Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach book cover
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How is "Dover Beach" an example of Victorian writing?

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"Dover Beach" neatly encapsulates one of the main contradictions at the heart of Victorian society. On the one hand, Victorian England was a deeply religious country, one in which matters of religion were regarded with a high degree of importance. Levels of church attendance were remarkably high, and just about everybody believed in God.

Yet at the same time, doubts as to the veracity of the Bible began to creep in among the educated classes. German liberal theologians (with whose work Arnold was doubtless familiar) had put forward the idea that the Bible was like any other book and should therefore be examined accordingly. Among other things, this new approach to Scriptural exegesis precluded any literal interpretation of the Bible. The higher criticism, as it was called, soon spread to England, undermining the widely-held Protestant belief in the inerrance of Scripture.

In addition, the traditional certainties of Victorian religion were under attack from developments in natural science. Lyell had demonstrated by the use of fossil records that the earth was much older than the Bible's account would suggest. And, most famously of all, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection called the biblical account of creation even further into question by showing how different species had developed and mutated.

In the midst of all this rapid change, Arnold recognizes that life will never be the same again. He doesn't seek to change the course of the outgoing tide and the receding of the old certainties it symbolizes; he's too much of a Victorian not to believe in the inevitability of...

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