Victorian Literature 2 Essay, Research Paper
Mrs. B. Williams
Advanced English IV
2 February 1997
How Literature was Affected in the Victorian Age
The Year 1837 was very significant. It was not only the year that Queen Victoria acceded the throne, but also the year that a new literary age was coined. The Victorian Age, more formally known, was a time of great prosperity in Great Britain’s literature(Keach 608). The Victorian Age produced a variety of changes. Political and social reform produced a variety of reading among all classes(Stuart 5). The lower-class became more self-conscious, the middle class more powerful and the rich became more vulnerable(6). The novels of Charles Dickens, the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning, the dramatic plays of Oscar Wilde, the scientific discoveries of the Darwins, and the religious revolt of Newman all helped to enhance learning and literacy in the Victorian society. Of all of the Literary eras, the Victorian age gave a new meaning to the word controversy. Writers of that time challenged the ideas of religion, crime, sexuality, chauvinism and over all social controversies(Brown 16).
Queen Victoria influenced the literary age herself. She loved to read and she was educated in the finest schools in Great Britain(Fraiser 278). Queen Victoria encouraged reading among all of her people. She gave out free books to children and she built schools for the lower classes. Also the Queen invited prominent Victorian age writers such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens to read privately to her in Buckingham Palace(Packard 59).
The Victorian Age was also an era of several unsettling social developments. This forced writers to take positions on immediate issues animating the rest of society(Brown 23). Hence, romantic forms of expression in poetry and prose continued to dominate English literature throughout much of the century. The attention of many writers was directed to the growth of the English democracy, education, materiallism, religion, science and the theory of evolution. In “Opposition of Matter” Thomas Caryle spoke out against materialism. Historian Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote History of England and Critical Historical Essays. Maculay expressed the complacency of the English middle class over the new prosperity and growing political power(29).
The Oxford Movement caused corruption during the Victorian age. The Tractarians insisted that the Anglican Church was Catholic, not Protestant and they wanted to establish independence from the rising middle class(Richardson 8). The movement began under the leadership of John Keble and Paul Newman. Newman attacked the national apostasy in Tracts for the Times(9). The book caused an outburst in England. Newman was forced to resign his position as head of the movement. With his resignation, the Oxford Movement came to an end. Following the Oxford Movement, many Orthodox Victorians believed that God had created each species and the world was created in seven days(Packard 58). As the nineteenth century proceeded, these traditional customs were put into question by Erasmus Darwin and his grandson, Charles Darwin. Erasmus Darwin found that the world was not created in seven days in Zoomina, where he discovered that the evolutionary theory
was unscientific. Charles Darwin wrote Origin of the Species, causing full scale controversy in Europe(59). Darwin said that species survive and evolved by natural selection, or the survival of the fittest. The public debate over the evolution marked for Victorians a radical change in intellectual and religious life.
The literature of the first four decades of the Victorian period could not help but reflect the social and intellectual controversies of the era(Richardson 9). Writers including Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin attacked the problems directly, while Charles Dickens, George Eloit and Alfred Lord Tennyson dramatized the conflicts and challenges in their works. The most popular form for this type of dramatization was the novel. Victorian novels represented almost every aspect of nineteenth century Victorian life(Keach 629). Though poetry and prose were certainly distinguished, it was the novel that ultimately proved to be the Victorians special literary achievement(Keach 682). The Victorian novel’s most notable aspect was its diversity. The Victorian period produced a number of novelists whose work today would fit between popular fiction and literature. Novelist Wilkie Collins excited his audience with The Woman in White, Elizabeth Gaskell with Wives and Daughters and M.E. Braddon with her much underrated Lady Audley’s Secret(Richardson 35). All three of these authors wrote for large audiences; increasing literary rates and increasing publication sales(36). Motifs of Gothic fiction also found their way into the Victorian novel.(Summers 18) The two authors who illustrated this form of Gothism were Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights was a masterful combination Gothic motifs in which the strange love experiences of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. The book has been considered as on of the finest novels in English history.(20)
The Victorian interest in social life led to a flowering on the novel of romance. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote Cranford, producing a charming picture of Victorian Village life
and the complex studies of family…
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