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Victorian Prose and Poetry

Updated on August 17, 2016

Victorian Poetry and Poets

Poetry as a genre is universal so it can undergo twists and turns but never die out. This was the reason why despite the utter materialism and mercantile nature of the Victorian milieu, the position of poetry went untarnished. Victorian poetry is understandably the artistic approach of a critical balance between the different contradicting ideals of the age and the distemper of man trying to strike a balance between Romantic Utopia and the disillusionment of emerging modernity. Talking about Victorian poets, the first name that comes to the mind is that of Lord Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning whose poems are still regarded as representative of Victorianism.

Non-Fictional Prose of the Victorian Age

The literature of the high Victorian Age is characterized by its abundance in the field of non-fictional prose, the range of variety of which is baffling. The Victorian non-fictional prose writers understood that there was an unavoidable requirement to explore a fine art of living while simultaneously carrying the message of immediate public concern. Their aspirations focused on society while also encompassing within its realm, theology, histories, scientific endeavors, biographies, ethical and philosophical treatises, literary and art criticisms and so on.

Thomas Carlyle is undoubtedly one of the most important literary figures of the Victorian Age. His major historical works are The French Revolution, a series of vivid word-pictures rather than sober history full of audacity and color; Oliver Cromwell's Letter's and Speeches, a huge effort relieved from tedium only by Carlyle's volcanic methods; the genial and humane Life of John Sterling and The History of Frederich II of Prussia which was enormous in scale and heavy with detail. His works dealing with contemporary events include Chartism, Past and Present and Latter-day Pamphlets. The series of lectures that he delivered in 1837 was published as On heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History. Carlyle's method was essentially biographical and his aim was to make History alive by means of his masculine imagination and pithy style.

After Carlyle the next great Victorian non-fictional prose writer is John Ruskin who wrote remarkably on art and the social and economic questions of his time in a style that was delicate, graceful and almost lyrical. His Modern Painters was a defense of Turner's paintings whereas The Stones of Venice, which is his masterpiece in thought and style, was written in appraisal of the Gothic style of Art. Ruskin's Unto This Last and Munera Pulveris comprises of a series of articles on political economy. His other important works are Sesame and Lilies and Two paths which are a course of lectures and The Crown of Wild Olives which comprises of a series of addresses.

The noted Victorian poet, Mathew Arnold also holds his place in English Literature as a tireless critic. His most renowned work Essays in Criticism where he criticized Shelley's poetic circle is marked by wide reading and careful thought. His Culture and Anarchy and Friendship's Garland aimed at broadening the mental and moral horizon of the English people whereas his Literature and Dogma and God and the Bible undertook the task of reconstructing Christianity on grounds of naturalism. Arnold's writing style is typically elegant and for multiple reasons he is acclaimed as a prophetic critic.

Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote essays on literary subjects such as those on Milton, Byron, and Bunyan and also attempted historical studies. His History of England concerning the Whig revolution of 1688 is written in a debating style with picturesque effects.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a moral essayist whose eleven volumes of lectures and essays cover a wide range of subjects which chiefly deal with the conduct of life.

W.H. Pater, the spokesperson of the school of aesthetic criticism wrote Studies in the History of Renaissance, Imaginary Portraits which deals with artists and Appreciations which is on literary themes. Symonds who was also among forerunner of literary critics wrote Studies of the Greek Poets and his master-piece The Renaissance in Italy in which he contests Ruskin's views on art.
Mention must be made of the historians Henry Thomas Buckle, who wrote History of Civilization in England and Edward Augustus Freeman who gave us the very valuable History of Norman Conquest. John Richard Greene's A short History of the English People took the rank of a text-book which was also Literature.

Essays were also written on scientific subjects. Charles Darwin's ground-breaking On the Origin of species and The Descent of Man and Thomas Henry Huxley's Man's Place in Nature are notable for their masterly gifts of exposition and argument.
Thus it can be very justifiably concluded that Victorian non-fictional prose was varied as well as useful, interesting as well as edifying in what they offered to the diligent readers.

For more analysis and poem summaries follow Beamingnotes

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    • profile image

      Max Leo 

      16 months ago

      Well appreciated

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      superb! notes its really very helpful for exams.. thank you!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      A very precise note with specific details...quite helpful..thnx a lot.


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