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S.T.Coleridge - "The rime of the ancient mariner"


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"The rime of the ancient mariner"

It's a ballad because the poets of romanticism loved middle-age. This ballad is divided into seven parts, each introduced by a short summary of the story so far. It was composed between 1797 and 1798 and was published as the opening poem of the Lyrical Ballads. It tells the story of a mariner who commits the crime of killing an albatross and of his subsequent punishment. The story is told by the mariner himself who finds himself at a wedding feast and begins recounting his sad story to one of the guests. The other members of the ship's crew were also punished for justifying the mariner's crime, but while he survives to tell the tale, they all die from thirst. However, the mariner's survival marks the beginning of his punishment. He must bear the burden of guilt for the rest of his days, and so he travels around telling his story to the people he meets, hoping in this way to teach them to respect and love all God's creatures.

The main characters are two: an old mariner and a young boy. The story is divided in present and past because in the present the old mariner tells at a young boy a story happened in the past.

The Story

(Present) There was a wedding party where an old man stopped just one of three young boys to tell him something happened to him in the past. He stopped just one of them because only this young boy needs to hear this story.

(Past) The old man was in the ocean with his crew and they sealed to the South. At the beginning it was a very quiet journey but when they arrived at the line, a storm full of wind brought the ship to the South Pole. There was no living been but only ice and the ship can't moved. Suddenly an albatross arrived and the ice broke up. The crew called the albatross "the bird of goodomen" because it means that land is near and now the ship can passed. The weather is not too fine, so they returned to North and the albatross came everyday to the ship for food or to play with the crew. But one of this day, the mariner killed the albatross. At the beginning the crew told off the mariner but, when the fog disappeared, the crew called the albatross "bird of illomen" and they became accomplices. The ship returned to the line and then stopped. Time passed but everything was still and the ship can't moved. So the crew wanted to make the mariner guilt and they put the albatross round his neck as a christian symbol. Suddenly they saw a ship coming from high, it was a phantom ship with two women: life in death (or spectre woman) and death (or death-mate). Death and Life-in-death have diced for the ship's crew and the mariner. Death wins the crew and Life-in-death the old mariner. The crew is only accomplice, the mariner is the real guilty. So the crew died and the mariner was condamned to live like he was death. He was alone with the corps but he still didn't recognised his guilty. Then he saw two sea-snakes and he realized that nature and all her creature are beautiful and a sudden rain came down to purifify him. Now that he recognized his guilty he can pray and the albatross falls down in the water. He met an heremit that said to him that for expiated his sin, he must tell his story around the world to teach that nature must be respected.


The mariner: he remembers Caino that is condamned to travel around the world to tell his story and his sin for the redenction.

The albatross: the symbol of love between man and nature. When the mariner kill the albatross, he breaks this link. It's also a christian symbol because the crew put it around the neck of the mariner like a christian cross and he represented Christ and the violation of nature.

The wedding guest: the guest plays two roles: he's a listener, the mariner choose him because the guest is similar to him before his experience. The guest too is rude and no solid, but after the story he became more savage thanks to the mariner's experience.

The travel: the travel symbolized the route of every man, he commits mistakes that he can repaired after a long period of suffering and sacrifices.


Shelley was born in 1792, he studied in Oxford where he writes a pamphlet "The necessity of atheism" and then he was expelled. He married Godwin's daughter because Godwin was a personality who underlines the necessity of an utopic and social society and Shelley agree with him. He writed in 1820 "Ode to the west wind", the wes 919f59j t wind is the symbol of the strength of nature who acts in the inner of the poet, too. There's a comparison between Wordsworth and Shelley in this ode because Wordsworth identified himself as a cloud and Shelley identified himself as all the elements that the wind brings. In fact, nature is the most important element of this ode. The poetry describes the energy of nature and this energy is in the soul of the artist. Thanks to this capacity, the poet is a prophet who wants to transmit the sense of life. Shelley represents also the poet of liberty, he was a political radical who rebelled against the social and religious values of society: the institution of marriage, family and the Church for example. He wrote poetry and also several highly controversial political and philosophical tracts. Shelley saw the poet's role as that of a prophet and believed in the power of poetry to reform the world. Poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

Shelley considers nature at the opposite of Leopardi: he starts from a negative point of view to a positive one. Nature gives you life but then he realized that life isn't good and considers nature in a negative way.

"Ode to the west wind"

The first part speaks about earth because wind is one of the causes of life and death (he destroys leaves but preserves seeds). The second part speaks about sky and the third part speaks about sea. In this part he describes some natural events and he says that when the sensation are so strong it's impossible to describe them. In the last part he speaks about himslef and he says that he wants to be free as the wind. He shows his pantheistic vision with the description of nature and he describes the wind as free and wild, like the poet wants to be. With the sentence "I fall upon the thorns of life!I bleed!" there's a negative moment that ends with hope. The poet must to spread his words to humanity and the message is contained in the last sentence: "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?". There's spring after winter.


He believed that poetry should be more subtle and indirect and not agree with Shelley vision of poets. Many of his poems are derived from Greek mythology and medieval sources, he also wrote a series of odes in wich he contrasts the transience of human life with the eternity of nature or the eternity of art ("Ode on a grecian urn"). In fact Keats believed in the immortalising power of art and its artificiality.

"Ode on a grecian urn"

This poem is written in 1819 and covers many typically Romantic themes such as nature, beauty and the immortality of art versus the transience of life. We can say that it's also a reflection on art and poetry.

