The Victorian age is often identified with optimism and belief in progress. However, it was also a time of rapid change as industrialism and a growing empire vastly increased England's wealth and power. Alongside many positive changes, advances in science and technology brought up profound questions and anxieties.
Darwin's ideas raised many doubts and anxieties in people about the nature of the world: where was meaning to be found if people had evolved from lower life forms rather than being created by God? What would happen to religious faith? Was there a God, or was the universe created by random chance? Arnold articulates some of these anxieties in his poem "Dover Beach." In the poem, the speaker stands with his beloved, looking at the sea at night. He thinks about what he calls the "Sea of Faith" (Christianity) and worries because faith and certainty no longer seem dominant. Instead, he says:
... now I only hear
Its [faith's] melancholy, long, withdrawing roar
A world without religious faith seems to him like a "darkling plain" that
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace ...
The couple can only cling to each other in a world that seems faithless, frightening, and unsettled.
Alongside Darwinism, rapid industrial growth and the ascent of the philosophy of utilitarianism, which defined happiness as the greatest good for the greatest number of people, seemed to be displacing the old, humane bonds of village life. Dickens critiques this cold, hard world of facts and figures in his novel Hard Times. Here, he shows the loss that comes when we move away from whimsy, poetry, beauty, and humane relationships in favor of a relentless pursuit of profit and gain.