Victorian Age (1837-1900) is remarkable for the rapid development of the art, mechanical inventions, and for the human knowledge by the discoveries of the science. “Victorian Compromise” is a commonly used term which needs no comments. The period was marked by freedom from wars and internal strife.
The calmness of the period makes the Victorians complacency; hence, we also have the term “Victorian Complacency”. Victorian Age was an age of the prose and poetry, the age of newspaper, the magazine, and the modern novel. Most important, the novel in this age fills a place which the drama held in the days of Elizabeth; and never before, in any age or language, has the novel appeared in such numbers and in such perfection. The novelists of the age, like Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and many more, paints the graphic picture of the ugliness of industrialism, i.e., Dickens’s Hard Times. In this age, literature seems to depart form the purely artistic standard of art for art’s sake and to be actuated by a definite moral purpose:
“God is in heaven
And all is right with the world”.
Clough, who is overwhelmingly believed to be pessimist, could write such an encouraging and optimistic line “If hopes are dupes, fears may be liars”. Indeed, this was the age in which such a prayer as under was composed “Lead Kindly Light” which became a favourite of such important dignitaries as Mahatma Gandhi. Victorian society was famous for the male even though, Becky Sharp and Tess were the women of the society. In first forty years of the Victorian age no dramas were composed and it was Ibsen who started the drama but no account of revival of English drama can be complete without a consideration of the contribution of Bernard Shaw who brought to the English stage, a type of drama entirely new, Comedy of Purpose.
Pre-Raphaelite was a group of 19th-centtury English painters who called themselves 'the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood' and sought to return to a style and spirit prevalent before the time ofthe Italian artist Raphael (1483-1520).Oxford Dictionary. The term was first used by a brotherhood of German artists who worked together in the convent of San Isodoro, in Rome, with the idea of restoring art of its mediaeval purity and simplicity. The term generally refers to a company of seven men—Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his brother William, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, James Collinson, Fredrick George Stevens, and Thomas Woolner—who formed “the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (1848). The official literary organ of Pre-Raphaelite was called The Germ, in which much of the early work of Morris and Rossetti appeared. They too for their models the early Italian painters whom, they declared, were “simple, sincere, and religious”. Their purpose was to encourage simplicity and naturalness in art and literature; and one of their chief objects, in face of doubt and materialism, was to express the “wonder, reverence, and awe” which characterizes madaevial art. The poetry written by this school, by Rossetti in particular, was highly sensuous and sometimes even sensual, as it expressed the beauty of human body. Keats, Coleridge, Tennyson, Scotts and Byron had already taken us to the middle ages in their works, now, the Pre-Raphaelite take us there under the influence of some aesthetic and sensuous urge which sometimes creates a fairyland like atmosphere, not reality found on earth. But there is some sort of superficiality and artificiality in the Pre-Raphaelite poetry since it is far removed from real life. In its efforts to create special gorgeous effects, even the spirituality taken recourse to is mere what Legouis calls “Pale Spirituality,” that is why, it was sharply attacked by Robert Buchanan in an article entitled The Flashy School of Poetry which appeared in Contemporary Review (1871).
Interior monologue or “Soliloquy is the act of taking to oneself, whether silently or aloud. In drama it denotes the convention by which a character, alone on the stage, utters his or her own thoughts aloud” remarks M.H. Abrams. Soliloquy was it its height during the Elizabethan age but it died a natural death with Browning whose greatest discovery was the dramatic monologue—though he did not invent the form. The main stuff of dramatic monologue (which “is a lengthy speech by a single person”) is speaker’s personality and the situation in which he speaks. It seems more apt to the portraiture of the person, so individual as to be abnormal, fanatic and even madman. A glance at even the titles that Browning gave to his work show that how strong the dramatic elements in him: Dramatic Lyric (1842),Dramatic Romances and Lyric (1845), Man and Women (1855), Dramatic Romances (1858), Dramatic Personae (1864).In a dramatic monologue a speaker lays bare his soul that is why Browning’s monologues are called “soul studies”. In Browning words: “The soul is the stage moods and thoughts are characters”. Browning takes us to the ranging situation in his dramatic monologues. He shows us rejected lover in The Last Ride Together but would be satisfied if she would agree for last ride with him. When she grants his request he feels himself lucky and says:
“Fail I alone in words and deed?
Why all men strive and who succeed?”
