Updated August 19, 2023
Verses typical of Queen Victoria’s reign make up Victorian Poetry. Accordingly, the characteristics of Victorian Poetry borrow socio-economic changes under the reign of Queen Victoria and the preceding Romantic Age poetry. The literature of this age voices the strong opinions of Mathew Arnold, Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, and notable poets. The Victorian Poetry era (1830-1901) succeeded the Romantic era.
Victorian Poetry showcases the new awareness among the intellectuals and expresses the need of its age. Some characteristics of Victorian Poetry are an extension of Romantic Poetry. However, contemporary intellectual developments, economic changes, and religious revolts comprised much Victorian poetry.
The Main Characteristics of Victorian Poetry
From ‘Idealism to Realism’ is the prominent differentiator of Victorian Poetry, while other characteristics include: mass concerns, morality, challenging authority, questioning God, etc. These features had a bearing on industrialization and the advancement of science & Tech.
The Victorian Poets were quite realistic and had a less idealized view of Nature in contrast to Romanic Poets, who were idealists and believed in Art for the Art Sake. The ‘nature’ in Victorian poetry lost its idealized position accorded in the Romantic Age. Factually, in the Tennyson age, Nature dwindled to a source of leisure and inspiration for the poets. And that Nature was not paramount as a subject for poets. Tennyson was less a romantic poet and more a Victorian- a bridge to Romanticism & Victorian.
Conflict Between Religion & Science
The most remarkable characteristic of Victorian poetry is its conflict between religion and science. It was a byproduct of the intellectual developments of this age. The leading poets of this age reacted to this religious skepticism through their works. Robert Browning attempted to criticize religion in his poems like ‘Fra Lippo Lippi.’ He also questioned the demands of the church that go against human nature.
Similarly, When Tennyson wrote ‘In Memoriam’ (1850), he raised many questions on life and death. The scientific approach to nature and humans became a central theme in Victorian Poetry. Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’ (1867) also addresses the eroding religious faith of the time.
Showing the Responsibility
You would see Victorian poetry as the object of displaying the rural and rustic life. Poets raised voices for indiscrimination against the commoner masses that was done due to industrialization. Victorian poets took a stand on social reform.
Use of Sensory Elements
In the preceding era poets, they used imagery vividly. However, Victorian poets also used imagery and senses to convey the chaos or struggle between Religion and Science and ideas about Nature and Romance.
Lord Alfred Tennyson prominently used sensory and Imagery elements in his poems. One notable example in Tennyson’s poem “Mariana” he writes- The doors upon their hinges creaked; / The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse / Behind the moldering wainscot shrieked.
These images of the creaking door, the blue fly singing in the window, and the mouse with the moldy wood paneling all work together to show a very definite image of an active yet lonely farmhouse.
Pessimism- Integral to Victorian Poetry
Victorian poets understood the misery that the Industrial Revolution had brought to society. Thus, Victorian poetry became object and real; in terms of displaying urban life. The poets wrote about isolation, despair, doubt, and general pessimism that surrounded the era.
On the surface, Victorians seemed to enjoy wealth and prosperity, but the feelings of uncertainty, Cynicism, and self-doubt are very much reflected in this age’s poems. The issue of psychological isolation is common in almost all the great poems of the Victorian Era.
Tennyson’s poem, ‘Locksley Hall’ (1842), concerns the restless “young England.” Mathew Arnold explored the “strange disease of modern life” and the loneliness of modern-age men in his poem ‘The Scholar-Gipsy’ (1853). In ‘The City of Dreadful Night,’ Arthur Hugh Clough deals with the note of Insomnia and Pessimism.
Interest in Medieval Fables and Legends
You can mark Victorian Poetry with medieval legends and fables. Just as the Pre-Raphaelites attempted to restore the essence of medieval art in their poems, poets like Tennyson, William Morris, and Swinburne wrote poetry on Arthurian legends of the Medieval Age.
Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of King Arthur (1859-1889) was a series of four books centered on King Arthur and the Round Table. In his other works, such as ‘Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere,’ ‘Sir Galahad,’ and ‘Morte d’ Arthur,’ Tennyson explored the vision of Medieval quests and tales.
