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The main difference between Victorian and Modern literature is what Hegel referred to as "The onward march of human progress". The Victorians believed that humanity was headed toward a divine purpose. With each succeeding generation comes progress toward the overarching goal of humanity. This is evident in the chronological order of the Victorian novel. Modernists, however, as a result of WWI lost sight of this progress. Because of the war, writers were devastated and doubted purpose. This is evident in the fragmented style of the writing. Modern prose often begins at the end, and jumps around from event to event. It is more scattered and less hopeful.
The Victorian period, characterized by the forward progression in science and technology and the age of religious doubt, began in 1837 and officially lasted until 1901. By the 1890s, writers began expressing differing opinions on social issues and cultural norms. These Modern writers sought to free themselves from the massive embrace of their predecessors and many believed the Victorians to be repressed, over-confident, and thoroughly philistine. With the onset of WWI, in 1914, British culture saw the most abrupt movement into the Modernist era. The violence and brutality of the war led many writers to question all they know about humanity and life.
Stylistically, the Victorians embraced lengthy, often serialized, realistic novels. Authors such as George Eliot and Charles Dickens saw the height of this movement with their highly constructed, chronological works. In contrast, the Modernist novel is characterized by its non-linear, fragmented style. This stylistic change is attributed to the Great War, which caused many individuals to lose hope in the progress of humanity. Consequently, many Modernist texts – such as those by Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath – have despondent and cynical undertones that question the role of the individual in larger society.
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