Similarly, the reader very easily understood that the speaker of Rabbi Ben Ezra is an old man who glorifies the old age
“Grow old with me
Best is yet to be
For which the first was made.”
In conclusion, Browning evolved the dramatic monologue to its fullest extent and even today he remains as the greatest poet of this poetic form.
Elegic Note in Arnold
Arnold had no wish to be great in that department of poetry in which he is, in truth, the greatest of our poets, the department of elegy and reflection. “The main element of the modern spirit’s life is neither the senses and understanding, nor the heat and imagination; it was the poetry of reason.” In this last phrase we have the germ of poetry of pessimism which is full of:
“Hath reality neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor space, nor held of pain,”
It was the endeavour of intellectualise the visions of the imaginative life that led Arnold, Clough, Fitzgerald, and James Thomson into that mood of wistful melancholy; that crystallized soon into a more or less pessimistic criticism of life. Arnold is the greatest poet of the elegiac or pessimistic poet of the Victorian Age, who, as Huge Walker says: “found the outlet of his native melancholyof the Victorian cry…” His poetry is profoundly melancholy and even the pastoral elegies are marked with a note of general pessimism. In “Dover Beach” Arnold hears the melancholy “long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith”. The poem is the best elegy on the death of the religious faith and his melancholy deepens into pessimism when he thinks of:
“……..the world which seems
To like before us. Like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new….”
“Memorial verses” has also been written on elegiac tone. Here the poet pays tribute to Goethe, Wordsworth, and Byron, who were the greatest poet of Europe. He morns the loss of Wordsworth:
But who ah! Who will make us feel?
The cloud of mortal destiny……..”
In the true elegiac tone, Arnold laments Wordsworth’s death in the following words:
“…………….. For few or none
Hears thy voice, now he’s gone”.
The twin perfections, The Scholar Gypsy and Thyrsis, sweet hesper-phosphor of elegy, shine unsetting, with Lycidas and Adonis, in a firmament where any neighbouring star is of secondary magnitude. But Arnold’s outlook on life is not without hope, in The Future he points, with all the keen appreciation of Morris, to the message of the past; and contrasts its large vitality and freshness with the jaded commercial restlessness of to-day. In The New Age he adverts again to the past, bidding us reverence its traditions. There is a touch of hope as well as of piety in A Summer Night; it has melancholy, but it has also a hard stoicism.
The novel had become an extremely popular genre during the Victorian age and a large number among the readers were women, in the same vein, a large number of the writers of the novels were also the women. The most popular of the women novelist is Mary Ann Evans who is known to us by her pen name George Eliot (1818-80), whose most famous novels are Adam Bade, the Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner. The general character of all those novels may be described, in the author’s own term, as psychological realism. This means that Eliot sough to do in her novels what Browning attempted in poetry; that is, to represent the inner struggle of a soul. The next in the category is three Bronte Sisters—Charlotte (1816-55), Emily (1818-48), and Anne (1820-49). Bronte sisters turned to the literature to relieve the loneliness and sadness of their own. All of Charlotte’s novels— Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849), the professor (1857), Vilette (1853)—abound in pictures of daily life. The next sister who was less gifted than Charlotte is Emily whose best work is Wuthering Heights (1847), a strong but morbid novel of love and suffering. Matthew Arnold said of her that, “for the portrayal of passion, vehemence, and grief,” Emily had no equal save Byron. Anne, like Emily, died of tuberculosis, after publishing Agnes Grey (1845) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1847). Their works were published under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The next woman novelist is Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson or Mrs. Gaskell (1810-65), whose first novel Mary Barton (1848) was a great success. Gaskell’s famous novel Cranford was published in 1853, same year she published her problem novel Ruth. If Eliot’s art is to be called “psychological realism” her art should be called both “psychological and descriptive realism.”
