This detailed painting by popular Victorian painter William Frith depicts a realistic family celebrating a child's birthday. This painting scene echoes the style of Victorian novels that provide detailed visual descriptions of the characters and their environment.
The literary period known as the Victorian period spanned many years and produced many authors who wrote in different styles on a rich variety of subjects. In order to understand the history and culture of this time of rapid change, it is useful to separate the timelines into three sections, as outlined below. However, it is less convenient to classify the works of individual authors into those three categories, since many authors wrote in two or three of the mentioned periods. Therefore, authors are listed by genre, roughly in the order in which they began publishing.
I suggest you first read "TIME PLAN / Significant historical dates"; then proceed to view the list of authors and their works. Look back at these dates to see what happened when a particular work was written or published.
SEE THIS POST for historicalbackground and literary trends of English Victorian literature.
Read resources—find free texts online:
This site is a rich collection of all things Victorian. Click on the "Victorian Texts" menu item for links to the original texts and critical commentary on many of them. A fun and informative place to explore.
This site is a treasure trove of free eBooks, available for download in multiple formats. Most of the great Victorian authors are represented here.
Contains information on many aspects of Victorian life and culture, including a section on Victorian costume. It can help readers imagine what characters in famous novels must have looked like.
A quick and readable overview of Victorian history and culture.
Sunset by Samuel Palmer
Important historical dates:
1832-1848: Early Victorian rapid industrialization and economic struggles
1830: The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world's first public steam-powered railway, opens
1832: First Reform Act extends suffrage to men with less property than previously required; the result was a transfer of more political power to the cities and towns and away from the old landed interests
1833: Slavery Abolition Act; Factory Act (initiated the reform of working conditions for child workers and others)
1837: Victoria becomes Queen
1840: Victoria marries Prince Albert.
1842: Chartist riots (arising from a reform movement of the working class); copyright law; Mudie's Circulating Library established.
1845-6: Potato famine in Ireland
1846: Repeal of the Corn Laws (end of tariffs that increased the price of corn, aid to the poor)
1849-1870: Mid or "High" Victorian - Prosperity and Empire
1850: Tennyson succeeds Wordsworth as Poet Laureate
1851: The Great Exhibition of Science and Industry in the Crystal Palace
1854: Crimean War; Florence Nightingale organizes nurses to care for the wounded
1857: Indian Rebellion
1861: Death of Prince Albert
1865: Rebellion in Jamaica
1867: Second Reform Act; extended the right to vote to many workers in towns and cities
1868: Opening of the Suez Canal
1870-1901: Late Victorian Skepticism and the Victorian Values Debate
1870: Married Women's Property Act (allows married women to own their own property); Germany becomes a world power after the victory in the Franco-Prussian War
1877: Victoria becomes Empress of India
1878: Electric street lighting in London
1890: London's first underground railway
1891: Free primary education
1898: Discovery of radio
1899-1902: Anglo-burski rat
1901: Victoria dies. Edward VII inherits the throne
"The Washing of Hands" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
ANNOTATED POPIS LEKTIRE
A note on Victorian fiction:
The Victorian era was the great age of the three-part novel; therefore, few classical works are short reads. However, many of them, especially Dickens' works, were originally published in serial format, which meant that there would be two or three chapters roughly every month and readers would have to wait two weeks or a month to find out what happened next. .
For today's readers, this means that it's okay to read these great works a few chapters at a time - IF you can ever put the book down! The Victorians knew how to tell stories, rich in characters, descriptions and sentimental plots, perhaps laced with mild humor, and all this with serious social criticism. Victorian novels do not leave readers at the end of the story. If you want to know what happens in the end with all the characters, and even with the dog (!), Victorian authors will not disappoint you.
Below is my selection of the best works by each author, as well as the works that were most important at the time, either by subject, technique or widespread popularity.
*Look for an asterisk (*) next to the title below. I've put asterisks next to titles I consider "must-reads" in the Victorian canon.
Charles Dickens: Pickwick Papers, 1837; The Adventures of Oliver Twist, 1838; Nickolas Nickleby, 1839; The Old Curio Shop, 1840-41; * A Christmas Carol, 1843; *David Copperfield, 1850; *Abominable House, 1853; A Tale of Two Cities, 1859; *Great Expectations, 1861; Our Mutual Friend, 1865.
Little needs to be said about Charles Dickens, because most people already know who he is and what he wrote. He called himself 'Inimitable', which meant that his distinctive style of outrageous humor, sentiment and social criticism could not be imitated by anyone. If you think you don't like Dickens, I suggest you try it again, this time expecting to find serious ideas and social criticism embedded in all the cartoons. You don't have to look far. You don't have to look closely to notice Dickens's lyrical, clear and image-rich writing style.
These are my favorites:
Pickwick papiri, 1837: A light sentimental picaresque focused on the adventures of a mild-mannered retired businessman Mr. Pickwick and his city friends, who set out on a journey to see the real England outside of London. This book features the famous Cockney character, servant Sam Welliver, who always has something wry but wise to say about every situation.
Advance Olivera Twista, 1838: An orphan boy struggles to survive the dangers and misery of London.
Nicolas Nickleby, 1839: A sentimental story protesting the appalling conditions of Britain's "shabby schools," where people sent their handicapped or illegitimate children to disappear from sight. But it's not all sadness - Nickleby is a good hero who helps save his sister from a terrible marriage.
An old shop of curiosities, 1840-1841: The one with "Little Nell" and the wicked moneylender Quilp.
*Christmas carol, 1843: If you haven't read the original, pick this up. It's short!
* David Copperfield, 1850: My favorite Dickens novel of all time. It is semi-autobiographical and depicts some scenes from Dickens's childhood that he never publicly acknowledged, particularly those in which he was forced to work in a factory while his father was in prison for debt. The whole life story of little David Copperfield, who grows up and overcomes a sad childhood and becomes a writer and a happily married man, is touching.
*Pale house, 1853: Many critics consider this Dickens' best novel. For more information seethis post on Bleak House.
A tale of two cities, 1859: Set in the French Revolution and its aftermath, both in France and England, this novel has one of the most famous opening lines in fiction: “Those were the best of times; it was the worst time.”
