How to Understand Victorian Literature

The idea of “Victorian Literature” as a category or a sort of genre is a bit confusing to me. I feel that the various “Victorian” pieces of literature I have read have little in common. Of course, the similarities between, say, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are quite obvious, but compare either of those to A Tale of Two Cities and the commonality is hard to find. The Bronte novels deal a bit with stratified class, but they are not explicitly political as so much of Victorian Lit seems to be. I understand that they’re given this label simply because they were written during the reign of Queen Victoria, but I struggle with the idea that this is all they shared.

You can look at a Romantic piece of literature and quickly pull out the themes and characteristics that make it Romantic. This is not so easily done with Victorian writing. I don’t know what to look for, aside from a publication date, that would mark a piece of literature as Victorian. I don’t even know if there are any characteristics to look for. But I would assume that writers living in the same place at the same time with similar experiences would have more in common than a date. What were the common influences? Were there any major tropes? What themes and conflicts were popular to focus on? And how does someone like Oscar Wilde fit in to this, or does he? This is what I would like to learn about Victorian literature!

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