The Victorian Period summary




The Victorian Period summary


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The Victorian Period summary


The Victorian Period (1836-1901)
The early years of the Victorian England was a time of rapid economic development as well as serious social problems. For a time England was the “workshop of the world.” Toward the mid-century, England had reached its highest point of development as a world power. And yet beneath the great prosperity and richness, there existed widespread poverty and wretchedness among the working class.
Ideologically, the Victorians experienced fundamental changes. The rapid development of science and technology, new inventions and discoveries in geology, astronomy, biology and anthropology drastically shook people’s religious convictions. The religious collision that started from the early nineteenth century continued and was intensified by the disputes over evolutionary science.
In this period, the novel became the most widely read and the most vital and challenging expression of progressive thought. Among the famous novelists of the time were the critical realists like Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Mrs. Gaskell and Anthony Trollope.
While sticking to the principle of faithful representation of the 18th-century realist novel, they carried their duty forward to the criticism of the society and the defence of the mass. Although writing from different points of view and with different techniques, they shared one thing in common, that is, they were all concerned about the fate of the common people. They were angry with the inhuman social institutions, the decaying social morality as represented by the money-worship and Utilitarianism, and the widespread misery, poverty and injustice. Their truthful picture of people’s life and bitter and strong criticism of the society had done much in awakening the public consciousness to the social problems and in the actual improvement of the society. And in the last few decades there were also George Eliot, the pioneering woman who, according to D.H. Lawrence, was the first novelist that “started putting all the actions inside,” and Thomas Hardy, that Wessex man who not only continued to expose and criticize all sorts of social iniquities, but finally came to question and attack the Victorian convention and morals.
The Victorian age also produced a host of great prose writers: Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Babington Cacaulay, Matthew Arnold, John Henry Newman, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin and Thomas Henry Huxley.
The poetry of this period was mainly characterized by experiments with new styles and new ways of expression. Among those famous experimental poets was Robert Browning who created the verse novel by adopting the novelistic presentation of characters. Other poets like Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Edward Fitzgerald, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his talented sister Christina, Gerald Manley Hopkins and Algernon Charles Swinburne all made their respective attempts at poetic innovations and helped open up new ways for the twentieth-century modern poetry.
Victorian literature, in general, truthfully represents the reality and spirit of the age. The high-spirited vitality, the down-to-earth earnestness, the good-natured humor and unbounded imagination are all unprecedented. In almost every genre it paved the way for the coming century, where its spirits, values and experiments are to witness their bumper harvest.


Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Dickens is one of the greatest critical realist writers of the Victorian Age. It is his serious intention to expose and criticize in his works all the poverty, injustice, hypocrisy and corruptness he sees all around him. But his social attitudes are very complicated. He hates the state apparatus, especially the Parliament, but as a bourgeois writer, he can in no way supply any fundamental solution to the social plights.
His works: Oliver Twist; Nicholas Nickleby; David Copperfield; Dombey and Son; A Tale of Two Cities; Little Dorrit; Hard Times; Great Expectations; Our Mutual Friend
His best-depicted characters are those innocent, virtuous, persecuted, helpless child characters such as Oliver Twist, Little Nell, David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. Dickens writes best when he writes from the child’s point of view. And he is also famous for the depiction of those horrible and grotesque character like Fagin, Bill Sikes, and Quilp, and those broadly humorous or comical ones like Mr. Micawber, Sam Weller, and Mrs. Gamp.
Dicken’s work are also characterized by a mingling of humor and pathos. He seems to believe that life is itself a mixture of joy and grief. Life is delightful because it is at once comic and tragic. He is a humorist. Whether he exaggerates a person’s physical traits to achieve a dramatic effect or to ridicule his personal defects, whether he means to be light-heartedly jocular or bitterly satirical, he is sure to produce roaring laughter or understanding smiles. To match his humorous genius, Dickens is also noted for his pictures of pathos. No one who has ever read the death-bed scenes of little Nell (The Old Curiosity Shop) and Little Paul (Dombey and Son) can forget them. The pain strikes people to the heart.


Selected Reading:
Oliver Twist (Chapter III)
The novel is famous for its vivid descriptions of the workhouse and life of the underworld in the 19th-century London. The author’s intimate knowledge of people of the lowest order and of the city itself apparently comes from his journalistic years. Here the novel also presents Oliver Twist as Dickens’ first child hero and Fagin the first grotesque figure.
This section of the novel is a detailed account of how he is punished for that “impious and profane offence of asking for more” and how he is to be sold, at three pound ten, to Mr. Gamfield, the notorious chimney-sweeper. Though we can afford a smile now and then, we feel more pitiable state of the orphan boy and the cruelty and hypocrisy of the workhouse board.

