Three Characteristics of Victorian Literature

Posted: May 13, 2009 in The Craft of Writing
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During the days of Queen Victoria, poets wrote about bohemian ideas and further the imaginings of the romantic poets. According to Professors Carol Christ and Catherine Robson in “The Victorian Age”, “…Victorian poetry shares a number of characteristics…It tends to be pictorial, using detail to construct visual images that represent the emotion or situation the poem concerns.” (p. 997, par 2) While most writers use imagery and the senses to convey scenes, the Victorian writers went further using this imagery and other common elements. The poems, through sensory images, the struggle between religion and science, and sentimentality creates a journey for readers into the minds and hearts of the people of the Victorian age.

Of these themes, perhaps the most obvious is the use of sensory elements. Lord Alfred Tennyson lives up to this expected characteristic in his works. One notable example is the poem “Mariana”, in which Tennyson writes, “The doors upon their hinges creaked; / The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse / Behind the moldering wainscot shrieked.” (p. 1113, ln 62-64) This image of the creaking door, the blue fly singing in the window, and the mouse with the moldy wood paneling all work together to create a very defined image of an active, yet lonely farmhouse in which Shakespeare’s lady waits.

Although the entire poem is lengthy, “In Memoriam” contains Tennyson’s exploration of his feelings of the emerging scientific notions of his day.(p 1138-1188) In stanza fifty-five, Tennyson makes his concerns clear. He writes, “Are God and Nature then at strife, / That Nature lends such evil dreams?”(ln 5-6) Tennyson seems disheartened by the clash of religion and science, and wonders to himself why nature is offering up such strange and seemingly evil ideas through science. This idea that God and nature are at odds epitomizes the struggle.

Another of these common Victorian characteristics in poetry is sentimentality. For Tennyson, this element is readily available. In “Tears, Idle Tears” from “The Princess”, he writes that the tears “Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, / In looking on the happy autumn-fields, / And thinking of the days that are no more.” (p. 1135, ln 3-5) What reader hasn’t seen autumnal fields or some other happy landscape where childhood and innocence were spent, then looked back with longing hearts to times that will never come again?

This use of sensory stimulating terms, sentimentality, and the exposition of the struggle between God and science are typical. There are several other common themes, such as concerns over education, as well. However, to understand the thoughts of the Victorian people, one can look simply at the styles and the largest concerns of their poets.

 

Works Cited

Greenblatt, S., & M. H. Abrams, e. a. (Eds.). (2006). The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Eighth ed., Vol. D). New York, NY, USA: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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