Topic: - features of Victorian Age
Name: - Upadhyay Devangana S.
Sub: - The Victorian Literature
Paper: - 06
Std: - M.A. Sem – 2
Roll No: - 06
Submitted to: - M.K. Bhavnagaer University
Strictly speaking, the Victorian era or the Age of Tennyson covers the period from 1832 to 1887. The reign of Queen Victorian extends from 1837 to 1901 but literary movements rarely coincide with the exact year of a royal accession or death. During the last decade of the nineteenth century the ideals which were upheld by the Victorian or more precisely by their mouthpiece, Lord Alfred Tennyson, were put to the anvil. The last decade of the nineteenth century was characterized by a revolt against Victorianism, a wholesale condemnation of the ideals and values which had been cherished during the earlier decades of Queen Victoria’s reign. Hence it shell be valid to mark the dates of the Victorian era from 1832 to 1887. In this connection W. H. Hudson writes, “ Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, and it was during the decade between 1830 and 1840 that many of the writers who were to add special distinction to her reign their work. But, though her own life extended till 1901. We may conveniently take the year of her jubilee – 1887 – as marking the close of an epoch. By that time a fresh race in literature had arisen, while those of the former generation who still survived had nothing of importance to add to their production and indeed, like Tennyson’s Bedivere, found themselves ‘ among new men, strange faces, other minds’.
The Victorian age is one of the most remarkable periods in the history of England. It was an era of material affluence, political consciousness, democratic reforms, industrial and mechanical progress, empire building and religious uncertainty. There were a number by the Victorians, while from a whole class of adverse critics could be heard a scathing criticism of the values held dear by the Victorian. While Macaulay trumpeted the progress that the Victorians had made, Ruskin and Carlyle, Arnold, Lytton Strachey and Trollope raised frowns of disfavor against the soul – killing materialism of the age. Carlyle, himself a hostile critic of the age, admired L. H. Myer’s reference to ‘ the deep – seated spiritual vulgarity that lies at the heart of our civilization’ Symonds detected in the Victorian period, whatever may be its buoyancy and promise, elements of ‘world fatigue,’ which were quite alien to the Elizabethan age, with which the Victorian era is often compared. Whatever may be the defects of the Victorian way of life, it cannot be denied that it was n many ways a glorious epoch in history of English literature and the advancement made in the field of poetry, prose and fiction was really commendable.
The Victorian age was essentially a period of peace and prosperity for England. The few colonial wars that broke out during this period exercised little adverse effects on the national life. The Crimean War, of course, caused a stir in England, but its effects were soon forgotten and the people regained the normal tenor of their lives without feeling the aftermaths of war in their round of daily activities. In the earlier years of the age, the effect of the French Revolution was still felt, but by the middle of the century, it had almost completely dwindled and England felt safe from any revolutionary upsurge disturbing the placidity and peaceful existence of its life. On the whole, it was a comparatively peaceful reign when Englishmen secure in their island base, could complete the transformation of all aspects of their interruptions that gave quite a different quality to the history of continental nation. It was an era when the ‘war drum throbb’d no longer’ and the people felt safe and secure in their island home.
Peace brought material advancement and industrial progress in the country. The Industrial Revolution during this age transformed the agrarian economy of England into an industrial economy. Mills and factories were established at important centers, and the whole of England hummed with rattle of looms and booms of weaving machines.
Industrial advancement created social unrest and economic distress among the masses. The Industrial Revolution while creating the privileged class of capitalists and mill – owners, rolling in wealth and riches, also brought in its wake the semi – starved and ill – clad lass of labourers and factory workers who were thoroughly dissatisfied with their miserable lot. National wealth increased but it was not equitably distributed. A new class of landed aristocracy and mill – owners sprang up. They looked with eyes of disdain and withering contempt on the lot of the ragged and miserable factory hands. Conditions of life held no charm for labourers and workers in the field, for they were required to dwell in slum areas with no amenities of life attending them at any stage of their miserable existence. There were scenes of horrid despair witnessed in the lives of the poor. Whirligig of time, a wave of social unrest, swept over England, and the ulcers of this apparently opulent society were drought to the surface by writers like Dickens, Ruskin, Carlyle and Arnold. The deplorable state of the debtor’s prison, the Fleet and the Marshalsea, the dismal abysses of elementary education, the sorry type of nurses available in sickness the oppression of little children the prevalence of religions hypocrisy – these and many other dark corners in the life of England were illuminated b the searchlight of Dickens genius.
The woeful and deplorable condition of labourers miners, debtors and prisoners soon caught the eyes of social reformers, and a stage was prepared or ameliorating the lot of the downtrodden and the under – dogs of an affluent society. The Victorian ear, therefore witnessed vigorous social reforms and a line of crusading humanitarian reformers who sought to do away with the festering sores and seething maladies of the Victorian age. The Victorian age is, therefore an age of humanitarian considerations and social uplift for the masses.