The Bronte Sisters: Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855); Emily Bronte (1818-1848)
Her works: The Professor; Villette; Jane Eyre
Charlotte’s works are all about the struggle of an individual consciousness towards self-realization, about some lonely and neglected young women with a fierce longing for love, understanding and a full, happy life. But brought up with strict orthodoxy, Charlotte would usually stick to the Puritanical dode. She loves the beauty of nature but despises worldly ambition and success. In her mind, man’s life is  composed of perpetual battle between sin and virtue, good and evil. All her heroines’ highest joy arises from some sacrifice of self or some human weakness overcome. Besides, she is a writer of realism combined with romanticism. On one hand, she presents a vivid realistic picture of the English society by exposing the cruelty, hypocrisy and other evils of the upper classes, and by showing the misery and suffering of the poor. Her works are marked throughout by an intensity of vision and of passion. By writing from an individual point of view, by creating characters who are possessed of strong feelings, fiery passions and some extraordinary personalities, by resorting to some elements of horror, mystery and prophesy, she is able to recreate life in a wondrously romantic way. So, whatever weakness her work may have, the vividness of her subjective narration, the intensely achieved characterization, especially those heroines who are totally contrary to the public expectations, and the most truthful presentation of the economical, moral, social life of the time---all this renders her works a never dying popularity.

Selected Readings: I
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Chapter XXIII)
The work is one of the most popular and important novels of the Victorian age. It is noted for its sharp criticism of the existing society, e.g. the religious hypocrisy of charity institutions such as Lowood School where poor girls are trained, through constant starvation and humiliation, to be humble slaves, the social discrimination Jane experiences first as a dependent at her aunt’s house and later as a governess at Thornfield, and the false social convention as concerning love and marriage. At the same time, it is an intense moral fable. Jane, Like Mr. Rochester, has to undergo a series of physical and moral tests to grow up and achieve her final happiness.
The success of the novel is also due to its introduction to the English novel the first governess heroine. Jane Eyre, an orphan child with a fiery spirit and a longing to love and be loved, a poor plain, little governess who dares to love her master, a man superior to her in many ways, and even is brave enough to declare to the man her love for him, cuts a completely new woman image. She represents those middle-class working women who are struggling for recognition of their basic rights and equality as a human being. The vivid description of her intense feelings and her thought and inner conflicts brings her to the heart of the audience.

Selected Reading: II
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering heights is the story about two families and an intruding stranger. (The Earnshaw family and Linton family) One day, Mr. Earnshaw brings home a sallow, rugged foundling he has picked up in the streets of a city. He calls the boy Heathcliff. The children grow up together; Catherine comes to love Heathcliff while Hindley hates him out of jealousy of his father’s fondness for the waif. When the parents die, Hindley degrades Heathcliff in every way he can, and the lad grows brutal and sullen. What’s more, Heathcliff one day overhears part of the speech by Catherine that she intends to marry the handsome and mild Edgar. He runs away. Five years later, he returns to take his revenge on Hindley. But now, Catherine has become Mrs. Linton. Tormented by her love for her husband and her overwhelming passion for Heathcliff, Catherine grows sick and dies in giving birth to a daughter, Cathy. Heathcliff, driven mad at her death, hastens his revenge on people of both houses who he thinks have hindered his union with Catherine. First, he reduces Hindley to a gambler and a drunkard and takes possession of Wuthering Heights. Then he takes possession of Thrushcross Grange by marrying Edgar’s sister Isabella and later  by marrying little Cathy to his sickly son Linton. In due time, he drives Hindley, Isabella and Edgar to death and has Hindley’s son Hareton and Cathy at his mercy. But at this time, events take another turn. Now 18 years after Catherine’s death, Heathcliff begins to see her ghost. He forgets his revenge, forgets even to eat and to sleep. With eyes fixed on his supernatural visitor, he starves himself to death. Meanwhile, little Catherine is able to change the savage Hareton and the two fall in love with each other. At Heathcliff’s death, the young couple retire to Thrushcross Grange, leaving the spirits of Heathcliff and the first Catherine, united at last, in possession of Wuthering Heights.
The novel is a riddle which means different things to different people. From the social point of view, it is a story about a poor abused, betrayed and distorted by his social betters because he is a poor nobody. As a love story, this is one of the most moving: the passion between Heathcliff and Catherine proves the intense, the most beautiful and at the same time the most horrible passion ever to be found possible in human beings.
The story is told mainly by Nelly, Catherine’s old nurse, to Mr. Lockwood, a temporary tenant at Grange. The latter too gives an account of what he sees at Wuthering Heights. And part of the story is told through Isabella’s letters to Nelly. While the central interest is maintained, the sequence of its development is constantly disordered by flashbacks. This makes the story all the more enticing and genuine.
The excerpt taken here is from Chapter XV, the death scene of Catherine, narrated by Nelly to Mr. Lockwood. When Edgar is away at church, Heathcliff seizes the chance to see the dying Catherine. The intense love between the two is fully shown in this agonizing scene.