The Greek urn is at the centre of the poem and the preposition "on" means that this invocation is addressed to people who are represented in this urn and not "to" the urn. The poet addresses to it as it were a person and it's decorated with different scenes. This urn represented the Keats's complex idea of beauty and art full of contradictions: the figures on the urn are eternal but they pay a price for it, immobility; the figures have been frozen in a state of pure beauty but at the same time they are cold. So art may be eternal but it also mean death and life does decay but at the same time can be enjoyed.

The lines "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" spoken by the urn and with which the poem ends leaving a sense of ambiguity.

The novel in the Romantic Age

In the Romantic age, fiction became increasingly tied to the way of the world. The linear history of one or more character became the preferred form but at the same time novelists began to reflect a wider range of themes, issues and settings. Novels began to show contrating ideas, settings and points of view. The two most important british novelists were Walter Scott and Jane Austen, that were almost polar opposites because they reflected in different ways their times.

Walter Scott

Scott's novels were all set in the past and their concerns were the revolutions, rebellions and social transformations in Britain's history. The heroes of the book are forced to confront and accept the changing nature of the world, a world shaped by forces beyond their control. Scott is the first novelist to historicise fiction and thus fictionalise history.

An historical novel includes fiction(events set in the past) and history(historical events of the past). In Walter Scott important historical events correspond to personal crisis in individuals or group of individuals (both fictional characters and historical personalities); they are interpreters of life in order to create historical climate poetically rather than faithfully. Scott's narrator is a third-person omniscent narrator: he comments the story and he exhibits documents to give authority to his words. The features of Scott's historical novels are: the evocation of the past, the use of dialect, the love of nature, elements of wonder (Coleridge) and elements of ordinary life (Wordsworth), combination of historical events and fiction. This combination of elements of wonder and elements of ordinary life consists on: Scott's attitude to his story (he wants to arouse emotions and to involve the reader); fictitious characters and real ones; the choice of combining history and fiction; language (ample use of dialects and local saying).


Historical background: Middle Ages England (Saxons vs Normans); historical context that stress the cultural and political conflict between Scotland and England.

Social theme: the outlaw Robin and Ivanhoe against the barons.

Fictitious theme: contrasted love between the characters

Historical setting: rich in details; mostly pictoresque; fictional events and characters interact with historical personages; history is functional to the story.

The Victorian Age

The age of Empire

Economy and society

The Victorian age took its name from Queen Victoria whose reign was the longest in the history of England. It was a period of rapid expansion, both economically and territorially. The modern urban economy of manufacturing industry and international trade took over from the agricultural economy. Britain had become a nation of town dwellers and includes the eight largest towns: London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford. "Free trade" became the dominant economical ethos and for a while it was considered the solution to Britain's poverty problem. Briatin had become the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world but much of its wealth was the result of the resources of its growing number of colonies, the lowly paid workers who worked in factory and the victorian compromise. The Victorian compromise: the behaviour of upper-classes for the miserable conditions of lower-classes, they look at the economical wealth of England and not at a single man.

However, the unsettled masses of the urban poor were perceived as a potential danger and gradually were taken to incorporate portions of the working classes into society through a series of reforms and progressive policies.

The pressure of reform (Home policy)

After the French Revolution, Britain had turned politically conservative. Political reform was inevitable but both Conservatives (ex- tories) and Liberals (ex- weaks) were initially fearful about extendind the power to vote to the masses. The First Reform Bill of 1832 gave the right to vote to people who has an income or for the property or for work. The industrial area of the country was not so well represented and the votes was often subject to bribery. These factors gave rise to the working class Chartist movement (Chartist, a chart of right) and another movement is the Fabian Society (socialist) who tooks this name from Fabio Massimo the delayer (il temporeggiatore) because he wanted reforms but in a large period, not immediately. The Chartist's demand has six points: votes for all males; annualy elected parliaments; payment of Members of Parliament (so also working-class men could become MPs); secret voting; abolition of property qualification for candidates; the establishment of electoral districts equal in population. The People's Charter was rejected three times. After petitions and a general strike, the movement's leaders were arrested. The third petition was rejected in 1848, the year that Marx and Engels wrote their Communist Manifesto and revolution was erupting across Europe. But the Chartists were poorly organised and after this third rejection the movement disbanded. All their demands, except that for an annually elected parliament, became law. The Second Reform Bill in 1867 extended the vote to members of the working classes and the Third Reform Bill in 1918 giving all men the right to vote. Women had to wait until 1928 before they were able to vote, thanks to the movement of the "Suffraggette".

Another measures to improve the conditions of the workers in the factory were approved in this period. The Ten Hours Act or Factory Act in 1847 restricts the working hours of women and children in textile factories from up to twelve to ten hours a day. The Education Act in 1870 declared that children must have an education and don't work until twelve years old and after twelve years old they can work just for ten hours a day. The Trade Union Act in 1871 legalises workers' unions.

Technological innovation

The mid 19th century was a time of technological innovation. The invention of steam-powered machinery revolutionised both industry and trasport which, thanks to the development of railways, became faster and more efficient. The Great Exhibition in 1851 held in Crystal Palace in London, a glass edifice designed by the gardner Joseph Paxton, became the symbol for Britain's dominant position as an industrial and imperial trading power. Communications were greatly improved thanks to a more efficient mail service and the invention of the telephone by Meucci. Printing became cheaper which led to a proliferation of literary production. This age was characterised by a general feeling of optimism.

Managing the Empire (Foreign policy)

In the Victorian period there was the massive expansion of Britain's Empire all over the world, especially to protect trade routes to and from Britain's main imperial property: India, the "Jewel in the Crown". India had been administered since the 17th century by the East India Company with bribery and violent coercion, so with the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the administration of Indian territories was taken over by the British government. Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India in 1876. Trade with India included tea, spices, silk and cotton and it was vital to the British economy. To protect this trade routes, Britain annexed a number of territories including South Africa (to control the Cape of Good Hope), Egypt (Suez Canal), Burma, Malaysia and Afghanistan (the main land route to India). The control of these territories was difficult for the political instability. The Russian aggression at the weak Ottoman Empire leading to joint British and French military intervention in the disastrous campaigns of the Crimean War, in which Piemonte was recognised as a power, during the 1850s. A woman, Florence Nitingel, founded the Red Cross.

In South Africa the claims of the Boers provoked another conflict: the Boer Wars, enormously expensive and failed to defeat the Boers. In this period both Germany and France became economic powers and became rivals with Britain's position in Africa. Another indipendent part of Britain's imperial legacy was Oceania, in origin a prison colony. Later Australia began to develop as a white colony is own right establishing a modern agricultural and industrial society based on the British model.

From a litterary point of view

The Victorian period is the golden age of novel because novel is the art form capable of reflecting the modern world. The theme is the relation of the individual to society, the way the individual could find his place in the society through the compromise. The plots of victorian's novels revolved around questions of money. We can find an omniscent narrator, as a moral guide, an instrument for analysing the psychology of characters.

In the Victorian Age litterature is the opposite of Romanticism. Realism with the description of society is diffused in opposite of Idealism and writers prefered prose with novels and essays at poetry. We found three important authors: C.Dickens that describes lower classe; W.M.Thackeray that describes upper-middle classe; G.Elliot that describes middle-classe and gentry. So we have a complete vision to english society.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has a sad childhood. He's a bitterman. His father was imprisoned for debt and at the age of twelve he was sent to work in a blacking factory, a traumatic experience for him. After his father's financial position improved, he went back to school and he became a journalist. He published fourteen novels where he describes some negatives aspects of victorian compromise such as greed and hypocrisy of the riches and their indifference to the problems of the poor. But in opposite of Verga's works in which poor people are always condamned, in Dicken's works at the end poor people can be rewarded.

"Hard Times"

"Hard Times" is the story to demonstrate that industrialisation destroyed fantasy of people written in 1854. Dickens' sense of humour is one of the modern aspect of his writing, on the other hand pathos and sentimentality are difficult for the modern to accept. Reality is the starting point for the novel and Dickens' writing transforms the environment into a symbol of the type of life it represents. For example, Coketown is a typical industrial town but it's also a symbolic portrait of the poverty that oppresses the working classes. Many scenes of the novel are conceived in a vivid theatrical way because the characters are stylised in a described setting and their different outlook generates dramatic conflict. Dickens' style is inimitable because he captures the rhythms of different types of speech, with a comic effet, the descriptions of landscapes are not simply illustrative but a dream-like image and a social and psychological map of the situation. In these descriptions he traces the connection between the different social classes.

The plot

The school teacher Thomas Gradgrind is a citizen of Coketown. He's an "eminently pratical man" that believes only in facts and figures and brings his two children Louisa and Tom up in a similar way, crushing any imagine impulses they might have just as he suppresses the imagination of the children he teaches; among whom Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus worker. Louisa in accordance with her father wanted to marry Josiah Bounderby, a factory owner, because Tom, the only person she cares about, is employed by Bounderby's firm. Unhappy in her marriage, Louisa is distracted by James Harthouse who tries to seduce her and Louisa runs to her father. So Gradgrind finally understand that his rational ordered world of facts and figures is a nonsense. Louisa separates from Bounderby and Tom robs his employer and tries to divert suspicion onto an innocent craftsman, Stephen Blackpool. But he is soon found out and is forced to leave the country.

The Utilitarism

Dickens takes the characters from real life but he trasformes them in a comic way. An example is Thomas Gradgrind that is probably based on James Mill, the utilitarian leader. Utilitarism was a 19th century political, economic and social doctrine that based all values on utility for the material happiness of people. In education the system was mechanical and arid. For Dickens, it's based on a wrong conception of man because utilitarism don't accept human qualities such as generosity or imagination and don't consider the singularity of the individual. Gradgrind thought that education should be practical, without imagination or emotion.

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray was born 18 July 1811, first and only child of Richmond and Anne Becher Thackeray. He was born in India, where his father worked for the East India Company, and sent to school in England, as was the fashion for colonial-born children, in 1817. His father had died in 1815, and shortly after William left, his mother remarried to her first love, Captain Henry Carmichael-Smyth. They joined William in England in 1820. William never quite took a degree in anything. He started studying law, though he never actually got anywhere with it. He had some rather large gambling debts to pay off. William fell in love with Isabella Shawe. Since he needed enough money to marry on, William's mother and stepfather, mostly broke due to an economic collapse in India (where they'd left most of their money), scraped together all of the funds they could find and started a newspaper called the Constitution. William was appointed the paper's Paris correspondent. He also published a little book of satirical essays on the ballet. William and Isabella were married in 1836. But years later, she fell victim to some sort of mental illness and after a few months was so suicidal and difficult to control that she was placed in a private institution. She remained in one institution or another for the rest of her life and outlived her husband by thirty years. Now William's life got really busy. Over the next few years, he wrote a trilogy, "The Virginians", "The History of Henry Esmond" and "The Newcombes" (memories of India), and his masterpiece, "Vanity Fair". On Christmas Eve, 1863, he died of a cerebral effusion.

"Vanity Fair"

For the first time, Vanity Fair appeared between 1847 and 1848 in serial form. It's set during the Napoleonic Wars and takes the title from the work "The pilgrim's progress" by John Bunyan. In this work he wants to compare two different kinds of women: the victorian woman and the ambitious woman. In fact the protagonists are Amelia Sadley, the victorian woman who wants only to marry and she's without ambitions; Rebecca or Becky Sharp, a social climber, a very ambitious woman that wants to get what she wants without scruples. Also the names for assonance put off the characteristics of the two women. As regards style, we can find an intrusive narrator out of the story like Manzoni's works and he speaks directly to the readers. He likes to underline the fact of english society with irony. Thackeray describes women from a moral point of view.

The plot

The life of two contrasting women: Becky Sharp, the orphan of an artist and a French opera dancer, and Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a rich City merchant. They met at the college and at the age of 18, when the school ends, Becky found a job as a governess but before she spents two weeks in Amelia's house and she tried to seduce Amelia's brother without success. So Becky started to work for a family composed on: a man, mr.Crowley, his wife (a woman very ill), an eldest son and two little children. She wants to be appreciated and become indispensable for the family. When mr.Crowley's wife died, he proposed to Becky but she has already married in secret his eldest son, Random, because she know that he has an eredity of an old uncle but this uncle disereted him for this marriage. Instead Amelia is engaged with George Osborne because Amelia's family and George's family were friends. But Amelia's father bankrupt and the wedding was broken. A friend of George, Dobbin, encourage George to marry her in secret. Both George and Random were military and they're called for the battle of Waterloo at Bruxelles. One night during a party, George gives a note to Becky. The following day there was the battle of Waterloo (very well described because Thackeray was also a journalist) and George is killed and Amelia uncovers that she's pregnant. Everybody come back to London and Amelia doesn't want to give in custody her son to George's father because she must see nomore her son. Dobbin proposed to Amelia but she rejected in memory of his husband. Instead Becky has a lot of love stories, she sent her husband to work in colonies and he goes in prison for debt but Becky doesn't save him. Finally he comes back home and find Becky with her lover and she must leaves. Amelia visit Becky that starts to drink and she's disinteressed of her son, and Becky reveals to Amelia that George gives to her a note in which he asks to her to elope togheter. So Amelia finally accept to marry Dobbin.

George Eliot

George Eliot was the literary pen-name of Mary Ann Evans, she chooses a male pen-name to be credible and considered in the Victorian Society, full of hipocrisy. She was born in 1819 in Warwickshire and she was educated in Nuneaton. When her mother died, she became her father's housekeeper and she educates herself. Her first job was as a translator in Coventry and then she became assistent editor of the "Westminster Review". She met George Henry Lewes and she lived with him for twenty years, until his death, without marry him because he was already married and he can't divorce. For this reason, she was umiliated by society because she is considereted as a public sinner. Then she married an old friend, J. Cross, also her first biographer, a few months before her death in 1880. Lewes persuaded her to become a novelist. Her novels were in serial form and published in "Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine". Her first novel was "Scenes of clerical life", then "Adam Bede", "The mill on the floss", "Silas Marner", "Romola", "Felix Holt" and then her two masterpieces "Middlemarch" and "Daniel Deronda".

The most important characteristics of this novelist are that she was the first woman that faces social problem and that penetrates the inner of her characters, in her works there isn't only descriptions or episodes. The characters speaks their own language, the language of the social classe they belong to. She tried also to write historical novels but she doesn't succed.


The Novel is set in the provincial town of Middlemarch, in England, during the time that preceded the First Reform Act. Like some novels of Dickens, it has a complex plot like a soap opera. He describes, like Thackeray's Vanity Fair, two differents kinds of women but here is more evident. Eliot describes women from an intellectual point of view.

The plot

The story is about two sisters: Celia, the victorian woman - angel of the house, and Dorothea, the intellectual woman who wants to express herself. They go to live with an uncle in the countryside. Dorothea wants to organise the farm but the uncle and a friend of him don't take her to consideration. Then this young boy proposed to her but she rejected and tell him to marry her sister, Celia. So the young boy marries Celia. One day arrived at the farm a pastor, Mr. Casaubon, because he wants to look at the family's bibliotheque for a latin literature work that he's writing. He asks help to Dorothea and he was very happy because she thinks that he appreciated her intelligence. Then Mr.Casaubon proposed to her and they become married. After the marriage Dorothea realized that Mr. Casaubon isn't so intelligent, like the work he's writing, and that his behavoiur was different. Here there was the disillusion after the marriage because everybody is different after. One day, a nephew of Mr. Casaubon arrived at the farm, he's a painter and a feeling starts between him and Dorothea. Meanwhile Mr. Casaubon feel ill, he becomes more selfish and writes in his will that Dorothea will never be married again or she lost the inheritance. But Dorothea have a lot of money from her family so she marries Mr. Casaubon's nephew and goes to Rome with him and they will be happy forever.

