Entering into this course, the only experience I had with Victorian Literature was in gothic horror novels such as Frankenstein. I had little knowledge of general Victorian literature. The stereotypical view of Victorian Literature is high-class rich families speaking in posh accents, contrasted against the chimney sweep Tiny Tim characters.
From our readings in Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Reuban Sachs, and the variety of poetry and shorter readings, I have noticed that they all have a similar feel to them. While thematically the three main readings we discussed had similar subjects about social status in Victorinal society, they are all held together by the human elements underneath. In some cases romance and courtship, in other family and friendship.
The Victorian Era is unlike our own in that it was so extremely strict at every point in society. From the rich, down to the poor, there were societal rules that bound behavior and attitude. But still, human connection shines through. Characters constantly move between social class to chase these connections in a society that in reality often prohibited this type of movement. Oftentimes these movements are romantically motivated. Most of these connections specifically are never fulfilled fully.
These human elements are not always a force of good. Vengeance and anger is another human emotion very visible in Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations, with characters bending the rules of Victorian society to fulfill it. Class, wealth, and privilege are abused throughout the Victorian works to push others down.
What is notable about this element of Victorian Literature is when the human element is removed. The Victorian Era is an industrial time, and I often thought back to “The Steam King” when reading all of these texts. Here, humanity is ground up and used. People are smaller cogs in the machine used to prop up Victorian society. This text really framed my point of view going into the longer texts we tackled.
Almost all literature is in someway about humanity and human connection. But what I learned about Victorian Literature is that these themes are especially important. It’s no surprise that the common themes of the texts we read were about society and humanity. In a way, all of the texts were cases of human connection trying to succeed against an increasingly oppressive and machine-like world. Characters return from the larger outside world back to a small one or move from small towns to large cities where these connections grow even fainter. Even the imagery works, the connected small town with a forge vs the growing industrial mechanical cities.
Victorian Literature exists in the setting of an impersonal society, but all of the texts tell deeply personal stories.