Art for Art’s Sake
“The doctrine is merely that though art may be ultimately concerned with morals, religion, and politics, and is finally to be judged in relation to a manner of living, it is itself autonomous, deals with a different grouping of emotions and has a different approach.” The Victorians and the Later The Aesthetic Movement (1830), originated in France by Gautier, was a reaction against the utilitarian cult of the beauty which, in England, became “art for art’s sake” (means “I’ art Pour I art,”) introduced by Walter Pater, with his advocacy of “love of art for its own sake.” The prose writers (Wilde, Stevenson) of the Victorian Age were more conscious of the art of prose writing than were their predecessors. “Art for art’s sake’ was the slogan they raised, which meant a reaction against ‘applied’ literature. Wilde pushed the aesthetics of art for art’s sake in different direction in The Critic as Artist: “emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art, and emotion for the sake if action is the aim of the life………………all art is immoral.” Wilde again in De Profunds says “I treat art as the supreme reality and life as a mere mode of fiction.” The aestheticism of later Victorians was an expression of the artist’s isolation. This looked back to Keats’s “negative capability,” and looked forward to Pound’s aestheticism, Yeats’s ideal of aristocracy, and Eliot’s impersonalism. Here is a Keatsian approach to literature, repugnant to any attempt of ‘palpable sign’ on art as well as life. What needs to be emphasized here is the fact that even though a reaction against the early Victorianism of priestly prose, the ‘art for art’s sake’ movement was not anti-realist. Apparently, it took closer to romanticism and far removed from realism; actually it was another branch of realism.
“Newman known for his leadership of the Oxford Movement,also called Tractarian movement, generally addressed to the position and function of the Church, as ‘more than a merely human institution’ and as possessing ‘privileges, sacraments, a ministry, ordained by Christ’.” The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford Movement (1833) was fundamentally religious in nature and had nothing to do with the Tory Politics. The movement was opposed to rationalism in the matters concerned with the Church as Chesterton writes in Victorian Age in Literature: "the oxford movement was, out of the very roots of its being, a rational movement, almost a rationalist movement.” The movement was allied with the Romantic Movement and derived much inspiration from the middle age, as Gates remarks: “the oxford movement stood for the restoration of the poetry ... and characterized the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.” “The soul of the Tracts,” John Henry Newman was summery of the Movement but John Keble was (1792-1866) “true and primary author.” Recognizing the power of press, the leaders chose literature for their instrument of reform, and by their “Tracts for the Time” they became known as Tractrians. The Oxford Movement failed in its immediate object in altering the character of English church, partly because many of its powerful leaders went to Rome. Nevertheless it inspired the poetry of Pre-Raphaelites and coloured the poetry of Rossetti, Hopkins, Patmore, Dixon, and Froude. The Oxford Movement had a profound effect in the intellectual life of the time. Though it could not effect a change in the fundamental character of the English Church, it showed to English men the historic continuity of their national Church. It was not merely a passing ripple on the surface of “the sea of faith.” According to J. Lewis May: "the work to which Newman and his coadjutors set their hand, in times long past, is not destroyed, nor could be.”
Just as drama was the predominant form in the Renaissance, essay in the Neo-Classical period, poetry in the Romantic era, so was the novel in Victorian period, wherein the novel fills a place which the drama held in the days of Elizabeth; and never before, in any age or language, has the novel appeared in such numbers and in such perfection. The novel was split into two distinct groups of early and later Victorian novelist. In early generation we have Thackeray, Dickens, Trollope, Disraeli, and Gaskell—who concerned with the “condition of England question,” thus, like Augustan poetry, these novelists largely concerned on the realistic life in London “that monstrous tuberosity of Civilized Life the Capital of England (Carlyle),” i.e., Dickens Bleak House, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, but these novelists also had a love for history, inspite of realistic touches, left by Walter Scott. Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, Thackeray’s Henry Esmond, Kingsley’s Westward Ho, Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth are historical novels which, unlike both the novel of the preceding and following era, were rather formless. The second period includes George Eliot, Meredith and Thomas Hardy—these were more “literary” and less “popular” but had more “academic” flavour and more poetic imagination. They shift the focus of novel from the city to the village with the Darwinian concepts of “struggle for the existence” and “survival of the fittest” like the novel Middlemarch and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jane Eyre. Unlike the early Victorians, the later Victorian made life and man-woman relationship of love and sex as the central preoccupation of their novels, i.e., Vanity Fair and Bleak House, and Wuthering Heights. Like the Elizabethan drama, the novel of the Victorian phase was written more for entertainment than for any serious artistic purpose but it offering a picture and criticism of the contemporary life.
