Essay on Victorian Era
The Victorian period was filled with many different types of thoughts and ideas. The literature of the period rose ideas never heard before. Also, the reform and industrial revolution changed the way that people thought. Several scientific discoveries also made Victorians question their own beliefs. The intriguing Victorian period had a different taste of literature and also went through a reform of classes and several technological advances to make it an extremely unique period in time.
Victorian readers had varied tastes in literature. Serious readers chose books on religion and other informative topics other than fiction, while less-than-serious readers chose books that were thrillers or in the violent category (Swisher 188). The writers of this time used a story-telling technique and they used symbols in their longer stories to help the reader better understand their point. The writers of this period developed the first psychological novels and they also used arguments, political ideas, and gave moral advice in their works to further persuade the readers. Also, many different changes in this time period were used in literature.
Changes in gender roles, classes, and values are represented and shown in Victorian literature (Victorian, Swisher 10).
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In the Victorian period, writers and novelists had their own opinions of changes at this time. Writer Thomas Babington Macauley said he liked the industrial revolution because it offered way for individualism and it gave the age of materialism a real advantage. Other writers had their own take on the matter of the industrial revolution. William Morris was a skilled merchant and artisan who worked very hard to make works of art that included pottery and fabrics and he believe the industrial revolution was a waste and that it was just a way to clutter the streets with cheap products. John Ruskin was an art critic who turned to talking about social issues because of the revolution and he thought that good art could only be found in a good moral environment (Victorian, Swisher 15). Thomas Carlyle was a harsh critic that opposed utilitarianism and sympathized with the poor and attacked middle-class hypocrisy. Writers of this time period used machines as the cause and symbol for the decrease of emotional vitality. To them the machine represented progress and progress made people soft and unnatural. It was truly the age of machinery. Victorian non-fiction writers also commented of the social changes of the time. The industrial revolution was a “reliance on machinery” and that “spiritual regeneration” was a must (Victorian, Swisher 14).
The literary form used at this time was one that offered instruction. Victorians looked to poets who could give them stability and purpose, but many poets and few writers withdrew from these social concerns because they felt they were incapable of dealing with confusion of modern life. The poets of this time wanted to write about beauty, but the beauty was nowhere to be found (Victorian, Swisher 17).
Other writers of this time period were the poets and different forms of writing. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote poems about nature and languished the image of nature as well. Robert Browning had an optimistic view of Christianity and morality was expressed in his works. People read his works and were moved by them (Victorian, Swisher 18). The writing of novelists of this time now lacked confidence and courage and instead relayed the message of tragedy of the time period. In olden times the poems were about problems, romance, and ideas that could be solved or read into (Victorian, Swisher 19). Novelists of the time had a clearer direction than the poets had. They wrote on the topics of society that the poets would hesitate to write on. Their works reflected energy and vitality of the age. This time period witnessed more literary change than any other. However, the novels were untidy and unplanned and lacked beauty. The readers did enjoy the comical, criminal, pathetic, destitute, and wealthy nature of many of the characters. The stories also delved into the class problems and made the arguments between classes comical (Victorian, Swisher 20-21).
The Victorian people were going through major change. New technology made transportation and communication faster and cheaper. Also, the development of railroads and steamboats made shipping goods and materials faster and more efficient so world trade was also increasing at this time (Swisher 58-59). Charles Darwin also introduced a new idea to this Victorian age. He published a book called The Principles of Geology that said layers of rock that were below the earth dated back to October 23, 4004 B.C and this confused many religious Victorians because it questioned whether or not God truly existed (Swisher 15-16). Darwin also explained the law of natural selection that stated the weaker species die out and stronger ones survive. This also brought upon confusion to the Victorians (Swisher 18). The responses given back to Darwin for his discovery were that many people simply denied that the information was true and other changed their emphasis on religion to have it all make sense. Other Victorians chose to go to agnosticism and others were still just confused about what was real and what was religion (Swisher 19).
The health and medicine of this time were very poor. Victorians had no knowledge that bacteria were the cause of the diseases they had. They had no cures for the ailments either. They just fed their patients well and kept them comfortable. Finally though, they realized that the cleaner the air, water, and living conditions the patients had; the more they recuperated. A medical discovery was noticed in this period of time ( Swisher 83).
Class values were of much importance at this time. Victorians believed that the poor were improvident because they spent any money they did gain on drinks and gambling. Others said that God had put poor people in their place and that they should not be fooled around with. (Poverty 3). The population of this time was growing and it was considerably due to people wanting employment and jobs to make money and was also due to the industrial revolution (Poverty 1). The Victorians were confident people who sought knowledge and adventurous situations. With all the new ideas and quests, the aristocracy lost their power and the middle class gained many privileges and loads of wealth. The working lives of everyone had changed little though (Swisher 50).
