Lecture: Revisiting the Victorians: Key Texts, Issues, Genres

The Victorian Period, commonly defined by the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837-1901, is known for its many major developments: it saw the rise of colonial Britain, the gradual turn towards an industrial society, social transformations affecting class and gender relationships (partly due to industrialization), the consolidation of the natural sciences, educational reforms, and technological progress. In the world of literature and the arts, the novel witnessed a stellar rise in connection with the emergence of realism, but popular culture and entertainment flourished, too. Cultural criticism produced by the period’s prominent intellectuals such John Carlyle or John Ruskin sought to define moral and aesthetic standards for this society in transformation. But there were also artists such as the the Pre-Raphaelites, or fin de siècle writers such as Oscar Wilde or Algernon Swinburne, who challenged traditions and went against the grain. While it’s tempting to think of this period as one of growth, prosperity and relative political stability, there were sub-currents in society and the arts that split the homogeneous façade (e.g., the figure of the New Woman or writers that looked skeptically at the imperial enterprise, such as Joseph Conrad).  

In this lecture we will explore several key texts, mostly in the form of excerpts, that belong to this period by writers such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, William Makepeace Thackeray. George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch will accompany us during several sessions as it allows insights into the form of the novel and some of the conflicts that coined Victorian society at large.








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