Revival of Drama
The age of drama had, perhaps, ended with the Augustans, and thereafter, there had been no dramatist of any consequence for over one hundred Years. It was only around the close of the nineteenth century that the drama saw its Revival in England, with Ibsen, Synge, Yeats, Wells and Bernard Shaw, who regularly wrote for the stage and enlivened it. The leading Victorians made attempts to write dramatic literature but whatever they wrote had more of poetry than drama. For instance, Tennyson’s Queen Mary, (1875), Browning’s Strafford (1837), Arnold’s Merpoe (1858), were semicreations of the poetic drama. The causes of dramatic failure in the Victorian age are not hard to discover: Tennyson shows talent for pictorial description, Browning for portraying character, Arnold for depicting moods. Form the dramatic point of view, the first half of 19th century was almost completely barren. It was not until the nineties when the influence of Ibsen was making itself strongly felt, and Shaw produced his first days using the serious drama for consideration of social, domestic or personal problems. Ibsen claims the credit for extending the scope of Modern dramatist and he is credited with being the first major dramatist to write tragedy about ordinary people in prose, and was an important influence on Bernard Shaw. Ibsen's later works, such as The Master Builder (1892), deal increasingly with the forces of the unconscious and were admired by Sigmund Freud. No account of revival of English drama can be complete without Bernard Shaw who brought to the English stage, a type of drama entirely new—a type, which only few could follow—Comedy of Purpose. His best-known plays combine comedy with intellectual debate in challenging conventional morality and thought; they include Man and Superman (1903), Major Barbara (1907), Pygmalion (1913), Heartbreak House (1919), and St Joan (1923).
“The main element of the modern spirit’s life is neither the senses and understanding, nor the heat and imagination; it was the poetry of reason.” In this last phrase we have the germ of poetry of pessimis. It was the endeavour of intellectualise the visions of the imaginative life that led Arnold, Clough, Fitzgerald into that mood of wistful melancholy; that crystallized soon into a more or less pessimistic criticism of life. The pessimistic note is by no means dominant in Clough “a half hewn Matthew Arnold, left lying in the quarry” (Lucas), and cheerfulness will break, through at time, but there is more cloud than sunshine. Note the mood of frank cynicism and religious agnosticism:
“Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expenses of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipped, except the currency.”
There is even more cloud in work of his better accomplished contemporary, Matthew Arnold, the greatest pessimistic of the Victorian Age, who, as Huge Walker says: “found the outlet of his native melancholyof the Victorian cry…” In “Dover Beach” Arnold hears the melancholy “long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith,” which deepens into pessimism:
“.............. (Of) the world which seems
To like before us. Like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new…...”
Fitzgerald is a lover of solitude and mystery who resembles no one, but, of a comparison were hazarded, it might be said that he would find a place not far from Matthew Arnold. His poem, essentially pessimism intellectual, and calmly pathetic, combines an imaginative romanticism with the discipline of a sober form. In sum, these poets laid greater emphasis on poetry of reason and paved the way for the intellectualization of emotional life.
The Victorian age produced quite a large number of woman writers of verse. The greatest of these were Mrs. Elizabeth Barret Browning and Christina Rossetti. Mrs. Browning was more popular than her husband, Robert Browning during her life time. Their love story is now a classic romance in real life. Like browning she produced her last works “Sonnet from the Portuguese (1850) under the influence of love. The sonnets 44 in number, reflects the whole course of love and courtship. Before her marriage she had attain fame by a volume of short lyrics including Cowper’s Grave and Cry of Children. Aurora Leigh is her most important poem of later years. Almost epical in length it deals with social problems of the age, especially those of Victorian women. She belongs to romantic tradition and is essentially lyrical. Christina Rossetti was a great poet as her brother D.G. Rossetti. She was a religious woman and devoted to works of charity. She was a skilled sonnet writer, and wrote a sonnet sequence called Monna Innominata. The sonnet autobiographical and show deep sense of loss resulting from her attachments. Goblin Market is a fantastic tale with allegorical fairy tale. Her poetry possesses most of the characteristics of the Pre-Raphaelites poets, but unlike other poets she was a devout Christian. Her simplicity, spontaneity, sincerity and above all her bird-like singing give her poems grace and charm of her own. George Eliot wrote some verse but it is slight and unimportant. Emile Bronte show in her verse, not a little of fire and intensity which characterizes her novel Wuthering Heights. Procter who was a friend of Dickens wrote grave poems and hymns. Some of her hymns have been adopted for common use. Jean Jnglow who is today remembered by one poem Hightide on the “Cost of Lincoshire” attained fame with her religious poetry which is tender, graceful and moving. Augusta Webster was a noted Greek translator. Her poetry shows the influence of Browning. Alice Meynell’s poems are remarkable for their simplicity and restraint. Mary Coleridge, the great grand nice of Coleridge wrote pretty lyrics some of which have melancholy charms.