Dover Beach Questions and Answers
by Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What are the reasons that signify "Dover Beach" is a representative poem of the Victorian period?

This image has been Flagged as inappropriate Click to unflag
Image (1 of 1)

Expert Answers info

Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write3,306 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Science

Living during the Victorian period, Matthew Arnold believed that Christianity's significance and power to unite people had faded. He thought that with a more critical historical account of the religion's history and a general (cultural) shift of interest from spiritual to material needs, the Victorian culture could no longer have much use for religious guidance. Arnold also saw the pre-modern (Victorian) culture as one more interested in science and industry. However, since he did not see these developments as unifying narratives of humanity either, he sought substitutes. In "Dover Beach," he offers a substitute of love. After having dismissed religion's unifying power (the "Sea of Faith"), the speaker (Arnold) also dismisses the new, pre-modern, Victorian world: 

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

In the concluding lines, Arnold refers to armies clashing and this could refer to military conflicts of his time such as the 1848 revolutions in Europe. Thus, the Victorian period, in Arnold's analysis, was marked by industrialization, modernization, and even revolution. With such significant changes in culture and daily life, Arnold proposes a perspective in "Dover Beach" in which the speaker is disillusioned by the fading religion of the past and the superficiality of modernization of the future. In Culture and Anarchy, Arnold suggests how culture (an individual and social humanism with beauty and intelligence as its goals) could become a new narrative for society. Likewise, in "Dover Beach," Arnold suggested an emphasis on the individual's culture (love and appreciation) in the wake of fading religion and at the beginning of modernization. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial