Victorian age


- Historical introduction and general characteristics

The name of Victorian Age comes from Queen Victoria (1819-1901). She became queen of England and Ireland and the Empress of India when she was very young. She married with Prince Albert who was her cousin. They had 9 children and they married with other European royal families.

In 1861 Prince Albert died and Edward, his son, became king when he was 60. Q. Victoria was admired and loved by British people because she introduced a period of stability to Britain, industrialisation and Imperialism.

The way of life changed completely: A way based on the ownership of land to a modern urban economy based on trade and manufacturing. This was a time of progress: the telegraph, rail ways, photography, the sewing machine, great manufacturing cities (Manchester, the industrial north cities of England).

The imperialism: this is a country of traders, new dominios appeared. More than a quarter of the world was British. Britain also had a very important fleet, which carry the goods to the metropolitan.

- Periods:

1.- Early Victorian (1832-1848):

Technological development and the opening of the reform parliament.

The Reform Bill: it was a response to the demands of middle classes, who were taking control of England's economy. It extended the right to vote to all males owning property worth £ 10 or more in annual rent.

The State had a system of economic liberalism in which the State doesn't participate in the rules of economy, industry work. There were many abuses from industrialists and manufactures.

Gradually there was a great conscious in the society of children's work. The state told that children between 9-14 years could only work no more than 12 hours a day. The working class lived in Slums (neighbourhood very poor).

The abolition of the Corn Laws because there were high tariffs established to protect English farm products from having to compete with low prized products imported from abroad. This is the end of protectionism.

There were also a group of reforms who were called the Chartists, they wrote “the people's charter” (1838). It was a kind of people rights. They asked for a Universal Manhood suffrage.

2.- Mid Victorian (1848-70):

Because of the new inventions this is a period of prosperity (agriculture, industry...). in 1851 was “The Great Exhibition” in the Chrystal Palace, London. It shows the new inventions and congratulations of English empire.

In this period there were a confrontation of ideas:

Utilitarianism: it is a theory based on the idea that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by whether its consequences are conductive to general utility. The main thinker was Jeremy Bentham (Wrote about social happiness. He believed that individuals acted by self-interest). The utilitarians applied this idea for all the institutions, for everything.

Opposed to the utilitarianism: Thomas Carlyle, he thought that intellect had limitations and couldn't explain everything and he turned to the humanism soul, a sort of religious belief was necessary to explain things.

It was a group of writers who were shocked for the condition of living in some parts of England and they wrote a series of novels, “condition of England Novels” they were about living in the slums and they critiqued the oppression of working class.

Elisabeth Gaskell´s “North and South” and Benjamin Disraelis “Sybil of the two nations”

3.- Late Victorian: (1870-1900):

The U.K. had more competitors in trade, e.g. The United States and Germany which was becoming an empire.

It is a period in which workers began to join in associations, which are called trade unions. The first workers who went together were miners and textile workers. A very important association until today is called The Trade Union Congress (1868), which is the assembly of all the associations. From here we have an order of workers and a political party, Labour Party (1906)


1. - Prose: The beginning of a new kind of prose, the lyric prose, is a prose that not only communicate ideas, it express it beautifully. In this time the readers wanted for advice from authority and some writers provided advise, people needed a guide. E.g. Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman, Mathew Arnold. It's full of prepositions because of this didactic style and parallelisms.

2. - Poetry: It was considered superior than prose, novel theatre. They said that the writing of a genius must be poetry. There were two main romantic inheritances in poetry:

1.- the use of retrospective forms: archaic language. They revived many old forms (particularly the mixture of lyric and elegy which influenced others forms like epigram).

2.- experimentation with genres. Some poets continued the movement of colloquial diction into poetry (Robert Browning)

3. - Novel: The main theme is man in society (family, business, friends...). they don't speak abut the past, speak about things that were happening in that time. (Dickens, Brontës).

4. - Drama: Theatre had a little importance (Oscar Wilde, George Bernal Shawn)


  • - Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

  • - Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

  • - Anne Brontë (1820-1849)

  • Their father, Patrick Brontë was a clergyman in Yorkshire. He had six children, his mother died very soon. The four eldest were sent to a boarding school. The two eldest died of tuberculosis so the four children that remain were educated at home.

    He encouraged the children to learn by their own. Mr Brontë discussed poetry, history and politics with his children. The children themselves created a world of fantasy. Mr. Brontë gave his son a book of wooden soldiers, the soldiers became for them the centres of an increasingly elaborate set of manuscripts. They created new countries like Angria, Gondal. They wrote little novels of these imaginary countries.

    They worked as teachers and governess and they wanted to set up their own school. They wen to Brussels to study language.

    Branwell (the brother) was a very talented as a writer and painter, he took drugs and alcohol and died in 1848. In the funeral Emily caught a cold and it developed into tuberculosis and died in December, a year late Anne also died.

