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Literature Glossary

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Victorian Era

Definition:

Ah, those stuffy old Victorians. Known for being more than a little uptight and totally morally upstanding (at least in public), Victorians were the people who lived in England under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and her hubby Prince Albert.

Victorians are (somewhat unfairly) infamous for their repressed attitudes toward sex and their conservative social mores. When people hear the word Victorian they usually think of manners, tradition, and general prudishness. But the Victorian era was also a time of big fat changes—social ones, moral ones, cultural ones.

Think about it. Charles Darwin had introduced his theory of Natural Selection, changing science and religion forever. Folks were moving from the countryside to the city in droves, and while a new middle class was emerging, the gap between the rich and the poor grew wider and wider. Technology improved drastically, spurring on the Industrial Revolution on a huge scale. Plus, the British Empire expanded—a lot. So it's not too nuts to say that the Victorian era saw its fair share of upheaval.

All of these major shifts were reflected in the literature of the age, with novelists like Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot writing massive tomes for which the era became known. And then there were poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Robert Browning, tackling the strange changes in their work.

The Victorians packed a big punch, too, and their writing was a major influence over later writers, especially the Modernists who, with their emphasis on new ideas and aesthetics, were reacting to the old order of the stodgy Victorians.

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