Because the Victorian Era covers so many years, 1830 - 1900, it is usually broken down into the early Victorian, mid-Victorian, and late Victorian, each of which displays its own characteristics. With the rapid industrialization taking place during the years 1830 - 1850, early Victorian works are characterized by attention...
Because the Victorian Era covers so many years, 1830 - 1900, it is usually broken down into the early Victorian, mid-Victorian, and late Victorian, each of which displays its own characteristics. With the rapid industrialization taking place during the years 1830 - 1850, early Victorian works are characterized by attention to social issues such as child labor and poverty. Representative works include the heart-rending "The Cry of the Children" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the beloved novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. To the credit of private and public figures of that time, including Queen Victoria herself, real progress was made on many of those issues.
This progress led to a period in the middle of the century when the British Empire blossomed and pride in the national identity peaked, represented by Prince Albert's Great Exhibition of 1851. George Eliot wrote novels of moral decency and brilliant psychological realism; Alfred Lord Tennyson, who became poet laureate in 1850, wrote wonderful lyric poetry, his famous "In Memoriam," and patriotic verses such as "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The Pre-Raphaelites celebrated beauty in language and visual arts, contributing to the mid-Victorian heyday of literary achievement.
The later years of the Victorian Era saw a tendency toward the deconstruction of Victorian values. Playwrights Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw were each cleverly iconoclastic in their own ways, satirizing the shortcomings of their society in plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Mrs. Warren's Profession. Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also pointed out the hypocrisy of those who would live dual lives in a surprising detective type story with a Gothic twist. In poetry, Robert Browning's fascinating dramatic monologues foreshadowed the 20th century's use of the natural rhythms of speech over the strict metrical arrangements of traditional poetry.
In general, Victorian literature represents a zenith of English language literary achievement in terms of the beauty of its language and thought, reflecting traditional values and using time-tested literary forms to express its themes. The later years of the period began to show more disillusionment and doubt, which would become full-blown in the 20th century.