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The Victorian Age

In 1838 a group of radical workers drew up a People's Charter calling for equal
electoral quarters, universal male suffrage, a secret vote, paid deputies, elected
parliamentarians annually and abolition of property qualifications for membership.
No one in power was ready for a similar democracy and the cartel movement failed.
Life in workhouses was frightening because of their system of submission, hard work
and a monotonous diet. The idea behind the workhouses was that the awareness of
such a terrible life would inspire the poor to try to improve their conditions. The
workhouses were mainly managed by the church.
The Great Exhibition
In the mid-nineteenth century, England experienced a second wave of
industrialization that brought economic, cultural and architectural changes. In 1851, a
Great Exhibition, organized by Prince Albert, showed the world the industrial and
economic power of Great Britain. the exhibition was hosted at the Crystal Palace, a
huge glass and steel structure designed by Sir Joseph Paxton and erected at Hyde
Park. People were very fond of the show, so money was invested in the creation of
numerous museums.

The Victorian compromise

The Victorian Age was a period of great change, but also a very complex age;
characterized by progress, reform and political stability, but also from poverty and
injustice. Evangelism and philanthropy played an important role in this period.
During this period the importance of education and hygiene was emphasized. So the
concept of respectability is developed, shared by all classes. It was a mix of morality
and hypocrisy. The duty of men to respect women was more accentuated, seen
physically weaker but morally stronger. Sexuality, too, take a different turn, in fact
attitudes change and focus on female chastity, abolishing art nudity and rejecting
vulgar popular language.

Early Victorian thinkers

Victorian values have found their foundations in Evangelicalism, a religious
movement inspired by John Wesley, based on: Bible literal reading, abandoning some
forms of fun, and engaging in humanitarian and social causes.
Another important movement was Utilitarianism based on Jeremy Bentham’s
principles. The origin of this movement was Greek philosopher Epicurus, because
according to this movement an action can be considered right if it brings happiness,
wrong the opposite. So all institutions had to be tested according to these principles to
measure the happiness they provided. This movement was suitable for the interests of
the middle class and established the thought that any problem could be solved
through reason.
Darwin’s theories
Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution and natural selection, according to
which all creatures have developed their present form through a slow process of
change, adapting to the environment for survival, and also man evolved, like any
other animal species, from the monkey. This theory dispels the bible version, but it
showed that the universe evolves forever.

The Victorian novel

Readers and writers
During the Victorian Age there are common interests and opinions between writers
and readers, thanks to the growth and literacy of the middle class, whose masters
borrowed the books from the circulating libraries and read the periodicals. Very often
the writers came from the middle class.
The publishing world
For the first time essays, poems and novels were published in serial form, in
installments in the pages of periodicals. The writers felt in constant contact with the
public, and was forced to keep the interest in the story bright, otherwise they would
not have bought the magazine anymore. The author could always change the story
based on success or failures. Very important were the reviewers who had a great
influence on the formation of public opinion.
The Victorians’ interest in prose
During this period there was a great interest in the prose, in fact the novel is the most
popular literary genre. This genre was realistic and analytic thanks to science, social
and humanitarian through democracy, and curious and critical by morality.
The novelist’s aim
The novels talked of adventures of a socially marginalized, remaining with the
episodic structure. After Jane Austen’s novels spread the idea of a thematic unity.
The novelists felt that they had moral and social responsibilities to be able to reflect
on the social changes within their works. Initially described the society as it was seen,
being aware of its evils, such as the terrible conditions of workers and the
exploitation of children. However, English criticism was more rigid than the
European one because of the nation’s historical condition. Didacticism was a typical
feature of Victorian novels, because the novels were a means of correcting the vices
and weaknesses of the time.
The narrative technique
The omniscient narrator commenting on the plot and divided the right and wrong
behavior. In the final chapter the structure of events, adventures and accidents was
explained and justified.
Setting and characters
The chosen environment was the city, a symbol of industrial civilization and the
expression of human lives. Victorian writers have to create realistic character that the
public could easily identify in society.
Types of novels
 The novel of manners: described a particular class of situation
 The humanitatian novel: combines humor with a sentimental request for the
less fortunate, as did Charles Dickens. It is also called a “novel of purpose”,
and could be divided into a realistic, fantastic or moral nature, according to
their tone.
 The novel of formation: it deals with the development of a character to
maturity. An example are the works of the Bronte sisters and Dickens’s David
 Literary nonsense: it based on an absurd universe, where the rules are
disintegrated, the cause-effect relationship does not exist, and time and space
have lost their original function.
Women writers
It is important to consider that many novels during the Victorian Age were written by
women such as Charlotte and Emily Bronte and George Eliot. This is a key aspect,
because the writing was considered masculine. Most buyers and readers were women
worked. It was not easy to publish a work for a woman, for that they often used male

