Victorian Age


The Victorian age form an historical point of view starts in 1837 and ends in 1901, but from a literary point of view starts in 1832 and ends in 1890. Is a period of reorganizations, there was an enormous scientific progress in all fields, there was an increase of factories and their production. There was a change for the role of children and women in the society; railways were built all over the country, people were accustomed to global products. Transport, coal, iron and steel formed the basis of a thriving economy. The Victorian age was a period of reform:

  1. First reform actàgave vote to the middle class
  2. Factory act and ten hours’ actà children can’t work more than 48 hours a week, and no person under 18 could work more than 69 hours a week.
  3. Poor law amendment actà established workhouseàwere deliberately unpleasant so that poor would try to do better, helping themselves instead of relying upon welfare. Self-help was considered very important; this apparent hard line was in part linked to progress and in part to the puritan virtues of hard work, thrift and duty, which would be rewarded.

In the later years of queen Victoria’s reign there was a growing sense of “white man’s burden”, this phrase shows that the British felt a responsibility to spreads their “superior” way of life to the “uncivilised” , but at the same time the were perplexed and concerned that this was unwelcome. In this period organization for voting right for women were set up, most of the population was employed in manufacturing or domestic service; the authorities provided clean water and sanitation; all the Victorian cities had gas lighting and rubbish collection; the education system was bettered. But even if it was an age of reform and progress, it was also an age of doubts, there was too much poverty, to little certain about faith ( crises of religious faith because of Darwinism); but in spite of the many doubts society tended to accept things as they were because there was, at the same time, a certain degree of prosperity in the country: this attitude was called “the Victorian compromise”.

The Victorian compromise:

The Victorians were great moralizers, and as a rule the values they promoted reflected not the world as it real was, but the world as they would have liked it to be. Because of the progress, the two most two important things were the sense of duty and the hard work rather than the personal inclination. Goog behavior in school were always rewarded. The idea of respectability distinguished the middle from the lower class; respectability was a mixture of morality and hypocrisy, severity and conformity to social standards, it implied the ownership of a house, regular attendance at church, and charitable activity.

Philanthropy was a phenomenon that addressed itself to every kind of poverty, to stray children, fallen woman and drunken man, and absorbed energy from thousand of Victorians, large of them were women. The subservience of women was evident. Sexuality was generally repressed from every point of view, and there was an attitude that wants to prove the superiority of England.

The Victorian novel:

For the first time there was a communion of interests and opinion between writers and their reader. One reason for this was the growth of middle classes that were consumers of literature, they borrowed book from circulating libraries and read various periodicals. A great part of the Victorian literature was initially published in instalments in the pages of periodical, and this thing gave a sense of a continued contact between the writer and the reader. The novel became the most popular form of literature and also of entertainment because they were read aloud to all family. A characteristic of the novelist of the Victorian age was the sense of identify with their times, they aimed at reflecting the social changes of their time, they described society as it really was, they were aware of the evil of their society and denounced it, they wanted that all readers known this fact. An incredible thing was that the majority of writers and reader were women, even if many times they had to use a false name to publish their writing. From a structural point of view is possible to divide Victorian novels in 3 groups:

  1. The early Victorian novel: main figureà Charles Dickens, deals with social and humanitarian themes, expressed the idea of the age.
  2. The mid-Victorian: linked to the persistence of romantic and gothic tradition, and to a psychological vein.
  3. The late-Victorian: nearer to the development of “naturalism” , an almost scientific look at human behaviour.

Common features of Victorian novel:

  • The voice of the omniscient narrator provide a comment on the plot, and divide the right from the wrong, the light from the darkness.
  • Setting was the cityàmain symbol of industrial civilization
  • The plot was long and always complicated by sub-plots.
  • Concentrate on the creation of the character and not on a deeper analysis of it.
  • Retribution and punishment were found at the end when the writer had to justify all events, adventure ecc..