The Victorian Age



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The Victorian novel: the Victorian period can be considered the golden age of the novel, and the novelists assured a role of great social importance. The novelist in this period frequently published their work in instalments in literary magazine and periodicals. One of the most popular genres was the novel of formation which traced the life of the protagonist from infancy to early adulthood. The novelist felt a moral and social responsibility to portray the society in a realistic way, denouncing its injustice and iniquities. The narrator of the Victorian novel is typically omniscient like a moral guide and like an instrument for analysing the psychology of the characters.
Early Victorian novelists: Charles dickens is the most representative literary figure of the Victorian age. He is the first truly urban novelist. Many of his novel was set in London, and in them he captures the incredible vitality of life in the city, as well as the squalor and deprivation that many of its inhabitants were forced to endure. He wrote about each social class of the time, from the upper middle class to the most unfortunate members of the society_ his characters give the voice to the whole panorama of social classes/ Dickens’ characters are not realist and his administration of moral justice is also unrealistic. William Makepeace Thackeray like dickens became his literary life as a journalist. His most important novel is vanity fair, where the novel is highly critical of the shallowness of the Victorian world, which is based on money and appearances.
Women ‘s voice: the Victorian idea of woman’s role in the society can be best summarised by “an angel in the home”-> women right were restricted, but the most important novelist in the Victorian age was women like the bronthe sisters who rebelled against jane austen’s world of order and restraint, their novels were romantic in spirit and explored extremes of passion and violence.
Late Victorian novelist: the noves after Darwin are representative of growing crisis in the moral and religious values. Thomas hardy’s novels display a pessimistic essentially tragic view of the world, many of hardy’s character are often in conflict with the values of a narrow-minded society-> tess the heroine is punished for her sensual, passionate nature; seduced and abandoned by a man who is her social superior she takes revenge and kills him, an act which must be punished by law.
Charles Dickens: was born in 1812 near Portsmouth where his father was a clerk. At the age of 12 his father was imprisoned for debts and he was sent to work in a blacking factory, a traumatic experience which marked him for life. Hard Times: It is a denunciation of the wrongs of society and the terrible conditions of industrial workers. HARD TIMES. Thomas Gradgrind is a teacher, he believes in facts and figures. He lives in Coketown (a fantastic town in the north of England_coke is a type of coal). He believes that life should only centre around practical matters and that the use of the imagination is a time-wasting distraction from the serious world of the real life. Their children have been educated in a rational way, he has stopped all their imaginative impulses, as he does at school. In his class there is Sissy Jupe, his father is a circus worker (the circus is in contrast with Thomas Gradgrind). Louisa, his daughter, marries Bounderby, a factory owner, for whom her brother works, but she is unhappy and when Harthouse, a politician, tries to seduce her, she goes to Thomas to ask him protection. Gradgrind has a crise of values. Tom robs his employer and he’s forced to leave the country. Gradgrind finally admits that his theories on life and how to bring up children have been proved wrong.
Tomas Hardy: was born near dorchster in dorset in 1840. his father was a master mason, and at the age of 16 was apprenticed to a local architect. At 22 he went to London to follow his profession. In this period he read a lot, led a busy life and lost his religion faith and became a pessimistic and a naturalist. In his novel Wessex was the unifying element between the present and the paste and where often the story took place. Love for him was a failure and often destroy by institutions like marriage and society and by fate. For him the man was predestined to failure, he cannot find any help in love, society, institution or god. With tess of the D’urbervilles and jude the obscure ha was attacked by critics for his pessimism and immorality.
Tess of the D’urbervilles: it tells the story of a young girl of a poor Wessex family, who finds out of being th descendant of a famous ancient family, the D'Ubervilles. Then Tess the eldest daughter goes for help to a rich supposed relative, Alec, the merchant’s son seduces and gets her pregnant; tess gives birth to a child who is sickly and soon dies. She then moves to another valley to start a new life . Some years later Tess falls in love with Angel Clare the son of parson and accepts his proposal of marriage. After their marriage on the wedding night, she confesses her past experience to him. Angel, shocket and disillusioned, abandons her and goes to Brazil. Alone and poor, she becomes a field worker, always hoping for his return. But one day she meets Alec and becomes his mistress. When Angel returns she murders Alec to liberate herself, later she is finally arrested ( while symbolically sleeping on the stone of sacrifice at Stonehenge).Features of the novel: Tess embodies the mystery of the woman in her indefinability, in terms of moral conventions of Victorian fiction and ideology Tess on account of her seduction should be considered a fallen woman, who is a woman pure in heart but who commit sin, but hardly, to the fury of his critics, never judges Tess as a fallen woman

Economy and society The Victorian age took its name from Queen Victoria, whose reign (1837 – 1901) was the longest in the history of England. It was a period of economical and territorial expansion. The modern urban economy of manufacturing industry and international trade took over from the old agricultural economy. “Free trade” became the dominant economic ethos without changes in the political and social structure. Britain was the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. This was the result of material exploitation of its growing number of colonies. With the revival of revolutionary activity in continental Europe, the unsettled masses of the urban poor were perceived as a potential danger to the existing order of things and gradually over the century steps were taken to incorporate portions of the working classes into society through a series of reforms and progressive policies.
