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Contributions of Arnold, Ruskin and Carlyle in the Victorian Age

Updated on March 10, 2013

The Victorian Age witnessed rapid and sweeping changes in the social fabric of England and the literature of the age was openly at war against the changes that produced more harm than good. This characteristic feature of Victorian Literature is strongly discernible in the works of the Jeremiah of the Age - Carlyle, Arnold and Ruskin who were up in arms against the progress of democracy, spiritual bankruptcy owing to the rise in material wealth, mammon worship and the policy of laissez faire which allowed capitalists to exploit the labor class. Their works which were important vehicles of social reform provoked because instead of treading the path of compromise the Jeremiahs came down heavily upon Victorianism. However, Arnold, Ruskin and Carlyle 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 histories, theology, ethical priorities, literary and art criticisms and so on. It is by the virtue of their contribution in the field of non-prose fiction that they are now immensely important in the History of English Literature.

Thomas Carlyle is undoubtedly one of the most important literary figures of the Victorian Age. The best of his early works are - Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, his Life of Schiller and his essays on Burns and Scott. His Sartor Resartus which displays Carlyle's own spiritual struggles under a thin veil of fiction is his master-piece. 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 were published in his 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.

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. He wrote Modern Painters which begins as a defense of Turner's paintings but further expounds his opinions on other subjects of Art, followed by The Seven Lamps of Architecture. Ruskin's The Stones of Venice, which is his masterpiece in thought and style, was written in appraisal of the Gothic style of Art. Ruskin's other important works are Unto This Last and Munera Pulveris which comprises of a series of articles on political economy; Sesame and Lilies and Two paths which are courses of lectures; The Crown of Wild Olives which comprises of a series of addresses and Praeterita which is a kind of autobiography.

The noted Victorian poet, Mathew Arnold who wrote poems such as Scholar Gypsy, Dover Bridge and A Summer Night also holds his place in English Literature as a tireless critic. The main body of his literary criticism is found in On Translating Homer; The Study of Celtic Literature and his most renowned work published in two volumes namely Essays on Criticism which are marked by wide reading and careful thought and carry Arnold's bold verbal weapons. 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.

Thus it can be very justifiably concluded that the different works of Arnold, Ruskin and Carlyle are varied as well as useful, interesting as well as edifying in what they offered to the diligent readers. They greatly broadened the range and variety of non-prose fiction.

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