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Alfred is certainly the most representative Victorian poet. His poetry voices the doubt and the faith, the grief and the joy of the English people in an age of fast social changes. The year of 1850 was an important one in Tennyson’s life, for this year, he was appointed the Poet Laureate.
His works: the dramatic monologue “Ulysses”, the epic narrative “Morte d’Arthur,” the exquisite idylls “Dora” and “The Gardener’s Daughter” “Idylls of the King, his most ambitious work which took him over 30 years to complete.
Tennyson is a real artist. He has the natural power of linking visual pictures with musical expressions, and these two with the feelings. He has perfect control of the sound of English, and a sensitive ear, an excellent choice and taste of words. His poetry is rich in poetic images and melodious language, and noted for its lyrical beauty and metrical charm. His works are not only the products of the creative imagination of a poetic genius but also products of a long and rich English heritage. His wonderful works manifest all the qualities of England’ s great poets. The dreaminess of Spenser, the majesty of Milton, the natural simplicity of Wordsworth, the fantasy of Blake and Coleridge, the melody of Keats and Shelley, and the narrative vigor of Scott and Byron,--- all these striking qualities are evident on successive pages Tennyson’s poetry.

Selected Readings:

  1. Break, Break, Break (1)

This short lyric is written in memory of Tennyson’s best friend, Arthur Hallam, whose death has a lifelong influence on the poet. Here, the poet’s own feelings of sadness are contrasted with the carefree, innocent joys of the children and the unfeeling movement of the ship and the sea waves. The beauty of the lyric is to be found in the musical language and in the association of sound and images with feelings and emotions. The poem contains four quatrains, with combined iambic and anapaestic feet. Most lines have three feet and some four. The rhyme scheme is a b c b.

  1. Crossing the Bar (1)

This poem was written in the later years of Tennyson’s life. We can feel his fearlessness towards death, his faith in God and an afterlife. Bar: a bank of sand or stones under the water as in a river, parallel to the shore, at the entrance to a harbor. “Crossing the bar” means leaving this world and entering the next world.

  1. Ulysses (1)

In Greek mythology, Ulysses is the king of the Ithaca island. He is the hero in many literary classics. In Homer’s Odessey ( the Greek name for Ulysses), Ulysses eventually arrives home after the ten-year Trojan war and another ten years’ adventures at sea. However, according to Dante, Ulysses never returns to his home place, Ithaca, but urges his men to on exploring westward. Tennyson combines these two versions. In this poem, Ulysses is now three years back in his homeland, reunited with his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus, and resumes his rule over the land. But he will not endure the peaceful commonplace everyday life. Old as he is, he persuades his old followers to go with him and to set sail again to pursue a new world and new knowledge. Written in the form of dramatic monologue, the poem not only expresses, through the mouth of the heroic Ulysses, Tennyson’s own determination and courage to brave the struggle of life but also reflects the restlessness and aspiration of the age.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)
The name of Browning is often associated with the term: “dramatic monologue.”
His works: Dramatic Lyrics, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, Bells and Pomegranates, Men and Women, Dramatic Personae, The Ring and the Book (his masterpiece) and Dramatic Idylls.
In these poems, Browning chooses a dramatic moment or a crisis, in which his characters are made to talk about their lives, and about their minds and hearts. In “listening” to those one-sided talks, readers can form their own opinions and judgments about the speaker’s personality and about what has really happened. For example, in “My Last Duchess,” the Duke, as he talks about the portrait of his last Duchess, reveals bit by bit his cruelty and possessiveness. We gather the truth about the death of the unfortunate wife. It is ironical that the Duke’s own defensive words should betray and condemn himself. To Browning, the dramatic monologue is an ingenious means to exploit his literary gift without getting too personal. In fact, he keeps a good distance from his characters. They always belong to the remote history, or just the fantastic world. They are either the early Christians, the medieval knights, the family tyrants, the Arab horsemen, or the Italian bishops. They share nothing with him both in personality and in attitudes toward life. Nonetheless,
Browning’s spirit, his vigor and energy are put into these characters. This can’t be done successfully unless the poet possesses powerful imagination and creativity as well as a good knowledge about man’s psychology and nature.
But Browning’s poetry is not easy to read. His rhythms are often too fast, too rough and unmusical. The syntax is usually clipped and highly compressed. The similes and illustrations appear too profusely. The allusions and implications are sometimes odd and farfetched. All this makes up his obscurity. Perhaps it is his illusion that everybody should know and understand what he says.
On the whole, Browning’s style is very different from that of any other Victorian poets. If we compare him with Tennyson, his idiosyncrasy may be more clearly seen. Tennyson, like a professional sculptor, works on his marble most diligently and patiently. His accomplishment is almost perfect. On the contrary, Browning is like a weather-beaten pioneer, bravely and vigorously trying to beat a track through the jungle. His poetic style belongs to the twentieth century rather than to the Victorian age. The rough, grotesque and disproportionate appearance, the non-poetic jarring diction and the clumsy rhythms fit marvelously a life that is just as imperfect and incongruous. In general, Browning’s poems are not meant to entertain the readers with the usual acoustic and visual pleasures: they are supposed to keep them alert, thoughtful and enlightened.

