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2: The Victorian Age

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    • 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: 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.
    • 2.4: 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.”
    • 2.5: 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.
    • 2.6: 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.
    • 2.7: 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).

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

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