victorian literature essay topics

victorian literature essay topics

Exploring Themes and Motifs in Victorian Literature: An In-Depth Analysis

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1. Introduction to Victorian Literature

Women were often writing to escape the “biological imperative” that society restricted them with, and this can be reflected in feminist thinking in some of the novels from the time. There were also a small number of male novelists who “subverted the stereotypes,” writing in defense of the rights of women or in a way that celebrated the virtues of their contributions to life. Queen Victoria’s reign was the longest in English history, but the literature of the time would lead you to believe that being a rich merchant in November 1837 and a contributing member of society was the optimum way to relate to the world. Mill, Carlyle, George Eliot, Mrs. Gaskell, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Charles Kingsley, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Benjamin Disraeli, and Wilkie Collins all wrote of this period; a time described as seeing “in literature the ultimate viability of the description of character and conduct as the central duties of the man, the novelist having the supreme authority in discerning, recording, and judging these”.

Victorian literature is literature written in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, or roughly from 1837-1901. It is largely characterized by the struggle of working people and the triumph of right over wrong. Introduction to Victorian Literature. The Victorian age was a time of great cultural, religious, scientific, and industrial change. The showcase of an aging and conservative Queen Victoria, the period is often considered to be one of repression and fractious tendencies. Contrarily, Jane Austen, wife of the man who ushered in the first Industrial Revolution, was alive and writing her famous work during the onset of the age; other authors such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot gave voice to concerns of their era in a vastly different way. There is no doubt that there are elements of progressive thinking that underpin most of the literature written during the period.

2. Key Themes and Motifs in Victorian Literature

Public presentations of self, represented as conventions of honesty such as self-confrontation, have always powerfully constrained our imagination about human beings. Many innovative writers, including Victorians, therefore focus on their characters’ internal labilities. The interest in the fantastic, the exploration of often bizarre characters, the sudden events, catastrophes, and dramatic encounters are also specific to Victorian literary practice. Such literary strategies in Victorian literature make it well-suited to the kind of deconstruction which offers new and life-affirming clarifications of the emergence of a viable subjectivity from male/female confrontation.

Theme: The most dominant and influential themes of the nineteenth century seemed to be industry, progress, and humanity. Simultaneously, the exploration of the darker sides of the human psyche became nearly an obsession, commonly manifested in the theme of the double or the duality of men. These themes are inherent in all literary forms, often as a very pivotal part of the plot. In their striving for a greater understanding of the universe, men of the time would often isolate, objectify, then deify and synthesize their own poor beings. Consequently, science, power, the Industrial Revolution, and progress paramount is prominent motifs in most of the literature of the period.

One of the key reasons that the literature of the Victorian era is still relevant today is that it explores themes and motifs that remain central to the human experience. Although this period was historically distinct, with its own values and fears, essential concerns of life nevertheless remain the same. By reading the literature of the Victorian era, today’s students, in particular, have access to a dazzling array of ideas and insights into these universal matters both in the clear light of history and in powerful, compelling works.

3. Social Critique and Reform in Victorian Novels

The critique of social institutions and the alarming state of contemporary society are one of the main concerns of the Victorians. The ills of society represented the core of many a Victorian novel, fiction being the ideal means of seeking justice, appealing to the heart and reason of the reader. As we have already mentioned, the only valid social model was the traditional one, whose deterioration had been documented by several authors, and it was because of this decadence that the England of the time was gripped by fear and despair. The moral crisis in which the nation was involved was the effect of the instability and profound transformation that the country was undergoing. They lived in an age of uncertainties when, in contrast with the rigidity of the time, they became aware of the vital necessity of change. Great importance must be devoted to the analysis of the element that most complicates relationships, that is to say, the social classes, which undergo passages and forms of evolution that are sometimes so perverse and paradoxical as to become evident on various levels of society. These were essential elements of the debate in “Democracy, and the Woman Question.” As these texts will show, both on the threshold of the 20th century and during the Victorian age, the question to which the novel never desists from drawing attention is that of the restless balance of the emotions.