Selected Readings:

  1. My Last Duchess

“My Last Duchess” is Browning’s best-known dramatic monologue. The poem takes its sources from the life of Alfonso II, duke of Ferrara of the 16th-century Italy, whose young wife died suspiciously after three years of marriage. Not long after her death, the duke managed to arrange a marriage with the niece of another noble man. This dramatic monologue is the duke’s speech addressed to the agent who comes to negotiate the marriage. In his talk about his “last duchess”, the duke reveals himself as a self-conceited, cruel and tyrannical man. the poem is written in heroic couplets, but with no regular metrical system. In reading, it sounds like blank verse.

  1. Meeting at Night

This poem and the one that follows it appeared originally under the single title Night and Morning. The speaker in both is a man. In this one, the man, a lover, describes the whereabouts of their meeting place.

  1. Parting at Morning

Here in the description of sun-rise, the poet unconsciously expresses his helplessness in having to face up his duty as a man.

George Eliot ( Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880)
Her major works: Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner, Middlemarch, a panoramic book considered today by many to be George Eliot’s greatest achievement.
Writing at the latter half of the 19th century and closely following the critical realist writers, George Eliot was working at something new. By joining the worlds of inward propensity and outward circumstances and showing them both operating in the lives of her characters, she initiates a new type of realism and sets into motion a variety of developments, leading in the direction of both the naturalistic and psychological novel. She is deeply concerned with the depiction of the people and life of her time; moreover, her mind is always active, instinctively analyzing and generalizing to discover the fundamental truth about human life. In her works, she seeks to present the inner struggle of a soul and to reveal the motives, impulses and hereditary influences which govern human action. She is interested in the development of a soul, the slow growth or decline of moral power of the character. And in her effort to harmonize a sense of human dignity with a sense of human limitations, she shows that the need of the individual for expansion and growth has to be brought into harmony with a sense of social responsibility. She never loses sight of the limits to the exercise of individual power and always insists on the need to cultivate the strength of will and the necessity to return to the routine of life.
As a woman of exceptional intelligence and life experience, George Eliot shows a particular concern for the destiny of women, especially those with great intelligence, potential and social aspirations, such as Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss, Dorothea in Middlemarch, the titular heroine in Romola and Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda. In her mind, the pathetic tragedy of women lies in their very birth. Their inferior education and limited social life determine that they must depend on men for sustenance and realization of their goals, and they have only to fulfill the domestic duties expected of them by the society. Their opportunities of success are not even increased by wealth.

Selected Reading
Middlemarch, a Study of Provincial Life, one of the most mature work in English literary history. The book provides a panoramic vie of life in a small English town, Middlemarch, and its surrounding countryside in the mid-nineteenth century. It is mainly centered on the lives of Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, both of whom are shown to have great potentials and ambitions, but both fail in achieving their goals owing to the social environment as well as their own vulnerabilities.
Dorothea Brooke is a beautiful, intelligent young lady of an “ardent and theoretic nature.” She isn’t satisfied with the common fate of gentle-women. She is full of manly, lofty ideas and wants to do something great for Middlemarch. First she devotes herself to the improvement of the cottages of the farmers and then, when she sees the elderly pedant Casaubon, she decides to marry the man so as to be able to realize her ideal by helping him in his lofty pursuit of the fundamental truth about Christianity. Soon after her marriage, however, she finds herself totally disillusioned as to both the character of Casaubon and to that ambitious work of his. In the end she is able to retrieve her error and find a new way of life by marrying Will Ladislaw, the man she loves, and is content with giving him her “wifely help” and exercising a “diffusive influence” upon those around.
The failure of the proud, ambitious young doctor Lydgate is mainly due to his own “spot of commonness” which induces him to marry the beautiful, “accomplished” “flower,” Rosamond Vincy. The seemingly perfect lady turns out a destroyer of men. Her extravagant way of life costs him not only a promising career as a great scientist but also loss of his professional conscience.
The excerpt begins from Dorothea and Casaubon’s return from their honeymoon in Rome, where Mr. Casaubon buries himself in the library, ignoring the bride and leaving her very much alone. This is but the first taste of bitterness and disappointment for the youthful and hopeful Dorothea. Now back at home, she finds herself shut up in the cold, lifeless Lowick Manor and begins to see the impossibility of her hope.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
His major works: The Return of the Native, The Trumpet Major, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, known as “novels of character and environment”
Living at the turn of the century, Hardy is often regarded as a transitional writer. In him we see the influence from both the past and the modern. As some people put it, he is intellectually advanced and emotionally traditional. In his Wessex novels there is an apparent nostalgic touch in his description of the simple and beautiful though primitive rural life, which was gradually declining and disappearing as England marched into an industrial country. And with those traditional characters he is always sympathetic. On the other hand, the immense impact of scientific discoveries and modern philosophic thought upon the man is quite obvious, too.
In his works, man is shown inevitably bound by his own inherent nature and hereditary traits which prompt him to go and search for some specific happiness or success and set him in conflict with the environment. The outside nature---the natural environment or Nature herself---is shown as some mysterious supernatural force, very powerful but half-blind, impulsive and uncaring to the individual’s will, hope, passion or suffering. It likes to play practical jokes upon human beings by producing a series of mistimed actions and unfortunate coincidences. Man proves impotent before Fate, however he tries, and he seldom escapes his ordained destiny. This pessimistic view of life predominates most of Hardy’s later works and earns him a reputation as a naturalistic writer.