*Big expectations, 1861: To me, this is perhaps one of the most vividly told stories in Dickens' oeuvre. At first reading, characters like the convict, Pip's sister, Joe the blacksmith, Estella and the lovely Miss Havisham may seem too crazy to be anyone else. However, are they so unrealistic? They can also be seen as stark portraits of psychological traits that are not at all uncommon.
Our mutual friend, 1865: Dickens's last completed novel. The plot revolves around the question of who will inherit the wealth of the old miser Harmon. It must be symbolic that all of his wealth is tied to his job of collecting garbage (i.e. garbage), most of the wealth is still buried in the garbage. The missing rightful heir goes to the kind Boffins, Mr. Harmon's former servants. Then come the villains who plan to take advantage of them. There are many twists and turns in this plot, which explores what wealth really means and who the good guys really are.
Benjamin Disraeli,Sybil, or the two nations. 1845.
If you are interested in the politics of Victorian history, you will want to read one of the novels of one of the top politicians of the time. I will confess here that Disraeli's style is a hindrance to me, so that I have never finished any of his works. But they were very popular in his day and have a large following now, so I'm including a selection here.
Sybil criticizes how the industrialization of the British economy and the current political structure have uncontrollably divided the nation into the haves and the have-nots, and proposes her own solution to the problem.
William Makepeace Thackeray: *Cosmetic bag, 1847-48.
The character of Becky Sharp alone would make this novel worth reading, but there is much more genius here. This work is a brilliant and detailed transmission of mid-Victorian values and culture, from which not a single character emerges looking perfect. The title says it all: the characters spend the novel pursuing goals of worthless victory, all tricked into wandering like giantsCosmetic bagwhich Thackeray uses as a metaphor for the secular side of Victorian culture.
This theme makes for an overall dark and sad message, but the book is nonetheless extremely funny and quite sentimental at times. You can't claim to know Victorian literature without reading it.
Emily Bronte: *Hurricane heights, 1847.
One of the most important novels of the 19th century. Readall about Hurricane Heights in this post. Then go readHurricane heights!
Anne Bronte:Agnes Gray, 1847.;Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848.
Anne Bronte, less famous than her sisters Emily and Charlotte, is nevertheless a great writer in a realistic way.Agnes Graygives a realistic picture of the mistreatment of governesses in this era, which was an important topic at a time when governess was one of the few jobs open to an educated but poor young woman. The story is based on Anne's own horrific experiences as a governess, a story from the 'front lines'.
Tenant of Wildfell Hallexplores the double standards by which people judged the behavior of men and women by portraying the unhappy marriage of Helen Graham to the alcoholic and bon vivant Arthur Huntingdon. Helen is harshly condemned by the townspeople for frivolous reasons, while Arthur and the other men engage in debauchery with little criticism.
Charlotte Bronte: *Jane Eyre, 1847 uVillette, 1853.
No one's knowledge of English Victorian literature is complete without reading itJane Eyre. Learnmore about Jane Eyre in this post.Villette, praised by both George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, was Charlotte Bronte's last novel and the first to be published under her own name.
Villettetells the story of the passive character Lucy Snowe, who follows her journey to a fictional city based in Brussels as she tries to make a living as a nanny and teacher at an all-girls school. Readers appreciated this novel for its intense portrayal of Lucy's perceptions and psychology as she faces loneliness in a foreign land, loss of love, and changing perceptions of her girlfriends.
Charles Reade,It's never too late to recover, 1856.
Although few are highly regarded today, many successful novels in Victorian England were known as "novels with a purpose," stories created intentionally to "educate" readers by making a moral or political point. This work is one of the most memorable novels with a purpose.
It tells the story of Tom Robinson who is sent to prison for petty theft to shed light on the abusive discipline practiced in British prisons at the time. There is also an adventure plot, in which the character goes to Australia to look for gold and needs money to marry his lover.
Elizabeth Gaskell,Cranford, 1853.; *North and South, 1855.
Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Bronte's friend who wrote her biography, was a famous author herself.
Cranfordis a series of vignettesintended for the people (mostly women) who live in this small village modeled after the town where Gaskell grew up. It has both sentiment and sly humor; despite the lack of a real plot in this work, most readers will find this a book that will be enjoyable and memorable, as it vividly portrays the characters promoting a wisdom that survives cultural change.
North and Southis more serious, which tells the story of a beautiful young Margaret Hale, who must move from her beloved southern English home to Milton, an industrial town in the north. Here Margaret is appalled by the living and working conditions of poor factory workers and begins a campaign for reform. She also meets and (of course) falls in love with the mill owner, John Thornton, who also falls in love with her. Being on opposite sides of the labor struggle, they try to deny their mutual love. The novel depicts their emotions in detail, drawing the reader's attention to the suffering of the working class.
Anthony Trollope: *From the director, 1855.; *Barchester Towers, 1857.;Can you forgive her?, 1865.;Phineas Finn, 1869.; *Eustace's Diamonds, 1872.;Prime Minister, 1876.; *The way we live now, 1875.
Trollope, the most garrulous and most ingenious of novelists, created many "dear reader" style narrators who comment directly on the readers about every character and event in the plot. Despite this obvious narrative device, the effect of Trollope's fiction is entirely realistic. Readers feel that they have encountered characters who act and feel like real men and women, in a world that is spinning as it was in society in Trollope's time.
Trollope's tone can be witty, cheeky, sardonic, sentimental and sometimes caustic, but he is never insensitive. There are nasty and unsympathetic characters in Trollope, but none are outright evil, and Trollope usually evokes some sympathy even for the worst of them. Prettier characters are hardly perfect role models, just good, benevolent people. In short, his characters seem genuinely human and their dilemmas real.
Trollope, a tireless worker, wrote 47 novels. Not all are equally good. I've listed my favorites here.
My favorites are these first two on the list,From the director, 1855 uBarchester Towers, 1857selections from the so-called 'Barsetshire novels' are set in the cathedral town and revolve around clerical characters and their families.Barchester Towersis one of the funniest novels I've ever read. Formore information about The Warden, see this post.
