Category Archives: Victorian Literature
Today’s a very special day for English literature. On this day, 7th February, in 1812 , Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, United Kingdom.
On this special day, I’d like to suggest you read one of his novels, so I’m including my ‘special tribute review’ of Oliver Twist, which you can read for free as a kindle ebook on amazon, thanks to a community of volunteers who converted this novel from its physical edition to the digital format.
If you only read one of Charles Dickens’ books, or if you don’t know where to start reading his books, I recommend you read Oliver Twist, the unforgettable story of a poor orphan boy, who spent his early years in a work house, before being recruited by a gang of pickpockets.
It’s not an easy book to read, and is not meant for children or the faint of heart, because it portrays some harsh events, many of which Dickens had experienced himself, or had personally investigated, and that is one of the main attractions of this book; It’s real.
You may read about child labour and the plight of the many orphaned children in Victorian England, but no history book will describe a workhouse, the inside of a prison, the starving dogs and hungry rats, the life of a pickpocket, a thief, a pimp, or a gang leader, a public hanging, or the cruelty of London slums, the way Dickens does.
Read it if you want to know what really happened, what the streets, people and life was like for Victorian Londoners.
I never tire of rereading it myself. Dramatic, yes, exaggerated, I doubt it, realistic, shockingly.
The plot is a page turner, and the characters come to life in every scene. We see their gestures, smell their ragged clothes and listen to their lies and truths.
I love Dickens’ use of the English language. It may be wordy by contemporary standards, but it’s smoothly done. A real pleasure to read for anyone who loves the English language and wants to take a short trip to Victorian London.
A book to read once and reread all your life.
Although I usually read my paperback, this free kindle version makes it even easier to read. A big thank you to the volunteers who made this edition possible.
As a writer, I often read a random chapter or passage before I sit down to write. Dickens humbles me, but he also gives me great encouragement by showing me how the English language can convey so much using the right combination of words.
‘Capital!’ As Dickens would say.
I’ve written a piece of Flash Fiction based on Oliver Twist, and included some information about child labour and orphans in Victorian England in this post.
I’d like to include one of Dickens’ quotes, which is one of my favourite.
Dickens wrote his books with the aim of making the world a better place, which he did, through numerous campaigns and by building awareness among the reading public, but his greatest legacy was the belief in the power of words to improve our world.
As well as influencing me as a writer, Charles Dickens also makes a personal appearance in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, my sequel to Jane Eyre, and is a vital part of Jane’s recovery in Midsummer at Eyre Hall, although he is no longer physically present.
Here is the page with the moment Charles Dickens arrives at Eyre Hall to spend a few days with Jane Eyre, now Mrs. Mason.
They spoke about their private lives, the craft of fiction, and also about current affairs such as child labour and abuse, public hangings, and the dangers of the slums of London. It’s one of my favourite chapters.
Which is your favourite novel by Charles Dickens?
Why not write a review and share on a blog post to celebrate his birthday!
In this post, which is a follow-up to yesterday’s post which proposes a description and definition of what neo-Victorian fiction is, I’d like to discuss what’s the point of reading neo-Victorian novels in the first place. Why not read the real thing?
I hope that many of my readers have read or will read some real Victorian fiction at some point in their lives, because it’s like taking a walk in the past in a guided tour by some of the most privileged minds of the times. Who could let that opportunity slip by?
On the other hand, I’m well aware that most readers aren’t going to read ‘real’ Victorian fiction, which was written 200 years ago, and these are some of the reasons why:
Victorian novels are too long for modern tastes and often dwell generously on details which will often exasperate the modern, and often impatient reader. It takes a lot of dedication to read a dense, three volume novel, when you have tons of things to do and need to wind down after a hard day at work, after coping with a family and daily chores.
Contemporary novels are shorter and use economical prose. There are hundreds of articles and editors telling writers, for example, to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly, something no-one ever told Victorian writers! Many of us try to follow Vonnegut’s maxim:
These are our maxims today, and it’s what most readers want. Tell me your story as efficiently and beautifully as possible, but don’t waste my time. Show me what you want me to see, don’t tell me. None of this fits in with Victorian writing style, so it’s understandably tough for a modern reader.
