The Late Victorian Period and the Nineties.
T h e L a t e V i c t o r i a n P e r i o d ( 1 8 7 0 – 1 9 0 1 )
D e c a y o f V i c t o r i a n V a l u e s :
(+) a time of serenity and security = the age of house parties, longs weekends in the country, delights in London entertainment,…: the comfortable pace of these pleasant, well-fed gatherings immortalised in Henry James’s prose
(─) the cost of the empire apparent in colonial rebellions, massacres, and bungled wars, incl. the Boer War (1899 – 1902) to annex 2 independent rep. in the south of Af. controlled by Dutch settlers = Boers
- the 2nd Reform Bill (1867, under Disraeli) > growth of labour as a political and economic force > growth of a variety of kinds of socialism
R e a c t i o n s i n L i t e r a t u r e :
- a sense of an overall change of attitudes:
- attack on the mid-Victorian idols: Samuel Butler’s (1835 – 1902) criticism of C. Darwin and A. Tennyson, and satire on family life in The Way of All Flesh (1903)
- notion of the pointlessness of the striving of the mid-Victorians > no answers to our problems to be found > our role = to enjoy the fleeting moments of beauty (Walter Pater)
T h e N i n e t i e s
C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s :
- the changing values embodied in Victoria’s pleasure-seeking son and heir, Edward, Prince of Wales x the opposite of his earnest-minded father, Prince Albert
- the writers’ state of mind typical neither of the earlier Victorians x nor of the 20th c. > styled as ‘Late Victorians’ or ‘the first of the ‘Moderns’’
- reactions in lit.: no more a sense of gaiety x but: of melancholy
T h e A e s t h e t i c M o v e m e n t :
- ‘art for art’s sake’ = art unconc. with controversial issues, restricted to celebrating beauty in a highly polished style
- art = independent for its having its own unique kind of value > poetry must be judged ‘as poetry and not another thing’ (T. S. Eliot)
- self-conscious about living at the end of a great c. > a deliberate fin de siècle (= end-of-c.) pose: the drawings and designs of Aubrey Beardsley
- consid. themselves anti-Victorians: the mid-Victorian earnestness of C. Dickens’s David Copperfield (1850) x the late-Victorian comedy on earnestness of O. Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
- the last heirs of the Romantics going back through D. G. Rossetti and A. Tennyson to J. Keats x but: the Romantic sensationalism developed into melancholy suggestiveness, world weariness, or mere emotional debauchery > a time of decadence and degeneration
- the 1st to absorb the infl. of the Fr. symbolist poetry: T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, & oth.
- the Aesthetes incl. O. Wilde, A. Beardsley, W. Pater, & oth. + The Rhymer’s Club members, incl. W. B. Yeats, Lionel Johnson, E. Dowson, John Davidson, Arthur Symons, & oth.
R u d y a r d K i p l i n g & O t h e r s :
- the dandyism and effeminacy of the Aesthetes
x R. Kipling’s life of masculine action, and bearing of ‘the white man’s burden’ of responsibility for the civilizing mission of the Br. imperial power
P o e t r y o f t h e 1 8 8 0 s – 9 0 s :
- older generation: R. Browning, A. Tennyson, and C. A. Swinburne; to a certain extend T. Hardy
- younger generation:
> R. Kipling’s balladry gave voice to the otherwise inarticulate, ordinary soldiers, and ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ > expressed middle-brow sentiments > pop. success: “Recessional”, on the Queen’s Jubilee; “The Ballad of East and West” and “Gunga Din”, on the Empire; “The Female of the Species” and “The Ladies”, on uppity women
> O. Wilde’s Fr.-inspired decadents: “Les Ballons” and “Symphony in Yellow”, precise, refined, impressionistic, conc. with beauty x The Ballad of Reading Gaol, vulnerable and protesting
> the Rhymer’s Club’s poised lyricism
> A(lfred) E(dward) Housman’s (1859 – 1936) preocc. with lost illusions, death, and homoeroticism
> Charlotte Mew’s (1869 – 1928) preocc. with unfulfilment, death, and burial
Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.
Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.
Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.