WEEK 10 & 11 THE VICTORIAN PERIOD ( THE PRE RAPHAELITES AND AESTHETICISM) THE VICTORIAN PERIOD AND DECADENCE
VICTORIAN AGE Historical context Social context Literary context
Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) Longest reign in English history Period of unprecedented material progress imperial expansion political and constitutional development Historical Context HOME POLICY: Political and Social Reforms FOREIGN POLICY: colonialism + imperialism
Queen Victoria worked for the peace and prosperity of her country was able to keep at bay any conflict over constitutional matters reigned constitutionally avoiding the storm of revolutions played a more active role became a mediator above political parties model for her people: exemplary family life, strictly respectable and decent code of behaviour (Victorianism) beloved especially by the middle class who shared her moral and religious views
Historical Context – Home Policy Britain was a model of industrial success, individual freedom and constitutional government Upper and industrial middle-classes believed in a policy of “laissez-faire” ie. non-interference with industry or with national economy in order to promote free trade and free competition (=Liberalism) triumph of industry (steam engine, steamboats, shipbuilding, trains, iron industry) scientific progress (electricity, telegraph, gas-lighting, stamp+postal system, medicine)
Historical Context – Foreign Policy THE BRITISH EMPIRE Imperialism = territorial expansion, colonies abroad During the Victorian Age the British Empire reached its largest extension: it was called “the Empire where the sun never sets ” British Imperial power was sustained by: willingness to protect British trade routes and interests against other nations; to gain new terrotories firm belief in the excellence of English culture and institutions
Socio-cultural Context Urbanization Britain became a nation of town dwellers Extraordinary industrial development Overcrowding Poverty – appalling living conditions in slums (squalor, disease, bad sanitation, crime, high death rate) Terrible working conditions (polluted atmosphere, disatrous effects on health especially on children)
Socio-cultural Context Material progress + wealth emerge from hard work Appearance is very important Respectability = a mixture of both morality and hypocrisy, severity and conformity to social standards Philanthropy = charitable activity addressed to every kind of poverty Victorian family = a patriarchal unit where the husband was dominant and the wife was the angel in the home (tha fallen woman) Patriotism Private life was separated from public behaviour
Literary Background – VICTORIAN NOVEL During the Victorian Age for the first time there was a communion of interests and opinions between writers lasses and readers enormous growth of the middle classes who were avid consumers of literature, they borrowed books from circulating libraries and read various periodicals. A great deal of Victorian Literature was first published in instalments in the pages of periodicals, which allowed the writer to feel he was in constant contact with his readers.
The NOVEL became the most popular form of literature and also the main form of entertainment since thery were read aloud within the family. NOVELISTS felt they had a moral and social responsibility to fulfil: they depicted society as they saw it (realism) and denounced its evils (criticism) they aimed at making readers realise social injustices Literary Background – VICTORIAN NOVEL
WOMEN WRITERS: a great number of novels were written by women. This is surprising if we consider the state of subjection of Victorian women but at the same time they were the majority of novel-buyers and of readers. However, it was not easy to publish so some women writers decided to use male pseudonyms in order to see their novels in print. Literary Background – VICTORIAN NOVEL
The narrator is obtrusive (prominent)and omniscient: he provides his comments on the plot and he establishes a rigid barrier between what is right or wrong (judge); retribution and punishment usually appear in the final chapter where all the events, adventures, incidents are explained and justified. Didactic (informational) aim Linearity (stories have a beginning, a middle, an end) Long complicated plots and sub-plots VICTORIAN NOVEL – main features
Urban setting: the city was the most common setting the main symbol of industrial civilisation as well the expression of anonymous lives and lost identities Precise creation of characters and deep analysis of characters’ inner lives (psychology) Most popular genre = Bildulgsroman (novel of formation) Main themes: money, wealth, realistic portrait of society denouncing its injustices and iniquities VICTORIAN NOVEL – main features
VICTORIAN NOVEL From a structural point of view we can divide Victorian Novels mainly into three groups: 1) EARLY-VICTORIAN NOVEL (or social-problem novel) dealing with social and humanitarian themes realism, criticism of social evils but faith in progress, general optimism The main representative was CHARLES DICKENS
VICTORIAN NOVEL 2) MID-VICTORIAN NOVEL (novel of purpose) showing Romantic and Gothic elements and a psychological interest. The main representative writers were the BRONTË sisters and R.L.STEVENSON 3) LATE- VICTORIAN NOVEL (naturalistic novel near to European Naturalism) showing a scientific look at human life, objectivity of observation, dissatisfaction with Victorian values. The main representative writers were THOMAS HARDY and OSCAR WILDE.
Other minor forms of novel developed in this period: 4) Novel of Manners focusing on economic problems of a particular class (WILLIAM Thackeray) 5) Colonialist Fiction presenting an exaltation of British imperialistic power (Rudyard Kipling) 6) Nonsense literature dealing with fantastic adventures (Lewis Carroll) VICTORIAN NOVEL
Fiction Poetry Nonfiction Children’s Literature
Fiction Sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte—three of the most popular writers of the Victorian era—published under the male pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Writing under a pseudonym in the Victorian era was a common practice of female writers who wanted their novels to be taken more seriously by critics as well as the public. The novels by these sisters, most notably Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, written by Charlotte and Emily respectively, were not immediately popular—perhaps because of their inclusion of violence, romance, and the supernatural, but they eventually earned great success.