Victorian novels were naturally written for a Victorian audience. They knew what they ate, how they obtained their products, what they wore, what their routines were like, why they used candles and lived amidst shadows and darkness, how a message could take a month to arrive, and how a 50 mile journey would take a whole day by horse and carriage, or over two hours by steam train. All these, and plenty more facts, are so obvious, they’re ignored, and the modern reader can easily get lost, bored, or frustrated.
Neo-Victorian writers have to make sure, subtly, that modern readers understand and appreciate that life was slow, dark, extremely tough, and unsafe. A badly healed cut, a flu, or a hungry thief could kill you, not to mention cholera, smallpox, or rampant venereal diseases. Clothes were so heavy and complex to put on, due to the laces, strings, ribbons, and layers, that time and help were needed to get dressed. That there were no antibiotics, dentists, electric lights, or bathrooms, and that most people, including children worked from dusk to dawn, and ate plenty of stale bread and drank watered down ale.
Life was hard, look at these pictures of Dickens and Lord Tennyson in their twenties and in their fifties! Check out any other prominent Victorians and you’ll see how old and tired they looked in their forties and fifties.
Finally, the contemporary writer has one great and undeniable advantage over the Victorians themselves. They had a lack of perspective of their own times that we have gained over the past 200 years. We can observe them in hindsight in their glory and their misery. We can stand back and understand and appreciate their struggle and their message in the bigger picture and transmit a more global, albeit biased, picture of their lives.
The obvious disadvantage is that we will be comparing them to us, which is unfair and biased, we must look at them from a distance, but we must make sure we are walking in their shoes as we do so.
In summary, reading Victorian fiction is like watching a black and white movie or photo, like the one above, it has a unique beauty, attraction, and value, but too much of it can tire a modern audience.
The pace, style, and richness of language are often unappealing to a contemporary audience, because it has become fixed, whereas neo-Victorian prose is alive and adapted to the taste and needs of a modern audience.
Do you read Victorian fiction? If so why?
Can you think of other reasons why contemporary readers struggle with Victorian fiction?
Have you read neo-Victorian fiction?
I’d love to know what you think.
As I consider myself a writer of neo-Victorian fiction, I thought I’d clarify the meaning for readers, students and scholars who are interested in the term.
Neo-Victorianism is a compound noun formed by the following two terms, ‘Neo’ and ‘Victorian’.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the prefix neo refers to: a compound referring to a new, revived, or modified form of some doctrine, belief, practice, language, artistic style, etc.
Ironically, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word ‘neo’ as prefix, was first used in Victorian times, in 1880.
The term Victorian isn’t as straightforward as it seems. It can refer to the period of Queen Victoria’s life (1819-1901) or her reign (1837-1901). It can also refer to the 19th century in general, and some historians consider it spans from the French Revolution in 1789 until the beginning of World War I in 1914.
It is an enormous amount of time, so many divide it into ‘early period’, ‘the Height of the Victorian Era’, or ‘The Mid-Victorian Period’ (1848-1870), which was the greatest period of economic prosperity and growth of the Empire, and the ‘late Victorian period’.
Neo-Victorian is a relatively new term, Neo-Victorian Studies journal, was first published in 2008. According to Marie-Luise Kohlke, founding editor of the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, Neo-Victorianism is “the afterlife of the nineteenth century in the cultural imaginary.”
So, a loose definition would be that the term Neo-Victorian refers to contemporary re-engagement, reimagining or artistic revival, of everything related to the Victorian era, such as fashion, history, art forms, famous and infamous people, literature, including authors, novels, and characters.
Most contemporary views of Victoriansim have been and are largely derived from fictional narratives and their film and television adaptations. So let’s have a look at some examples of Victorian literature and culture mediated through neo-Victorian representations such as:
Cartoons and children’s films such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, A Christmas Carol
BBC adaptations of the works of Dickens, Austen, Thackeray, Hardy, Mrs. Gaskell, George Elliot.