The pressure for reform After the French Revolution, Britain had turned politically conservative. Industrial regions of the country were not so well represented, votes had to be declared publicly, was often subject to bribery or intimidation. These factors gave rise to the working class Chartist movement. The Chartists' demands contained six points: votes for all males; annually elected parliaments; payment of Members of Parliament; secret voting; abolition of the property qualification for candidates seeking election; the establishment of electoral districts equal in population. The People's Charter was rejected three times over a period of 10 years. The third petition was rejected in 1848, the year that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote their Communist Manifesto denouncing the alienation of labour under capitalist organisation, and revolution was erupting again across Europe. In Britain however, there was no such risk of a mass uprising. The Chartists were poorly organised and split by internal differences. All their demands, except that for an annually elected parliament became law between 1860 and 1914. A series of reform bills in the second half of the century gradually extended the vote to members of the working classes until the first demand of the Chartists, that of giving all men the right to vote, was granted in 1918. Women, however, had to wait until 1928 before they too were all able to vote.
Technological innovation The mid 19th century was also a time of great technological innovation: the invention of steam-powered machinery, the development of railways, became faster and more efficient, leading to the rapid expansion of urban centres. The Great Exhibition (1851) held in Crystal Palace (London), became a symbol for Britain's dominant position as an industrial and imperial trading power. Communications were also greatly improved thanks to a more efficient mail service and the invention of the telephone. Printing became cheaper, which led to a proliferation of literary production of all types. The age was characterised by a general feeling of optimism.
The cost of living At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Britain's home economy mostly revolved around agriculture and the textile industry. Mechanisation meant increased competition. The prices of finished products fell, although profits stayed high thanks to increased sales. But high production costs decreased the manufacturers' profit margin. The only solution was to cut production costs, which was most easily done by the direct cutting of wages. The cost of living, however, was kept artificially high by the Corn Laws which maintained the price of corn in Britain at an unrealistically high level. As a result there was widespread starvation. It was the combination of these factors that sent masses of people to the cities to look for work in factories.
Poverty and the Poor Laws The price of corn was kept artificially high by the Corn Laws, paupers risked starvation and could not feed their children. In order to solve this problem, the children were declared destitute and, forced to separate from their families, were sent to work in parish-run workhouses, in return for which they received barely enough food to survive. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that poverty was to be widely recognised as a social problem.
Managing the empire The Victorian period saw the massive expansion of British Empire all over the world, from Asia to Africa to Central America to Oceania. This expansion was due to the need to protect trade routes to and from Britain’s main imperial “property”, India, the so-called “Jewel in the Crown” of Empire. It had been administrated since the 17th century by the East India Company, which had employed bribery and violence to take control of the country’s resources. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 led to the closure of the Company and the administration of Indian territories was taken over by the British government. In 1876 Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India to consolidate popular support for the Empire. Trade with India included tea, spices, silk and cotton and it was vital to the British economy that routes across land and sea be secured. It was partly for this reason that Britain “annexed” a number of territories including South Africa, Egypt, Burma, Malaysia and Afghanistan. But control of these routes was made more difficult by political instability. On the Asian front, Russian aggression threatened the already weak and collapsing Ottoman Empire, leading to joint British and French military intervention and the disastrous campaigns of the Crimean War during the 1850s. In South Africa the claims of the Dutch settlers eventually provoked another conflict: the Boer Wars. These wars were enormously expensive and failed to defeat the Boers. During the second half of the 19th century, both Germany and France rose to become economic powers in their own right and began to rival Britain’s position of imperial dominance in Africa. Another more independent part of British Empire was Oceania, which had originally served as a prison colony to which undesirable elements of British society such as criminals and political agitators had been transported. Later, Australia began to develop as a white colony in its own right, establishing a modern agricultural and industrial society based on the British model.
The Victorian compromise: The urban workers continued to live in conditions of abject poverty while being systematically exploited by their rich employers. To confront the appalling conditions of the urban environment, the government promoted a campaign to clean up towns devastated by epidemics, and built modern-hospitals. The police helped to safeguard the law but at the same time had the function of controlling the masses of the urban poor, since the law was invariably on the side of property owners. In the minds of many wealthy Victorians, the poor were not victims of circumstance but a dirty, dangerous and immoral species. However, the Victorian ideal represented by such values as church, family, the home and the sanctity of childhood applied only to those happy few who could afford them. Middle-class women were expected to conform to a submissive and pious domestic role - the so-called angel in the home. By stepping outside of this role, a respectable woman could ruin her reputation. Similarly, the idea of childhood as a paradisal golden age, propagated by the children's literature of the time, masked the fact that the children of the poor were forced into labour at an extremely early age and often separated from their families.