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The Victorian Period summary

When we speak of Victorian age commonly we refer to the period of English history including the long reign of Queen Victoria, that is, from 1837 to 1901.
The Victorian Age is very interesting , especially for the many contradictions that characterize it. So I will try to illustrate the Victorian Age and I hope that this presentation will be useful for your study.

Victorian Age  was a complex and contradictionary era, as I said, because on one hand it was the age of progress, stability, and great social reforms, on the other it was also charactherised by poverty, injustice and social unrest.
Queen Victoria'r reign was the longest in the history of England,, we consider its beginning in 1832 with the First Reform Act.

Victoria was the daughter of Edward, the Duke of Kent and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg.
She was born in Kensington Palace in London on May 24th, 1819.Edward died when Victoria was eight months. In 1837 Queen Victoria took the throne after the death of her uncle William IV. Due to her secluded childhood, she displayed a personality marked by strong prejudices and a willfull stubbornness. Barely eighteen, she refused any further influence from her domineering mother and ruled in her own stead. Popular respect for the Crown was at a low point at her coronation, but the modest and straightforward young Queen won the hearts of her subjects. She wished to be informed of political matters, although she had no direct input in political decisions.
On Feb 10th, 1840, only three years after taking the throne, Victoria took her first vow and married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Their relationship was one of great love and admiration. Together they bore nine children - four sons and five daughters: Victoria, Bertie, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold, and Beatrice.
Prince Albert was the dominant male influence in Victoria's life. She was thoroughly devoted to him, and completely submitted to his will. Victoria did nothing without her husband's approval. Albert assisted in her royal duties. He introduced a strict decorum in court and made a point of straitlaced behaviour. Albert also gave a more conservative tinge to Victoria’s politics. If Victoria, at age 23, was to insistently interject her opinions and make her views felt in the cabinet, it was only because of Albert’s teachings of hard work. The general public, however, was not enamored with the German prince; he was excluded from holding any official political position, was never granted a title of peerage and was named Prince Consort only after seventeen years of marriage.
 On Dec. 14th 1861 Albert died from typhoid fever at Windsor Castle. Victoria remained in self-imposed seclusion for ten years. This genuine, but obsessive mourning kept her occupied for the rest of her life and played an important role in the evolution of what would become the Victorian mentality. Victoria's long reign witnessed an evolution in English politics and the expansion of the British Empire, as well as political and social reforms on the mother country.
The national pride connected with the name of Victoria - the term Victorian England, for example, stemmed from the Queen's ethics and personal tastes, which generally reflected those of the middle class.
 I am now going to speak more specifically about this period of history,  starting from the concept of empire and analyzing the economic situation and the role of England in Europe and worldwide.