"The mill on the floss"

The Mill on the Floss is one of the most affecting stories of family loss, tragedy and the meanness of fate in the history of the novel. It was published in 1860 and is the story of Maggie Tulliver, the heroine, who is the daughter of a miller in the English midlands. Like many nineteenth century literary girls, her intelligence and emotional capacity cause problems. She is devoted to her brother Tom but he is hopelessly limited in his understanding and Maggie turns to Philip Wakem, son of a local lawyer and unpleasantly deformed. Disaster strikes their relationship as Mr Tulliver and Wakem find themselves enemies over a legal dispute that leaves the former bankrupt. After the early death of Mr Tulliver, Maggie leaves the mill for St Ogg's where her cousin Lucy lives. Lucy's fiancé Stephen somewhat unfortunately falls for Maggie and compromises her reputation while boating on the river. Maggie refuses to marry him and her life is ruined. Only a very limited group including Philip still show sympathy for her and only a dreadful flood in which Maggie tries to save Tom can lead the well-meaning but doomed girl to some kind of transcendence.

The Victorian rebels

The only true rebel of the Victorian age was perhaps Algernon Charles Swinburne who rebels against everything the Victorians stood for. He was an atheist and he lived an extremely dissolute life. In his works he used some Biblical references in a irriverent and blasphemous way. Swinburne was influenced by the French poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud for their fascination for morbid passions and extreme experiences. Victorian's readers were shocked by Swinburne's works and life. He was an original poet who represents a more radical evolution from Romanticism than Browning or Tennyson.

Women poets

Women started to write, also poetry with Christina Rossetti. She wants to show concern for the social and political problems of her time. She wrote poems of various types: fantasy, ballads, sonnets and religious poetry. Rossetti's poetry expresses many of the contradictions in the victorian female but Eliot used two different characters to shows the contrast, instead Rossetti included the two differents aspects only in a character.

Pre-Raphaelite poets and artists

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were a group of poets and painters who reacted against the dull, unimaginative art of this period by returning to the aesthetic values of the Italian painters before Raphael because truer to nature and in literature they took inspiration of humanist. This group was founded in 1848 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and was partly inspired by Keats. The Characteristics are: fidelity to nature and rich on details; the use of non-industrial materials because the are against industrialisation; the re-evaluation of medieval religion and legend and their enthusiasm for mysticism because there was the crisis in religious values caused by the Darwin's theory of the evolution written in his works "The origin of the species". This movement didn't last long, was dissolved in 1850, but its influence was enduring. It anticipated the Aesthetic Movement  whose motto was "Art for Art's sake" which mean that art lives only for herself. One of the most important work was Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray".

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854, his father was a doctor and his mother was a translator and a national poet. After graduating in classical studies at Trinity College, he won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he started to read the Aesthetic work of Walter Pater. From aestheticism he took the cult of beauty, which must be associated with art. In particular the concept take "Art for Art's Sake", taken from Pater, led him to believe that only "Art as the cult of Beauty" could prevent the murder of the soul. Wilde perceived the artist as an alien in a materialistic world. He wrote only to please himself and not to communicate his theories to his fellow beings, in fact he doesn't believe in a didactic and moral aim for art. He travelled in Italy and in Greece, then he settled in London and he became an eccentric dandy,  which is an aristocratic whose elegance is a symbol of the superiotity of his spirit and he is an individualist, who charmed everybody with his wit. He wants to make his life as a form of art and he wants to stonish people with his private life. He became a spokesman for the school of "Art for art's sake", in his view this school included french poets, pre-Raphaelites and even Keats. In 1882 he gave a lecture tour in America and it's famous the sentence when he arrived at New York: "I have nothing to declare but my genius". In Paris he met Verlaine, Hugo, Zola et Balzac and he published his first volume of poems. Then he published the essay "The soul of man under socialism", the collection "Lord Arthur Savile's crime and other stories" and his masterpiece "The picture of Dorian Gray". He wrote also shorts romantic stories for children such as "The Canterville's ghost", "The egoist giant", "The happy prince", "The nightingel and the rose", all the stories have a moral. His succes was influenced by his witty comedies, stages from 1892 to 1895, such as "Woman of no importance", "An ideal husband" and "The importance of being Earnest". His popularity declined when he was arrested in 1895 and sentenced to two years' hard labour. Wilde had been married for several years with Constance Lloyd with whom he had two children, but the Marquis of Queensberry accused him of having a homosexual relationship whit his son, Lord Alfred Douglas. This accusation was proved and the scandal broke out. In prison he wrote the poem "The ballad of reading gaol" and his prose confession "De profundis". After his release he emigrated to France, where he lived in poverty and obscurity under another name. He was buried in Paris in the same cemetery as the poet Baudelaire.


Oscar Wilde's plays criticised Victorian values in a subtle, comic way which did not offend. His social comedies, the most famous is "The importance of being Earnest", were a succes thanks to their witty dialogue, the puns and absurd characters, Wilde himself was a charismatic popular literary figure. He denied the moral or political significance of art, he said that works of art were autonomous and could be judged only for their beauty. In fact he was a supporter of the Aesthetic movement with Walter Pater and Charles Swinburne. Wilde's comedies did nothing to offend anybody and were popular with the people whose lives they satirised. Wilde's private life and his homosexuality offended the Victorians and they turned against him.

