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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

When king William IV died, he was succeeded by his niece Victoria, who was only eighteen. In her reign she became the symbol of that era.

When Victoria ascended the throne she found a country in difficult circumstances.

Chartism: A direct consequence of this crisis was the birth of the Chartism movement in 1837, so called because it asked for o Charter of social reform.

The six points are: universal suffrage, vote by ballot, annual parliaments, payment of member of parliament, abolition of the property qualification and equal electoral districts.

The trade union act: the Trade Union Movement born in 1825-6 was a movement as "sindacato". The first Trade Union Congress met in 1868. There were two parties: Conservative and Liberals.



The Liberals proposed to extend the franchise and, in 1867, the Second Reform Bill giving the right of vote to the town labourers. It was only in 1884, with the Third Reform Bill, that the latter at last got the vote. In 1892 the Independent Labour Party was formed, and the working class were able to compete widely for political power. The upper class and the industrial middle class firmly believed in a policy of free trade, adopted by Prime Minister Peel. This meant an uncontrolled flow of commercial transactions with foreign nations.

There were Social achievements:

     the Factory Acts, which regulated and improved the conditions of workers in factories;

     the Ten Hours' Act, which limited working hours to ten a day, for both men and women;

     the Mines Act, which prohibited the working of women and children in mines;

     the Public Health Act, which improved health conditions;

     the Education Acts, which re-organized elementary education;

     Parliamentary Reform, through the introduction of the secret ballot;

     the emancipation of all religious sects, by which the Catholics were finally allowed to enter Oxford and Cambridge and work in government jobs;

     the adoption of the famous English week, by which Saturday afternoon was devoted to pleasure and entertainment.

Victoria was succeeded by her son, Edward VII, who made every effort to promote friendly relations with neighbouring countries, often travelling on the Continent.

SOCIAL BACKGROUND

 

Oxford Movement. The country underwent a gradual but steady process of democratisation; greater freedom was granted to Catholics, whose cause led a group of reformers, known as the Oxford Movement, to advocate reforms inside the established Church in favour of the Church of Rome.

Social problems. There was a part of society, mainly the working class, where misery and distress were still widespread. The new urban conditions, made worse by the growth of slums, had created a lot of health problems. Whole families were often crowded into single rooms, where lack of hygiene occasionally led to cholera.

Poverty was virtually regarded as a crime and penalized as such. Debtors were still kept in jail, and life in prison was appalling. Education, too, had its problems. Teachers were often incompetent and corporal punishment was still regularly applied to maintain discipline.

Evangelicalism. Great influence was exercised in this respect by Evangelicalism, a religious movement whose origins can be traced back to 18th-century Methodism. The Evangelicals were deeply concerned with human problems and social reforms.

Fabian Society was founded, in 1884, by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Inspired by Marxist doctrine, it consisted of socialists who advocated gradual reforms instead of drastic, immediate revolutionary measures. Its name was derived from Quintus Fabius Maximus.

Philosophical currents are:

     Jeremy Bentham, the preacher of Utilitarianism;

     Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution;

     Karl Marx, who advocated a new social organization and a new distribution of wealth;




     Arthur Schopenhauer;

     Auguste Comte, the founder of Positivism;

     Hyppolyte Taine.

Pessimism. By the end of the century, therefore, a reaction started against the Victorians' traditional ideals, against their superficial optimism and against their somewhat hypocritical concept of respectability. New trends began to appear, which eventually led to a deeply pessimistic view of life.

LITERARY PRODUCTION

Literary movements were:

     Late romanticism, which was a continuation of the previous movement;

     Realism, it reproduced the reality;

     Naturalism, shared realistic conception of art, but without science;

     Aestheticism;

     Decadentism.

There were two stages:

  Early Victorians (1832-1870)

  Later Victorians (1 870-1901)

Major poets: Browing, Tennyson

Central minor poet: clough, Arnold

Pre-Raphaelites. The dissatisfaction with Victorian materialism also led some artist both writers and painters, to form an association called The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which advocated a return of art to a simplicity of medieval Italian painters.

Aestheticism was a literary movement not limited to England, but which developed throughout

Europe by the middle of the 19th century. It originated in France about 1835 with Thophile Gautier, and numbered among its followers mainly writers (like Murger and the young Baudelaire)

and painters.

Impressionism. In painting, the Aesthetic theories led to Impressionism, where such painters as Renoir, Manet and Monet, as well as Pissarro and Degas, chose what they called "pure painting".

Decadentism. In literature, after a first period that could be defined as "romantic", Aestheticism was tinged with Hedonism and slowly degenerated into what, between 1880 and 1890, was better known as Decadentism and, after 1890, in France, was replaced by the term "Symbolism'.

Three were particularly outstanding, although mainly for their prose works: Joris Karl Huysmans, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Oscar Wilde.







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