In the course of the Victorian era there developed among the increasingly large number of literary men and woman and philanthropic social reformers a humanist attitude to life which was not a matter of creed and dogmas, but a recognition of the love and loyalty that the works of Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Carlyle and Ruskin, we notice the crusading zeal of the literary artists to bring about salutary reforms in the social, political and economic life of the country.
The growing importance of the masses and the large number of factory hands gave a spurt to the Reform Bills, which heralded the birth of democratic consciousness among the Victorian people. The Victorian age witnessed a conflict between aristocracy and plutocracy on the one hand, and democracy and socialism on the other hand. The advance in the direction of democracy was well marked out, and in spite of the protests of Tennyson and Carlyle, its sweeping tide could not be stemmed. The long struggle of the Anglo – Saxons for personal liberty is definitely settled, and democracy becomes the established order of the day. The king and peers are both stripped of their power and left as figure – heads of a past civilization. The last vestige of personal government and the divine right of rulers disappear; the House of Commons becomes the ruling power in England and a series of new reform bills rapidly extend the suffrage until the whole body of English people choose for themselves the men who shall represent them.
England witnessed expansion in the field of education. The passing of the Education Acts was landmark in the history of education in the country. A large reading public was prepared to welcome the outpourings of novelists, poets and social reformers. The press also came into its own and became a potent force in awakening political consciousness among the people of this age.
There was a phenomenal growth in population during the Victorian age. The population of Great Britain at the time of the first census in 1801 was about ten and a half millions. By 1901 it had grown to thirty seven millions. More and more of territorial expansion was needed for the habitation of this growing population and England during this age marched on the course of empire building and establishing its hegemony in countries where the light of civilization had not yet advanced.
There was an unprecedented intellectual and scientific advancement during the Victorian age. Ti was a period of intellectual ferment and scientific thinking. Science, once a sealed book saves to an elect few was democratized and more and more scientific works like Darwin’s Origin of Species. The man of science was regarded on more an academic recluse, but as a social figure exercising a deep and profound influence on the social and educational life of the age.
In spite of the advance of science and the various scientific discoveries the general tenor of life was still governed by religious and moral considerations. The Victorians were moralists at heart, and religion was the sheet anchor of their lives. There was a marked conflict between religion and science, between moralists and scientists, each outdoing the other, but the current of religious thought was not chilled. It was an age in which Prime – ministers raised echoes of a submerged religious vocabulary in their speeches and novels. The Oxford Movement represents the revival of the old Roman Catholic religion and the authority of the church at a time when science was challenging the religious thought of the age.
In domestic life the Victorian upheld the authority of parents over children. In the Barrets of wimpole Street we have a vivid picture of parental authority and the subjugation of children to the will of the head of the family. Emphasis was laid on authority and reverence for the elders. Women were relegated to a lower place. They were expected to cultivate domestic virtues, rear up children and look after the home and Mrs. Ellis in the Women of England outlined the role of the female sex as being of service to the male members of the family. “The first thing of importance,” she said, “was to be inferior to men, inferior in strength.” Education was a closed book for most of the women, and the idea of establishing women’s colleges was ridiculed by Tennyson, the national poet, in the princess.
The Victorian laid emphasis on order, decorum and decency. To talk of duty honour, the obligation of obligation f being a gentleman, the responsibility of matrimony, and the sacredness of religious belief was to be Victorian. “The Victorian we are told, “were a poor, blind, complacent people,” yet they were torn by doubt, spiritually bewildered, lost in a troubled universe. They were cross materialists wholly absorbed in the present quite unconcerned with abstract varieties and eternal values but they were also excessively religious, lamentably idealistic, nostalgic for the past, and ready to forego present delights for a vision of a world beyond despite their slavish “conformity,” their purblind respect for convention, they were, we learn, “rugged individualists,” give to “doing as one like,” needless of culture, shipped the idols of authority. They were, besides, at once sentimental humanitarians and hard – boiled exponents of free enterprise. Politically they were governed by narrow insular prejudice, but swayed by dark imperialistic designs. Intellectually and emotionally they believed in progress, denied original sin, and affirmed the death of the Devil, yet y temperament they were patently Manichaeans to whom living was a desperate struggle between the force of good and the power of darkness. While they professed “manliness” they yielded to feminine standards: if they emancipated woman from age – oil bondage, the also robbed her of a vital place in society. Though they were sexually inhibited and even failed to consider the existence of physical love, they begot incredibly large families and flaunted art constitutes a shameless record of both hypocrisy and ingenuousness, and their literature remains too purposeful, propagandistic, didactic, aesthetic, with too palpable a design upon the reader; yet it is clearly so romantic, aesthetic, ‘escapist’, that it carries to posterity but a tale of little meaning,”. Whatever we may say of Europe between Waterloo and Sedan,” wrote John Morley:-
In our county at least it was an fepoch of hearts lifted
With hope, and brains active with sober and manly
Reason for the common good. Some ages are marked as sentimental,
Others stand conspicuous as rational. The Victorian age
Was happier than most in the flow of both these currents into
A common stream of vigorous and effective talent.
