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English Literature and Culture II

Handout for Lecture 1 (14 September 2017)

The Victorian Age: “An age of transition” 1830-1901

A distinctive historical and literary period, named after the rule of Queen Victoria.
The social, political and cultural life of England undergoes dramatic changes, as a
result of which she turns into the world’s leading imperial power. (Steam power,
railways, printing presses, telegraph, photography, anesthetics, compulsory

The early period (1830-48): A time of troubles

1830 Liverpool-Manchaster Railway opened
1832 First reform Bill
1845-46 Potato Famine in Ireland
1846 Corn Laws
1848 European Revolutions
Bad harvests, unemployment, poverty, awful working and living conditions of the
working classes (child labour – Reading: The Children’s Employment
Commission), chartist movements, rioting, fears of revolution.

Literary representation: in the “Condition of England” novels (Benjamin Disraeli

(1845) Sybil: The Two Nations

The Mid-Victorian Period (1848-70): The Age of Improvement

1951 Great Exhibition
Crimean War, Indian Mutiny, American Civil War, Jamaica Rebellion
1867 Second Reform Bill
1868 Opening of Suez Canal
1870 Married Women’ Property Act, Elementary education

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert represent the main Victorian values: moral
responsibility, earnestness, domestic propriety. Free trade, economic prosperity,
expansion of worldwide influence, missionary societies.

Rationalist challenges to religious belief—Reading: The Age and its Sages

Jeremy Bentham – philosopher and social reformer: utilitarianism, John Stuart
Mill founded the Utalitarian Society
Thomas Carlyle – historian, writer: diagnosed the ills of capitalist society
Utilitarianism provided the bases of political and social reforms, but failed to
recognize spiritual needs.
John Ruskin– leading art critic and patron, social thinker, philanthropist.

Cardinal John Henry Newman–theologist, left the Anglican Church and became a
Catholic: Oxford Movement.
Charles Darwin – evolutionary scientist, Reading: The Descent of Man
Matthew Arnold–poet and cultural critic, sceptical about development.

“The young men and women of our day are fast parting from their parents and
each other; the more thoughtful are wandering either towards Rome, towards
sheer materialism, or towards an unchristian and unphilosophic spiritualism “
(Charles Kinsley)

The Late Period (1870-1901): Decay of Values

1871 First Women’s College
1877 Queen Victoria Empress of India
1885 Massacre in India
1899 Irish Literary Theater in Dublin
1890 First subway in London
1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War

The prosperity and security of the Jubilee years turns London into a flourishing
city with booming consumerism. The strength of the Empire inside and outside
Britain is undermined by wars and rebellions. Germany, the US and Canada are
economic competitors. Rising rate of emigration.

Critical voices are strengthening and gaiety is replaced by melancholy. In the

1990s the social and moral values are rapidly changing, with the rise of the
aesthetic movement modernism takes shape.

The Role of Women is rapidly changing from “The Angel in the House” to the
“New Woman”– Reading: Walter Besant: The Transformation of women’s status
between 1837-97
Upheaval in literacy, publication and reading, popularity of serial publication.

Discussion topics:
Who were the most influential thinkers of the Victorian age?
Summarise the relevant features of different periods of the early/mid/late Victorian
period in terms of economic, social and cultural changes!

 Victoria slang: tickle one’s innards, neck oil, beer and skittles, boiled owl,
jammiest bit of jam, tallywag, crinkum-crankum, gas-pipes.

Useful and interesting website for further study:


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