The Empire
Great Britain during Victoria's reign was not just a powerful island nation. It was the center of a global empire that fostered British contact with a wide variety of other cultures, though the exchange was usually an uneven one. By the end of the nineteenth century, nearly one-quarter of the earth's land surface was part of the British Empire, and more than 400 million people were governed from Great Britain, however nominally. An incomplete list of British colonies and quasi-colonies in 1901 would include Australia, British Guiana (now Guyana), Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Egypt, Gambia, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Hong Kong, British India (now Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), Ireland, Kenya, Malawi, the Malay States (Malaysia), Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somaliland (Somalia), South Africa, the Sudan, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Trinidad and Tobago. Queen Victoria's far-flung empire was a truly heterogenous entity, governed with  heterogenous practices. It included Crown Colonies like Jamaica, ruled from Britain, and protectorates like Uganda, which had relinquished only partial sovereignty to Britain. Ireland was a sort of internal colony whose demands for home rule were alternately entertained and discounted. India had started the century under the control of the East India Company, but was directly ruled from Britain after the 1857 Indian Mutiny (the first Indian war of independence), and Victoria was crowned Empress of India in 1877. Colonies like Canada and Australia with substantial European populations had become virtually self-governing by the end of the century and were increasingly considered near-equal partners in the imperial project. By contrast, colonies and protectorates with large indigenous populations like Sierra Leone, or with large transplanted populations of ex-slaves and non-European laborers like Trinidad, would not gain autonomy until the twentieth century.
Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation
This was a popular combination of factors for the rise of the British Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries. The Protestant aspect of Christianity was seen by many within the British Empire as part of the larger battle with the more 'Catholic' nations of Continental Europe. Ever since the Reformation, religion represented not merely a spiritual difference between the Catholic and Protestant churches but was part of a far larger cultural and political competition between deadly rivals. Portugal, Spain and France were the Catholic nations who developed successful commercial empires before the English (and Dutch) were able to do so. Religion gave an excuse for this commercial rivalry to turn into military and political competition. The very success of the Protestant nations in challenging the Catholic hegemony in the New World and the East Indies seemed to confirm that God might be on the Protestants' side after all - although this did ignore the fact that the English and Dutch co-religionists were just as frequently found at the throats of one another.
It was certainly helpful that the Protestant work ethic meant that Christian and commercial ideals could be reconciled fairly easily and in fact was thought to manifest itself in the improvement and development of British civilisation in general. In pre-industrial Britain, the combination of the these three factors would lead to the creation of the settler colonies in North America. Devout Christians would look for economic freedom from feudal relationships in this New World. However, mercantalism and then the industrial revolution meant that this commercial aspect could take on a more sinister role as monopoly power, slavery or exploitative working conditions became a temptation hard for investors or capitalists to resist. It was reassuring to many such capitalists that they could hide behind the idea that by investing in enterprises and schemes around the world that they were serving a modernising and civilising goal and so their consciences could be clear in such a noble enterprise.
The civilisation aspiration could be damaging in its own right. It assumed that British civilisation was innately superior to those it was subjagating. Indeed, the very subjagation process confirmed the superiority of British Civilisation! It then assumed that the new rulers were obliged to improve the subjugated peoples that it had taken under its wing with large doses of Christianity and commerce. Of course, this appealed to the positive aspirations that many Imperialists held for the future of a benign Empire. It offered a justification for Imperialism. However, it could also justify some of the more extreme Social Darwinist ideas of racial superiority and it allowed for treating the subject peoples as innately inferior.
In summary, Christianity, commerce and civilisation was a neat way to justify the uniqueness of the British Empire and yet give it a justification for continuing into the future. It could also be deeply patronising and justified cultural imperialism and racial stereotyping and yet there was a surprisingly large strain of truth behind this reason for the British strain of imperialism.

Technological and Industrial Superiority
The British had no monopoly on technological innovation. Gunpowder, the printing press, navigational equipment were all developed and improved on the continent or further afield yet. Europe from the fifteenth century onwards was becoming a dynamic place where new ideas were swirling around with unnatural haste. Britain was benefitting from this much wider European Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment and yet it was also in a position to take these ideas, and many others, much further as it would become the first nation to harness the power of steam which in turn would unleash an Industrial Revolution and an avalanche of high quality, mass-produced goods that would flood the markets around the world. They, in turn, would provide a technology gap that non-European nations would find difficult to compete with. Precision-made muskets, rifles, machine guns, train locomotives, steam ships would provide the relatively small and outstretched British armed forces with unparalleled advantages. They could take on vastly larger (and possibly braver) enemies and yet beat them off, subdue and suppress them. British weaponry was very effective and its communication systems allowed it to shepherd its meagre resources to devastating effect and even its medical resources would improve enough to allow its soldiers and sailors to penetrate deeper and more inaccessible areas. Britain was not the only nation to enjoy a technological advantage over non-European nations, but its combination of industrial might and maritime power meant that it had a peculiar advantage and one that would not be challenged until the development of guerilla warfare and tactics in the twentieth century.

VICTORIANS  are moralisers (middle class who has the political and economical power)  they believe in a world based in the ideas of DUTY, HARD WORK, RESPECTABILITY and CHARITY.

  • Hard Work is connected withe the idea of REWARD and is purpose of middle class who want to obtein power and became rich.
  • Respecatbiliy depends on what we have and what we do  (ex. Comfortable house, servants, a carriage, attendance at church,a charitable activity ecc.)
  • Philantropy (take care of welfare of poor people, children, fallen woman, ecc.) and Family who is patriarcal, so the husband has the autority. The role of women concerns only the education of children and the managing of the house.
  • Patriotism (civic pride and national fervour).