Films such as Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights.
Novels: Sarah Waters, Fingersmith, A.S. Byatt Possession are my favourites.
Characteristics of Victorian Novels.
Let’s look back at Victorian novels before returning to neo-Victorian fiction.
The world was rapidly changing in Victorian England, and so were people’s views of themselves and how they should interact with this evolving world.
The major changes were bought by the growth of the population due to expansion and colonization, the growth of the working classes and the advances in science and technology.
Steam power, improved forms of transport, more jobs in factories and cities, scientific knowledge, improved many aspects of their lives, but also brought new problems such as overcrowding, increased poverty and crime.
The growing working classes required more social investment in education, health, and housing. Women were becoming more independent and demanding equal rights.
A new philosophy, Utilitarianism, advocated by John Stuart Mill was concerned with the promotion of happiness and wellbeing of the majority of the population, instead of the elite. More egalitarian and ethical modes of thinking led to increased social awareness.
As a result, the themes which interested the Victorians were:
Ethical: Right and Wrong / Good versus evil, which can be exemplified in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde
Industrialisation and progress: Class and Social issues such as prostitution, orphans, wages, living conditions, education, workhouses, addiction. These themes are prominent in Dickens.
Science versus religion and/or superstition. This can be seen in their interest in science Fiction and detailed and systematic crime fiction such as Sherlock Holmes.
Women and their role in society also figure prominently in literature as authors and main characters in novels.
However writers hadn’t abandoned Gothic, Fantasy, and Romance. Literature as a purely aesthetic endeavour providing pleasure and entertainment was also present.
The Victorians wrote about love and life and the torments and pleasures of loving and living. Their characters, stories and themes are still relevant and exciting for modern audiences as we have seen. So what did they write about? Well, they wrote about everything and anything.
You name the genre, they wrote about it first:
Detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle
Vampire novels: Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Dystopian: H. G. Wells The Time Machine, Trollope The Fixed Period
Fantasy: George MacDonald The Princess and the Goblin, the precursor of Tolkien / C. S. Lewis
Romance: Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
Sensation Novel: Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.
Comedy: Dickens, G. K. Chesterton, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde,
Social criticism: child labour, work houses, especially in Dickens’ Oliver Twist
Prostitution: Jenny a long poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Drug addiction: Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an Opium Eater
Erotic: The Romance of Lust, by Anonymous, The Pearl is a collection of erotic tales, rhymes, songs and parodies in magazine form that were published in London between 1879 to 1880.
Paranormal: The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde.
Adventure: Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson
History: Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe
Science Fiction: H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds
Travel: Around the World in 80 Days, Kipling’s Jungle Book
War: Kipling’s Soldiers Three
Poetry: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning.
Short Story: Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy all wrote short fiction.
Theatre: Oscar Wilde, G. B. Shaw
Musicals: Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, and music hall was also a popular form of entertainment.
The Victorians were avid readers. The number of readers was expanding. Even those who couldn’t read, read by listening to public or private readings. Reading aloud was a Victorian form of entertainment. Dickens gave many public readings of his work and reading aloud was a popular pastime for families.
Many novels were serialized and some were sold as magazines. Most of them were later printed into three volumes, also called triple deckers. Many were lent through the lending libraries.
‘Penny bloods’, which came to be known as penny dreadfuls was the name for booklets which told stories of adventure, such as gothic tales, pirates and highwaymen, and crime. They were published weekly with illustrations.
Fiction written by a contemporary author which employs Victorian settings and/or styles to self-reflexively invoke the Victorian era for the present.
The aim is not simply to set a novel in the Victorian era due to nostalgia. There must be something more than an aesthetic or historic recreation.
In other words, fiction that is consciously and purposefully set in the Victorian era in order to reinterpret, rediscover, or make a statement concerning one or more aspects of Victorian literature and transmitting these findings, or conclusions to a contemporary audience.