    - Charlotte Brontë: “Jane Eyre”, the novel examines many sides of the circumstances of women show a new move towards freedom ad equality.

    - Emily Brontë: “Wuthering Heights”, it is a novel of passion, an early psychological novel.

    • - Anne Brontë: “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” With an unusual central female character and involving complex relationships and problems.


    He was born in the south of England, his father was a clerk, he went to prison and Dickens had to work in a factory (blacking workhouse) when he was 12 years old. He lived in different parts of London and knew poverty and London slums. He used this material in his novels.

    He became a reporter, he worked in many magazines and published in one of these magazines several sketches of the life and manners of the time these were together in one volume “Sketches by Boz”.

    He was asked to write “The Pickwick Papers” in 20 monthly numbers. He published his novels by instalments, he had to maintain the interest of the readers in order they want to read the following chapters. While he was writing the novel knew how was the reaction of the people, what people preferred and he could change the direction of the novel. Many critics think that the novels published in this way have a loose structure.

    He got married Catherine Hogarth, they had ten children, the couple separated because he had an affair with an actress. He went to America twice making them read his novels. He left his last novel unfinished.

    Sentimental work:

  • - “Oliver Twist” (1837-38): it shows a great concern about social problems. He had very strong opinions against the factories in which children worked. It is a story of a poor boy that worked in a factory and describes his situation. He went away and discovered a band of thieves who taught him to be a thief. The novel is a mixture of melodrama and realism.

  • - “The curiosity shop” (1840-41):This is the story of little Nell, a girl who lives with her grandfather. Her grandparent borrows money to a miser who takes the shop because he can't pay. They have to go away because the miser persecuted them.

  • - “A Christmas Carol”: Scrooge a very bad miser received the visit of 3 ghosts which show past, present and the following Christmas and showed how bad he is.

  • - “David Copperfield” (1949-50): The hero David, becomes the kind of success which Victorians admired, he is rich, he marries, and a general sense of happy ending is given. This novel was based in part of Dickens's own childhood and his success.

  • Works after 1850:

  • - “Bleak house”: it is a satire of the delays of law. It's a process which never ends.

  • - “Hard Times”: it is an attack on capitalism, society and industrial life.

  • - “A Tale of cities”: historical novel on the French revolution.

  • - “ Great expectations”: it is about an orphan who has a secret benefactor. He help a prisoner to escape, the convict later helps him.

  • General characteristics:

    He saw the world as a fresh experience. He had an extraordinary range of language, he could use colloquial and formal language. Great characters and intense emotionalism.

    THOMAS HARDY: “Far for the Madding Crowd”

    The tittle comes from the poem “Elegy written in a country churchyard”. It was published in 1874 in a magazine in serial form. He had to write in the way the readers wanted to know what was going to happen in the next chapter. It had a great success. When it was published he was 33 years old and it was his 4th novel.

    All Hardy's novels are settled in Wessex (the south west of England where there are a lot of counties, it is an imaginary noun).

    Hardy was very pessimistic and the main theme of his novels is the struggle of man against the indifferent forces that rule the world, his novels are tragic.

    In the first chapter, there is an introduction of the two main characters: Gabriel Oak and Bathseba; it is located in the countryside, rural setting.

    The narrator is omniscient, he controls everything. They are confident, they are sure of them. He goes through the novel controlling the novel, he could also change the point of view.

    Man in society is the main characteristic of Victorian novels. Gabriel is seen from the point of view of others.

    The basic idea is that he was just an ordinary man: Hardy conveys these ideas offering images of behaviour.

    GEORGE ELIOT (1819-1880)

    Her name was Mary Ann Evans, she used a pseudonym for his publications. She was born in the Church of England. At the school she converted into Methodism, which is very strict in words. She was a very cultivate woman, she was agnostic because of her intellectual formation. She translated religious texts and the critic about it. She was strongly influenced by religious concepts of love, morals, duty and behaviour.

    She became the assistant editor of a magazine, “The Westmister Review”. She felt strongly in love with the editor but this love was not reciprocated. Later she felt in love with Herbert Spencer but again this relation didn't go well. She met another writer G.H. Lewis, they felt in love and they went to live together until Lewis' death(1878). When he died she married her financial adviser (two years later) and seventeenth months later she died.


    She translated many religious books. She knew Italian, German... she translated Feverbach's “Essence of Christianity”. It is important because she agreed with Feverbach view that religious beliefs are an imaginative necessity of man and a projection of his interest.

    Her novels were published by instalments. She has been considered the first modern English novelist.

    In the first generation the writers considered themselves as providers of advise and public entertainers. They wrote books to enjoy and offer them some advice. The new writers of the second generation took their job very seriously, they considered themselves as novelists, professional writers.