Charles Dickens
Work and alienation
Dickens moved the social frontiers of the novel, in fact the middle class was replaced
by the lowest classes. Characters such as Ms Pickwick, Mr Gradgrind and Scrooge
were created to arouse the reader’s interest, exaggerating their habits and exalting the
vanities and ambitions of the lower class, in fact he was always on the part of the
poor and excluded. Children are an important element, in fact, very often in his work,
they are good and wise in comparison over worthless adults. Children become moral
teacher. In fact, the writer’s ability was to allow his reader to adore their children.
The aim of Dickens was to make the privileged classes aware of the social condition
of the lower classes, without offending the latter or encourage discontent.
Dickens is considered to be the greatest English novelist also for his language, just
for the great descriptions of life and character of the characters, using carefully
selected adjectives, words and structure.
Oliver Twist
Hard Times

The late Victorian novel

Aestheticism and Decadance

The Bronte sisters

Wuthering Heights

Walt Withman
The American Dream
O capitan! my Capitan!

Oscar Wilde
The concept of Art for Wilde was not simply on aesthetic one. The true art
doesn’t have a function didactically. He is convinced that art mustn’t have an
aim, it isn’t moral or immoral, his works can’t influence anyone in anyway,
they are just well or badly made. Wilde considered art more important that life
as a reaction to the ugliness, but also a protest against the falsity of the
Victorian age. Materially art is useless, it does not satisfy any primary human
need. In fact, art must not give anything, no teaching. Art is superior to life.
The concept of artist
The artist is an alien in a materialistic world. Artists considered art as a
substitute of the conventional, moral and religious values. The only pourpose of
art was beauty, in fact “Art for art’s sake” was the motto.
The rebel and dandy
Wilde completely adopted the aesthetic ideal, as he affirmed in one of his
famous conversation:”My life is a work of art”. He lived the double role of
rebel and dandy. The Wilde dandy is an aristocrat whose elegance is a symbol
of superiority of his spirit.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The novel is set in london at the end of the 19th century. The protagonist is
Dorian Gray, a young man whose beauty fascinates a painter, Basil Hallward,
who decides to paint his portrait. Under the influences of the brillant but corrupt
Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian throws himself into a life of pleasure. While the
young man's desires are satisfied, including that of eternal youth, the signs of
age, experience and vice appear not on Dorian but on the portrait. When the
painter sees the corrupted image of the portrait, Dorian kills him. Later Dorian
wants to free himself of the portrait, witness to his spiritual corruption, and
stabs it but, in doing so, he kills himself. In the very moment of Dorian's death,
the picture returns to its original purity, and Dorian's face becomes withered,
wrinkled, and loathsome.
Narrative technique
This story is told by a third-person narrator. The perspective adopted is internal
and this allows a process of identification between the reader and the character.
The settings are vividly described with words appealing to the senses.
The importance of Being Earnest themes
The main concern of all the characters in the play is marriage. Wilde makes fun
of the institution of marriage, which he saw as a practice surrounded by
hypocrisy and absurdity. Although the play ends happily, but marriage and
social values are often tied together in destructive ways. In fact, Victorian
aristocracy does not see marriage as the result of love.
Irony and appearance
The name Earnest evokes the adjective ‘earnest’, that is, serious or sincere. The
characters were used to criticize the Victorian prudery. What is important to
them is not what they say, but how they say it. Irony is a dominant feature of
the play.

George Bernard Shaw

Mrs. Warren’s profession
A prophet of realism
Shaw considered himself a prophet who used drama to present his ideas and
criticize Victorian institutions. His aim was to improve society, especially the
tendency toward sentimentality and the adulation of Shakespeare, replacing
them with the realism and adulation of Ibsen.
Facts and arguments, in Shaw's screenplays, are tidy, contain long sentences,
but the effect is of speed and simplicity, and the tone gives vitality and joy. he
mainly uses the paradox, the inversion of traditional ideas and values, the
unexpected, the sincere truth and the exaggeration.
The plays of ideas
Shaw invented the “drama of discussion or ideas”, where he combined
contemporary moral problems with comic, ironic tones and paradoxes.