Neo-Victorian novels have a specific and conscious aim to put forward an argument about Victorian culture and literature, which the author considers has a message or relevance for a contemporary audience.
Many of the neo-Victorian writers could also be called Postcolonial. Some have considered that Victorian authors and their works represented the mainstream or traditional Victorian society, which supported Colonialism and the Empire either implicitly or explicitly.
They could also be called Feminist because their aim is to discuss, raise awareness, and promote equal rights and opportunities for women in all walks of life, especially in education and employment. More on Feminism in Victorian Literature in this post: https://lucciagray.com/2014/03/24/the-madwoman-in-the-attic-part-i/ and
These writers are writing back to their imperialist forefathers. So for example, Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea is both Postcolonial, neo-Victorian and Feminist.
Jean Rhys writes back to Charlotte Bronte by reimagining Bertha Mason’s life before during and after she married Mr. Rochester. Rhys takes a Creole woman, who was a minor character from the colonies, without a voice. Bertha had no rights in England. Rhys reinvented her life and gave her a voice and the central role in the novel, which brings us to why I wrote The Eyre Hall Trilogy, but more about that in my next post.
It’s an ample topic and I’ve skimmed through, but if you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know.
In my next post I’ll tell you why I write neo-Victorian fiction and I’ll discuss What’s the point of Reading Neo-Victorian Novels instead of reading the real thing.
This Flash Fiction was written in response to Charlie Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly prompt
January 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a boy and his dog, showing the value or benefit of such a relationship. Be creative, uplifting and demonstrate that such a relationship has merit. If the prompt takes you somewhere darker, know that writing into the dark often retrieves the light. Let it have a purpose.
This week’s prompt has taken me to Victorian England. Those of you who know me will not be surprised!
Dogs feature prominently in Dickens’ work. He was a dog lover all his life. More about Dickens and his dogs here
In my flash the boy and the dog will grow a bond because, sadly, they’re both given the same food to eat, and both wish to ‘join forces’ and escape from their cruel ‘owners’.
It’s inspired by an episode in my beloved Oliver Twist, but more later. Here’s my flash!
Oliver and Trip
An Undertaker’s Cellar. London, 1837.
The undertaker’s wife pushed me down the stairs into the coal-cellar, where I almost tripped over a shaggy dog.
‘Oliver, you can ‘ave what Trip’s left on his plate. Probably found himself a big fat rat last night, so ‘e ain’t hungry this morning.’
She kicked the animal viciously. ‘Don’t be greedy and let the little beggar eat some o’ them bits o’ meat!’
Trip backed away and growled, but I was so hungry I decided to risk it and put my fingers on his food.
‘We’ll get out of here together,’ I whispered as he licked my hand.
This flash is inspired by some characters and events in Oliver Twist, published by Charles Dickens in 1837.
Just in case you think I’m exaggerating in my Flash Fiction, there follows an extract from Dickens’ novel, where a similar event is described.
Oliver had just been ‘brought’ or ‘bought’ from the poor house to work at an Undertaker’s and he is given the dog’s food to eat, which he devours hungrily.
Notice also how, in the passage, Dickens, ardent and active social campaigner, directs his wrath at a ‘well-fed philosopher’, no doubt some contemporary politician/s, who will never witness the ‘ferocity of famine’.
Here’s the extract from the end of Chapter IV (The undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry, who has just collected Oliver from the workhouse is speaking to his wife, Charlotte. Trip is their dog.)
‘Here, Charlotte,’ said Mr. Sowerberry, who had followed Oliver down, ‘give this boy some of the cold bits that were put by for Trip. He hasn’t come home since the morning, so he may go without ‘em. I dare say the boy isn’t too dainty to eat ‘em—are you, boy?’
Oliver, whose eyes had glistened at the mention of meat, and who was trembling with eagerness to devour it, replied in the negative; and a plateful of coarse broken victuals was set before him.
I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall within him; whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the dog had neglected. I wish he could have witnessed the horrible avidity with which Oliver tore the bits asunder with all the ferocity of famine. There is only one thing I should like better; and that would be to see the Philosopher making the same sort of meal himself, with the same relish.