With the rise of the industrial age all people were working at low wages. Women, men and children lived in slums and this issue was talked about openly among the people of this time (Maurois 14). Critic John Morley said that England at this time was like “a paradise for the well to do, a purgatory for the able, and a hell for the poor (Victorian, Swisher 12).” This industrial time impoverished a ton of people and brought even more wealth to the middle class and the already wealthy (Maurois 13). The middle class liked to show their money and they soon became the epitome of standards and good taste. They also values what was decorative and like huge homes, heavy furniture, and lots of knickknacks. Men wore top hats and women had long beautiful skirts and this really showed their wealth. The middle class used status to make national policy as well. The middle class used their wealth to be able to vote by the time of the middle of the industrial revolution (Swisher 13). The upper classes actually lost some of their wealth due to the middle class upraise. By the time of the mid-nineteenth century, the middle class held an extremely large amount of the nations wealth (Swisher 12 ).
Victorian values were more comprehensive than American values of today. Values of this time included and held high the family, hard work, cleanliness, self-respect, patriotism, neighborliness, thriftiness, and self-reliance. The values identified with an England of a century ago, but have no relevance to today’s England in its virtues or values ( Himmelfarb 5). This period of time also gave another side to moral reformation. They eventually established relief for the poor and incapable ( Himmelfarb 7). The expression of having good manners and morals is a Victorian expression and the Victorian motto was that manners made the man at that time
( Himmelfarb 21). Values do not have to be virtues. Values can be beliefs, opinions, attitudes, feelings, habits, or prejudices (Himmelfarb 12). Another moral mentioned at this time was the reference to sex. The mention of sex or scandal; whether it was real or fake, meant social rejection to those who spoke about it. Victorians believes that too much pleasure or entertainment was wicked and that people were to show integrity, frugality, self-reliance, and temperance. Victorians inherited their values from the Puritans and they always preached about being morally strict. Home to them was an honorable and sacred place (Victorian, Swisher 13).
Philosophers, writers, economists, and everyday people of the Victorian period knew they were living with major social and economic issues. The value of literature, class value, and technology in the Victorian era were of great significance and affected this period of time in drastic ways.
The Victorian time era was always changed and was the time period for the birth of machinery and class uprising which makes it such an ever changing and unique period of time.
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The Victorian era produced many eminent figures. Lytton Strachey was one of them. Born in 1880, Strachey was a British biographer and a critic who is credited of having revolutionized the art of writing biography. He opened a new era of biographical writing by adopting an irreverent attitude to the past, especially to the volumes of the Victorian biography. His book, Eminent Victorians, a wartime book composed of four miniature biographies, won him widespread recognition as a literary critic and a biographer. In this work, instead of using the conventional method of detailed chronological narration, he has carefully selected his facts to present highly personal portraits of his subjects.The four biographies of Victorian figures that Strachey has described in Eminent Victorians are of Henry Cardinal Manning – a Roman Catholic prelate, Florence Nightingale – a sentimentally idolized female humanitarian, Thomas Arnold of Rugby – an educational reformer with a pronounced moralistic bent and General Charles (“Chinese”) Gordon – a military adventurer. All this figures had earlier been the subject of admiring biographies, but Strachey treated them instead in the form of caricatural case histories: Manning as an obsessive ecclesiastical opportunist, Florence Nightingale as a workaholic driven by ruthless devotion to duty, Arnold as a zealous pompous public-school head master who tended to confuse himself with God, and Gordon as a religious fanatic and dipsomaniac, alternating between Bible and brandy bottle. The four demonstrated the goals of the Victorian age but Strachey’s presentation gave rise to a new form of biography and caused people to express their opposition to the Victorian period. In short, Strachey had four – victim agenda for misrepresenting the whole culture. He did not just use his subjects: he abused them.
I feel that Strachey has used his witty and impressionistic style in writing this book Eminent Victorians, not only to disclose the hidden facts of the Victorian society, but also by writing this biographies, he has targeted on hypocrisy, imperialism, and religion of the Victorian era. It seems that each of the four figures was chosen with malice aforethought. For example, there are some things about Nightingale that Strachey has genuinely admired – her determination to cut herself free from family ties and make her own way in the world; her reforming zeal and her crusading ardor. But in general he found the matron very unpalatable. According to Strachey, she was a self-righteous, domineering amazon, who was ruthless in her compassion, merciless in her philanthropy, destructive in her friendship, obsessional in her lust for power, and demonic in her saintliness. Above all, Strachey disliked her because in her frigid indifference to intimate relationships, in her determined suppression of her own erotic impulses, she denied her own womanhood, and thus rejected in her self the very humanity she claimed to be serving.
Overall, the book has great brilliance of style and is probably the most successful application of the comic spirit to literary biography in English literature. It is a period piece, a vivid point in the long transaction of the twentieth century with its immediate past. Although the book offers very few dates and not many footnotes or charts or graphs, Strachey’s biographies are short anecdotal, witty and entertaining. His aim, as he has declared in the preface, was to cast ” a sudden revealing searchlight into obscure recesses hitherto undivined”. In the process he occasionally sacrificed truth, but the result – polished, malicious, and lively – made him the hero of the Victorian era. Even today, when people use “Victorian” as a synonym for “smug,” “prudish” or “flowery,” they are showing the impact of Strachey’s satiric perspective.
Filed Under: History