Swinburne idealized Medievalism in his works as the Golden Age of tragic love and Tragic Heroism. It is noteworthy that Victorian poets returned to Medievalism not as escapists but to redirect it to the contemporary developments in politics, literature, and art.
Another one of the most important characteristics of Victorian poetry is sentimentality. The Victorians wrote about artistic creations, thus giving way to deeper imaginations. Poets like Alfred Tennyson and Emily Bronte prominently used the element of sentimentality in their poems.
Development of Dramatic Monologue
Though the Victorians used medieval settings, forms, and themes, many other forms of poetry also held prominence during the Victorian Era. The dramatic monologue became one of the most popular gifts of Victorian Poetry to English Literature.
Through works such as Alfred Tennyson’s “Ulysses’ (1842), ‘St Simeon Stylites’ (1842), and Mathew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ & ‘Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse’ the monologue seems to have gained.
Robert Browning popularized dramatic monologues in his works such as ‘My Last Duchess,’ ‘Porphyria’s Lover,’ ‘Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,’ ‘Men and Women’ and so on. These poems were published in Browning’s ‘Dramatic Lyrics’ in 1842.
Apart from the famous dramatic monologue, Victorian poets explored Sonnets, Epics, Elegies, and Ballads. In this way, Victorian poetry is the direct outcome of the time’s Prevailing socio-economic, political, and literary activities.
Victorian Poetry in Conclusion
Victorian Poetry is marked by its own distinct features. This poetry evolved during the reign of Queen Victoria and although it assimilated some of the attributes of Romantic Poetry and era but has clear distinctions.. Instead, being idealistic, the Victorian Poets were highly realistic in their poetic approach.
While, the Romantic poets revered the nature in an idealistic and romantic light in their works, the Victorians had influence of scientific and technological discoveries. Essentially, Romantic era (1800- 1837) ) was movement of being intellectual and artistic and hence their literature had emotional and aesthetic value in high proportions.
Era of Victorian poetry is believed to span over 1830- 1901 during which Industrial revolution took place. Hence, the authors & poets of this era took to realistic portrayal of life. Nature was also one of the pillars of Victorian poetry but portrayal of it was realistic and social issues abounded their works.
A Radical Stream Within Victorian Poetry
When we talk about Victorian Poetry, it is about the broader stream of poetry in Victorian era. However, you somewhere ignore mentioning a group of poets in the very same era who were radical in their poetic approach. They advocated art and mysticism of pre-Raphael era (1428- 1848) or pre-renaissance era. And, narrowed their subject down to beauty, nature and art.
The radical Victorian poetry aimed unifying medieval art and poetry and sought promoting pre-Raphael era glory. Verses of this special stream is called as the pre-Raphaelite Poetry. Experts also label this stream of Poetry as Version 2 of the Romantic Poetry as they immensely harped on nature, beauty, emotions albeit with objectivity.
The Victorian Poets wrote on multiple themes and subjects which is why drawing the line between general Victorian Poets from the Pre-Raphaelites Victorians is a must. Precisely, the pre-Raphaelites poets are a subgroup within broader Victorian Age Poets. And, they focused on beauty, art, loveliness and mysticism alone.
Tennyson, Browning and Arnold led the Victorian Poetry whereas, Rossetti (s), Morris and Swinburne led the Pre-Raphaelite poetry as pioneers. Accordingly, the prominent characteristics of the Victorian Poetry are as below.
FAQs on Victorian Poetry Characteristics
Ans- Victorian poetry is self-defining. The poetry written during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) is known as Victorian poetry.
Ans- (a) Conflict between Religion and Science, (b) Use of Sensory Elements and (c) Pessimism- are the three characteristics of Victorian Poetry.
Ans- Alfred Tennyson was the most famous Victorian poet.
Ans- (a) Realism (b) Focus on Masses (c) Pessimism (d) Science and Technology (e) Questioning to God (f) Sense of Responsibility (g) Morality (h) Interest in Medieval Myths & Folklore are themes of Victorian poetry.
Ans- Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his sister Christina Georgina Rossetti, A.C. Swinburne etc. are the famous Victorian poets.