The following four novels are part of the series "Palliser,' which all focus on people and their families involved in the English political world. Can you forgive her? and Eustace Diamonds also have strong and interesting female characters and explore the role of women in Victorian society:
Can you forgive her?? 1865
Phineas Finn,in 1869
*Eustace's Diamonds, 1872
Prime Minister, 1876
*The way we live now, 1875.,is a later work and relatively dark for Trollope. His assessment of "the way we live now" is not at all flattering. It shows people grabbing and fighting for money, power and social position.
The story revolves around Auguste Melmotte, an apparently rich man who poses as a stockbroker in London, insinuating himself into society and convincing people to buy shares in a fake railway company, while trying to marry off his boring daughter Marie to a rich man. However, Marie has a mind of her own in matters of the heart, which makes for an interesting plot.
George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans):Scenes from spiritual life, 1858.;Adam Bede, 1859.;Thread mill, 1860.; *Mid March, 1871.;Daniel Deronda, 1876.
Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name George Eliot, is one of the greatest novelists ever to write in the English language.Mid March, a novel with characters representing all classes and personality types living in a small English village, has appeared on many lists as the greatest novel ever written. (Learnmore on Middlemarch in this post.)
A brilliant, learned woman, Eliot was forced to break through many cultural barriers to live the life her intelligence led. Before becoming a novelist, she wrote articles and reviews for years in the Westminster Review, an intellectual journal supporting progressive politics and reform.
Turning to writing fiction and using a male name to escape widespread prejudice against women writers, her first work,Scenes from spiritual life, broke into the literary scene, and many wondered who this mysterious writer was. Interestingly, only Charles Dickens suspected that she was female. People recognized that her work has heart, common sense and wisdom.
I personally enjoy reading her works. If you like long convoluted plots with clear depictions of interesting characters who struggle with obstacles to their sincere desires, some succeed and some fail, then you will also like it. Inserted between captivating stories and wonderfully witty or moving scenes between beautifully described characters we find a prominent narrative voice. This kindly wise narrator analyzes the social forces that bind or tear these characters apart, encouraging us all to empathize with one another.
If you only read one thing this year, read itMid March. Then include a few:
Scenes from spiritual life, 1858. Four vignettes of characters connected with ecclesiastical occupations and their humble struggles.
Adam Bede, 1859. Inspired by a true case, this novel centers on the tragedy of a young milkmaid who becomes pregnant with the son of a local squire and laborer, Adam Bede, who is in love with her. It also follows the fate of the mild-mannered Dinah, a young woman who preaches open-air sermons to the working class.
Thread mill, 1860. A semi-autobiographical novel about Maggie Tulliver, an active questing girl, similar to Eliot himself, who was always at odds with the expectations of her relatives. When he grows up and falls in love, he is still disastrously at odds.
Daniel Deronda, 1876. A young, kind, handsome man adopted by a benevolent squire discovers that he is Jewish by blood. He becomes interested in learning about his heritage and fascinated by the Zionist movement. The novel also focuses on the beautiful, selfish Gwendolen Harleth, who is influenced by her love for Daniel to become a better person and to go through loss and tragedy.
"George Eliot" (Mary Ann Evans) at the age of 30. Painting by d'Albert Durade.*
Wilkie Collins: *The woman in white, 1859.
Wilkie Collins, a protégé of Charles Dickens, helped lead the mid-Victorian trend of "Sensational Fiction." Sensation Fiction focuses on melodramatic and gothic plots of murder, adultery, romance and crime, and the persecution of innocence, often committed by seemingly unsuspecting people.
The woman in whitetells the story of Laura Fairlie's unhappy marriage, arranged by her lazy and greedy uncle, to Sir Percival Glyde, who is trying to steal her fortune. Of course, on the eve of the wedding, she had just fallen in love with another man, her art teacher Walter Hartright. He and Laura's smart, loving stepsister Marian Halcombe try to come to Laura's rescue. This novel creates a beautiful character of the villain Count Fosco.
Maria Elisabeth Braddon,Secret Lady Audley, 1862.
Building on the success of Wilkie Collins sThe Woman in White, Lady Audley's Secretwas another bestseller in the "sensation fiction" mode. This novel has no heavy themes or special wisdom to offer, but it offers readers a pleasant, if relaxed, encounter with gruesome crimes and unpleasant secrets. If you want to know what the Victorians read just for fun, try this novel.
Lewis Caroll, *Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865.
Press British, mathematician Lewis Carroll originally narrated Alice's Adventures to Lorraine, Alice and Edith Liddell to entertain them at a picnic. The girls were the daughters of Henry George Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where the author studied and was a fellow.
Fortunately for the young and the young at heart since then, Alice has asked him to write down the stories. The result isAlice's Adventures in Wonderland, a land where everything good Victorian children learned has been turned upside down; logic is out the window and delicious nonsense, and chaos ensues. If you haven't read this piece, you should!
Alice hears the caterpillar's advice. A 1907 illustration by Arthur Rackham.
Sheridan to Le Fan: "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in the Rue Aungier," 1853;Oom Silas, 1864; "The House by the Cemetery", 1863; "Green Tea", 1872;Carmilla, 1872.
The chilling stories of the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu were admired by later horror writers such as M.L. James. Fanu's work transferred the unwieldy Gothic tales, as told by Anne Radcliffe in the early 19th century, into the later Victorian style. It inspired later horror writers such as Bram Stoker, who wroteDracula. His stories are gloriously moody and creepy, creating a growing unease as you read. The plots of the longer works often revolve around an innocent, sensitive and helpless young woman who must survive the villains in the Gothic style.Carmillafocuses on a female vampire and is one of Dracula's ancestors.
George Meredith:The Egoist: a comedy in a story, 1879.
USelfish, George Meredith translates the plot form of a play into a novel, allowing him to delve into the psychological depths of his characters. The main character, the 'egoist' himself, Sir Willoughby Pattern, is dissected most mercilessly. As a young, handsome, wealthy man of social standing, he should be a good catch. But when the novel begins, he has just been rejected in spectacular fashion.
The novel opens with his new success in winning the promise of the beautiful, free-spirited, intelligent Clara Middletown to marry him. Her father was persuaded into her engagement by the excellence of Sir Willougby's wine (which in itself is a huge statement about how women were viewed in the Victorian era). Clara quickly regrets it. While struggling for independence, Clara spends the novel figuring out how to break off the engagement without thinking badly of herself or, more importantly, of her father's good name. Local spinster Laetitia Dale, a woman who really likes Willoughby, keeps watching longingly.
This novel is quite entertaining with excellent observations about people and their mannerisms. She advocates a culture with more freedom for women, who should be able to choose their partners as freely as men and be able to change their minds without social punishment. Meredith's style is elegant but not transparent, offering a sophisticated and engaging read.
Thomas Hardie:Far from the crowds, 1874.; *The return of the native, 1878.; *Mayor of Casterbridge, 1886.; *Tess of the d'Urbervilles, 1891.;Judas the Dark, 1895.
Thomas Hardy's prose, written later in the 19th century, does not focus on reform and social progress like most Victorian prose, but instead on representing the unpredictability of human life and the overall sadness of the human condition. Shaping many of his fictions, such as the Greek tragedies he admired, Hardy created many characters who surpassed their fellows but bore their own tragic flaws. If their own personality didn't bring them down, a perverted fate always lurked.
Hardy was skeptical of the modern age, unconvinced by the mid-Victorian belief that people's lives got better as technology and society developed. He used to think that it was the opposite and that a lot of good and humanity was lost.
Despite this melancholic point of view, his stories are beautiful and captivating to read. Hardy's characters are realistic, psychologically alive and original. The plots are exciting, because you never know what fate the turn of the page will bring. The descriptions of nature, small towns and fields, even the simple work the characters do, are informative but lyrical.
These are my recommendations:
Far from the crowds, 1874. Bathsheba Everdene, a woman of strong character, inherits and runs a farm, experiencing romantic adventures along the way. The wrong marriage almost destroyed her. In the end, she meets herself.
*The return of the native, 1878. The love affairs in this novel are so intertwined and intense that I don't know how to describe them succinctly. All the young men and women in the novel have returned to Egdon Heath, their small home village, most in an attempt to renew a past love affair. In the end, Hardy illustrates his view of life as mostly tragic, as each character struggles to escape their diminishing fate in this place that seems too small to hold their desires and aspirations. The passionate woman Eustacia Vye is the most famous and prominent character, some villagers consider her a witch, she is such a unique person.
*Mayor of Casterbridge, 1886. The tragic figure Michael Henchard, who became famous in Casterbridge as a wealthy grain merchant and long-time mayor, is finally able to avoid the consequences of a terrible reckless act from his long-ago childhood, when drunk and without hope of finding work his wife and young daughter on village fair. They come back into his life precisely as his ex-lover Lucetta along with the new young man he hires in his company, Donald Farfrae.For more information on the Mayor of Casterbridge, check out this post.
*Tess of the d'Urbervilles, 1891. Perhaps the most famous of Hardy's novels, I find this one rather sad, perhaps related toJudas the Darkfor the saddest. It tells the fate of humble Tess, whose trials begin when her father learns that they come from the noble D'Urbervilles family. From the moment he sent her to meet the nearby wealthy D'Urberville family, who aren't actually of that bloodline, her life has been hard work interspersed with romantic ups and downs. She eventually falls in love with and marries Angelo Claire, who reveals that he cannot forgive her past misdeeds. Perverse coincidences help lead the plot to tragedy.
Judas the Dark, 1895. Poor laborer Jude Fawley dreams of becoming a scholar and attending seminary, but is dissuaded by his down-to-earth neighbor Arabella, who claims he impregnated her and urges him to marry her.
After Arabella leaves him, he works as a stonemason for a living and falls in love with his iconoclastic cousin Sue Bridehead, who hates cultural restrictions. She marries another man, but eventually she and Jude live together and have children. Things don't go well as they struggle to live in a culture that doesn't accept them.
An illustration from Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge shows a young Michael Henchard inquiring about possible jobs. Susan and Elizabeth-Jane stand nearby.
Robert Lewis Stevenson:Treasure Island, 1883.; *The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886.;Kidnap, 1886.
The Scottish writer Robert Lewis Stevenson was famous in his day and did a great job of providing the public with the adventure stories that were so popular in the late nineteenth century. Full of exciting events and likable protagonists, the works mentioned here have been the subject of many films and have been translated many times.
So if you're looking for adventure, Stevenson's work is where you go. BothTreasure IslandUKidnapwere originally published in the journalYoung people, intended for a younger audience, but these works are also loved by adults and large-scale writers.
Treasure Islandis the story of a young teenager, Jim, who accidentally gets his hands on a treasure map and sets sail with family friend Captain Smollett to find it. Problems are woven into this adventure, because the hired crew are actually pirates led by the famous Long John Silver. Follow the treasure hunters as they sail to a supposedly deserted island to find the treasure, struggling to face a rebellion led by Long John. Stevenson created iconic characters in this work.
Kidnap is set in Scotland, both highlands and lowlands, in the middle of the 18th century. It focuses on the story of the young, newly orphaned David Balfour, who leaves home to seek his father's inheritance. He travels to the home of a wealthy relative, Ebenezer, who seems to like David's questions and causes a kidnapping aboard the Covenant. The story follows David's adventures as he survives a kidnapping, eventually escapes, encounters new dangers, and eventually reaches a happy ending.
*Dr. Jekyll zao Hydeis one of those stories of mystery and the supernatural that has entered mainstream culture, with "Jekyll and Hyde" a common metaphor for a person who seems to have both a benevolent and a dark or evil side to their personality. The work is a short novella - worth reading in the original, even if you have seen one of the film versions.
H. Ruiter Haggard:King Solomon's Mines, 1885.
Stylistically, Haggard's work may not be in the same league as the other writers on this list, but he tells a good story that was popular at the time and could be the parent of the "lost world" stories. In the novel, Alan Quartermain agrees to explore an unknown part of Africa with a group looking for the lost brother of one of the parties. Movies and miniseries are based on this book.
Jozef Conrad:Secret Agent: A Simple Story, 1886.; *Heart of darkness, 1899.;Lord Jim, 1900.;Typhoon, 1902.
Born in Poland, Conrad served for years in the merchant fleet of France and then Great Britain. Conrad sees the universe as dark and unfathomable, offering a clear transition in look and style from the progressive Victorian worldview to the more skeptical modernist view that was soon to come.
Much of Conrad's writing is impressionistic in style, describing events in psychological rather than chronological order, embedded in the limited perspective of a particular character or narrator. Readers should be prepared to jump with the characters' thoughts when they suddenly recall memories and outline events based on what they personally felt was important. Readers must fill in the details.
Conrad's descriptions of Africans have been attacked as racist, which is evident from the perspective of our time. But as is especially clear inHeart of darkness, Conrad was not a fan of whites' pursuit of empire, showing the great harm done to Africans by selfish and arrogant colonialism.
Conrad's work is evocative, beautiful, dark, unusual and thought provoking - in short, it is challenging art.
Rudyard Kipling, 'The Man Who Would Be King', 1888;The Jungle Book, 1894.
Some dismissed Kipling as an outmoded imperialist writer who merely celebrated the glory of British rule over India, where he spent much of his time. Others see his works as more nuanced, sometimes offering less biased windows into unknown lands as well as into the hearts of working-class British laborers sent to work on Empire-building in India and elsewhere. Many readers recognize the power of Kipling's storytelling.
"The Man Who Would Be King" is about two "bad guys" who come to India to try to take advantage of their status as Europeans. Complex and provocative, this adventure story offers enough perspective to make readers rethink the entire Empire-building project.The Jungle Bookis a series of stories grouped around the boy Mowgli, raised by wolves, who recounts his adventures with other jungle animal characters such as Shere Khan the tiger and Baloo the bear.
Bram Stoker:dracula,in 1897.
Although not the greatest literary work of the nineteenth century, the characters and plot in which Stoker createdDraculathey have evolved into numerous versions on stage, screen and television. OriginalDraculait is a good read; in my opinion, it borrows a lot from that of Wilkie Collins in both form and feelThe woman in white. In form, style and sensational theme, Dracula belongs to the late Victorian era.
Cover of the 1919 edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Arthur Conan Doyle: "A Study in Scarlet", 1887;Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892.
If you only know Sherlock Holmes from film and television, you should go back to the original. Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson may be slightly different from the figure the current media portrays him to be. Charming stories.
Jerome K. Jerome:Three men in a boat, 1889.
Three men in a boatis a humorous account of a fortnight's journey on the River Thames, from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford and back. Part lyrical travelogue and part endearing humor, this book often made me laugh out loud. The mode of travel may have changed, but the people haven't, so all the little witty human vignettes still feel fresh.
Oscar Wilde:*Photo of Dorian Gray, 1891 (fiction); *It's important to be serious, 1895 (drama).
Oscar Wilde, in person and in works, best represents the qualities of Victorian writing at the end of the century. His focus on art for its own sake, its endless witty paradoxes and its tendency to undermine true Victorian morality perfectly illustrate the mood of many artists in the late 19th century.
Most are familiar with the storyPhoto of Dorian Gray: Basil Hallward paints a portrait of a handsome young man, Dorian Gray, who inspires his passion. Basil's decadent and hedonistic friend Lord Henry Wotton meets Dorian at his last sitting in front of the portrait. He notes that Dorian will grow old, and his portrait will always be beautiful. Dorian fervently wants the portrait to age as soon as possible, but to remain the same. His wish comes true in a gruesome way. As Lord Henry leads Dorian down a path of debauchery and cruel self-indulgence, the portrait depicts Dorian's degrading nature while he himself maintains a veneer of innocence. A short but unforgettable work.
It's important to be seriousis a very funny play, a favorite of the audience even today. The title itself is a joke; he mocks the "stuffy" mid-Victorians who praised the importance of seriousness in life. In this work, it is more important not to be serious, but to literally be Ernest, that is, to bear the name Ernest. Read the article to find out why.
HG Wells:War of the Worlds, 1897.
One of the first novels based on an alien invasion of Earth. If you didn't already know, would you think that this work is old enough that it was written in the late Victorian period? It seems like people still aren't done with the premise of this story, or even this exact story, since movie versions are still being made.
"Mariana" by John Everett Millais. Mariana, a character from Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," appears in Tennyson's whimsical poem "Mariana."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "Sleep"; "Flush, My Dog", 1840; "Joy learned by reason", 1845; *"Crying of children", 1843; "For George Sand: A Wish" and "For George Sand: A Confession", 1844; * Sonnets from Portuguese, especially III, VI, VII, IX, X, XIV, XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIII, 1850; *"The Greek Slave of Hiram Powers", 1850.
Today, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is mostly remembered for two things: her famous sonnet "How Do I Love Thee / Let me count the way," and for her romantic marriage to another famous Victorian poet, Robert Browning.
Browning's poetry is thoughtful, serious and highly intellectual, yet tender and readable. In her early life, Browning was an invalid, often confined to a bedroom in her father's house, which gave her the opportunity to think deeply about life and love, perspectives she offers in her poems. She was also a passionate social reformer.
Many songs draw public attention to dire social conditions, such as the aforementioned "Cry of the Children" which eloquently protests against child labor. She was also a fighter for women's rights. Her long narrative poemAurora Leighexplores the way women were oppressed and starved of education through the story of a bright young woman who wants more for her life than the current culture allows.
Sonnets from the Portugueseis a series of sonnets about the progression of her love affair and eventual marriage to Robert Browning. She published the piece anonymously because the songs were so personal and described all the nuances of her feelings about falling in love, including her doubts about associating her weak and sickly self with this fine man, who truly loved her passionately. They eventually married, ran away from her father's house and lived a happy life in Italy until she died at the age of 55. Above are some of the best sonnets from the collection.
Robert Browning: * "My Last Duchess", 1842; "Galuppi's Toccata", 1855; *"The Child Roland Came to the Dark Tower", 1855; *"Fra Lippo Lippi", 1855; "Rabbi Ben Ezra", 1864.
Unknown to most, when Elizabeth Barrett Browning met Robert Browning, she was already a well-known and highly regarded poet, while Robert's published work received little positive attention. At the beginning of their marriage, Robert was known as "Mrs. Browning's husband."
However, Robert Browning's poetry became increasingly popular; towards the end of his life he was considered a Victorian sage and one of the favorite poets of the time. His work is very different from that of Mrs. Browning. Her work is imbued with abstractions, written in traditional, melodic forms and usually spoken in her own voice.