The Modern Age

The age of anxiety

The crisis of certainties
The First World War left Britain in a disillusioned and cynical mood: some
soldiers celebrated their return home with a frantic search for pleasure; others
were haunted by a sense of guilt for the horrors of trench warfare, or missed the
sense of purpose the war years had given them. The gap between the generation
of the young and the older one grew wider and wider. The main writers of this
period are: Forster, Auden and Orwell. New views of man and the universe that
had emerged at the beginning of the century spread through society.

The advent of Modernism

The term ‘Modernism’ refers to an international movement which involved
Western literature, music, the visual arts and the cinema in the first decades of
the 20th century. Modernism as a literary movement is typically associated with
the period after World War I. New ideas in the field of psychology, philosophy
and political theory encouraged a search for new modes of expression.
Modernism gave shape to the modern consciousness and contributed to express
the nature of modern experience through creative forms of experimentation.
Main features of Modernism
Characteristics of the artistic forms of modernism: -distortion of forms, such as
the cubism of Picasso and Braque; - breaking the limits in space and time, and
breaking the linear flow of the narration; - emphasis on subjectivity (in
literature the third-person narrator is abandoned, and new techniques such as
the flow of consciousness are used); - use of an allusive language; - intensity of
the moment to provide a truthful view of things; - importance of unconscious
and conscious life; - the need to reflect the complexity of modern urban life in
an artistic form.
Towards a cosmopolitan literature
Novelists and poets have been inspired by classical cultures to create a new
subjective mythology. Artists considered the past as a source that could remodel
in a personal and original way. For example, Eliot was inspired by Buddhist
sources and metaphysical poets, Joyce to Freud and Bergson. The modern
English literature was thus moving away from the upper-middle class of
Victorian society.

The modern novel

the origins were essentially bourgeois. The novelist was a mediator between the
characters and the reader.
The novelist had a new role, which consisted in mediating between the solid
and unquestioned values of the past and the confused present, highlighting the
complexity of the unconscious. This new realism tended to shift from society to
the individual, regarded as a limited creature whose moral progress was inferior
to the advances in technology. Two other factor produce the modern novel: the
new concept of time and the new theory of the unconscious.
The modern novelist rejected omniscient narration. He experimented with new
methods to portray the individual consciousness; the viewpoint shifted from the
external world to the internal world of a character’s mind. The analysis of a
character’s consciousness was influenced by the theories of Freud.
Time was subjective and internal. The story might unfold in the course of a
single day, by observing the characters performing a common action, or an
The narrative technique that modern novelists mainly employed was the so-
called stream of consciousness, which define the continuous flow of thoughts
and sensation that characterize the human mind.
The interior monologue
At the beginning of the 20th century, writers gave more and more importance to
subjective consciousness and understood it was impossible to reproduce the
complexity of the human mind using traditional techniques; so they looked for
more suitable means of expression. Novelists adopted the interior monologue to
represent the unspoken activity of the mind.
The main feature of the interior monologue:
- verbal expression of a psychic phenomenon
- frequent lack of chronological order
- logical order may be lost or lacking
- the action takes place in the character’s mind
- speech may be immediate, without introductory expression.
There are two kinds of interior monologue.
In the indirect interior monologue the narrator never lets the character’s
thoughts flow without control, and maintains logical and grammatical
In the direct interior monologue the narrator seems not to exist and the
character’s inner self is given directly. There are two type of direct interior
monologue: that with two levels of narration and the extreme interior
The first is characterized by a mix of third-person narration, linked to an
external time, and a interior narration linked to the concept of inner time.
The latter the character’s thoughts flow freely, the narration take place inside
the mind of the character, words, sometimes foreign, and free associations are
fused to create new expressions with references to all areas of human