"The picture of Dorian Gray"

This work starts with a dialogue on the art that can be no longer judged on moral but only on aesthetic rules. This discussion moves into a nightmare where Dorian, through a pact with an absent devil, starts to make his own life an unchanging and untouchable work of art. In fact his portrait becomes the mirror of his real inner soul. This split between appearance and reality is the central point of the novel. To seduce Dorian, Lord Henry gives him an unnamed yellow book, probably Huysmans' "À rebours" a key text for the Aesthetic movement, whose protagonist, bored with reality, surrounds himself with an artificial world. Dorian was heavily influenced by the book going beyond the simple exoticism and embracing evil desires and passions. Dorian considers his fascination with evil a part of a projet to spiritualise the senses. But Dorian contains many aspects of Wilde's philosophy, in particular the rejection of utilitarism and industrialised mass society. The orrible, corrupting picture could be seen as a symbol of the immorality and bad coscience of the Victorian middle classes, while Dorian's purity and innocence are symbols of the bourgeois hypocrisy. Finally the picture, restored to his original beauty, illustrates Wilde's theories of art: art survives people, art is eternal. The moral of this novel is that every excess must be punished and reality cannot be escaped, in fact when Dorian destroys the picture, he can avoid the punishment for all his sins, that is death.

The plot

Dorian Gray is a young man whose beauty fascinates a painter, Basil Hallward, who decides to portray him. Once it's finished, he shows it to Dorian who sees in it his own beauty and understands with horror that the beauty of the portrait will last while he himself will grow old and horrible. A friend of Basil, the amoral aesthete Lord Henry Wotton, remains fascinated by Dorian's portrait and he insists with Basil to know him. They meet each other, even if Basil thought that Lord Henry will have a bad influence to Dorian. They speak about youth and its great importance and, under his influence, Dorian expresses a wish: that the portrait would absorb all the sings of age and experience, while he will remain forever beauty and young. He also says that he will kill himself when his youth fades. Basil is alarmed by Dorian's reaction and tries to destroy the painting but Dorian stops him and takes the picture home. Dorian and Lord Henry become friends and Henry teaches Dorian new things about life that he never knew existed. Dorian begins to frequent the theatre where he meets the actress Sybil Vane and he falls in love with her for her extraordinary talent and she falls in love with him, too. But she started to act in a very bad way because now her love is Dorian and not the art. So Dorian cruelly rejects her saying that it was only on stage that she fascinated him. He goes home and realizes that his picture has changed, so he returns to Sybil but it's too late because Sybil has killed herself. Influenced by the diabolic Lord Henry, Dorian starts a dissolute life and he hides the portrait in his house where nobody could see his corrupting soul. As the years go by, people start to hate the once beloved Dorian Grey. Then one night, Basil visits him. Dorian, beauty and young but now evil and corrupt, chats with his friend who tell him that his soul is bad. Dorian tells him he no longer has a soul, and decides to show him the picture he once had painted of him. The picture had become horrid, old, and had lost all the beauty it once possessed. Basil is stonish and Dorian accuses him of all it happens and stabs him. To keep this secret, Dorian has to die several other people and the portrait becomes more and more ugly. At the end Dorian realises the horror of his acts and detroys the portrait to start a new life. But in doing so he kills himself and the portrait magically returns to its original image instead Dorian's body become old and disgusting.

"The importance of being Earnest"

The title is a pun (play on words), because the word earnest, an adjective that means serious or sincere, is pronounced in the same way as the proper name Ernest. The play is a farce which plays on mistaken identities and misunderstandings and which ridicules the conventions of Victorians society. It's also a parody of romantic love because it mocks the idea of love at first sight because the two women love a name: Ernest. The characters contradict themselves and Wilde uses this contradiction to criticise the world of false appearances they live in. The structure of social relations is reduced to a questions of names. So the paly is also a social satire on the values placed on appearances which mocks the morals of the upper classes and the hypocrisy of Victorians.

The plot

The protagonists are John (Jack) Worthing and his friend Algernon (Algy). Both men live double lives. Jack, when he's in the city, is known as Ernest but to protect his reputation, he convinces his ward (the young girl under his responsability) Cecily Cardew, that the dissolute Ernest is his brother. However, in London Jack-Ernest meets and falls in love with Gwendolen Fairfax, Algernon's cousin, whose mother, Lady Bracknell, opposes their marriage on the grounds of Jack's unknown origins. Algy has invented a fictitious friend, the sickly Bunbury, whose illness provides him excuses to escape tedious family engagements. During a visit to the counrty Algy falls in love with Cecily who thinks that Algy is Jack's brother Ernest, with whom she's already in love. After many complications, it eventually transpires that as a baby Jack was left in a handbag at Victoria Station by Cecily's governess, Miss Prism. Finally, we discover that Jack and Algy are brothers and Jack's name is really Ernest. Now that all the obstacles to both matches have been overcome, Jack can become Ernest and finally marry Gwendolen.

The age of Modernism

The writers of Modernism live in a period without security caused by the two world wars. This experience destroyed their faith in society and institutions. So the Modernists, horrified by the effects of war, were interested in recovering the experience of the individual by exploring his/her inner world. In fact Modernism starts in 20th century with Freud's psycoanalist and his theory of the unconscious. The subjects of the novels changes and becomes what is inside the mind also because artists have personal problems. The works become their psycoanalist in which they describe thoughts, feelings and memories. From a stylistic point of view, the omniscent narrator disappeared to be replaced by the direct or indirect characters' thoughts. There isn't a linear plot and the idea of duration disappeared. The novel is no more a mirror of society and losts her social responsability. The two most important authors are James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. They are born and died in the same years.

