History of the Text
Reception and Publication History: By the time “Dover Beach” was published in 1867, Matthew Arnold was already a prolific poet and literary critic. The poem was published in New Poems, a volume of Arnold’s verse. The title of the poem refers to the waterfront at the English seaport of Dover, where Arnold honeymooned with his wife, Frances. Critics have since conducted extensive analyses of Arnold’s dramatic imagery and complex metaphors, and many writers have alluded to or taken inspiration from “Dover Beach.”
The Height of the Victorian Era: Arnold wrote “Dover Beach” during the Victorian era (1837–1901). Victorian literature often grappled with the consequences of the Industrial Revolution, which introduced many advances in science and technology. Critics expressed concern about the dehumanizing effects of industrialism, which valued efficiency at all costs. Cities became overcrowded as people flocked to factories, whose cheap, mass-produced goods drove artisans out of business. Writers of the time explored the consequences of pollution, damage to the countryside, and the exploitation of the working class. Others, like Arnold, worried about the state of Western culture as it shifted focus away from nature and religion in favor of scientific reasoning.
- Romanticism, an early 19th-century literary movement that stressed the importance of emotion, interior experience, and the majestic qualities of the natural world, greatly influenced Victorian writers. “Dover Beach” has many Romantic qualities, including an emphasis on the speaker’s emotions and imagination, as well as the inclusion of striking natural imagery.