- Period of industrialization and transformation. Experienced an enormous increase in wealth, and captured markets all over the globe with exports of cotton and other manufactured goods.
- Industrial growth was huge, but alienated many with rapid change. “They also suffered from an anxious sense of something being lost, a sense too of being displaced persons in a world made alien by technological changes that had been exploited…”
- Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837-1901 defines the ‘Victorian era’.
- It was an age of ‘higher moral purpose’, of moving the country forwards to a transformed country of wealth and power. Gone were the romantics and the age of dreaming; replaced by a world of steel, manufacture and supremacy.
- Writers had a mixed reaction to the rapid change. Whereas the Romantic era had been largely based on poetry, the Victorian era was dominated by novels.
- “Victorian novels tend to be idealised portraits of difficult lives in which hard work, perseverance, love and luck win out in the end; virtue would be rewarded and wrongdoers are suitably punished. They tended to be of an improving nature with a central moral lesson at heart. While this formula was the basis for much of earlier Victorian fiction, the situation became more complex as the century progressed. There was a struggle to conquer the flaws of human beings with great virtues. It was a principle that those who struggle to attain morality would most probably achieve positive results in the end if not tortured by natural circumstances or evil vices.”
- “The drive for social advancement frequently appears in literature. This drive may take many forms. It may be primarily financial, as in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. It may involve marrying above one’s station, as in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. It may also be intellectual or education-based.
The period saw the rise of a highly idealized notion of what is “English” or what constitutes an “Englishman.” This notion is obviously tied very closely to the period’s models for proper behaviour, and is also tied very closely to England’s imperial enterprises. Many colonists and politicians saw it as their political (and sometimes religious) duty to “help” or “civilize” native populations in colonized regions. It was thus important to have a model which provides a set of standards and codes of conduct, and the idealized notion of what is “English” often provided this model.
Later Victorian writing saw the seeds of rebellion against such idealized notions and stereotypical codes of conduct. These “proper” behaviours often served as subjects of satire; Oscar Wilde’s plays are an excellent example. The later years of the Victorian period also saw the rise of aestheticism, the “art for art’s sake” movement, which directly contradicted the social and political goals of much earlier Victorian literature.”
- The Victorian era saw a huge growth in population (from 14 million to 32 million), which contributed to some horrific living conditions. The mass migration of workers to industrial towns like Manchester, led to cramped, unsanitary housing and therefore poor hygiene. As well as this, child labour and the exploitation of the working class were a large problem and a theme for many Victorian writers. (E.g. Charles