James Joyce

James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882. His family fell into poverty but he attended the most prestigious Jesuit schools before going to University College in Dublin, where he deomnstrated extraordinary academic ability. In 1902 he went to Paris with the intention to study medicine but he changed his mind and started to write poems and prose sketches developing his highly distinctive aesthetic theories. After the death of his mother in 1903, he met Nora Barnacle whom he persuaded to go to the Continent with him. Joyce called the 16 june the "Bloom's day" because he meets Nora and he celebrates this day in his masterpiece "Ulysses" that is set in this day. They lived first in Pola and then in Trieste. Joyce worked as an english teacher at the Berlitz School of Languages and they have two children. Joyce published a collection of poetry "Chamber music" and then "Dubliners" in 1914. Joyce was obsessed by two elements: his irish origin and his catholic education, and he never succed to be free of this two elements. So he criticised this two oppressions in his works, like "Dubliners". At the outbreak of World War I Joyce's family went to Zurich in neutral Switzerland. In this period Joyce published his semiautobiographical first novel "A portrait of the artist as a young man". He wrote also his masterpiece "Ulysses", declared obscene and banned in Britain and America but published in Paris. Then he began to work on the experimental novel "Finnegans wake" that completely breaks down English syntax and grammar and inventing its own polylinguistic vocabulary. Joyce follows the circular structure of time and he starts with the end of the story. His motive was to keep literary historians busy for the next four hundred years. At the start of World War II Joyce went to France where he gained the permission to renurn to Switzerland. He died in Zurich in 1941.

"A portrait of the artist as a young man"

The protagonist wants to be a priest but later on sexual experiences he has a crisis and he understands that his vocation is to be an artist. It's a bildungsroman (formation's roman). In this work Joyce uses interior monologue, both direct and indirect. Trough it the writer disappears and the reader find himself directly inside the character's mind. Inside this work, Joyce inserts a programmatic manifesto on what he sees as the role of the Modernist writer: the artist remains invisible because his personality passes into the narration itself and into the characters. Joyce also explains through his character Stephen what he means by epiphany: a sudden revelation in which the soul of the commonest object seems to us radiant. It's a peaks of intensity in the narration in which reality reveals herself in her essence. This istant of intensity can be compared to Woolf's moment of being.


"Dubliners" is a collection of 14 stories in which Joyce represents irish life from childhood to public life. In fact the stories are arranged in four groups: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The significant theme of all the stories is the paralysis of Ireland because Joyce wants to show that irish people live dead, inhibited by repressive moral codes.

and started to use the stream of conscious. He wants to show the paralysis of Ireland becuase they live dead. The last story, "The Dead" is the culmination of the feeling of stagnation of the characters of all the stories. From a stilistical point of view, the stories are written in a traditional way but the descriptive realism contains many of the elements of Joyce's experimental work, such as the absence of a moralising narrator substituted with an omniscent narrator, description of characters' inner thoughts and use of symbolism.

"The Dead"

The story begins with an after-Christmas dinner party at the house of two unmarried sister, Miss Kate and Miss Julia Morkan. They are the aunts of the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy, who goes to the party with his wife Gretta. The house becomes a microcosmos of Ireland and her traditions and each of the guests represent different generations, religious and political tendencies. Gabriel feels self-confident and on the way to the hotel he remembers the best moments of his married life. However, when they arrived at the hotel room, he realises that Gretta is crying because at the end of the party she had a sad "epiphany": listening to an old Irish song, she remembers her first and only true love, Michael Furey, a young man who she thinks died for her. When Gretta falls asleep, Gabriel has his epiphany looking outside the window where the snow is falling. He realises that his life and the life of those around him are insignificants because they all must die and be forgotten.


This work was published in 1922 and it's Joyce's masterpiece. It tells the story of a day in the life of the advertising salesman Leopold Bloom, who walks around Dublin looking for his spiritual son. He meets a lot of people, including the indigent writer Stephen Dedalus with whom he visits a brothel and gets drunk before coming back home to his wife Molly. In reality Bloom's wanderings are the parody of the epic travels of Ulysses in Homer's "Odyssey". Bloom represents Ulysses because one day he steps out of the house, leaving his wife asleep in bed, to go wandering around Dublin, like Ulysses who finds himself delayed by a series of bizarre events and finally he returns home. But Bloom is not the only character in the book who is based on a Homeric model. Stephen Dedalus is a young writer whose companions evict him and he's forced to wander the streets of Dublin in search of a new home and a substitute father and he meets Bloom who offers to take him home. Sthephen is Joyce's alter-ego, his name Dedalus refers to the story of Arianna's labyrinth and Stephen refers to the first cristian martyr. Sthepen is like Telemachus, son of Ulysses, who wait his father's return but then he search advice to the wise King Nestor. At the end, we have Molly Bloom, Leopold's wife, who is the opposite of Penelope because Molly is unfaithful. She's a semi-professional singer and she has a string of lovers. While Bloom is out, she meets her latest boyfriend. On the contrary Penelope faithfully awaits her husband's return avoiding the advances of her suitors.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was born in London in 1882. Her father was the literary critic Sir Leslie Stephen and her mother is aristocratic. This highly intellectual family influenced her approach to writing. When Virgina was thirteen the death of her mother and then of her step-sister Stella, provoked a nervous breakdown. This is the beginning of the mental instability that would afflict her throughout her life with severe migraine attacks and phantom voices in her head. After the death of his father in 1904, she moved to Bloomsbury where, with her brother Thoby and her sister Vanessa, she founded a circle of intellectuals: the Bloomsbury group. This group included the economist J. Keynes, the writer Forster and also the publisher Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912. During this period Virgina wrote for literary reviews and in 1915 she published her first novel, "The voyage out", but in a moment of mental anguish she attempted suicide. In 1917 she founded with her husband "The Hogart Press" which published most of Virginia's works and also some Eliot's works. In 1919 she published "Night and day" and then her Modernist masterpieces "Mrs Dalloway", "To the lighthouse", "Orlando", "The waves" and "Between the acts". Woolf was also an essayist and critic. Her critical works was collected in "The common reader" and "A room of one's own". Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse in 1941.

