What are some elements of Victorian Literature?I am confused about whether alienation/dislocation, struggle/strife, Christianity, and imperialism/colonation are elements or issues in Victorian...

What are some elements of Victorian Literature?

I am confused about whether alienation/dislocation, struggle/strife, Christianity, and imperialism/colonation are elements or issues in Victorian Literature.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In contrast to the Romantic period, Victorian literature comes much closer to realism although the multiplicity and extreme variety of style and belief. the principal characteristics of this period, make it difficult to find common features among the writings of this period.  Nevertheless, the literature of the early Victorian period is informed by a peculiar distress, for writers of this period shared a conviction that new modes of thought and behavior called all in doubt.  For one thing, the incompatibility of the languages of poetry and of science was affirmed.  Perhaps as a result of such a conflict of ideals, an unevenness and tendency to go off on various lines in poetry make for both strengths and weaknesses in the poetry of such Victorians as Tennyson and Browning as they consider the new problems of their age in new modes of expression.

However, here are some salient features of writings of the Victorian Age:

  • Isolation - An intense preoccupation of the major poets and writers is with this problematic condition of man.  Situations of betrayal, alienation, separation from life and love appear in the writings of Tennyson's poetry early and late, and in Browning's throughout his career.  Charles Dickens certainly was concerned with this theme as evidenced in such novels as "Oliver Twist" and "Great Expectations."  Thomas Hardy's poignant narrative, "Tess of the D'Ubervilles" explores the devastating effects of human alienation and isolation.
  • Pessimism - There is a darkness to the works of Hardy and Dickens and others
  • A moral purpose - Many works pointed to the repression of women, the corruption of those in authority, and the plight of the poor.  Also, there was literature for children, written with a strong moralistic tone (e.g. Kipling's "Jungle Book," and Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland")
  • Idealism - Truth, love, justice are often themes in this literature.  In Dickens's "Oliver Twist" for example, the brutal killer and burglar, Bill Sikes, and heinous Fagin receive their just rewards by being hanged.  Love triumphs in "Great Expectations." Hardy's "Tess" actually shocked contemporary readers with its honesty.
  • A realistic adherence to daily life - Many of the works present the life of the lower classes, their miserable plight and lack of social mobility.  As a result, Victorian literature became an instrument for social progress.
  • A mixture of Romanticism with the Gothic - novels by the Bronte sisters mix the romantic with the supernatural and also examine class and gender
  • Colonialism and Imperalism - These elements are most evident in the writings of Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling whose novel "Kim" is set in India, exposing the insular society of England to the exotic land while yet presenting the reality of colonialism.


M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Great question! You may get several different answers but I am sure they all will coincide in many points.

alienation/dislocation: Yes. Victorian literature, especially Gaskell, Dickens, and Elliot explore a society which is far from the idealized fantastic and classical world that constitutes early Victorian Literature. They explore the alienation of the poor classes, the East End, the slum districts, and the dislocation of any rights and benefits for least affluent groups.

Later on, the likes of Shaw and Wilde for instance further explore alienation in terms of social classes: the division between aristocracy, the middle class and the upper classes, and the shunning from "polite society" (dislocation) of whoever does not follow the hypocritical and snobby ways of the rich. 

Struggle/strife- Again, Victorian lit does intertwine the two in terms of who you are when standing in society. Dickens sclearly show the struggles of the lower and destitute classes, and Austen shows the strife of lower social classes to obtain recognition, money, class, and to measure their worth under the scope of the upper classes.

Christianity: Definitely an element. Queen Victoria was basically the monarch which gave England the idealistic view of the wholesome, church-going family and Christianity was an aspect that was enforced. It was a particularly poignant theme because of mortality rates of children, and the state of minds of Victorians towards death and mourning. Also, it was a symbol of status, as the church was often the networking gossip center of the town. Again, mid to late Victorian writers criticize this and mock the role of religion and Christianity altogether.

Imperialism/Colonization: I would say on this one that imperialism is what drove Victorian society and basically shaped up the social classes. Colonization was also going on, as Victoria was Empress of India and other colonies of the United Kingdom. Certainly these themes were commonplace in literature, if anything in reform-literature. At this point in Victorian society we must not forget that Darwin had just proposed his theories of evolution and the world became in some form "globalized" into the idea that the expansion of the English empire would give place to further exploration in science and history.

In all, all the topics are represented in different ways and at different stages of Victorian literature. I hope that helps.

StephanieRR | Student

The Victorian era also marked a period where new discoveries and developments forced people to question long-held ideas about the world and man's (particularly the English man's) place in it. Newer understanding of geological time and the recent discovery of dinosaur bones changed the way Victorian's viewed time and, as a result, made them wrestle with questions about where humans fell in history or if their continued existence was a guarantee. New scientific breakthroughs also caused anxiety for people who attempted to reconcile traditional religious beliefs with these new discoveries. This tension between science and Christianity comes up in the literature of the period. Tennyson's "In Memoriam A.H.H." contains several stanzas illustrating the struggle to come to terms with ideas of evolution and the relationship between man, Nature, and God. Dickens touches on dinosaurs, the death of the sun, and the biblical flood all in the first paragraph of Bleak House.

rromh | Student

all this  are  elements in victorian  literature because of

during  the victorian age there  was many elements flourished in general literature so you can say that also for the value of that age that was  plenty of new works like poems and novels thanks to the QUEEN VICTORIA