Robert Browning, on the other hand, is known for perfecting the dramatic monologue, a poem in which a specific character, not Browning himself, reads the entire poem to a mute listener, one who appears to be standing close by as the character speaks. At the end of the poem, the speaker has revealed his true character, often in surprising or unexpected ways. Many of the speakers in these poems are actual historical figures of the Italian Renaissance, a period of great importance to Browning.
Most of the mentioned works are dramatic monologues. “Kind Roland” is a different, melancholic update of a medieval romance. The child Roland becomes a hero, not by conquest, but by persevering in a dutiful quest in the face of almost certain failure. "Rabbi Ben Ezra" is a meditation on aging and what actions in life bring lasting value.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson: * "Mariana", 1830; *"The Lady of Shalott", 1832.; "The Lotus Eaters", 1832; *"Ulysses", 1842; *"Breakdown, breakdown, breakdown", 1842; *"Eagle", 1851; "Assault of the Light Brigade", 1854; "Crossing the Desk", 1889; *In Memoriam A.H.H., 1850, especially sections 1 - 18, 25-27, 34, 50-56, 105-06, 123-127.
Many of Tennyson's beautiful, imagery-rich lyric poems are among my favorites, as well as favorites of poetry readers everywhere. Here is a list of the most famous. Most tell a story and paint terrible and beautiful pictures while recording profound experiences of human life. Taste them, and if you like them, keep tasting more.
In memoryis Tennyson's lament for a dear friend who died young and spent years writing. Tennyson's close friend and literary collaborator Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly of a ruptured aneurysm on September 15, 1833, at the age of twenty-two. Tennyson's intense grief threw him into philosophical turmoil, which plagued him for seventeen years while he wrote this solemn and beautiful meditation on grief and the meaning of life and faith. Finally published in 1850.In memoryit was highly regarded, possibly one of the works that led to Tennyson being named Poet Laureate of England.
Composed of many sections of varying length in quatrains of iambic tetrameter, the a-b-b rhyme scheme, where the couplet is closed by outer rhyming lines, is dignified and graceful. The poem can be read in parts or as a whole; it offers a study of the stages of grief, as well as deep doubts of faith, with the final resolution of the poet's doubts. Many famous verses come from this work. Above is a list of sections I particularly recommend you read.
Emily Bronte: *"I am happiest when I am most absent", 1838; "Night Wind", 1840; "Memory", 1845; "Stars", 1846; * "No cowardly soul is mine", 1846.
Bronte is famous for her novelHurricane heights, but she was also a powerful poet. Here is a selection of the most famous.
Matthew Arnold: "Marguerite" and "Marguerite - Sequel" (written 1847); "The Buried Life", 1852; "Lines written in Kensington Gardens," 1852; *"Dover Beach", 1867.
Arnold, a great supporter of the importance of literary art in an age of materialism and technological development, wrote poems that are often less cheerful than that message. Songs like "The Buried Life" and especially "Dover Beach" foreshadow the alienation the modernists would soon feel from nature, their beliefs, other people, and even themselves.
For example, the poems Marguerite and "Buried Life" talk about how difficult it is to convey one's true thoughts and feelings to another person. *“Dover Beach” is a central text of Victorian literature, tenderly lamenting the inevitable total loss of religious faith that Arnold predicted for his culture. The song urges people to hold on to their loved ones as their greatest value as faith fades away. Of course, not all Victorians thought so, but many intellectuals did. See this post formore about “Dover Beach.” Alsocheck out this post.
Christina Rossetti: *Goblin Market, 1862.; * "Pjesma, (When I Am Dead, My Dearest)", "Cousin Kate", "Maude Clare", "A Birthday", "No Thank You, John", "A Better Resurrection"; *“In the Bleak Midwinter (A Christmas Carol)”, 1872.
Christina Rossetti is the most tender and sweetest poet, each word gracefully sliding into place within each line as if born to live there. The simple visual language shines like a hyper-realistic Pre-Raphaelite painting - not surprising, since the famous painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti was her brother.
Love is in every way an important theme of Rosetti's work. Some songs are ballads that tell a love story, fake or true. Some are small monologues, celebrating love or warning against false or dangerous attachments. Many of her other songs are Christian devotional meditations, offering a fresh and homely perspective on spiritual matters.
Long workGoblin Marketit is written in the style of a children's fairy tale, but contains more mature themes about the dangers of sexual or other addictive temptations, showing that women must bond with each other and sometimes make sacrifices to help each other.
Grab a Rossetti and curl up in a corner while you read them. You might find a new favorite song.
George Meredith:Modern love, 1862.
Novelist George Meredith was also a poet.Modern lovehe recounts the disintegration of his marriage in a long series of sonnets, step by agonizing step. The title of the collection of sonnets suggests that his and his wife's experience is not unusual in this modern age.
Thomas Hardy: Hardy's poetry enters the time frame of English modernist literature, which is still ongoing.
See the fiction list above for Hardy's most famous novels. Some of his poems were written in the Victorian era, and more after 1901. His poetry will be listed together on the English Modernist timeline.
Algernon Charles Swinburne 'To A Cat', 'The Forsaken Garden', 'Hymn to Proserpine', 1866., 'A Ballad of Death', 'A Channel Crossing'.
Swinburne's poetry burst onto the Victorian stage in the mid-1860s, when he became known as a rebel against most conservative Victorian values, including Christianity and restrictions on sex, particularly of the non-mainstream variety. "Hymn to Proserpina," for example, depicts a pagan goddess lamenting that Christianity has supplanted her and other pagan gods. The poem implies that the rise of Christianity was negative rather than positive for humanity.
"The Forsaken Garden" has a similar theme. Seethis outstanding award-winning student essay on swinburne's poem and beliefsFind out more. ,"
However, not all of Swinburne's poems deal with iconoclastic themes. Many are tone poems or great descriptions of nature. In his poetry, he paid close attention to metrics and sound effects. If the sound of a poem is as important to your enjoyment as its meaning, then Algernon Charles Swinburne is your poet.
