Victorianism, by definition, describes the events and attitudes during the reign of Queen Victoria, which convey notions of prudish, repressed, and old-fashioned, (Landow 3). The Victorian Era consisted of exploration of oneself and the questioning of life and how man came to be. Many advances were made in the fields of literature, religion, and science. Above all, it was an age of paradox and power, (Landow 3).
New ideas about bettering man s condition came into focus. People now believed in bettering themselves through invention and innovation. The idea that one could solve their own problems, rather than letting problems solve themselves, revolutionized the way philosophers and authors regarded life. New ideas about religion during the Victorian Period caused man to question the current tenets of Christianity. In literature and the other arts, the Victorians attempted to combine Romantic emphases upon self, emotion, and imagination with Neoclassical ones upon the public role of art and a corollary responsibility of the artist, (Landow 3). In the fields of philosophy and ideology, feminism, democracy, unionization of workers, and Socialism marked the tides of change.
Literary Victorianism can be defined by observing some of the works of the premier poets of that era. Thomas Carlyle s poem, Sartor Resartus is typical of this era in the fact that it questions religion, as well as common practices. The first part of this tripartite poem deals with the loss of belief and faith. Titled The Everlasting No, it deals with the doubts Carlyle had with Christianity. The questioning of religion is typical of the Victorian Era. The second part, titled The Centre of Indifference, examines every aspect of life: entertainment, education, labor, politics, law, religion, war, and economics. The last part, titled The Everlasting Yea, discusses the rhetoric of newness adopted from the apocalyptic tradition in Western culture and more directly from Revelations 21 (142: "I awoke to a new Heaven and a new Earth"), signifying here the realization of Hope, the curing of personal wounds, the empowerment to seek the welfare of others (bottom of 143), (Notes 1). Carlyle s work exemplified the Victorian Age as one of self-awareness and an awakening of man s curiosity.
John Henry Cardinal Newman s work, The Idea of a University, states that a university is "is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, first of all, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement, (Landow 4). He discusses the value of a liberal arts education rather than technical training. This is classic of the Victorian thoughts about furthering the mind s capabilities. During this era many were concerned about the betterment of man s natural position. Thus, Newman s theories echoed the sentiments of many. Newman s doubts about the Church of England s claims led him to withdraw from St. Mary s Church. He started The Oxford Movement, which sought to restore the ancient doctrines of the Anglican Church.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself exemplified the feminist aspect of Victorianism. In an era where women poets were few, she gained notoriety and widespread fame for her various works. Her writings fell into disrepute with the modernist reaction against what was seen as the inappropriate didacticism and rhetorical excess of Victorian poetry, (Abrams 1173). Her work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, openly defied her father s strict rules and expressed her love for Robert Browning. This open defiance from a female characterized the feminist aspect of the Victorian Era. Elizabeth Browning s attitude towards her father marked a changing attitude amongst females in general towards their male counterparts.
Robert Browning, Elizabeth Browning s husband, added a new dimension to the way poems were written with the dramatic monologue. The general public was not ready for his new style of poetry and rejected it at first. He sought to illustrate the innermost thoughts of his characters. His poem, My Last Duchess, is an extraordinary portrait of a Renaissance murderer who would have been astonished had anyone called his conduct criminal, (U. Buffalo 1). Today s readers can fully enjoy Brown s psychological writings. The public of the Victorian Era, however, had just started to embrace the changes in literature and literary forms. Many of them were not ready for Brown s style.
Brown s poem, Fra Lippo Lippi, is an articulation of naturalist sentiment. Browning, like Lippi, believed that art should simply imitate life, not try to convey moral messages or abstract themes. This is not so much anti-religious as a different version of religion, (King 1). These ideas were vastly different than the popular belief at the time.
The authors of the Victorian Era helped to usher in the Renaissance of ideas about man s existence. The birth of ideas regarding man s position on this planet, religion, women s rights, and other social issues has been exemplified in these authors works. Even though they were ahead of their time, they have been regarded as some of the most profound writers ever.