It pains me to listen to some critics/readers, both his and our contemporaries, say Dickens’ writings were ‘too melodramatic’. I’d reply, ‘You weren’t there. You didn’t walk down the cellars, or inside the chimneys, or live in the poor houses. Don’t you dare classify abuse and suffering as melodramatic!’
There can be no doubt in our minds that this ‘piece of fiction’ happened often enough to be described by Charles Dickens. We’ve come a long way, partly thanks to Mr. Dickens’ honest descriptions of cruelty and exploitation in Victorian England.
This is why I believe literature is more enlightening than history to understand our past. History tells us the facts, whereas literature tells the real story of what happened to real people, not only the names of the Kings and Queens who reigned or the battles fought.
Writers are telling the real story, so please keep writing, all of you!
I love reading romantic novels with Byronic heroes, on occasions, because they are emotionally gratifying.
The reader enters an ideal world with young, beautiful, rich, and powerful people, and it all ends well, which is satisfying after a hard day facing the real, sometimes boring, and often ugly world.
There’s a likeable heroine who eventually makes an unlikeable hero, very likeable, leading to a happy ending. What’s there not to like?
There are many novels following this timeless pattern, recurrent in many love stories throughout literature, all of them immensely popular.
1- Bad guy meets good girl.
2.a- Bad guy tries to seduce, dominate and/or spoil good girl, making her bad, too, but he fails because she’s stronger or cleverer, or better, so good conquers evil. Or
2.b- Good girl tries to make bad guy into a good guy.
3- Finally he becomes a good guy and they live HEA (which usually includes marriage and/or children).
This formula has been successful in literature for centuries. It started with Mr. B in Henry Fielding’s Pamela (1740), and can be seen again in Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1813), Captain Wentworth, in Persuasion (1817), Rochester, in Jane Eyre (1847), Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights (1846), Max de Winter, in Rebecca (1938), Edward Cullen in the Twilight Saga (210-2011), Christian Grey, in Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), to name a few of the most well-known.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing the literary quality of any of the previous novels mentioned, I’m merely pointing out that the main romantic plot arc in these novels is almost identical.
This moody, and self-assured, male protagonist, who is finally tamed by the heroine, came to be known as the Byronic hero, named after the English Romantic poet Lord Byron, and described by Lord Macaulay as ‘a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.’
Byronic heroes are brooding, darkly handsome, and they have a secret, hidden past, which makes them behave antisocially. They are usually worldly, rich, cynical, destructive, and resentful. They have difficulties identifying and even expressing their emotions, and women find them extremely alluring. They are idealized yet flawed characters, who need to be recovered and repaired by the perfect heroine.
Many readers enjoy these novels. I enjoy them, no, I love them. Although I often wonder why I liked them in the first place.
I think it’s because I’d like it to be true. I’d like to believe, even if it’s for a few hours, or minutes, that good can conquer evil, that love can soften resentment, and cure all ills. I want to be optimistic….for a while.
One of my favourite contemporary romance writers is Roberta Pearce. The Value of Vulnerability is the third novel I’ve read by this author who specializes in romantic novels with strong female leads and rich and handsome, alpha males, with HEA endings.
What makes her novels worth reading or different from other similar novels?
Well, I haven’t read all the others, but I’ve read a few, and what makes Roberta Pearce’s novels different is that they are impeccably written, with economical, precise prose, and the characters are well portrayed.
Ford is perfectly depicted from page one. After leaving a girl he’s just slept with, he says;
“You mentioned having difficulty with some finances. Now you have fewer.”
She licked her lips, staring at the scattered hundreds with an expression he had seen dozens of times: greed combined with humiliation, and underwritten with gratitude.
He’s a real baddie, with the usual Byronic defects, and he develops, and grows out of them as the novel progresses, and the reader expects.
The reader’s interest is in discovering who’s going to make him change, and how she’s going to do it.
She is Erin, beautiful, young, intelligent, generous, friendly, loving, and far too good a person for him.
