Victorian Prose aka The Prose of the Later-Half of The 19th century

Updated October 10, 2022

Victorian Prose characterizes the Victorian Age during which English literature evolved very remarkably. Victorian age was an era of great political, social, economic and religious activities.

While, this age stood witness to the growing economic rift between the poor and the rich, the scientific discoveries and inventions shook the faith of people on God and religion.

This all, created a sense of doubt and despair in the minds of the common people. Thus, the Victorian age became ripe for spontaneous flowering of novels, poetry and of course, English Prose the most. W.J. Long writes, “… this is emphatically an age of prose..”. Great thinkers with powerful minds enriched the Victorian prose literature of the age.

Victorian Prose Has its Own Distinguished Characteristics

The Victorian Prose has certain marked characteristics of the age. Chiefly, it was marked by a definite moral purpose. The prose writers like Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman, John Ruskin, Lord Macaulay, W.H. Pater, Charles Darwin, Mathew Arnold and others were primarily interested in imparting message to their countrymen. To them, literature was an instrument of social reform and social propaganda. Hence, they represented the problem of their own age with a fair amount of realism.

The writers of Victorian prose were against the materialistic tendencies of the age and sought refuge in the overcharged atmosphere of the Middle Age. A note of pessimism, doubt and despair runs through the prose of this age. Great essayists like Macaulay, Carlyle and Ruskin showed great faith in humanist. The impact of science and the questioning spirit of the people is apparent in the Victorian prose, particularly in the prose writings of Darwin.

You cannot gauge the nature of a literature era without getting to know the writers of the time. So, a critical evaluation of the major prose writers of the later-half of the 19th century would give you a fair idea the prose writing of the Victorian Age.

Major Prose Writers of Victorian Age

The list below would give you a run down of prominent prose writers of the Victorian age.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

He was a great literary artist of this period. He was a critic, a political thinker and a historian. Thoma Carlyle’s most ambitious philosophical work is “Sartor Resartus”. In this writings he revealed his early years of spiritual and bodily torments. He became widely known after the publication of “French Revolution” and “On Heroes and Hero-Worship”.

Carlyle’s major historical writings includes “The French Revolution (1837)”. The book comprises a series of vivid word pictures rather than sober history, Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches (1845), and “The history of Frederich II of Prussia, called Frederik the Great (1858-65). He is chiefly remembered as the superb master of the English language.

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

He was one of the greatest prose writers of the Victorian Age. Ruskin’s works are of immense volume and complexity. His first work was published in 1843, a longest of his books, Modern painters”. It was a thesis written in defence of the painting of Turner. Although it did gain much attraction of the readers, Ruskin could develop opinions on many other subjects.

Ruskin’s prominent later work is “The Seven Lamps of Architecture”, published 1849. Ruskin expounded his views on artistic matters. The Stones of Venice” is considered to be his masterpiece both in thought and style. Unto this Last (1860), it comprise a series of articles on political economy.

Lord Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)

Lord Babington was a known essayist and historian of the Victorian Age. His “Essays” are indispensable for young people who are on the threshold of intellectual advancement. His “History” is also noteworthy contribution. However, his biographical essays on eminent people of the time failed to create any significant impression on the readers.

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801- 1890)

John Henry Newman, essentially a religious man employed a classical way of writing prose. His prose style is marked by lucidity, transparency, restrain and balance. His “Idea of a University” earned him great respect in the literary circle of the time.

Mathew Arnold (1822- 1828)

He was a great critic and prose writer of this age. His chief critical works are “The Preface”, “On Translating Homer”, and Essays and Criticism”. But his prose style is sometimes tedious. Walter Horatio Pater, R.L. Stevenson and Oscar Wilde are also the major prose writers of this age. They wrote on a great variety of subjects. They also showed a great command over the use of the English language.

Main Scientific Prose Writers of the Victorian Age

Scientific prose writing took a definite shape during the Victorian Age. Among the prominent scientific writers of the Victorian Age are Charles Darwin (1809- 1882), Herbert Spencer and T.H. Huxley. They deserve our special attention.

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)

Darwin propounded the theory of Evolution which caused a great upheaval during the age. His books “The Origin of Species (1859)” and “The Descent of Man (1871)” transformed the conception of the people regarding natural history and changed man’s way of thinking on the problems of human society.

Herbert Spencer

Spencer’s scientific writings are highly philosophical. Hence, his books afford pleasant reading. His main work is “Principles of Biology”.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95)

Huxley was a biologist and anthropologist. He was one of the ablest and most energetic of Darwin’s supporters. He produced no work in the same class as “The Origin of Species“. Huxley’s work consisted of lectures and addresses, which came up in volume form. They were Man’s Place in nature (1863), Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews (1870) etc. Also, he has often been known as “Darwin’s Bull-Dog” for his advocacy of Darwin’s theory of Evolution. He has to his credit “Essays on Converted Subject”.

Concluding Words on Victorian Prose Writing

Prose in Victorian age grew on many counts and spread in multiple genres. Moreover, the philosophical writings also thrived during the Victorian Age. In this context, John Stuart Mill’s works “On Liberty” and “representative Government” are creditworthy.

The biographers like Mrs. Gaskell, John Forster and others also contributed to the Victorian prose. Among the historians of the period, Macaulay is the most important. Other prominent historians of the Victorian Age are- Froude, Kinglake, Green Freeman and Prescott.

On the whole, prose was one of the dominant forms of literature in the Victorian Age or later-half of the 19th century.

Beyond Prose of Victorian Age Under Literature Reads

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