The Victorian Era

1. When was it?


2. Who was writing?

William ThackerayCharles Dickens
Alfred, Lord TennysonCharlotte Brontë
Emily BrontëAnne Brontë
George EliotRobert Browning
Thomas HardyDante Gabriel Rossetti
Christina RossettiOscar Wilde

3. History

The Victorian Age was the height of the British Empire. The largest empire in history, it ruled over nearly a quarter of the world’s population and was described as ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’ (albeit that phrase was originally given to the Spanish Empire of the 16th and 17th centuries).
Supporting this empire was Britain’s military strength (particularly the navy), finance, technology, and industry. Additionally, its established parliamentary system and the longevity of Victoria’s popular reign meant internal worries were suitably minimal to pursue aggressive colonialism. Colonised regions were managed with a mixture of advancement in industry and transport; deals with local leaders, military and police against regional forces; and force. It was during this time that the English language spread across the world.
Whilst politics and international trade were mostly based in London, the Victorian industrial powerhouses were in England’s north-west and Glasgow. Both regions, however, suffered from great inequality between those who owned the power and businesses, and their generally unprotected workers. Despite the empire’s riches, many were working in poor conditions.
The class system had governed England for hundreds of years, and the Victorian era did not change this. Etiquette and social rules governed the upper class, with the boarding school system continuing to train future leaders. Elements of society were slowly opened to others, with the women’s suffrage movement beginning. However the majority of those managing Victorian society remained privately educated, rich, male, and white.
As the Victorian era finished it became entwined with the ‘fin-de-siècle’ (‘end of the century’) movement, primarily growing out of France, in which society was criticised for being overly decadent and materialistic. The hope was that the new century would be more moral, and the entente cordiale signed between the UK and France in 1904 suggested peace. Unfortunately conflict was brewing in many regions.

4. Traits

The Victorian age is widely seen as the moment in which prose writing replaced poetry in English literature. Poetry was popular at the beginning of the reign – and poets such as Tennyson are regarded as greats – but by 1901 most successful writers were dealing in prose. Yet many of the Victorian novels that would later become part of the literary canon were not initially written as full books: the style of the time was to write episodically, with new chapters arriving in monthly literary magazines.
In terms of style and substance, Victorian writers are often seen today as realists, most noticeably in their portrayal of social class, grinding poverty, and the constraints of relationships. However, at the time the audience also had a hunger for mysteries, detective fiction, romance and horror. Increased literacy rates meant there was a new hunger for books that reflected the everyday man rather than religion or monarchy, as well as curious revelations of the idiocy, unfairness, nobility and family concerns of the elite. In short, the Victorian era was a time when reading became a source of mass entertainment rather than elite pastime, and books became commodities to sell a wide variety of styles to a whole array of tastes.

5. Timeline

6. Examples

The Charge of the Light Brigade 
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Know Your Book

Title: The Charge of the Light Brigade
Author: Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Alfred Tennyson) (1850-1894)
Published: 1854
Language: English
Genre: Poetry; narrative poem
Synopsis: The poem narrates a military folly on 25 October 1854 during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. A British cavalry unit called The Light Brigade is mistakenly sent on a mission into heavy Russian defences. As the unit charges down a valley they are sitting ducks, walled in and receiving fire from three sides. The poem expresses the misguided heroism at the start of the charge, followed by their swift slaughter.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Great Expectations 
by Charles Dickens

Know Your Book

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Published: 1860-1861
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; novel; bildungsroman
Plot: Orphan Pip visits the house of eccentric Miss Havisham. Here, he falls in love with her adopted daughter Estella. Years later, Pip anonymously receives money to train as a blacksmith in London. Now a young man, Pip and his friend Herbert discover that Pip’s benefactor is not Miss Havisham but an escaped convict to whom Pip showed kindness years earlier. The two decide to help this man. Meanwhile, two names from Pip’s past return to cause him trouble, and Estella breaks his heart.
Setting: Kent; London; mid-19th century
Characters: Pip (narrator); Estella; Miss Havisham; Herbert Pocket; Abel Magwitch; Joe Gargery; Dolge Orlick

Excerpt from Chapter 29:

Then, Estella being gone and we two left alone, she turned to me, and said in a whisper,—
“Is she beautiful, graceful, well-grown? Do you admire her?”
“Everybody must who sees her, Miss Havisham.”
She drew an arm round my neck, and drew my head close down to hers as she sat in the chair. “Love her, love her, love her! How does she use you?”
Before I could answer (if I could have answered so difficult a question at all) she repeated, “Love her, love her, love her! If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces,—and as it gets older and stronger it will tear deeper,—love her, love her, love her!”
Never had I seen such passionate eagerness as was joined to her utterance of these words. I could feel the muscles of the thin arm round my neck swell with the vehemence that possessed her.
“Hear me, Pip! I adopted her, to be loved. I bred her and educated her, to be loved. I developed her into what she is, that she might be loved. Love her!”
She said the word often enough, and there could be no doubt that she meant to say it; but if the often repeated word had been hate instead of love—despair—revenge—dire death—it could not have sounded from her lips more like a curse.
“I’ll tell you,” said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, “what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter —as I did!”