The Victorian Age (1837-l901)
The Victorian Age, so called after the long reign of Queen Victoria, is a very complex period.
It was an age full of contradiction: it was a time of prosperity, of progress and expansion, but also of social and economic inequality.
Literature, concerning itself more and more with political and social problems (reflects the various and contrasting aspects of the time).
This long period was dominated by the personality of Queen Victoria
The Victorian age spans through a longer period than Queen Victoria's reign
In fact, some events which took place before her coming to the throne had a great influence on the social history of the period. Among them of paramount importance was the passing of the Reform Bill, which extended the franchise to larger part of the middle-class and the repeal of the Corn Law which, making corn cheaper, enabled the enterprises to pay lesser wages. Never before had England known such economic development.
All these changes implied deep social transformation.
The merchant class and the working classes started to acquire a new consciousness. Victorian England was the scene of various radical and social movements as Chartism and Fabian Society.
In mines and factories there was a cruel reality (even women and children), only partly assuaged by the regulations stated in the Factory Acts. The Great Exhibition (1851), which took place in the enormous Crystal Palace, that became a symbol of the new age.
On the other hand, the progress of science created deep controversies.
Darwin's theory of evolution ("The Origin of Species") and the diffusion of Positivism completely revolutionized man's conception and created a conflict between science and religion.
Even cultural life developed
The abundance of newspapers and magazines, the diffusion of books, certainly contributed to the diffusion of education.
- the victorian novel
Novelists were encouraged and stimulated by the contact with the public (novels were often published serially in magazines and newspapers) and the novel became a powerful for conveying the new social, political and intellectual problems.
In the Victorian period there were some of the major English novelists such as Charles Dickens, the Brontes, George Eliot.
- the victorian compromise
The Victorian compromise is the particulary situation which saw prosperity and progress on the one hand, and poverty and injusty on the other. This particular situation opposed ethical conformism to corruption, moralism and philantropy to capitalistic greedness.
Charles Dickens (1812-l870)
Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest novelist of he English literature. Dickens
was a man of his age, but, at the same time, he has also some distinctive characteristics, as a
great sense of humour and an inexhaustible fertility.
Charles Dickens was born at Portsmouth. When Charles was ten the family moved to London, in 1824 his father was sent to prison for debt. At the age of twelve Charles was forced to go to work in a factory.The experience was traumatic, and it influenced his novels.
Charles was taken from the factory and attended school, then he went to work in a legal office. He then became a parliamentary reporter.
He also wrote for the comic newspapers and entered serious journalism. He adopted the pen name of 'Boz' and in 1836 two series of "Sketches by Boz" (short articles describing London people and scenes), where published.
This success led to "The Pickwick Papers", his first novel (relating the adventures of a group of eccentric people travelling on the English roads), where the comic and picaresque elements are mixed.
His personal life was less happy. He married Catherine Hogarth in 1836, and they had ten children. During the same period he became to be conscious of social injustice, political incompetence, the poverty and suffering of the great mass of the people, and the class conflicts of Victorian England. The result was a critical against contemporary society.
An example is Oliver Twist, which describs the sufferings of an orphan lived in a
workhouse, who then runs away to London and joins a gang of
- In Martin Chuzzlewit he attacks cruelty in boarding schools,
while in Hard Times he deals with the sufferings of the facfory system and the harm don
by the Utilitarian philosophy.
In the 1840s, Dickens wrote a series of novels which were more carefully plotted: for example Dombey and Son and Bleak House.
In this period Dickens also turned to semiautobiographical themes (David Copperfield).
Some of the wealth he acquired from his activities-novel writing, lectures, public readings-he used to found charities to help the poor, especially children, for them he founded schools. He died in 1870.
Dicken's novels present a variety of settings, from the countryside of The Pickwick Papers through the provincial towns in Hard Times. However, Dickens' most typical sceneries are those of London.
In the vast city different social classes live without communicate. When working on a novel, he would walk the streets of London, often at night, and draw inspiration from it.
Dickens created a vast range of characters: eccentrics, ogres, waifs, and rogues. Like Shakespeare, he was a great master of the English language. Create dialogue is unmatched by any other English novelist.
The most important character of Dickens' style is his humour.
He was a master of all tricks of the comic style: - caricature of physical or mental defects,
- humorous dialogue,
Dickens' characters represented a vivid picture of Victorian England. They derived from the lower and middle class.
His characters are too easily divided - particularly in his early novels - into good and bad.