This excerpt from "Crossing the Channel" is typical. Note the alliteration, long sounding lines and intense vocabulary:
Suddenly, sublimely, a strong storm spoke: we heard the claps of thunder like the barking of dogs.
Sweeter than all, more beautiful than the stars, we saw the thunders raise the sky,
Alive, bright and compelling like a love born only to live, illuminate and die.
The heart of heaven, in its greatest delight, found expression in music and the appearance of fire:
He rejoiced with thunder, lived happily and satisfied his nightly desire.
And the night lived and starved for life like a tiger freed from torment:
And the rapture of anger delighted the spirit and strength of the soul of the sea.
—van Swinburne, "Crossing the Channel"
If you're in the mood for passionate aesthetic rapture, try Swinburne.
Gerard Manley Hopkins: *“The Greatness of God”, 1877; "Starry Night", 1877; "If the Kingfisher's Catch Fire," 1877; *"Spring", 1877; "Love in the Wind", 1877; * "Pied Beauty", 1877; "Hurrah in the Harvest", 1877; "Spring and Autumn", 1880; *“[Carrion Consolation],” 1880; *"There is nothing worse, there is none", 1885; *"I wake up and feel darkness, not day", 1885.
Gerald Manley Hopkins. Catholic priest. 1844-1889 (view, professional).
The exact opposite of Swinburne, Hopkins was a Catholic priest whose poems depict his encounters with God, both in nature and in his own soul. Some encounters are wonderful assurances of God's goodness and power, and some are intense and dark struggles with despair over sin or other loss of connection with God's presence.
Some of Hopkins' songs, idiosyncratic as they are, are among my favorites. They are quite unique in both sound and feel. Hopkins was very experimental with poetic form, following a rhythm based on the number of accents, similar to ancient Anglo-Saxon poetry.
That's why many verses have a series of strong accents that are glued on, which makes the songs sound very powerful and the meaning intense and penetrating. Some ideas are expressed in a minimal, telegraphic way, using strong imagery, but any attempt to unravel the meaning will be well rewarded.
Formore about Hopkins' work, check out this post.
Ernest Dowson: "I am not what I was good under the kingdom of Cynar", 1894.
This turn-of-the-century poem is about a lost love that has become the speaker's obsession. No matter how hard he tries to distract himself with a dissolute life and other women, he cannot forget her.
Those who want a comprehensive knowledge of Victorian England will want to sample the writings of its thinkers, philosophers and cultural critics, ideas that influenced both the literary works of the time and the culture in general. Here is a very select list of the great Victorian thinkers and their works that relate to some of their most important ideas.
Thomas Carlyle,Tailor of Resartus, 1834.;About heroes, hero worship and the heroic in history, 1840.
Carlyle was a popular thinker among the young people of his time. Sartor Resartus is a pseudo-biography of a rather bloated character named Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, professor of "General Matters" at Weissnichtwo University "I know not where." His name is usually translated as "God-born devil-poop". Readers follow this fake professor as he discards the outdated ideas of the past and reinvents his philosophy of life and a whole new value system: "The Tailor Retrained", as "Sartor Resartus" could be translated.
UTo heroesCarlyle argues that great geniuses create and drive culture, not groups of people who establish a general "zeitgeist" among themselves. He considers heroes in different fields: the hero as a deity (Odin), as a prophet (Mahomet), as a poet (Dante and Shakespeare), as a priest (Luther and Knox), as a man of writers (Johnson, Rousseau) , Burns). , and as a king or ruler (Cromwell and Napoleon).
John Hendrik Newman:Tracts for the Times, 1833-41.
Newman edited this series of 90 pamphlets or tracts, many of which he wrote himself. These were the documents of what became known as the Oxford Movement. They advocate the reincorporation of many Roman Catholic customs and ideas into Anglicanism. Newman himself was so convinced of these arguments that he later converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism and became a priest, later Cardinal John Henry Newman.
John Ruskin:Modern painters, 1843.
Ruskin began as an art critic who argued loudly for natural realism in painting, against the accepted principles of classical art taught at the Royal Academy at the time. He helped fight for the greatness of J. M. W. Turner, defending the Pre-Raphaelites, who sought to make natural details more realistic and less stylized than the post-Raphaelite painters. He later branched out from criticizing art to analyze culture, advocating reform of the new industrial culture to create a society that would treat the working class more fairly.
Charles Darwin,Origin of species, 1859.
No description is needed here. The effect of Darwin's theory of how "higher" species like apes and humans evolve from lower forms shook communities that accepted a literal biblical view of creation.
John Stuart Mill: "On Liberty", 1859; "On the submission of women", 1869.
Philosopher/thinker John Stuart Mill deliberately and passionately advocated freedom of expression and the ability for an individual to decide what is best for him or her, as long as those actions do not harm others. He also strongly advocated for the equal treatment and freedom of women. Andgood summary and explanation of "On Freedom"can be found here.
Thomas Arnold,Culture and anarchy, 1867-1868.
In addition to being a poet, Thomas Arnold was also a literary and cultural critic. He advocated the importance of acquiring cultural knowledge, not just mechanical or business skills. He defined culture as "nothing less than the pursuit of perfection", imbued with what he called "sweetness and light":
I have tried to show that culture is, or ought to be, the study and pursuit of perfection; and those of the perfection to which culture aspires, beauty and intelligence, or in other words, sweetness and lightness, are the main characters. But so far I have mostly insisted on beauty, or loveliness, as a sign of perfection. In order to complete my design well, it seems that it also remains to speak of intelligence, or light, as the character of perfection.
- combiCulture and anarchy, Thomas Arnold
Arnold argued that too few leaders and members of Victorian society sought "a knowledge of the best that was said and thought in the world". His ideas are more complex than this description can show. INCulture and anarchy, Arnold explains in detail the importance of ideas in shaping and developing culture. Without a philosophy leavened with beauty and knowledge, mere material progress and development are meaningless and empty achievements.
William Powell Frith: "Poverty and Wealth"
Reading English Victorian Literature: Historical Background and Literary Trends - An Overview
Index of literary time machines and reading lists
Go back to the timeline of romantic literature
See the bottom of this post for credit for most of the photos. (Click here.)