Novelist Charles Dickens is perhaps the most widely read novelist of the Victorian era. His novels were extremely popular at the time they were published, and gained popularity and cemented Dickens as a notable author on the literary scene. The novel resulted in the sale of merchandise and spin-off books that celebrated the book's most popular characters. Like many Victorian novels, Dickens's stories criticized social issues of the time and usually saw the morally sound characters thrive despite the extraordinarily difficult circumstances thrown their way.Most of his novels also criticized child labour.
William Makepeace Thackeray also wrote novels during the Victorian era, although his stories focused on middle-class characters rather than those that dealt with poverty. Thackeray is most noted for his novel Vanity Fair, which he published in 1847. The book focuses on an infinite celebration that symbolizes human beings' preoccupation with material objects.
Poetry The foremost poet of the Victorian period was Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who served as poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1850 until his death in 1892. Much of Tennyson's poetry focused on the retellings of classical myths. He experimented with meter, but most of his poetry followed strict formatting—a reflection of the strict formality of the Victorian era. His work often focused on the conflict between allegiance to religion and the new discoveries being made in the field of science.
Husband and wife team Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning became famous for the love poems they wrote to each other. Elizabeth was already an accomplished poet when she met her future husband in 1845. He influenced her to publish her love poems, which significantly increased her popularity.
Also worth mention in a discussion of the Victorian era is a collection of writers and artists called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of which Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister Christina were a part. In the late 1840s, a group of English artists organized the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with the goal of replacing the popular academic approach to painting with the more natural approach taken by artists who worked before the Italian Renaissance. Several writers joined this movement, echoing a simpler, less formal approach to writing literature.
4/24/2015 PRE RAPHAELITE Also worth mention in a discussion of the Victorian era is a collection of writers and artists called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of which Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister Christina were a part. In the late 1840s, a group of English artists organized the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with the goal of replacing the popular academic approach to painting with the more natural approach taken by artists who worked before the Italian Renaissance. Several writers joined this movement, echoing a simpler, less formal approach to writing literature.
4/24/2015 Aestheticism and Decadence The Aestheticism and Decadence movement of English literature grew out of the French movement of the same name. The authors of this movement encouraged experimentation and held the view that art is totally opposed to "natural" norms of morality. This style of literature opposed the dominance of scientific thinking and defied the hostility of society to any art that was not useful or did not teach moral values. It was from the movement of Aestheticism and Decadence that the phrase art for art's sake emerged.
4/24/2015 Aestheticism Aestheticism places greater emphasis on the creation of art and stresses form over subject matter. Poetry in this vein often relies on intricate verse forms, which present demanding technical requirements, including insistent rhyme and repetition. Aesthetic verse also emphasizes visual description and color. The Aesthetic alienation and retreat from life are recapitulated in the verse itself, often through exotic setting or subject matter from the long-distant past that, in turn, originates more in literature, legend, and myth than in history. The purest Aesthetic poems are not really "about" anything. Form, sound, image, and mood dominate to the extent that little or no room remains for ideas. In England, the Aesthetic impulse found a voice, even before it had been labeled, in a handful of brilliant seminal poems by Tennyson, including the archetypal "The Lotos-Eaters" The dominant notes of Aestheticism are escape, fantasy, detachment, passivity, reverie, and harmony,
4/24/2015 DECADENCE The Decadent, in contrast, wages a guerilla war against the dominant culture. He defines himself through conflict and contrast. Having erected, or accepted, the same barriers against life as the Aesthete, he then attacks. This aggressive stance toward society conveys the artist's alienation. At the same time, however, the attack, often in the form of intimate self-revelation, suggests both engagement in one of its most direct forms, and powerful communication, rather than the silence of separation. If society considers sexual relations, even between husband and wife, a private matter bordering on taboo, the Decadent may devote a poem to a graphic, intimate description of a night with a prostitute. But of course the attack itself serves at very least to underscore the force and dominance of mainstream morality, if not to concede its validity.
4/24/2015 The paradox, or self-contradiction, plays throughout perhaps the greatest English expression of Decadent thought and art. The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the "Preface," added after initial publication, Wilde boldly asserted; "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are either well written, or badly written. That is all." In this statement of art for art's sake, he defended his book against moral criticism of its subject matter, arguing that morality is irrelevant to art. Yet the book he sought to rescue from moral judgment is itself a moral condemnation of all aspects of the very tempting, attractive Decadence, including the effort to view and live life as if it were art and therefore beyond good and evil.
Nonfiction The Victorian era was a period of great scientific discovery. People of this time were quite interested in understanding the natural world. Naturalist Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859. This landmark scientific work challenged widely held beliefs about the origin of man. At the book's publication, many people considered the work scandalous. With time, however, Darwin's theories about evolution became more accepted. The publication of On the Origin of Species changed the world's views on philosophy and religious fundamentalism.
Children’s Literature During the Victorian era, children's literature became very popular. Perhaps due to the introduction of compulsory education—laws that specified that all children must be educated until they reach a certain age—young people were reading more. Writers produced work for the growing market of young readers. Stories about experiences at school were very popular among readers. Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling were two of the leading children's writers of the Victorian era. Current Perception of Victorian Literature Victorian literature is sometimes viewed in a negative light because of the era's prudishness, narrow mindedness, and strict conformation to societal rules.
Later Victorian novelists After the middle of the century, the novel, as a form, becomes firmly-established: sensational or melodramatic "popular" writing is represented by Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne (1861), but the best novelists achieved serious critical acclaim while reaching a wide public, notable authors being Anthony Trollope (1815-82), Wilkie Collins (1824-89), George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans; 1819-80) and Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). Among the best novels are Collins's The Moonstone,, Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, Adam Bede and Middlemarch, and Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure.