Victorian People and Ideas

Victorian People and Ideas

Victorian People and Ideas

Victorian People and Ideas

Synopsis

The reputation of the Victorian age in England has undergone many vicissitudes, but it is now higher than ever. In this important study, Richard D. Altick moves us toward an understanding of the social, intellectual, and theological crises that Carlyle and Dickens, Tennyson and Arnold were daily struggling to solve. And the issues were many: the revolution in class structure and class attitudes; the rise of utilitarianism and the evangelical spirit; the crisis in religion, including the Oxford movement and Darwinism; the democratization of culture; the place of art and the artist in an industrial, bourgeois society; the effects of industrialism, especially on the way people live. Altick brings to the discussion of these complicated questions the lively and sensitive intelligence that his many readers have come to expect. He includes contemporary illustrations and a full reference index.

Excerpt

This book is rather like one of those "Music Minus One" records of a concerto, in which the orchestral accompaniment is present but the solo instrument lacking. The different voices of Victorian social and intellectual history here provide the background, that is to say, the thematic material which in a fully realized concerto is developed by the solo instrument. The unheard soloist—the real center of interest—is, of course, Victorian literature itself. The analogy is not quite perfect: literary history does figure more or less prominently in the opening chapter. But thereafter literature is present only in the form of frequent passing allusions, suggestions from the orchestra which, we are to understand, are taken up and elaborated by the soloist.

The chapters that follow are designed, then, to supply the accompaniment by which Victorian literature can be made more intelligible and pertinent to a reader in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The accurate understanding of any era's literature depends to a greater or less extent on a grasp of its historical context, but the danger of misreading and of anachronistic criticism increases when one deals with literature so intimately connected with contemporary life as was that of the Victorians.

Given—to use Matthew Arnold's excellent, self-illustrating word—the multitudinousness of Victorian society and culture, this book may claim at least the perhaps equivocal . . .

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