The Victorian era refers to the time of the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1830 to 1901. This is the most dramatic and rapid development in British history, and the height of the worldʼs imperial power. As Britain grew, Londonʼs population more than tripled. The
change in industrial production technology greatly changed the lives of the British people, therefore the unregulated industrialization triggered concentrated wealth, causing a wide gap between the rich and poor. It was also called the “Era of Reform” as awareness of various rights, including voting rights, labor rights and womenʼs rights, was changed to address colonialism, religious issues, and social issues. These rapidly changing social environment and ideas are reflected in various pieces of literature. Because of this, the Victorian era is called “The Golden Age” of English literature. Victorian writers had two opposing views on industrialization. Some writers called industrialization “the advent of a promising, progressive and successful new era”, while others responded by projecting it into their works, viewing it as a source of individualism and selfishness, negatively affecting the people.
Features of Victorian literature
In the Victorian era the rapid industrialization gradually shifted the central force of British society from the former aristocracy to the bourgeoisie. Those who amassed wealth in commerce and industry naturally expanded their political influence. The growth of the middle class not only brought about political, economic and social changes, but also British literature. About 40 years after the emergence of the middle class, they became the coordinators of literary tastes. Victorian novelists, such as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, wrote stories by setting the middle class as readers. The middle class was thoroughly utilitarian, eager for knowledge, but indifferent or prejudiced to the world of art and imagination. In addition, they preferred dramatic elements and had a strong tendency to demand didacticism in art. Moreover, they wanted to distinguish good
from evil in black and white and always see good rewarded and evil punished.
Victoriaʼs middle class formed a lifestyle called “Victorianism”. Individualism and liberalism were heightened by Victorianism, an idea that dominated British Victorian culture, and moral idealism was built on the basis of tradition and Christian spirit in literature. The style was designed to avoid direct and vulgar expressions and to be loose and diverse. With
the prosperity of material things and the consequent improvement in living standards, they were so optimistic about the future of society that they were practicing with philanthropy1), charity, and gentlemanly etiquette in social issues such as popular poverty, while ignoring such evils as temporary phenomena and believing that boundless development would continue.
The middle-class ideas and their demands permeated Victorian fiction. Their most
important value was “gentlemanly manners”. A gentleman was a person who was honest, decent, and moral, regardless of social status. The middle class, built by the development and industrialization of science and technology, naturally valued rational and scientific thinking and life, and these ideas emerged as a desire for knowledge and education. Those who believed in materialism in nature, valued outwardly decent manners, and possessed a strong desire for knowledge as gentlemen, were the main readership of Victorian novels. This fact was an essential factor in understanding Victorian English literature.
The majority of novels published at this time, except for those by the Bronte sisters, took the form of a “three-part novel” or were serialized during the “19th episode” in the form of a weekly or biweekly magazines which attracted readers’ interest and kept them waiting for the next story. Therefore, novels of this era often determined the fate of characters according to the publicʼs response. The climax of the novel was dramatic, and character descriptions were exaggerated or comically portrayed for intense impressions.
The prevalence factor of Victorian fiction; the power of the masses
By the middle of the 19th century, book sales became a major industry, and book prices fell sharply, allowing people who previously could not own books because of the high prices. This also affected the writer’s status, and they began to write to suit the public’s taste in contrast with their previous tendency to write mainly based on aristocrats. Thus, in the Victorian era, new publishers were created, and writers competed to capture public taste. Many of the new readers were close observers of human behavior. However, rather than discovering the laws underlying society, they were very sensitive about the phenomena on the surface of society. Since these readers tend to put their views ahead of their interests, it was much easier to appeal to their emotions rather than to think beyond following the old customs, habits, and manners. Therefore, Victorian novelists stimulated public fantasy and inspired their black-and-white logical thinking. It was relatively easy for novelists of the time to thrive because they were focusing on public life and sharing their preconceptions and values. That was why Charles Dickens, a British novelist, was so popular.
The Victorian era provided the basis for everything we are going through now, and it was also a time of marked differences from our previous society. This period of transition from agrarian2) collective society to industrial private society was a period that produced the most outstanding novelists in English literature and was clearly characterized by different periods due to the enormous amount and variety of novels. This was the time when the diversity of novels emerged, and various works on human nature and society were published more abundantly than ever. Victorian masterpieces allow us to think about life and society.
Jeong Ji-woo, Cub-reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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