Another movement that kicked off toward the tail-end of the Romanticism movement was the Victorian Period, and is actually the next major movement in literature history, which literally lasted the reign of Queen Victoria between 1837-1901. What caused this movement, and who were some of the major authors? Welp, let’s take a look!
Factors that started the movement
I think it’s immediately important to note that England grew massively during Queen Victoria’s reign (from 14 million to over 30 million people), which changed living conditions and person-to-person interaction. There was also the Industrial Revolution occurring in Britain so there are some steps forward in technology that changed how people went about their day-to-day actions and how they interacted with other countries; and, when it came to intellectual changes, Darwinism was becoming a factor for the religious and science community to consider, so people were thinking about their impact on the world in different ways, just as they had during the Renaissance, the Neoclassical Period, the Romanticist period, etc. Finally, the working class suffered at the hands of all this innovation, as their working conditions were truly terrible, so the artists of the time crafted works illustrating the ridiculousness of these social conditions.
There was a lot going on!
Outside of social factors, we have an emergence of the novel as the most “fashionable vehicle for the transmission of literature” and society saw “the novel as a genre” rising “to entertain the rising middle class” which depicted “contemporary life in a changing society” (englishpost.org). Now, we already heard stories about the novel really taking off (The Theatrical Licensing Act), but now technology was really hitting its stride and books were easier for people on the last rung of the social ladder to get their hands on.
Important literature during this period
So, considering these conditions and changing attitudes, it might be important to look at Charles Dickens as an extremely important person during the Victorian era because he wrote a lot of social pieces. Sure, A Christmas Carol is a great Christmas story, but it’s also about a greedy, miserly old man who treats his workers terribly and would rather ignore the social problems of his day (such as poverty) to make a little extra moolah off of housing and rent. Not cool. Dickens captures Scrooge’s flawed character expertly:
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
We might also look at another author, George Eliot, whose real name was actually Mary Ann Evans. She was yet another woman who wrote under a male pen-name similar to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Her novels Adam Bede (1859) and Middlemarch (1871), which was an eight-book pastoral novel that featured really strong characters and good character development, have left a lasting impression.
Poetry during the Victorian Era
The poetry of the time differed slightly in tone, as the major players, such as Lord Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, supported the ideas of Darwinism and were hesitant about casting their lot with religion, but also understood that history was important, so connecting with olden times was had maximum value.
“ … but Victorian poets also developed a distinct sensibility. The writers of this period are known for their interest in verbal embellishment, mystical interrogation, brooding skepticism, and whimsical nonsense” (poetryfoundation.org).
Here, we have a small piece of a famous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
“Then Arthur rose and Lancelot follow’d him,
And while they stood without the doors, the King
Turn’d to him saying, ‘Is it then so well?
Or mine the blame that oft I seem as he
Of whom was written, ‘A sound is in his ears’?
The foot that loiters, bidden go,–the glance
That only seems half-loyal to command,–
A manner somewhat fall’n from reverence—
Or have I dream’d the bearing of our knights
Tells of a manhood ever less and lower?
Or whence the fear lest this my realm, uprear’d,
By noble deeds at one with noble vows,
From flat confusion and brute violences,
Reel back into the beast, and be no more?”Idylls of the King: The Last Tournament
There’s lots more to the movement but this is the abbreviated version, so take from it what you will, but, characteristically speaking, the Victorian period was a marvelous era for literature.
List of important authors
- Charles Dickens
- George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
- William Makepeace Thackeray
- Robert Louis Stevenson