Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Victorian Period Research Paper

The Victorian Period Research Paper

In order to understand connection between these two periods in English literature, I’d like to make a brief historical and political background of the epochs. During the eighteenth century English bourgeoisie expanded its influence on America and conquered enormous colonies. But after the revolution the belief of progressive-minded people in the bourgeoisie fell into pieces. As a result England turned to a new humanistic movement – Romanticism. It tried to eliminate injustice that came from capitalism and exploitation. But no one yet knew what ought to be dove to achieve freedom and equality. It caused the development of new literary themes.

Writers were no longer attracted by subjects of traditional novels. Many writers realized that bourgeois system ruined human individuality and created revolutionary works. It led to gradual development of the English realistic novel. These new novels were characterized with new types of heroes. It also caused changes in public attitude towards literature. Readers wanted to find more and more elements of their own life reflected in literature. They wanted to read about everyday life in bourgeois society with its joys and sorrows. Novels began to appear one after another. It was a new stage in the development of literary style. The greatest merit of these novelists lies in their sympathy towards common people. It made novels vivid and true to life.

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The 19th century was characterized by sharp contradictions. On the one hand it was the period of great scientific progress. People believed that science would solve existed problems and lead to civilization and harmony. But this industrial and scientific progress enriched upper-class at the expense of working people. By the thirties of the 19th century English capitalism entered a new stage of development which brought profound changes in economic and social life. Earlier period of English literature is characterized by vast variety of styles and ideas.

The concern with specific social problems is the most noticeable distinction between Victorian literature and the literature of the preceding centuries. The turning point was the recognition of the economic dominance of middle class. At that time the old parties turned into Liberal and Conservatives. Liberals strived to apply to life the economy of unlimited free competition in trade. For a long time the two parties were very much alike. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was a significant representative of Utilitarianism during the Victorian era. Mill later became a strong fighter for women’s rights and proposed different political and social reforms. In the Victorian era women were oppressed and couldn’t exist independently. There were also cases when women and children were violently exploited, and could do nothing with it. Awareness of gender inequality made John Mill conscious about such state of things. In order to understand his outlook better it is advisable to get acquainted with the philosophy of positivism. Mill was deeply concerned in the question of human society and its interpretation. Mill said that “liberty consists in doing what one desires”. Such an opinion however would lead to human degradation, because there would be no restrictions and limitations. That’s why liberty of any individual should be limited, not to let them do harm to others. Mill considered human existence to be enclosed with mystery. People’s experience is just a small island in the boundless sea. On the whole Mill’s major purpose was to protect people from violence, war and fraud. His philosophy of unrestricted individualism increased well-being of the middle-class to some extent. The British Empire expanded its influence on Asian and African countries by conquest and colonization. On the other hand, the philosophy of Victorian age meant unrestricted hardships for workers who dependant on their employers. Cheap labor and slum living conditions made their life even more painful. Scientific inventions and discoveries were highly valued in the Victorian epoch.

Such Victorian writers as Matthew Arnold expressed doubt and despair of Darwinian theories. Charles Darwin was able to justify his ideas of organic evolution in front of mass public. It caused unstable position of religion and Bible. Matthew Arnold was an English poet, short-story writer and critic. He criticized Romanticism in poetry. His publications also touch theological problems, such as crisis of faith among Victorian people.

Before the 19th century the main feature of literature was historical basis. The essential thing is to show history as it was and depict personalities typical of the period and the country described. But in later decades it became more and more important to write about reality and reveal its negative sides.

Oscar Wilde’s literary works represent the protest against social conditions in England at the end of the 19th century. Themes of his works are realistic because they reflect different sides of life in England. “Dorian Gray” shows his despise to bourgeoisie and its morality which is considered to be the main social evil. The only claim of Oscar Wilde is beauty, embodied in artistic works. In the preface to “The picture of Dorian Gray” Oscar Wilde wrote:

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all (Wilde, 1984).

Oscar Wilde emphasized the necessity to establish a new social order. His novels mirror selfishness and brutality of idle aristocrats. Works of Oscar Wilde provide realistic image of English society and reveals its weak points. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a masterpiece of world literature. The author tells about the life of a young man and raises many problems in contemporary society. Oscar Wilde demonstrates different approaches to life on the example of Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian himself. Basil is a kind, generous and honest man who can’t imagine art without beauty. The bright appearance of Dorian inspires him to Lord Henry lives a life of a well-to-do British aristocrat. He is eloquent and witty, but at the same time heartless, cynical and immoral and doesn’t care about Dorian’s future; he is too selfish to notice his destructive impact on Dorian. At the end of the 19th century many people believed that scientific progress would be able to eliminate human misery. Scientific researchers were greatly admired. Scientists spread their ideas among people. But later people understood that scientific progress touched only upper classes and didn’t improve the welfare of common people, who still lived in misery and didn’t know the way out.

Comparison of Victorian writers with those who preceded them shows differences in people’s outlook and life understanding. Oscar Wilde for instance contradicts the decadent theories. “The portrait of Dorian Gray shows triumph of true beauty over everything else in the world. John Ruskin was also pre-eminently concerned with art. He considered that great art can form great spiritual values. John Ruskin denounced Utilitarianism as an apology for the consequences of industrialization. He was a philosopher who expressed general truths, which are familiar to most people: Taste is not only a part and index of morality, it is the only morality […] Tell me what you like, and I’ll tell you what you are ( Ruskin).

His prominent works are known and appreciated everywhere. Bible was preferred by him before all other books. He read and reread it again and again to understand things better. His ideas often went back to the Middle Ages and were followed by a range of Victorian writers who couldn’t put up with contemporary life. Victorian activists showed their hatred to heartless and hypocritical bourgeoisie, which couldn’t let people move forward in their development. Writers of the 19th century disapproved poor life conditions and exploitation of people.

In conclusion I’d like to say that each era brings something new to people’s life. Some changes are positive and make people move forward, others lead to degradation or revolution. On the example of different writers and literary trends, I tried to examine different and common features of the beginning and the end of the nineteenth century. I also made a brief historic overview on the preceding epoch to understand the state of things better.
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