masterful prose, he indicted the age’s prevailing hypocrisy, brutality, indifference, and selfishness that tried but often failed to overlook the humanity common among all classes.
    • 2.11: Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-1882)
      D. G. Rossetti trained as both a painter and poet. He and fellow artists founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, and Rossetti published several of his poems in its journal The Germ (1850). Artistic rebels, the Pre-Raphaelites stood for the artist’s vision of the truth regardless of convention. Their elaborate, realistic details were faithful to nature but also symbolic. Rossetti in particular made the non-visual—the spirit or details of religious myth—visible.
    • 2.12: Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)
      Born into an artistic family—her brother was D. G. Rossetti—Christina Rossetti started writing while still in her teens. A strong evangelical, Rossetti wrote religious lyrical poetry and prose works, including Seek and Find (1879), Called To Be Saints (1881), and The Face of the Deep (1892). Her most famous work, Goblin Market, is rich with religious imagery channeling both spiritual and (uncannily) physical temptation, passion, and redemption.
    • 2.13: William Morris (1834-1894)
      Although Morris seemed to idealize the Middle Ages, his poetry evinces a clear-eyed view of its brutality, hypocrisy, and inequalities (particularly between the sexes). Morris’s first collection of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere (1858), reflects these qualities and may have been influenced by his troubled relationship with his wife. He also wrote a utopian novel, fantasies and prose romances, and an epic-length poem combining Greek and Norse myths.
    • 2.14: Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
      Gerard Manley Hopkins went to grammar school in Highgate then to Balliol College, Oxford. In 1862, when he entered training as a Jesuit, Hopkins burned his poems, considering poetry to be a distraction. In 1875 occurred the wreck of the Deutschland in which five Franciscan nuns died. It moved Hopkins to write “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” the first of his major poems. Up until 1884, Hopkins wrote a burst of poems, many of which used brilliant nature imagery. He died in 1889.
    • 2.15: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
      Wilde studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took double first in Classics. After graduating, Wilde entered the professional world by publishing Poems (1881). Besides poetry, Wilde published works in almost every literary genre, including fairy-tales in The Happy Prince (1888), the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), essays and dialogues in Intentions (1891), and short stories in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891).
    • 2.16: Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
      After graduation, Kipling began working as reporter for the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. His works gave him insights to Anglo-Indian society, British colonial administration, British military life, and Indian culture. Kipling’s diverse literary output may on the whole reveal the worse of British racial bias, Western prejudice, and political conservatism. Yet they also reveal his concern with the individual within the larger social system, even when he over-relied on such systems.

    Thumbnail: The only undisputed portrait of Brontë, from a group portrait by her brother Branwell. (Public Domain via Wikipedia)

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