  • Important period of social and politics Reform: in 1884 the “ Third Reform Act” garented that all male members of working-classes can vote (with the “First Reform Act” only members of middle class can vote),  the “Factory Act” in 1833 prevented children from being employed mora tha forty-eight hours a week, the “Mines Act” in 1862 phibited the working of woman and children in mines, the “Elementary Education Act” in 1870 recognised the need for general primary schooling, the “Public Health Act” garanted the clear of slums and improved public health.
  • Demolition on trade barriers (liberal policy)
  • Expansion in Asia, Africa, Central America and Oceania
  • Progress of science and tecnology (Great Exibition 1851)


Victorians believed in a world who was not real, but was the result of the middle class mentality and
behind the progress, expansion and philanthropic associations was hidden a different world.

  • Patriotism flows into the idea of racial superiority based on dundamental physical and intellectual differences,
  •  Education and  childhood were not the same for all children; in fact there were private teachers for rich childrens, orfhanage (with strong discipline), compulsory education (gender separation),
  • The marginalization and contempt for “fallen woman” who have not respected chastity, were the result of the same society that promoted charities.

The progress of industry is based on exploitation of workers who are underpaid, iving in crowded areas, have health problems (disease, Tb, cholera). URBAN HABITAT is influenced by industrial development.
Poor lived in SLUMS, what we call “baraccopoli”, characterised bt squallor, disease.  Middle class was aware of their situation but they letf people working-class alone, so crime and disorder were allowed to grow ( problem of Law and Order with the estabilishment of Metropolitan Police in 1829-30). The contradiction  is very clear: they didn't care about workers but they created places of entertainment like public houses and music halls.

The nineteenth century saw a huge growth in the population of Great Britain. The growth of the cities was due to the effects of the industrial revolution: people were flocking into the towns in search of employment. For some it was also the call of the unknown, adventure and a better way of life. The search for employment also involved the children that were expected to help the family budget. They often worked long hours in dangerous jobs and in difficult situations for a very little wage. For example, there were the climbing boys employed by the chimney sweeps; the little children who could scramble under machinery to retrieve cotton bobbins; boys and girls working down the coal mines, crawling through tunnels too narrow and low to take an adult. Some children worked as errand boys, and they sold matches, flowers and other cheap goods. Consequently people needed to live near to where work but the available housing became scarce and therefore expensive, resulting in extremely overcrowded conditions. Particulary in London where the population grew at a record rate,large houses were turned into flats and tenements and the landlords who owned them, were not concerned about the upkeep or the condition of these dwellings. The roads were crossed by ditches, into which drains and sewers emptied. The ditches contained the only water the people in the street had to drink.These poor living conditions led death caused by starvation and destitution. Great wealth and extreme poverty lived side by side because the tenements, slums, rookeries were only a stones thrown from the large elegant houses of the rich. Many children were turned out of home and left to fend for themselves at an early age and many more ran away because of ill treatment. Many destitute children lived by stealing and many people thought that education was the answer.


The Victorian Compromise
 The "Reform Bill", which in 1832 expanded the right to vote on renewing the electoral system, the marked prevalence of the citizens of those constituencies, increasingly depopulated the countryside (the rotten boroughs) and thus the transfer of power from the country landowners, which also involved changes at the cultural level. The "Reform Bill" is generally considered the dividing line between the Romantic and Victorian era, a time of great contradictions, and the balance under the mask of respectability. The progress of British industry in the first half of the nineteenth century was spectacular: the expansion of industrial cities, the growth of the welfare of the bourgeoisie (with his unwavering faith in progress), however, could not hide the overcrowding in the cities, poverty, lack the most basic hygienic conditions in the slums, exploitation of workers subjected to hours of work, which were impossible (even for women and children). These conditions produced a split in the country, the so-called "two nations": the working class and the preferred shares.
To prevent the gap, the British ruling classes carry out what is called the "Victorian compromise." So, on the one hand they ensured a policy of total non-interference by the State Economic and refused to impose any rule to the market; on the other , the awareness of the inhuman conditions imposed on the workforce contributed to the adoption of reforms to improve the conditions of life and work of the proletariat. In British society this awareness took the form of a vague humanitarianism, which was often an expression of easy sentimentality.
The increased prosperity, scientific and medical progress, the spread of literacy were all signs of progress, hence the optimism and the desire on the part of the middle class to extend their values, even the working class. The whole idea of ​​respectability dominated Victorian society, but respectability could not by itself eliminate social ills such as poverty, cruelty to children, child prostitution or the exploitation of workers. The "sins" were simply hidden under a veil of hypocrisy.
Now I will introduce the literature of the Victorian era, the greatest authors, the most important works and the recurring  themes.
The Ideological Influences of Victorian literature were

  • Purism, a religious movement who want reform the Church of England , according to Calvinism principles (hard work, prayer, chastity)
  • Transcendentalism: all reality is a single unity, the spiritual priciple is over soul, man is the the emanation of our souls and nature is the best instrument to reach the truth.
  • Then we have Marxist theories, because during Victorian age mechanization was seen as an answer to the problem of poverty. People believed that machines would have improved the prosperity of the classes and that human race had the duty to study and be happy.

