The Victorians

The Victorians

The Victorians

The Victorians

Synopsis

How closely was the social reality of Victorian England reflected in the vivid picture evoked by its literature? In this survey of the Victorian era the relation between literature and society is explained by means of three distinct sections. The first delineates the literary history in two chapters on the Victorian novel and Victorian poetry respectively. In the second and largest section a series of essays discuss various fundamental aspects of Victorian society: the economic and social framework, government and institutions, the sense of the past, painting and illustration, religion and the role of women. The third section offers two essays which explicitly relate a particular work to the society: one on Dickens' Dombey and Son, and the other on Tennyson's 'The Princess'. By turning to each essay after the rounded picture of Victorian society given in the previous sections, the reader will not only find his appreciation enhanced, but will also be enabled to argue back on equal terms in a way that is never possible with a survey of literature alone.

Excerpt

Although my name stands on the title-page as editor, this book is the cooperative product of its five authors. We planned it together, and we have read and criticized one another's contributions. It would not have been possible if we had not all been colleagues at the same university, able to draw on our experience in teaching together on some of the interdisciplinary courses that Sussex has developed over the years. It is a constant aim of our courses in literature and history to explore connections without being reductive: not to use literature as mere illustration for social and economic conditions, nor to assume that the insights of the novelist into the workings of his society are necessarily correct. The former would be to reduce literature to historical documents, the latter would give it a privileged (and unmerited) status in the study of society.

The plan of the book flows from these beliefs. The first section is intended as literary history, and its two chapters treat fiction and poetry with complete respect for their autonomy as art. The second section is concerned with the material reality, the institutions and the social and intellectual movements of Victorian Britain. The third section tries to show something of the complexity of relating a work of literature to its society.

But the sections, though their aims are distinct, do not ignore one another's existence. Though questions of literary form are paramount in Chapter 1, the social reality that the novelists . . .

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