Updated October 10, 2022
Literature mirrors the society and, the literature of Victorian era is no exception on that note. Almost every writer of the Victorian Age show up with elements of social, political religious and economic environment surrounding. Some of them are so deep into these aspects of life that they appear to be socio-political critics. For instance, Charles Dickens & Tennyson are socio-political commentators, best representing the age.
The Victorian Age was a highly complex era. It was an age of rapid-flux and bewildering complexities. While analyzing the complexity of the Victorian Age, one must keep in mind the sweeping socio-economic changes which the age witnessed and the complex social forces operating during the time.
One must also keep in mind that it was an Age of faith and Doubt, an Age of Morality and Hypocrisy, an Age of prosperity and Poverty, an Age of Idealism and materialism, an Age of Progress and Decline, an Age of splendor and Squalor and what not. And, the literature of Victorian era not only reflects the complexity but is also influenced by it.
Literature of Victorian Era Reflects Life of the Period
To appreciate the inspiration of the works of Victorian era and how it further influenced the societal life, it seems only appropriate to take stock of the literature.
Literature Reflects Impact on Religious conditions
The Victorian Age Witnessed great changes. It witnessed a tremendous growth and development in the field of science. It also saw some significant progress in the democratic values. The development of physical science transformed the material environment of the people.
The great outpour of scientific literature particularly the publication of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” shook the very foundation of the religious faith. It transformed man’s outlook upon life. The knowledge that the human beings are ape-descendant caused a great upheaval in the society. Those who did not believe the findings of Darwin were at least in the state of confusion.
However, the advancement of science brought a shift in the value of life. People developed a materialistic outlook and followed the commercialization of all human activities. The poets like Tennyson adopted scientific method of description in their literary works. The writers gave place to the Physical sciences in their works.
George Eliot, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, and Thomas Hardy used analytical methods of science in their works. The development of science was bound to bring spiritual disturbance during the Victorian Era. This spiritual disturbance resulted in skepticism and in the crumbling of the age old edifice of Christian values. There were, however, some writers like Robert Browning who were not disturbed by the development of Science.
Writers of the Victorian Era Depict the Economic Condition
The early Victorian Age was a miserable period. It was a time of terrible unemployment, poverty, rioting, slums at the large cities, bad condition of children and women. Poor and laborers spent their life miserably in this span of time. It not only affected the economic life of the nation but also caused a great social and political upheaval.
The development of machinery based industries reduce the work of labor, that’s why it saw a tremendous surge in the unemployment The policy of ‘Liassez-faire’ as expounded by Adam Smith in his book “Wealth of Nations” denied all the rights to the labourers. Mayhem in his work “London Poor” paints a horrible picture of the working class.
Social Condition in the Writing of the Period
The industrial Revolution (1760- 1820) was the most ground breaking event of the Victorian Era. It developed materialistic attitude among the people. But only a chosen few enjoyed the material prosperity of the time. It adversely affected the social life of the time. It converted the “Merry England” into sooty and squalid England. Moreover, it also gave rise to a number of social problems. It created wide gulf in the society.
On the one side, there was a class privileged prosperous and wealthy people but on the other side there was a class of ill-clothed and ill-fed labourers. John Ruskin in his work “Unto This Last” talks about the impact of industrial revolution. Dickens “Oliver Twist” and “hard Times” unveil the depressing aspects of the Victorian Age.
Reflecting Political Conditions in The Works
The Victorian Age is called the golden age for the progress of democracy starting with the year 1832. Several important bills were enacted during this era. Voting rights were given to more and more people, finally ending in universal adult Suffrage. The writers tried to demolish the social barriers and establish the dignity of poor people. They wrote for increased educational opportunities for the poor. Thackeray and Dickens contributed significantly in this regard.
The Victorians were highly Prudish (Moralistic) in their attitude. Even a passing the reference of the sex was condemned. A trivial impropriety of dress would create flutter in the society. Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot and others were the great realists of the time but they also avoided the mention of this subject. Only probing studies of their works bring out this aspect of the Victorian life.
In this way, the literature of the Victorian era reflected the social, political, economic and literary activities of the time.
Beyond Literature of Victorian Era Under Literature Reads
- Victorian Prose aka The Prose of the Later-Half of 19th century
- A Note on Victorian Novelists & Novels of the 19th- 20th Century
- Lord Alfred Tennyson as Truly Prolific Poet of The Victorian Age
- Characteristics of Victorian Poetry aka Later 19th Century Poetry
- Summary & Analysis of the Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold
- Features of 18th Century English Literature & How it Stood Different