New truths were welcomed in free minds and minds make brave men.”
Our study of Victorian background will not be complete without adding a few line about the Victorian compromise The Victorian sought a happy compromise when they were faced with radical problems. They were not willing to be dominated by one extreme viewpoint and in a welter of confusing issues they struck out a pleasing compromise. Victorian compromise was particularly perceptible in three branches of life. In the field of political life there was a compromise between democracy and aristocracy. While accepting the claims of the rising masses to political equality they defended the rights of aristocracy. While reposing their faith in progress in the political sphere they were not ready for revolutionary upsurges disturbing the settled order of life. Progressive ideals were reconciled with conservative leanings for an established order of society. In the field of religion and science, a satisfying compromise was affected. The advances made by science were accepted, but the claims of old religion were not ignored. The Victorian took up compromising position between faith of religion and doubt created by science.
There remains more faith in honest doubt
Believe me than in half the creeds.
“ They desired to be assured that all for the best; they desired to discover some compromise which while not outraging their intellect and their reason, would none the less soothe their conscience and restore their faith, if not completely at least sufficiently to allow them to believe in some ultimate purpose and more important still, in the life after death. In voicing these doubts, in phrasing the inevitable compromise Tennyson found and endeavored passionately to fulfill his appointed mission.”
In the field of sex, the Victorian made a compromise. The sex problem was the most blatant and persistent. In this field their object was to discover some middle course between the unbridled licentiousness of previous ages and the complete negation of the functions and purposes of nature. The Victorians permitted indulgence in sex but restricted its sphere to conjugal felicity and happy marred life. They disfavored physical passion and illegal gratification of sex impulse. They could not contemplate the possibility of any relation between man and woman other than the conjugal. In Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot we are introduced to ‘two young lovers walking together in the moonlight but we are at once reassured by the statement that these two lovers were ‘lately wed’. The Victorian of the sex urge by illegal and unauthorized methods.
The Victorian age was one of the most remarkable periods in the history of English Literature. It witnessed the flowering of poetry in the hands of host of poets, great and small. Ti marked in the growth of the English novel, and laid the foundation of English prose on a surer footing.
The note of individuality was the hall mark of Victorian literature. The literary figures of the Victorian age were endowed with marked originality in outlook, character and style. “In Macaulay there was much of the energy and enterprise of the self – mad man. Tennyson loved to sing the praises of sturdy independence. In Dickens books there are, perhaps more originals than in those of any other novelist in the world. The Bronte sisters pursued their lonely path in life with the pride and endurance learnt at the Haworth parsonage. Carlyle and Browning cultivated manner full of eccentricity and even Thackeray though more regular in style than his contemporaries loved to follow a haphazard path in the conduct of his stories indulging in unbounded license of comment and digression.”
The Victorian age was essentially the age of prose and novel. “Though the age produced many poets, and two who deserve to rank among the greatest,” says W.J. Long;
“Nevertheless this is emphatically an age of
Prose and novel. The novel in this ge fills a place
Which the dream held in the beys of
Elizabeth; and never before, inany age or language, has the novel
Appeared in such numbers and in such perfection.”
Victorian Literature in its varied aspects was marked by a deep moral note. “The second marked characteristic of the age is that literature both in prose and poetry, seems to depart from the purely artistic standard of art’s sake and to be actuated by a definite moral purpose.” Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Ruskin were primarily interested in their message to their countrymen. They were teachers of England and were inspired by a conscious moral purpose to uplift and instruct their fellowmen. Behind the fun and sentiment of Dickens, the social miniatures of Thackeray, the psychological studies of George Eliot, lay hidden a definite moral purpose to sweep away error and to bring out vividly in unmistakable terms the underlying truth of human life.
In one direction the literature of the Victorian age achieved a salient and momentous advance over the literature of the Romantic Revival. The poets of the Romantic Revival were interested in nature, in the past and in a lesser degree in art but they were not intensively interested in men and woman. To Wordsworth the dalesmen of the lakes were a part of the scenery they moved in. He treated human beings as natural objects and divested them of the complexities and passions of life as it is lived. The Victorian poets and novelist laid emphasis on men and women and imparted to them the same warmth and glow which the Romantic poets had given to nature.
“The Victorian Age extended to the complexities of human life, the imaginative sensibility which its predecessor had brought to bear on nature and history. The Victorian poets and novelists added humanity to nature and art as the subject matter of literature”