The Victorian Age (1832-1901)



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Victorian Handout

English 203

Dr. Fike
The Victorian Age (1832-1901)
1. Major dates:


  • 1832: The First Reform Bill: Now all men owning property worth ten pounds or more in annual rent could vote. IOW, the lower middle classes were now able to vote, but not the working classes (they had to wait for the second Reform Bill in 1867). IOW, the bill broke up the monopoly held by conservative landowners.

  • 1837: Victoria becomes queen

  • 1840s: Depression led to rioting. Life in Victorian factories and mines was "poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Hobbes).

  • 1846: The Corn Laws repealed: High tariffs on imported grains (corn, etc.) created to protect English farm products from competition with low-priced products from abroad. Their repeal allowed free trade, enabled the influx of lower priced goods, and helped relieve the economic crisis.

  • 1850: Tennyson succeeds WW as Poet Laureate

  • 1851: The Great Exhibition in London

  • 1859: Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species published

  • 1870-71: Franco-Prussian War

  • 1901: Death of Victoria

2. Major characteristic: An age of expansion (cf. "Ulysses," "that untravelled world, whose margin fades / For ever and for ever when I move"), which had to do with industrialization.




  1. Shift from land ownership as the basis of economy to trade and manufacturing. IOW, a quantum leap ITO industrialization.




  1. For example: improvements in steam power for railways, ships, looms, printing presses, and farmers' combines; and the introduction of the telegraph, intercontinental cable, photography, anesthetics, and universal compulsory education.



  1. England thus became the first industrialized country, a change that was both profitable and painful (many people were miserable).

3. Three phases of the Victorian Period:




  1. Early period, 1832-48: Troubles

    1. The Reform Bill

    2. Repeal of Corn Laws

    3. These reforms brought relief.



  1. Mid-Victorian period: 1848-70: Economic prosperity and religious controversy:

    1. Economic prosperity—stability, optimism

    2. 1851: Great Exhibition in Hyde Park: triumphs of Victorian technology

    3. Assault on religious faith:

      1. Scientific attitude applied to the Bible

      2. Geology and astronomy

      3. Biology: The Origin of Species, 1859

      4. Philosophy, esp. Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism: was faith useful?

    4. A variety of literary reactions:

      1. Hopkins, a devout Catholic, held the religious line

      2. Tennyson: intuition leads to faith

      3. Arnold & Carlyle: humanistic reaction—poetry and human love replaced faith

      4. Meredith: evolution is wonderful

      5. Huxley: agnostic, favored education

      6. Morris and Pater: education and art can fill the void left by faith




  1. Late Victorian period, 1870-1901: The decay of Victorian values

    1. People became aware of the disparity between the smoothly-running institutions of mid-Victorian England the actual turbulence in which people were living.

    2. Irish question: Irish home rule became a heated debate.

    3. Germany's military build up under Bismarck threatened England's military position as well as her preeminence in trade and industry.

    4. Competition from US after our War of Northern Aggression.

    5. Depressions in 1873 and 1874.

    6. Labor became an economic and political force: the Second Reform Bill gave people the right to vote. Thus labor became a force to be reckoned with.

4. Central question for literary analysis: What is the proper role of the poet in society? Should the poet withdraw from society? How do the three poems we'll study relate to issues of the poet's relationship to society?








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