    Eliot takes her works seriously as novelists, the structure has to be perfect. She was a moral writer in the sense that she believed that the responsibility for a man's life and fate lay firmly on the individual and his moral choices. The individual has to decide in every situation and has the responsibility of his life. But the individual decisions are not external.

    She wrote: “Adam Bede”, “The Mill on the floss”, “Silas Marner”, “Romola, “Felix Holt”, “Middlemarch”, “Daniel Deronda”.

    We can represent her novels in two circles:

    “Middlemarch”: It was published in a serialised for. It is considered a masterpiece. The tittle is the changed name of a city where the action happens, Middlemarch is the provincial of Coventry. This novel is set during the years of the 1st reform bill. It has a multiple plot, with many arguments, several interlocking sets of characters, so she created a network that enclosed the whole life of this city.

    One of the stories is the story of Dorothea Brooke and Mr. Casaubon. She is an intelligent idealistic young woman and married Mr. Casaubon (a pedant). She wants to share her husband's world. When she married she realized that her husband has plans but didn't worked at them, she loses the respect of him. She begins to fell in love with Ladislaw.

    Another history is Dr. Lydgate, a young and very ambitious man who had plans, he wants to stablish professionally. A very beautiful woman plans to marry him, her name was Rosamand. They married but it didn't go well because she is materialist and selfish. He gets involved in some problems. In a determined point, Dorothe sees Rosemand and Ladislaw together and she decides not to love him.

    All the characters Know each other, at the end all the plots have relation between them, it makes a perfect portrait.

    THOMAS HARDY (1840-1928)

    He was born in Dorchester. His father was a stonemason and he worked as an apprentice to several architects, learning the profession. He began to write poetry and in the period of 1870-3 he published his first three novels, his great success came with his fourth novel, “Far from the Madding Crowd” (1874). Then he left architecture for novel writer. The most important novels that he published are “The return of the native” (1878), “The major of Casterbridge”(1886), “Tess of the D'urbervilless” (1891), and “Jude de Obscure” (1896).

    He became a very well known figure in London. His works were very tragic. The critics criticised his two last novels, they said that they were very immoral and pessimistic and because of this he abandoned the fiction novels and wrote only poetry, such as “Wessex Poems” (1898). He called himself “meliorist” and said that the world could be better by human effort. He received a honorary degree from Cambridge University.


    The main theme is the struggle of man against the indifferent forces that rule the world: how people suffer because of fate who are more powerful than him. The disparity between the things that people wanted to be and the things that actually they are, between human ambition and fate. The fate is completely eternal and is important, also the social conditions.

    The characters are not the masters of their own fate but they can achieve dignity by endurance. He offers some sense of human in the description of rural characters.

    “Wesssex” is the name he gave to the south west of England. He changed the names of the places, the villages are real but the name is invented.

    “Tess of the D'urbervilless” : Tess is a country girl who is seduced by Alec, a rich young man, she gets pregnant and Alec leaves her. The child dies so she is very miserable, she has to work as a maid. She meets another man, angel, who is the son of a priest and they married. In the wedding night, Tess told about Alec and Angel abandoned her.

    Tess has to accept to become the mistress of Alec because of her bad situation. Angel returns to look for his wife, but Tess and Alec are living together. Tess gets mad and kills Alec. She is hung because of this.

    OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)

    He was born in Dublin. His father was a very famous surgeon and his mother was a very well known poetess in Dublin. She was very controversial, provocative, excentric and Oscar had her influence. He was very estrange physically: tall, fattish, big dreamy eyes, too fleshy, big mouth, at the same time he was beautiful and awful. He dressed extravagantly because he didn't feel ashamed of his appearance.

    He learnt from his mother how to be funny courageous and he was a transgressor (to break the rules of society). He went to Oxford and he was a very good student. He caught syphilis from a prostitute. At the age of 29 he married Constance Lloyd. They had 2 children but soon Constance was a very sexual object for him. He convinced his wife to stop having sexual relationships, but they continued living together.

    By this time he wrote books of poems, tales, fairy stories. He was an excellent conversationalist, he speaks beautifully, funny, witty. Some writers said he looked like disgusted at first impression. Under this image, superficial, trivial, he was transcendent, he belonged to a poetical movement called Aestheticism whose motto is art for art sake.

    In 1891 Oscar met Lord Alfred Douglas (Basic) who was 21 years and Oscar 37. Basic was a young rich selfish, conceited, frivolous, cruel man. Oscar felt in love desperately in love with basic, who introduced him to the world of underground and make Oscar's life very awful. Oscar tried to leave him but he couldn't because he loved him and Bosie threatened Oscar to suicide if Oscar left him. Bosie's father was the marquis of Queensberry, he knew the relation between them and they became enemies.

    Meanwhile Oscar published his only novel “The portrait of Dorian Gray”, is a sort of gothic novel. Dorian wanted to be young forever. He wanted to try forbidden things.