The War Poets

Wilfred Owen
Dulce ed decorum est

James Joyce
Joyce is inspired by realism and symbolism. He is attracted to Modernism with its
formal research soon afterwards: he starts from individual perception to focus on
solipsism, nihilism, alienation and existential problems. Joyce used the stream of
consciousness, describes the mental processes of a character in a continuous flow of
thoughts, through the interior monologue.
Dubliners consists of 15 short stories; they all lack obvious action, but they disclose
human situations and moments of intensity, and lead to a moral, social or spiritual
revelation. The opening stories deal with childhood and youth in Dublin; the others,
concern the middle years of characters and their social, political or religious affairs.
Joyce, being a Modernist novelist, was hostile to city life, finding that it degraded its
citizens. In fact his Dublin is a place where true feeling and compassion for others do
not exist, where cruelty and selfishness lie just below the surface.
Joyce organized the work in 4 groups: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public
life. the last story summarizes the themes and motives of the other 14 stories, and is
an epilogue.
It was the oppressive effects of religious, political, cultural and economic forces on
the lives of lower-middle-class Dubliners that provided Joyce with the raw material
for a psychologically realistic picture of Dubliners as afflicted people. Everyone in
Dublin seems to be caught up in an endless web of despair. Here is the theme of
paralysis physical and moral. Joyce’s Dubliners accept their condition either because
they are not aware of it or because they lack the courage to break the chains that bind
them. But the moral center is the revelation to its victims. The main theme is the
failure to find a way out of paralysis. The character realizes his condition at the time
of the epiphany, that is the sudden spiritual manifestation caused by a banal gesture,
an external object, which reveals the inner truths of the character.
In the first three short stories there is a first-person narrator, who describes events
from the point of view of a young boy. For the other 12 stories there is a third-person
narrator. The narrator tends to disappear in the interior monologue, which is in the
form of free direct speech. The language is simple, objective and neutral. Chiasmus
can create melodic effects.
Gabriel’s epiphany

The novel is about one day (June 16th, 1904) in the life of Stephen Dedalus and
Leopold Bloom two symbolic characters. The events of the day seem to be trivial,
insignificant, or even banal. But below the surface of the events, what relevant is the
way the natural flow of mental reflections, the shifting moods and impulses in the
characters inner world are presented. Both of the protagonists face a crisis: Stephen's
is a spiritual one, whereas Leopold's is a material one. Leopold spends his day
wandering along the streets of Dublin, and his daily Odyssey is but a quest for the
meaning of life itself. However, Leopold mainly confronts himself with nonsense.
The Homeric myth is therefore echoed, but degraded. The uneventful plot reaches a
sort of balance when the two characters meet at the end of the novel: Leopold goes
home, while Stephen embarks on an uncertain future.
Ulysses is not based on a traditional narrative style, but is an exploration in form and
content. The final result is a collage of juxtaposed images from Dublin. The outcome
is a tragicomic and prosaic portrait of modern life.
George Orwell
Orwell's works are deeply rooted in the history of his times, an age of economic
depression, totalitarianism and imperialism. His personal experience led him to side
with the weak and disenfranchised and to be a reformer.
Totalitarianism is a form of government in which an oligarchy or a dictator has total
power and strictly controls and oppresses dissenters. Some European countries had
totalitarian regimes: Spain, Germany, the Soviet Union, Italy. Orwell in particular
wanted to unveil the truth about Stalinism Animal Farm.
The main aim of Orwell's works is to fight against the lust for power and the folly of
any authoritarian regime by showing some political solutions. He believed that the
duty of a contemporary writer was to deal with the present to raise readers' awareness
and call for individual responsibility. He was in fact a left-wing political writer who
wanted to improve human life.
As a political writer, he needed to spread clear and effective messages to change the
social system. His works are characterized by: concise and simple writing, objective,
detailed recordings of both world events, well- defined plots, use of biting satire,
allegory and dystopia.
Nineteen Eighty-Four
The novel is not a science-fiction Story. It's a warning about the future and a bitter
political satire of totalitarianism which was written as a reaction to the crumbling of
the socialist ideals in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The society reflects the political
atmosphere of the tyrannies in Pain, Germany and the Soviet Union. Since the social
message is the most important element of the book, the rules of the traditional novel
are somewhat neglected: the characters are half- robots with few personal features
and the development of the plot is extremely simple.
So Orwell made clear that he was against any form of totalitarianism.
Dystopian novel

Samuel Beckett
The main features of Beckett’s works are: absurdity, paralysis, religion and time.
Absurdity arises when life's flow stops and consciousness prevails. The absurdity of
life is thus a permanent conflict, a contradiction which implies human acceptance of
our condition, not searching for explanations. Beckett's characters are indifferent to
the world, estranged. The reaction to this is usually either laughter or despair. In
Beckett, they are blended together and stress our incapability to come to terms with
Most of Beckett's characters hardly move on stage or away from the stage. This
paralysis reflects the impossibility of action in real life well as the collapse of any
good reasons for acting.
An ambiguous issue in Beckett's works, religion does not offer consolation: it is
rather an illusion. There are many religious references in his works. Beckett's main
aim seems to be the demythologizing of any human beliefs, so as to unveil the
nothingness of existence.
The time dimension in the plays is not measured chronologically, but only through
waiting or a progressive degradation of the characters. Beckett's characters try to fight
against the agony of waiting or against their paralysis by filling the void with plenty
of words that do not allow communication, but rather reflect the universal chaos and
our incapability to give it any temporal and spatial order.
Waiting for Godot