Throughout the Victorian period, England was gripped by a desire for economic, political, and social reform. It was the time of the Industrial Revolution, when stifling convention and rigid class divisions defined the British social hierarchy. These were very troubling times indeed for those in the middle and lower classes, who found themselves the victims of inadequate living and working conditions. The most topical and effective way of expressing and passing on a problem or a plea for reform was through the novel, and it was in the hands of the social novelists, those most involved in the development of the Victorian novel, that it became a popular and influential genre throughout the century. Insightfully, and often with humor and wit, they exposed the social ills and offered a means for correction through fiction, thus arousing strong reader responses. They were often criticized by the very people who were represented by the fictional characters, but they continued to focus on the imperfections of the system. The novels in this group make most frequent use of the theme of social critique or reformist tendency, which they depict by showing the bad results brought about by a declining ethical and moral standard or by attacking powerful industrial or financial organizations.

4. Gender Roles and Representations in Victorian Literature

Women in Victorian literature, including Annabella Milbanke, Jane Carlyle, and Lady Macbeth, have a tradition of actively engaging subjects from contemporary texts by means of heritage, issues revolving around household management, and fictitious women. Victorian authors often symbolize such fictitious females as stereotypes or controllable characters, thereby providing contemporary crowds with imaginary protagonist chicks. The representation of women corresponds with the frequently drawn and essentialist male Windbag – male archetypes – which usually fears domesticated women. The great unwed son or the home caged husband are equally difficult to be identified, and the patriarchal system provides roots for the seasons throughout the Victorian era for both male and female archetypes. Throughout the Victorian period, the concept of home and public integrity change in significant ways.

Throughout both the Victorian era and the present day, gender roles and representations continue to play a significant role in the shaping and presentation of characters, circumstances, and themes. Many authors, Charles Dickens and Emily Brontë among them, use their work as both a reflection on the impact of gender roles in the social arena and a commentary on such expectations and representations. As authors strive for accurate and probable portraits, many female and male characters whittle themselves down to mere shreds of humanity, shadowy figures of what a modern audience may understand as the ideal characteristics of a docile submissive woman or an unemotional, self-sacrificing male. Furthermore, the frequent and essentialist representation of male and female archetypes in Victorian literature can also be described as a silent portrait or keyboard type. Gender archetypes present no emotional baggage or societal demands, shaped in accordance with familial duties or personal eccentricities. A common characteristic of such archetypes is their physical interactions, or lack of interactions.

5. Conclusion: Legacy and Influence of Victorian Literature

In conclusion, Victorian literature, even through its lesser-known elements, celebrates and originates the colourful diversity of our time. As Armstrong explains, “One of the many theoretical problems with consigning so much… to the offensive, or undervalued, or jejune heap of Victorian fiction is the way it re-enacts contemporary skirmishes between intellectually legitimate and marginalized material, a scandalous state of affairs to Hardy scholarship”. Throughout their portrayals of Victorian women, “we imagine them” filled with both spiritual and corporeal characters all figures penned by earnest and daring writers desperate to be acknowledged. Hardy won within his lifetime through battles and frustrations all because he dared to dream. And he followed his dreams. All of the interpreters of his time remain stubbornly influential, in topics technical and symbolic alike. Hardy became “a writer who spoke for his people; of a poet; of the creator and preserver of meaningful language, a voice raised from the very core of human and divine expression” and he has remained so.

Nancy Armstrong’s words on Victorian literature’s legacy in the next century agree with her overview of how Victorian writers challenged the traditional roles for women in society in her novel. In her Wordsworth Companion to English Literature, she writes that “Victorian attitudes to women were oppressive and women answering back for themselves were condemned as aggressive. Since the Victorians, however, the fear of aggression has become much less central to the idea of woman and there are more models of being woman to choose from. Victorian polemic and fantasy have become our liberation”. The ideas that the authors of the period had and that, over time, we have found in their literature are still applicable. Even further, they have had a perpetual impact upon society. In no small part such a reexamination is due to contemporary discussions and novels: A. S. Byatt in Possession, Marge Piercy in Woman on the Edge of Time, and Jeanette Winterson in Sexing the Cherry and Written on the Body.

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