Victorian England

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The Victorian era, from the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 until her death in 1901, was an era of several unsettling social developments that forced writers more than ever before to take positions on the immediate issues animating the rest of society. Thus, although romantic forms of expression in poetry and prose continued to dominate English literature throughout much of the century, the attention of many writers was directed, sometimes passionately, to such issues as the growth of English democracy, the education of the masses, the progress of industrial enterprise and the consequent rise of a materialistic philosophy, and the plight of the newly industrialized worker. In addition, the unsettling of religious belief by new advances in science, particularly the theory of evolution and the historical study of the Bible, drew other writers away from the immemorial subjects of literature into considerations of problems of faith and truth.Nonfiction The historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, in his History of England (5 volumes, 1848-1861) and even more in his Critical and Historical Essays (1843), expressed the complacency of the English middle classes over their new prosperity and growing political power. The clarity and balance of Macaulay's style, which reflects his practical familiarity with parliamentary debate, stands in contrast to the sensitivity and beauty of the prose of John Henry Newman. Newman's main effort, unlike Macaulay's, was to draw people away from the materialism and skepticism of the age back to a purified Christian faith. His most famous work, Apologia pro vita sua (Apology for His Life, 1864), describes with psychological subtlety and charm the basis of his religious opinions and the reasons for his change from the Anglican to the Roman Catholic church.Similarly alienated by the materialism and commercialism of the period, Thomas Carlyle, another of the great Victorians, advanced a heroic philosophy of work,...
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