The most popular genres were:

  • novels (romantic novel, adventure novel, realistic novel, sensation novel, historical novel, novel of manners and so on)
  • poetry

The main topics were :

  • industrial progress,
  • education
  • The workers'conditions of  life
  • childwood
  • materialist philosophy

Now, to introduce the authors and their works, I am going to offer excerpts from the books, hoping to have more fun listening to their words.

  • “You will see from these pages if I'll be the hero or another in my life. In principle, from the beginning, I must remember that I was born (as I was told and I believe) on Friday, at midnight. It was found that the instant that the clock began to strike the hours I began to cry.
    From nurse to my mother and some of their neighbors, which stood strongly to heart could be several months before our personal knowledge, it was said, in view of the day and time of my birth, first, that I was unlucky; second: I would have enjoyed the privilege of seeing spirits and ghosts, because these gifts inevitably touched, as they believed, in these unfortunate infants of either sex, who had the unfortunate idea of being born into the small hours of a Friday night. “ incipit of Oliver Twist (1836-39) Charles Dickens (the other famous book of Dickens is of course “David Copperifield”,
  • “Sometimes we do get out of compassion for creatures incapable of feeling either for themselves than for others”. Emily Bronte with Wuthering Heights (1847)
  • “You have cold because you are alone: no contact lights the fire within you. You are sick because of all the best feelings, the noblest, the sweetest stays away.
    You are stupid because as far as I suffer, do not sign to approach, they move one step to meet him.” Charlotte Bronte “Jane Eyre”
  • “But there is a sense of destiny, fatalism so irresistible and inevitable that the power of a curse, and almost always ends in order to force human beings to wander like ghosts that linger around the place where some important and significant event marked with its color their lives, the more irresistible as black is the color that afflicts.” Nathaniel Hawthorne “The Scarlet Letter”
  • “Call me Ismael. Some years ago - no matter how many exactly - having little or no money in my pocket and nothing in particular that interests me to the ground, I thought to give me to see the navigation and the waters of the world. It is a way I have to chase melancholy and to regulate circulation. Whenever I perceive to pose to her lips grimly, soul every time I go down like a damp, drizzly November, every time I realize that I involuntarily stop before the funeral homes and funeral leave behind all the I meet, and especially whenever the mood becomes so strong in me that I need a strong moral principle to prevent me from down the street and determined to throw his hat on the ground methodically to people, then decide it's time to get in to the sea as soon as possible.” Herman Melville “Moby Dick” (1851)
  • “Good intentions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Born of pure vanity. The result is absolute nothingness. Sometimes we get one of those sterile and voluptuous emotions that have a certain charm about the weak people. That's it. They are nothing but bad checks. “ Oscar Wild “The picture of Dorian Gray”(1891)
  • In poetry we have of course Emily Dickinson “I had never seen the sun, I could bear the light shade, but has added to my desert an incredible desolation.


As I said before, in Victorian age we have purism with his principles of hard work, prayer and chastity but we can also speak about the victorian sexuality.
We have a rigid division between sexes:

  • men: active and full of energy:  every gentleman in this age has a devoted  wife and two prostitues for his lust.
  • Women: have a passive role in relashionships

In the family the husband represented the autorithy and the role of woman is limited to :

  • the education of children
  • the duties of a wife
  • the managing the house

In fact, girls' education is repressive against natural istincts and women can't live their sexuality freely.
The other side of the coin, the opposite of purity and forced submission to  man, we have the nude in Victorian art. Starting from 1830-35 the nude become the most debated topic in English art. Nudes are presented not only in painting and sculpure but also in popular illustration and photografy.

 Conclusion: in this period Middle class represent their values in trade (economy) in colonies conquers, but also in  everyday life: Victorians were great creators of  moral standards, esthetic criteria, style of cloths, behaviour in public situation, rules ecc. Middle class show off, together with  their military power (Imperialism) and economic power (Capitalism),  their idea of Beauty, Good, Life, Ethics. The Victorian world is a world ruled by a simplification of life and experience in a purely pratical sense: things are right or wrong, good or bad. The middle class is not disturbed by dilemma between altruism and selfishness: they are  selfish in the world (in the free market, in the colonies) as wel as good fathers, educatora, philantropists at home. Middle class was moralist and puritan at home , hypocritical and licentious with young women of working-class  outside.



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