Before we discuss Victorian poetry fundamental themes, a word about the Victorian age.
Queen Victoria ruled for almost 64 years. She witnessed many events which changed not only the history of Britain but also of the whole world. The industrial revolution, scientific advances in physics and biology challenged conventional thinking of man. The literature of Victorian times depicts unrest owing to these paradigm shifts.
What were the fundamental themes of Victorian poetry?
Most of the themes are a combination of scientific thought versus established religion. It may appear that all the questions which were suppressed for many centuries are reflected through this literature.
Questioning the functioning of the world, interests in everything mysterious, confronting religion are some of the features observed. Some scholars have even observed that medieval or lesser-known characters were preferred for storytelling over classical ones. The preaching of the church was put across in a manner innovative for those times.
‘Alas my Lord,
How should I wrestle all the livelong night
With Thee my God, my Strength and my Delight?
How can it need
So agonized an effort and a strain
To make Thy Face of Mercy shine again?
How can it need
Such wringing out of breathless prayer to move
Thee to Thy wonted Love, when Thou art Love? (ll.1-9)’
-Alas My Lord by Christina Rossetti in 1874
Feminism was emerging in Victorian poetry
Feminism as an idea was emerging around this time. It is naturally seen in the literature. The role and position of women were changing; technological revolution and consecutive world wars definitely had an impact in this case. A woman was to be seen even in other roles besides marriage, daughter, mother etc. There was a certain way she was expected to behave in; which was not at par with the idea of ‘freedom’.
As the rift between the haves and have-nots increased; the literature also seemed to have become more moral based. It revolved around the life of a common man; detailed how difficult it was for the poor to meet ends.
‘What is true at last will tell:
Few at first will place thee well;
Some too low would have thee shine,
Some too high – no fault of thine –
Hold thine own, and work thy will!’’
– Alfred Tennyson (Poets and Critics 1892)
What were the fundamental conflicts of Victorian poetry?
But naturally, the administration/nobility tried to impose certain constraints on these writers. This resulted in conflict. The writers wanted to bring about some sort of difference in the existing society. Attempts were made to suppress them. Women emerged victoriously and could pursue a degree by the end of the 19th century. Gradually reforms for the labour class came into picture attempting to give them opportunities.
Victorian literature is like a bridge between the romantic writings and modernist thought of the 20th century. It is the transitional phase when change is emerging. But obviously, persons from the literary arena play a crucial role in bringing about a change of heart especially amidst commoners. They not only go against the current but also shoulder the responsibility to make the world a better place.