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Victorian Literature


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Title: Victorian Literature

Victorian Literature
  • 1837 - 1901

Victorian literature refers to literature written
during the 63-year reign of Queen Victoria
  • Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901. Currently
    her reign is the longest of any British monarch -
    63 years and 7 months. However, Queen Elizabeth
    II is well-poised to steal that record.

  • Some major events that took place during the
    Victoria era include
  • A huge growth in population. During Victoria's
    reign, the population of England more than
    doubled, from 14 million to 32 million.
  • There were also some significant improvements in
    technology. The Victorian era slightly overlaps
    with Britain's Industrial Revolution, which saw
    big changes to the way that people lived, worked,
    and traveled. These improvements in technology
    offered a lot of opportunities for the people in
    England but also represented a major upheaval in
    regards to how people lived their lives and
    interacted with the world. Those of us who were
    alive before the Internet should be able to
    relate. The Internet has made a lot of things
    easier, but it's also brought a lot of issues
    about personal privacy, how we communicate, and
    the potential for terrible things, like identity
    theft and cyber bullying.
  • Another characteristic of the Victorian era are
    changing world views. In addition to the major
    developments in technology, there were emerging
    scientific beliefs, like Charles Darwin's theory
    of evolution, and those things were changing how
    people in England thought about themselves and
    how they interacted with the world around them.
    Most notably, a lot of people were distancing
    themselves from the church and the belief in the
    Bibles inerrancy.
  • Finally, there were poor conditions for the
    working class. The Industrial Revolution led to
    the distance between the haves and have-nots
    growing rapidly, and many people (especially
    artists, like writers) felt obligated to speak
    out against what they believed to be societal

Victorian Prose Arguably the most well-known
Victorian writer was Charles Dickens. He wrote a
lot of novels about the struggles of the poor and
the battle between right and wrong. His
characters were really vivid but not terribly
nuanced, so it's pretty obvious from the get-go
who's good, who's bad, who can be reformed, and
who can't. Dickens himself had to leave school
early to work in a factory to support his family
after his father was sent to jail, so it's not
really surprising that many of his works,
including Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, have
protagonists who are good people that fall into
bad circumstances that they don't deserve -
something he could really relate to personally.
Dickens' novels usually end with every character
getting the kind of ending they deserve. So, the
good people get happy endings, and the bad people
get sad endings, and there really aren't that
many loose ends left at the end of the novel.
  • Dickens' Early Life
  • Charles Dickens' life is like something out of a
    Charles Dickens' novel, which is probably not a
  • He was born in 1812 in England, and he was the
    second of eight children.
  • Things were going super well for a while (which
    is not like a Charles Dickens novel). The family
    moved into a fancy home. They had servants. He
    was even going to a private school. Things were
  • Then it all came to an abrupt halt when his
    father was thrown into debtor's prison in 1824.
    As was common then, also, his mother and siblings
    were sent to debtor's prison at the same time.
  • Dickens had to go work at a factory at age 12
    that was overrun with rats, and his posh
    existence was upended, and it traumatized him.
    Suddenly, he was one of a ton of child laborers.
  • What's even worse is that even when his family
    did eventually get out of prison, his mother
    wanted him to keep working at the factory. So, he
    gets his family back, but he's still stuck doing
    this awful job. Fortunately, at least, he did get
    to go back to school. His father got him into a
    school in London, finally saving him from a life
    in the factory. More financial problems forced
    him out of that school in 1827.
  • He starts work as a law firm clerk. He also works
    as a reporter, which hones his writing a bit.
  • In 1830, he falls in love with a woman named
    Maria Beadnell. Her parents didn't approve, so
    they sent her off to finishing school in Paris to
    get her away from him.
  • In 1836, he married a woman named Catherine
    Hogarth. They'd go on to have 10 children.

  • Early Major Works
  • Prolific writer amazing literary output - tons
    of books!
  • He published his first short story in 1833. It
    was quickly followed by a flood of novellas,
    novels, plays and many, many stories.
  • His first full-fledged novel was called The
    Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (known as
    The Pickwick Papers). It was published in 19
    monthly installments from 1836 to 1837. It's a
    collection of stories loosely connected to each
  • Next, comes Oliver Twist, which is published,
    again, in installments in 1838. This is about a
    miserable orphan boy stuck in a workhouse.
    Dickens drew on his own experiences to write
  • After that, there were several more novels,
    including Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity
  • In 1842, Dickens goes to America. He comments on
    a variety of societal ills and political issues -
    important things, like condemning slavery, and
    losing battles, like fighting the rampant piracy
    of his novels.

A Christmas Carol published 1843

Copperfield published 1849

  • Dickens' Late Life and Works
  • Bleak House (1853)
  • Hard Times (1854)
  • In 1857, Dickens was starring in a play called
    The Frozen Deep. He had an affair with
    18-year-old Ellen Ternan, who was playing
    opposite him in the play. After his wife
    discovered the affair, Dickens separated from his
    wife and spent the rest of his days with Ellen.
  • During this time of turmoil, he wrote two of his
    greatest works
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • published in 1859
  • 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of
    times.' The novel is set in two cities, London
    and Paris, during the French Revolution. The plot
    deals with the good and the evil that came from
    the overthrowing of the French aristocracy. Best
    of times, worst of times theme of duality and
  • Great Expectations
  • Published in 1861
  • is about an orphan named Pip who is helping out a
  • Dickens was pretty prolific for a while, it
    declined around 1865. On June 9th of that year,
    he was in an almost fatal train accident. It was
    deadly for many people. Several train cars
    plunged off a bridge - his didn't - but he was
    quite rattled by the accident. He wrote a ghost
    story about it called The Signal-Man.
  • Five years later to the day, he died. It was
    1870, and he was one of the most popular authors
    in Victorian England at the time.

  • It is important to remember most of his works
    were published serially, which means that they
    were published in sections in magazines as he
    wrote them - like TV shows episodes. This kind
    of publication schedule can really change how you
    conceive of a novel and how it evolves.
  • It is also important to know that he loved a good
    satire. He liked to comment on social issues,
    particularly class and poverty. His satire can be
    funny, but it can also be kind of alarming. He
    was really into railing against social
    conditions, especially in factories and the
    things that he had experienced. For upper class
    readers, this shocked them. He really opened the
    door on much of the injustice that was going on.
  • He also combines awful, harrowing realism - like
    poor Oliver Twist and his early life - alongside
    very idealized things as well - like the
    transformation of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
    Also, he's not shy to be sentimental. Oliver
    Twist is ridiculously sentimental. This is not
    something that Dickens is trying to avoid.
  • Dickens has many great characters. Whether
    they're realistic, complex or caricatures, he's
    got great names in particular. He's got the
    Artful Dodger, Inspector Bucket, Martin
    Chuzzlewit, Mrs. Snagsby, Mr. Fezziwig, Uriah
    Heep - these are great names!