Benjamin Disraeli.Cornelius Jabez Hughes, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Tip of the caterpillar.Arthur Rackham, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Anthony Trollope.Published by Gebbie, Philadelphia, 1900 [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Dracula-cover.Holloway, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Victorian literature refers to English literature during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). The 19th century is considered by some to be the Golden Age of English Literature, especially for British novels. It was in the Victorian era that the novel became the leading literary genre in English.What was special about Victorian literature? ›
Victorian era literature was characterized by depictions of everyday people, hard lives, and moral lessons. They were meant for more than just entertainment. Victorians were interested in the hero as well as folk art. Victorian novels often focused on these themes.What is Victorian period in literature summary? ›
The Victorian period of literature roughly coincides with the years that Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain and its Empire (1837-1901). During this era, Britain was transformed from a predominantly rural, agricultural society into an urban, industrial one.What was the most important form of literary form in Victorian? ›
While the novel was the dominant form of literature during the Victorian era, poets continued to experiment with style and methods of story-telling in their poems.What are five characteristics of the Victorian era? ›
- Introduction. Victorian period (1832-1901) is one of the remarkable periods of English literature. ...
- The conflict between science and religion. ...
- Imperialism. ...
- Industrialization. ...
- Excessive materialism. ...
- Adventurous life. ...
- Contribution of women in all sectors. ...
- Domination of novels.
Victorian era literature was characterized by depictions of everyday people, hard lives, and moral lessons. They were meant for more than just entertainment. Victorians were interested in the hero as well as folk art. Victorian novels often focused on these themes.What were the two main trends in Victorian literature? ›
The quantity of fictions produced increased the gap between “good” and “bad” fiction: bad fiction was based on the repetition of melodramatic clichés from the Gothic tradition and the use of suspense. There is a increase of serialisation: the novels were divided in more episodes written in magazines.
2) During the Victorian era, Britain expanded its territory throughout the world and became the largest, richest and most powerful empire in world history. A quarter of the world's population lived in the empire and Queen Victoria was even Empress of India!Why was it called Victorian era? ›
The Victorian era is named after Queen Victoria, who was queen from 1837-1901. People who lived during the Victorian era are called Victorians. Before the 19th century it used to take people 12 hours to travel between Birmingham and London if they were riding in a horse-drawn coach.What are the three phases of the Victorian era? ›
Since it covers a wide time span, the era has been divided into the early-Victorian period (1837-1851), the mid-Victorian period (1851-1875) and the late-Victorian period (1875-1901).
Victorian morality is associated with family values, charity, and thriftiness along with sexual repression. These values conflict with the social tendencies of the time including rampant prostitution, child labor, and the exploitation of the lower classes.What were the major themes of Victorian novels? ›
The realistic Victorian novel focused on characters and themes such as the plight of the poor and social mobility that was being afforded to a new middle class and the rising middle class were eager to consume these novels.What was literary criticism in the Victorian age? ›
Criticism in the Victorian Age is conceived as a means of social regeneration. There was a "crisis of culture", and critics like Mathew Arnold felt that if criticism to be worthwhile, it must serve the ends of life, and promote a better understanding of cultural values and thus bring about social regeneration.What forms of literature did the Victorian period have? ›
- Detective fiction. Genre of novel or short story in which a mystery is solved mainly by the action of a professional or amateur detective...
- Historical Novel. Genre of fictional prose narrative set in the past. ...
- Mystery. ...
- Poetry. ...
- Romance. ...
- Science Fiction. ...
- Short Story.
Victorian values emerged in all social classes and reached all facets of Victorian living. The values of the period—which can be classed as religion, morality, Evangelicalism, industrial work ethic, and personal improvement—took root in Victorian morality.What was the religion in the Victorian era? ›
Throughout the 19th century England was a Christian country. The only substantial non-Christian faith was Judaism: the number of Jews in Britain rose from 60,000 in 1880 to 300,000 by 1914, as a result of migrants escaping persecution in Russia and eastern Europe.What are the 3 main characteristics of the Victorian era? ›
Victorian era, in British history, the period between approximately 1820 and 1914, corresponding roughly but not exactly to the period of Queen Victoria's reign (1837–1901) and characterized by a class-based society, a growing number of people able to vote, a growing state and economy, and Britain's status as the most ...What is the main conflict of Victorian age? ›
Victorian society wrestled with conflicts of morality, technology and industry, faith and doubt, imperialism, and rights of women and ethnic minorities. Many Victorian writers addressed both sides of these conflicts in many forms of literature.What was the spirit of the Victorian age? ›
More than anything else, the Victorian Age was known for enthusiasm for the future and a strong belief in progress. Astounding changes occurred with such great inventions as the telegraph, bicycle, gas lighting, electric lighting, the telephone, motor cars and x-rays.What were the social issues in the Victorian era? ›
Famine, financial depression, pollution, and stark social inequality characterised the period, and many people began to wonder how a prosperous nation could have allowed life to become so grim for so many of its citizens. In response to these desperate circumstances, social movements formed to call for change.
the realism, traditionalism and inhibition of the Victorian age, during which, the novelists sought to portray life as it was, in an objective, realistic manner, while the modernists rejected realism, adopting a subjective, inward viewpoint instead, one which was contaminated by personal experience.Is Pride and Prejudice a Victorian novel? ›
The Pride and Prejudice novel, which was written in Victorian Era, had brought many changes. It was the first England novels, written by a woman. The novels became interesting, because it contains many satire inside, connecting the atmosphere in Victorian era.Who is the poet of the Victorian age? ›
The most prolific and well-regarded poets of the age included Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Oscar Wilde.What is period in English literature from 1901 to 1910 called? ›
The Edwardian Era: 1901-1910.What defines Victorian children's literature? ›
Previously children's literature had been predominantly focused on saving children through instructing them, but during the Victorian period this included moral tales that taught values intrinsic to the Victorian Middle Class, such as hard work and honesty, through narratives that allowed the children to be able to ...What is Victorian period in literary criticism? ›
Criticism in the Victorian Age is conceived as a means of social regeneration. There was a "crisis of culture", and critics like Mathew Arnold felt that if criticism to be worthwhile, it must serve the ends of life, and promote a better understanding of cultural values and thus bring about social regeneration.