Interior time

In Woolf's novels we have the feeling of entering her characters' inner world. Time is dilated and a single moment can last for a very long time. This is possible through the technique of indirect interior monologue, used to represent the gap between chronological and interior time. Woolf is also interested in the impressions of the characters who experience the events in their subjectivity. She's particularly concerned with female subjectivity. Virginia Woolf doesn't use the traditional controlling narrator but she takes the point of view of characters themselves, speaking from within their minds and showing their thoughts and feelings directly. So the narrator is an occasional and invisible presence who gives order to the character's thoughts by arranging them in a logical and grammatical sequence.

Moments of being

Woolf's literature technique looks at her own explanation of the moments of being. The moments of being are the moments of intensity, perception or vision which illuminate our lives.

"Mrs Dalloway"

This work is often considered Woolf's first realised novel. Clarissa's interior monologue is interwoven with the sounds of the city and marks a new phase of English novel. The beginning of this book is an example of interior time in contrast with chronological time. As Clarissa walks around London, she's interrupted by the interior tunnels that open up in her mind, into the past and the future. One of the aims in this book, was to dig caves behind her characters. Walking around London, Clarissa's physical impression of the city are intewoven with the mental associations, while the interior time is interrupted by the chimes of Big Ben. Another aspect is the way the characters of Clarissa and Septimus become mutually dependent altought they are never directly connected. In her diary Woolf noted: "Mrs Dalloway seeing the truth. Septimus seeing the insane truth". Like Clarissa, Septimus too walks in London but unlike Clarissa he's unable to hold the experiences and sensations that invade his mind togheter. The choise to die is inseparable from her acceptance of life and his death becomes the light that illuminates her life (the moments of being).

The plot

The action of Mrs Dalloway is limited to the events of a single day in central London. It opens on a June morning as Clarissa Dalloway, the 51-year-old wife of a politician, leaves home to buy flowers for the party she organised for the evening. During the day, she is lost in her memories. We also see her through the thoughts of other characters: Peter Walsh, the man she once loved who returns unexpectedly from India; her old friend Sally Seton; her daughter Elizabeth; Lady Bruton. Her day is contrasted with that of Septimus Smith, a disturbed, shell-schocked war veteran. He had been treated for his nervous disorders by the rational doctor Holmes, who doesn't understand his pain, and later by sir William Bradshaw, an intensitive nerve specialist. At the end of the day he commits suicide by jumping out of the window. News of his death introdues upon Clarissa's party through sir William. Clarissa reflects on this event and the importance for her that Septimus dies because she felt somehow like him and she felt happy that she hasn't done the same. The novel ends at the party with Clarissa appearing to Peter in all her vitality.

"The waves"

In this works six characters write pages of diaries in which we found what it happens from childhood to present. There isn't a narrator and we understand the character who speaks from his thoughts. In fact Virginia Woolf said "The true event in a novel is thought".

Comparison with James Joyce

Virginia Woolf James Joyce

they arrived later at the stream of consciousness

she started with the indirect interior monologue          he started with the direct interior monologue

(only in "The waves" direct monologue)

they started with a work in which they analyse the psychology of characters

"The voyage out"                           "A portrait of the artist as a young man"

then the narrator disappears,they leave the characters free,appear the stream of consciousness

"The waves"                                   "Finnegan's wake"

two of their works are set in one day

"Mrs Dalloway"                              "Ulysses"

with flashback and association of ideas, the past become present

Virginia considered the language of Joyce too

vulgar and blasphemous

they are born and died the same years

The Stream of consciousness

The notion of "stream of consciousness" derives from the psychologist William James who said that the consciousness doesn't appear to itself chopped up in brits but it's something that flows. By consciousness, James intends the entire range of an individual's mental activity. This theory, with Freud's theory, inevitably led to the development of new techniques of writing. The two greatest practitioners of stream of consciousness fiction are James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Their novels make use of many techniques but the most important are direct interior monologue and indirect interior monologue.

direct interior monologue: it refers to the direct presentation of a character's stream of consciousness without the presence of a narrator. The most famous example is Molly Bloom's monologue in Joyce's "Ulysses".

indirect interior monologue: or free indirect discourse, it refers to the indirect presentation of a character's thought filtered through an anonymous third-person narrator. This type is easier to read and included more description. An example can be found in Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" or "To the lighthouse".

Woolf and Joyce differ in the way they represent stream of consciousness. Woolf's works are more readable in a traditional sense than Joyce's, because Joyce is interested in possibilities and limitations of language in all its modes and forms. Instead Woolf is more interested in the fluidity of identity and in the relations between people and things. This is demonstrated in Joyce's characters who in "Ulysses" have different styles of consciousness, as the result of factors such as class, sex and educational background. Instead Woolf's writing implies an unique stream of consciousness which is the impersonal force of life itself passing through her characters.

In the stream of consciousness we can find flashbacks and free association of ideas, influenced by Freud's theories. The flashback is the memory of something happened in the past, the free association of ideas explains why if you start thinking of something, at the end you thinks of something else.


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