Dr. Frank Fennel
Out with the Old in with the New
The Victorian Age transformed the minds of the people of Europe. It challenged the ideas and views they came to understand, it created uproars of movements and different bodies of thinking. The growth of an age can be seen through the people who’ve lived through it and how their lives have changed. England quickly became a developing world power with these movements. During the span of this semester, we have studied and learned how this change came to be. We studied the literature of the period, the catalysts to forward and rational thinking, where people and writers alike sympathized with one another. Victorian literature is characterized by a strong sense of morality, frequently supporting the oppressed, whether it is women, children, or the poor. Ideas of economics, politics, science, philosophy, and the arts, all shaken, not stirred, within this ravaging time of upheaval. Charles Darwin ranted about his theory of evolution; Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote about nature contrasting with the supernatural, even an influential woman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, exposed us to the wrongdoings of child labor. These individuals criticized the world they lived in, pondered the questions of morality and justice, and sought to change the ideas that their world believed to be right and just. The literature we have studied in this course became very influential to the times, and it even reflects back to us as readers. When we read Victorian literature, we put it into context we can only imagine, the social injustices, the abuse of power and the severe economic inequalities of the Victorian period. The Victorian period boasted many different types of genres, each contributing to the major changes that are happening in Victorian England. We focus on a major novel that characterizes a society based upon the people who inhabit it; we focus on George Elliot’s Middlemarch and its importance to the progress of the Victorian society. We can compare and contrast it to the some of works of Robert Browning, such as his “The Bishop Orders his Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church,” or the enlightening “Love Among the Ruins” and find similar identities within both author’s writings. Although both are different genres, Browning’s poetry and Elliot’s novel relay similar ideas, just in different ways. When we had read “Love Among the Ruins” by Browning, we described a binary between the city and the pastoral, complexity versus simplicity. As a modern reader, one can take this binary and ask the same question about our lives, which one is better? We live in a world of progressive technologies that allow us to communicate with each other instantly and from almost anywhere. But how does this technology affect our physical relationships with each other? Being able to text someone isn’t the same as hearing their voice, remembering how it sounds, and putting a face to that voice. But the speaker’s reluctance to side with one or the other shows that new sometimes isn’t better. “ Earth’s returns For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin! Shut them in, With their triumphs and their glories and the rest! Love is best” (80-84). In the end, the speaker chose love, which corresponds to the simplistic side of this binary. We can see a similar battle between old and new in Middlemarch, with Lydgate’s new methodology of medicine against the more established, old-fashioned doctors. In fact, the title of this section of the book is called “Old and Young,” raising a flag in my mind about binary of complex and simple. Lydgate’s character, a young surgeon, has been noted to be different, a “discoverer.” “The man was still in the making, as much as the Middlemarch Doctor and immortal discoverer, and there were both virtues and faults capable of shrinking or expanding” (Elliot). Old usually refers to something simpler, old technologies that are simple to use, whereas young can refer to new...