In the real world, if she were my daughter, or a friend, I’d say, ‘keep away, he’s no good’, but this isn’t the real world. I’m escaping from reality. It’s a romantic novel, and I know it will be all right in the end. I keep turning the pages impatiently, and I know there will be ups and downs, twists and turns, but I know I won’t suffer…too much, because it will have a happy ending.
Why do I recommend it? Because it’s well written, the characters are authentic, the story is beautiful, and it’s a welcome break from a real, hard day!
I have a very soft spot for Christina Rossetti’s poetry, especially her short, intense verses, full of symbolism and feeling. Summer was published in The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems, in 1866
Winter is cold-hearted,
Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weathercock
Blown every way.
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;
When Robin’s not a beggar,
And Jenny Wren’s a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing
Over the wheat-fields wide,
And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
Swings from side to side;
And blue-black beetles transact business,
And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
That no time be lost
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive
Before green apples blush,
Before green nuts embrown,
Why one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
That days drone elsewhere.
I love the way she starts by comparing summer to the other three seasons, telling us it is her favourite. In the second and third stanzas she elaborates on her reasons, which are based on the natural elements which abound: robins, wrens, larks, lilies, and insects, all ‘grow fat and thrive’. The final stanza concludes that these wonderful summer days should be enjoyed in the country, where these wonderful plants and animals can be appreciated, and not in the ‘dusty, musty, lag-last fashion’ city.
Christina Rossetti was born and brought up in London in an artistic family of Italian parents. Her father was the poet Gabriele Rossetti, a Dante scholar who became professor of Italian at King’s College, London. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, also a poet and a painter. The four Rossetti siblings were educated by their mother, Frances Rossetti, a former governess.
She was a precocious poet, whose poems were privately published by her grandfather in 1842, when she was twelve! At the age of twenty, she published seven poems in the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, founded by her brother William Michael Rossetti) under the pseudonym, Ellen Alleyne. Read more about Christina Rossetti and the pre-Raphaelites
Rossetti’s best-known work, is her long poem, Goblin Market and Other Poems, which was published in 1862, and established her as a significant voice in Victorian poetry.
Christina Rossetti and her mother
By the 1880s, recurrent illness restricted her social life, although she continued to write poems. In 1891, Rossetti developed cancer, of which she died in London on December 29, 1894. Rossetti’s brother, William Michael, edited her collected works in 1904, however the Complete Poems were not published before 1979.
Her poem Summer refers to her happiest childhood memories which were the summer holidays spent in her Grandfather Polidori’s home, Holmer Green, in Buckinghamshire. The Rossetti children spent their days discovering the landscape around them and the animals that lived there. It must have been a welcome change from industrial and overcrowded Victorian London, where she lived for most of her life.
Rossetti was a fervent Anglican, and she was aware of women’s underprivileged place in society. This led her to spend some years working with “fallen women” at Highgate institution, run by the Diocese of London, where they received religious education and were instructed in housework, to enable them to secure employment as maids. Her experiences at Highgate are a likely source of inspiration for “Goblin Market“, as well as a probable purpose for the poem, which she probably read to the women as a means of moral instruction.
I agree with many scholars, that she was, no doubt, a Victorian intellectual, subject to sexual, religious, and patriarchal repression. It is therefore in her poetry that we can attempt to glimpse and the power and contained feeling she kept under lock and key in her disciplined mind.
Summer is one of her few optimistic poems, unfortunately, it has a pessimistic counterpart.
Summer is Ended
To think that this meaningless thing was ever a rose,
Scentless, colourless, this!
Will it ever be thus (who knows?)
Thus with our bliss,
If we wait till the close?
Though we care not to wait for the end, there comes the end
Sooner, later, at last,
Which nothing can mar, nothing mend:
An end locked fast,
Bent we cannot re-bend.
Summer is Ended was published in her 1881 volume, A Pageant and Other Poems. Its title is derived from a passage in the Old Testament book, Jeremiah:
The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
and we are not saved.