    The real success came with his plays: “Lady Wardermere's fan” (1892); “A woman of no importance (1893); “An ideal husband” (1895); “The importance of being Earnest” (1895). ð Witty, funny, word plays, paradoxes.

    15 days after the streno of the last play Bosies's father left a note in Oscar's club accusing him of being sodomite. Oscar didn't want to answer. Bosie told Oscar to take his father to court because of difamation. The case was a hopeless case, because during the trial all the things they had done appeared and Oscar was arrested and taken to a jury. During this second case all the people he had met in the underground come to the court and told all the things they had done.

    He was sent to prison. Two years of force labour and his name was a matter of shame. His novels were retired of libraries; his novels never were represented again. His wife changed her surname and her child's. After 2 years he was a broken man and his friends took him to France. Oscar accepted to see Bosie again, who left him when discovered that Oscar didn't write and had lost his glamour.

    “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898) about his prison experience.

    The last work published after his death “De Profundis” (1905) is a letter to reproche to Bosie, a confession.


    He is the Victorian poet, he wrote the model of Victorian poetry. Queen Victoria was an admirer. She was a widow for 40 years and found consolation in Tennynson's poetry. He is the poet of love and loss.

    His father was a priest, he was the fourth of twelve children. Their father taught them privately: classical language, philosophy, reading. He went to Cambridge and became friend of a group of artists and writers. One of them was Arthur Hallan, who was his confident, adviser, closest friend. He became engaged Arthur's sister, but died at the age of 22 and this provoqued a great depression in Tennynson, it was the origin of the poem “In Memorian” (1850)

    Before 1850 he had written many books of poems although they didn't became famous. He became Poet Laureate; before this publication he had the recognition of his works and it gave him a lot of money.


    “Poems, chiefly lyrical” (1830); “in Memorian” (1850);

    “The charge of the light Brigade”(1854): it is inspirited on a piece of news on the newspaper about the soldiers who died in the Crimean War.

    “Maud” (1855): It is a monologue and best seller

    “Idylls of King” (1859): It is about King Arthur.

    General characteristics of his literature:

    • Great virtuosity of technique. He studied the poetry of his predecessors and achieved a great technique.

    • He had a great capacity to link scenarios to states of mind. His vision of nature is not idealistic as romantics. He prefers rural things rather than urban.

    • Preoccupation with the problems of his days: about technological changes, he thought that it was positive but he was very worried because of horrors of industrialism (slums, working conditions, working of the children).

    He was an admirer of Yeats.

    “In Memorian”

    He started it in 1833. It is a series of poems put together around the same theme: the death of his friend. More than an elegy is a group of poems about anxieties and doubts about the meaning of life, what a rule of a man was in the world and doubts because of the death of his friend. It is a poet diary upon his reflections on this matter.

    ROBERT BROWNING (1812-1889)/ ELISABETH BROWNING (1806-1861)

    • Robert is admired for two things:

    • moral tone

    • innovations in poetry

    - Robert browning was born in London, he was the son of a banker, and educated basically at home because his father had a great library and he read a lot.

    At the beginning he wrote personal poems. Some critics attacked his poems and he was embarrassed because of this, so he changed his way of writing( very personal), which became more obscure.

    After 1936 and during ten years, he wrote plays but without success, but it was a good practice for a new model of poetry which he developed; dramatic monologue. It was his best known kind of poetry because he could write in a personal way under a character.

    “Dramatics Lyrics” (1842) it was the first collection of this kind of poetry.

    After 15 years in Italy, he and his son came back to England. He wrote “Dramatis Personae” (1864) which was a monologue; “The Ring and the Book”.

    - Elizabeth was a very well known poet who was semi-invalid, under the control of her father. She was kept at home, she had a tyrannical father, she was very well educated.

    She published “Poems” (1844) and Robert read it and enjoyed it very much and they stablished a correspondence. After a time they became engaged secretly. In 1846 they got married secretly and eloped to Italy and stayed there for 15 years. There she discovered that she wasn't invalid and they were very happy. The product of their love is “ Sonnets from the Portuguese” (1850): a sequence of forty four sonnets in which she recorded the stages of her love for Robert Browning, a sequence she presented under the guise of a translation from the Portuguese language.

    “Aurora Leigh”(1857)

    Differences between Browning and Tennyson

    Tennyson was the Victorian poet who was worried with the topics of the age. But he explored the topics of the day in a different way: faith/doubt, Good/evil.

    The main difference is the style. Tennyson belonged to the lyrical tradition. Browning had a more colloquial, prosaic tone, his poems are like prose.

    The social world within which this dilema has to be resolved

    The centre of her novels

    A small group of individuals involved in a normal dilema

    Enviado por:Luis Piedra
    Idioma: inglés
    País: España

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