As for the plots of his novels, they are all complex. They involve many characters, many parallel stories - plot and sub-plots - intrigue, often mystery, and incredible coincidences.
Critics tended to regard him as a great comic writer, whose plots were implausibie and whose characterisation was superficial, contemporary critics tend to see his works as combining social realism (with metaphor and symbolism).
Oliver Twist (1837-38
A metà del secolo scorso Oliver, un trovatello inglese, si affaccia fiducioso alla vita, ma questa gli riserva
un'accoglienza molto dura: prima un collegio che è una vera prigione, poi un lavoro miserabile con gente che
lo maltratta, poi l'incontro con una banda di ragazzi sbandati addestrati al furto da un vecchio farabutto . Un
raggio di sole arriva quando un vecchio, paterno signore si interessa a lui, lo accoglie con affetto. Ma non è
finita: i loschi interessi della banda richiedono, la presenza di Oliver, che viene rapito al suo benefattore e
rischia di ripiombare nel mondo della malavita. Ma c'è una ragazza che, nonostante tutto, trova un pò dì pietà
per quel bambino indifeso e lo salva, permettendogli a costo della vita, di tornare a un'esistenza serena.
Science and Evolution
Scientific discoveries marked the beginning of rationalism and positivism.Victorian writers were particularly interested in the ethical problems raised by science.
Charles Darwin's "Origin of species" stated the evolution of man from apes.
Charles Darwin became interested in geology and biology at Cambridge. He made along voyage to the South Seas aboard The Beagle, as a Naturalist.
'Woman Question' was invented by the Victorians. The Victorian women were the first to
speak about a "feminist movement". Now, infact, they could take a degree, even if, they weren't allowed to go to Oxford and Cambridge. Some women rebelled against this state of things. The most famous was Florence Nightingale who, against her parents began a career in nursing and hospital administration.
New features of the Victorian Novel
The novels published in the second half of the nineteenth century are different from those of the Victorian period.
In this period, infact, were more interesting the study of characters' psychology.
A general realistic trend
The late Victorian novel based on realism, already visible in George Eliot's "Adan Bede". George Eliot was interested in people's jobs, and to use dialect as a means of characterisation.
The writers of "the late Victorian Age" used to write in a realistic way, because of the influence of Darwinism and Positivism.
The extreme, or most rigorous, form of realism was called Naturalism and came from France.
The major characters are rebellious and unconventional.
There were two genres:
The ghost story not Italian castles, but Victorian houses.
- The detective story.
The term Aestheticism, or_the Aesthetic Movement, is used to refer to a movement in the visual and literary arts. Sensual pleasures and the cult of beauty were important for the Aesthetic movements. Its major representatives was Oscar Wilde.
The theory of Aestheticism: Walter Pater
Walter Pater was an Aesthetic Poetry.He saw that to ht the Brevity of human life the writers had to devote himself to pleasure (PIACERI
"Art for Art's sake" was the slogan of Aestheticism; and for this art had not any moral basis.
They were called Decadents because of their life-style and 'immoral' writings.
The Decadents gradually moved away from simple natural things, and preferred the artificial and the exotic. They theorised infact the use of drugs to find (TROVARE ) forbidden pleausures.
Wilde was born in Dublin, in a very important family. He studied at the Trinity College.
The Oxford influence
At Oxford he was immediately attracted to the Aesthetic Movement, particularly as elaborated in Walter Pater's The Renaissance, which remained his favourite book. Wilde had a reputation as a brilliant conversationalist.
After, Wi1de moved to London where he established his reputation as the most refined of the 'aesthetic young men'.
He assumed extravagant habits against the middle class of his time.
His brillant wit (INTELLIGENZA) was succeful in the upper class represented in his comedies.
In 1883 he married Constance Lloyd, and they had two children. His first important works were written a series of fables, and some short stories.
Wilde's first literary success came in 1890 with a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was an exhibition of extreme decadentism and a mystery story. Then he produced Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The importance of Being Earnest, still regarded as the perfect comedy of its type.
Wilde's social and literary success changed in 1895, when he was arrested and sent to prison with hard labour in Reading for his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquess of Queensbury (homosexuality was a serious criminal offence).
His period in prison gave him the inspiration for two of his greatest works, which inevitably reflect a new more somber view of life: The Ballad of Reading Gaol, on the way prison changes a man, and De Profundis, a long autobiographical letter reflecting on his change of fortunes and the ironies of life and art.
Then he went to France under the name of Sebastian Melmoth. In Paris, Wilde lived a miserable existence as social exile, supported by money from his friends, and died in a small hotel.