By this time in her life, she was overtaken by recurrent and invalidating illness. She had also refused several suitors, wishing to remain a spinster. This poem is melancholic, and nostalgic. it reminds us that the splendid summer must end, and give way to a wilting rose, in the same way as our lives, too, will come to a close.
I didn’t intend to end on this ‘sad’ note, so let’s remember that today is the second day of summer, and we still have about ninety days of lazy, hazy, long sunny days ahead of us, and when the summer is gone, I have another delicious poem waiting for you.
I love autumn, and I’m sure it’s partly due to John Keats poem, Ode to Autumn, but that will come in September…
On Tuesday, 20th June 1837, at 6 o’clock in the morning, Princess Victoria was awoken by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, because the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain wished to see her. She greeted them in her dressing-gown and slippers, and they informed her that her Uncle, King William IV had died a few hours earlier, without any legitimate heirs, therefore, she was to become the Queen of England.
She wrote in her diary:
‘Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure that very few have more real good-will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.’
Queen Victoria was an avid diarist. You can read more extracts from her diaries, here.
The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne arrived at nine o’clock with the Declaration which the young Queen was to read to the Council accompanied by her two Uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex. Her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey a year later on 28 June 1838.
When Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, in London, on 24 May 1819, nobody would have imagined she would be Queen of England, and Empress of India. She was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III, who died shortly after her birth. She became heir to the throne because her three uncles, who were ahead of her in succession, George IV, Frederick Duke of York, and William IV, had no legitimate children.
Industrial and Technological Expansion
Queen Victoria is associated with Britain’s great age of industrial expansion, economic progress and, especially, Empire. At her death, it was said, Britain had a worldwide empire on which the sun never set.
While Queen Victoria’s reign was a time of great material prosperity and economic growth, industrialization and urbanization brought new social difficulties. Urban poverty and the poor treatment of many in the working classes were major results of the newly capitalized and industrialized economy, and political pressures mounted throughout the nineteenth century to address such problems before they amounted to a great crisis.
The Victorian Era was also a time of tremendous scientific progress and ideas. Darwin took his Voyage of the Beagle, and posited the Theory of Evolution. The Great Exhibition of 1851 took place in London, displaying technical and industrial advances of the age in medicine, science and technology.
Modern psychiatry began with men like Sigmund Feud toward the end of the era, and radical economic theory, developed by Karl Marx and his associates, began a second age of revolution in mid-century. The ideas of Marxism, socialism, feminism gained strength at this time.
Britain’s overseas trading surpassed that of Italy, France and Germany combined, and in 1870 it was nearly four times the size of the American overseas markets, and at home industry was flourishing.
Britain was called “the workshop of the world.” The hard-working and industrious Victorians represented the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution: the railway, the postal service, telegraph, telephone, steam ships, spinning machines; steam engines, electricity, photography, antiseptic surgery, vaccines, stethoscope, among others.
Reading and Writing in the Victorian Era
In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, reading had been a privilege available to the upper-class elite. Books were very expensive and most of the population were unable to afford them. Jane Austen’s England of the turn of the century had very little to do with the country in which Charles Dickens lived.
In the 1830s and 1840s a new form of printed text emerged: a lengthy prose fiction serialised in one-penny or two-penny weekly parts. These were usually stories involving adventure or Gothic-like elements. Many had no planned, pre-written end; they just continued until the public were no longer interested in the story. Some penny weekly novels in the 1850s and 1860s were serialized over four or more years.
Reading became less of a privilege of the wealthy and more of a pastime of the common British citizen, as a result, magazines provided monthly installments of news articles, satiric essays, poetry and fiction, enabling many authors to easily share their work with the public, and helped launch the careers of prominent Victorian writers such as Dickens, Eliot, Tennyson, and the Brownings.
Have a look at this list of Victorian authors
I would compare these technological advances and this change in literary market to the present day digital technology, self-publishing industry and Social media.
The Victorians were avid readers of serialized and popular fiction, much as we are readers of ebooks and blogs!
Pictures used are in the Public Domain.