What are some examples of how and where Victorian writers reflected themes typical of their age?
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.