What are some examples of how and where Victorian writers reflected themes typical of their age?
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Many common themes associated with Victorian literature can be found in Matthew Arnold’s poem “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse.” These themes include the following:
- An emphasis on melancholy, as in the second stanza. Melancholy is a frequent tone in Victorian literature.
- A sense of religious division, of a long-standing split in Christendom, as is implied in lines 49-52.
- An emphasis on the need to be intellectually responsible and do one’s duty, as is implied in lines 67-70.
- A sad sense that religion is increasingly a thing of the past, as is implied in lines 67-72.
- A sense that new forms of knowledge were taking the place of religion, as is implied in lines 73-78.
- A sense of being caught in a kind of historical limbo, living during the death of one era and the (possible) birth of a new one, as when the speaker describes himself as
Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head . . . (85-87)
- A sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction, as in the final line just quoted.
- A sense of lacking, or of having lost, intellectual freedom, as in lines 91-96.
- A sense that the Romantic era was now dead or dying, as in lines 134-50.
- A sense that the Romantics, admirable as they may have been, had made little real or lasting impact on the world, as in lines 151-56.
- An awareness of the great worldly achievements of the age, but a dissatisfaction with them as well, as in lines 163-68.
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