A View of Victorian Literature

by Geoffrey Tillotson

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What are some characteristics of Victorian literature?

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Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom from 1837 until 1901, a period of more than sixty-three years. During this period, over 40,000 novels were published and numerous other volumes of prose and poetry. It was also a period of proliferation of periodical literature, with monthly magazines containing nonfiction, poetry, and serialized novels. Perhaps the most significant characteristic of the period was its diversity.

Fiction from this period includes novels and short stories. Novels were often first published in serial form, with one chapter a month appearing in magazines, and then republished in three-volume form. The development of railways led to a growth in smaller format and shorter books as well. Mass literacy gave rise to short, inexpensive sensationalistic works known as "penny dreadfuls." Three of the major movements influencing the novel were Romanticism, Naturalism, and Realism, although symbolist works and psychological novels became common at the end of the century.

The Victorian period was one in which many forms of poetry flourished, from the Romantic poems of the beginning of the period to ones attempting to reflect common speech and ordinary lives. The symbolist and decadent movements were important at the end of the century. Regional poetry and experimental verse forms, often influenced by French models, were also common.

In the early part of Victoria's reign, melodramas were a major dramatic genre. Revivals of Shakespeare were also common. The end of the century was distinguished by superb comic writers such as Shaw and Wilde, some realistic drama, and some experimental poetic drama. Irish drama flourished during this period, and ranged from the realistic to the poetic.

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