Literature Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

Discuss why isolation and confusion are integral parts of Victorian literature. How do they influence the characters?

Isolation and confusion in Victorian literature reflected the rapid changes in technology, science, religious faith, and identity that characterized the Victorian era as a whole.

Expert Answers info

Dolly Doyle eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseLibrarian


calendarEducator since 2018

write1,361 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

The Victorian period was one of great change, both in technological progress and in how humans understood the world around them. Darwin's theory of evolution upended centuries' worth of belief that the origin of the world was exactly as presented in the book of Genesis. Such cultural change no doubt brought about confusion in many on a personal level. As for isolation, many were alienated from the current culture, longing for the simpler pre-Darwin understanding of the world, as well as a pre-industrial one. Cities were large and impressive but also alienating—the origins of the trope of the lonely city-dweller so common in hard-boiled fiction and film noir stem from Victorian fiction as different as Notes from Underground and Oliver Twist.

Isolation often creeps into gothic Victorian literature most. The isolation can be literal, such as the speaker of Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" sleeping alone beside the tomb of his dead beloved, feeling isolated from the living world because of his loss of her, or Charlotte Bronte's titular heroine, at a disadvantage due to her social status and gender, wandering alone after leaving Rochester in Jane Eyre. Such characters are alone because of marginalized status, relating to Victorian literature's themes regarding the oppression of the outsider. Isolation tends to drive characters mad (as in Poe's fiction and poetry) or force them on perilous journeys (which is often the case for the protagonists of Charles Dickens).

Confusion in Victorian fiction often relates to identity. Characters like Jane Eyre or Oliver Twist are confused about who they are or where they fit into the greater society. In Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw is often unsure if she belongs with the social outcast Heathcliff or if she'd rather have all the social privileges that come with being the wife of a member of the local gentry. Often, characters learn they are not who they thought they were: low-born people discover they are misplaced nobility, while high-born characters might discover they are really low-born in a melodramatic twist. This preoccupation with the confusion of identity might go back to Victorian thinking on class distinctions as well as how the world was rapidly changing so much that old understandings of the self were dying away.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial