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The Victorian Age


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The Victorian Age

The Victorian Age starts from the 1837, when Victoria became queen; her reign is the longest in English history: she dies in 1901. By this year, most of Romantics had lost vigour or they were died.

From the social point of view, there's a process of democratisation: Reform Bill after Reform Bill (most important in 1848 858g65i and in 1867), England comes to general suffrage (every men had the right of vote, all classes). This process is the work of (is led by) very skilful and clever Prime Ministers, like:

Disraeli: (conservative) proposes a lot of democratic reforms;

Peele: judiciary system reform;

Walpole: he had to face the Irish question, with Gladstone;

Gladstone: he had to face an increasing social discontent of the Industrial Working Class (led to the Christian Socialistic Movement) and the problem of women (1921: right to vote) and of the Trade Unions (organisations of workers).

The Victorian Age may roughly be divided into three periods:

Sense of triumph:

at home: the 1851 is apex of Victorian triumphalism: the Great Exhibition is held in London: all the problems can be solved with science faith in science. A lot of philosophers insisted on Victorian triumph, like the fathers of liberalism in economy J. S. Mill and Bentham. England has the highest civilisation. Is the period of Charles Darwin (evolutionary theory: "The Origin of the Species")

abroad: British Empire, the work of the Prime Ministers.

[1851-1880's]   The sense of triumphalism decrease and disappointment makes his introduction:

philosophically: people discovered that science is not the answer to all question on human existence.

practically: there are home and foreign problems:


Trade Unions: people ask for less exploitation.

Discontent of the mob: the working class demonstrated spontaneously and in a violent way; the middle class thinks that the mob would eventually destroy the English traditions.


Text Box: Irish question:
. They are different races: Irish are Celts and catholic, while English are Anglo-Saxons and puritan.
. 1649: Cromwell, in order to put down the Catholic rebellions, sent the army and forbade Catholicism.
. 1688: William of Orange (radically protestant, Flemish) invites Scottish Presbyterians, loyal to the king, to emigrate to the Northern Ireland (Ulster) in return to free land and no taxes.
. 1843-1846: potato crop was lost and rottedàfamine: at the beginning, the Irish population was about 2 million people, at the end it was 150.000 people (60% died, the rest emigrates in USA). England didn't help them. It gives origin in 1852 in Cork to the IRA, because of Sinn Féin (=stiamo soli).
. the 2nd half of the XIX century was dotted with demonstration.
. Ester Sunday of 1916: a group of Irish patriots is slaughtered by the English in Dublin.
. 1921: Michel Collins (an IRA member) goes to England to negotiate the Irish question; the Prime Minister Lord Chamberlam gives the right to found an independent State, with capital Dublin, but England kept the Northern Ireland, so Collins was killed because he was considered a traitor.
The Empire breaks up: the defeat of Gallipoli in the Crimean War (English army is slaughtered); discontent in India and South Africa (war against Boers) and the Irish Problem.

[1880's-1901]   The sense of disappointment reaches his highest point but it expresses itself in a weak way, without great rebellions (in Europe: Decadentism). There are two different attitudes:

The Aesthetic Movement: was born in France, with Huysmann ("Au Rèbour": only reality is art); everyone is an artist because everyone has a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. The theory "all is art" was imported in England by W. Pater, an English scholar; this theory is against the Great Tradition. The only exponent was O. Wilde, but he was Irish.

Comfort in the countryside: they find comfort in the countryside, so they moved to there; the poetry is melancholic. A. E. Housman wrote a melancholic poem.

All Victorian artists share a terror of the working class because they believe that the mob will eventually subvert the social order and the English establishment. They react in tree possible ways:

sentimentalism: Dickens is the great exponent; he was conscious of the social problems: when he was a child, his father went bankrupt and he had to work in a factory for children, so he knew of the exploitation. He thinks that if everybody makes an effort, all the problems could be solved.

disinterest: they set their novels in a pre-industrial world, in a pre-Romantic Age; Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Ann) because of their life (they lived in Hawrth, a solitary place and they died very young, so they didn't know the other England), while George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) because of a personal choice.

explicit opposition - antagonism: in "Culture and Anarchy", Mathew Arnold said: "we are going to eliminate physically the working class problem, before they do something terrible".


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