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The Victorian era was a period of great political, social, and economic change. The Empire recovered from the loss of the American colonies and entered a period of rapid expansion. This expansion, combined with increasing industrialisation and mechanisation, led to a prolonged period of economic growth. The Reform Act 1832 was the beginning of a process that would eventually lead to universal suffrage.

Poetry in a sense settled down from the upheavals of the romantic era, and much of the work of the time is seen as a bridge between this earlier era and the modernist poetry of the next century. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was Poet Laureate for over forty years. Some Victorian poetry highly regarded at the time, such as William Ernest Henley's Invictus, is now seen as jingoistic and bombastic, but Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade was a fierce criticism of a famous military blunder; a pillar of the establishment not failing to attack the establishment. Comic verse abounded in the Victorian era. Magazines such as Punch magazine and Fun magazine teemed with humorous invention[1] and were aimed at a well-educated readership.[2]

The husband and wife poetry team of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning conducted their love affair through verse and produced many tender and passionate poems. Both Matthew Arnold and Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote poems which sit somewhere in between the exultation of nature of the romantic Poetry and the Georgian Poetry of the early 20th century. Arnold's works hearken forward to some of the themes of these later poets, while Hopkins drew inspiration from verse forms of Old English poetry such as Beowulf.

High Victorian poetryEdit


The major High Victorian poets were Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Tennyson was, to some degree, the Spenser of the new age and his Idylls of the Kings can be read as a Victorian version of The Faerie Queen, that is as a poem that sets out to provide a mythic foundation to the idea of empire.

The Brownings spent much of their time out of England and explored European models and matter in much of their poetry. Robert Browning's great innovation was the dramatic monologue, which he used to its full extent in his long novel in verse, The Ring and the Book. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is perhaps best remembered for Sonnets from the Portuguese but her long poem Aurora Leigh is one of the classics of 19th century feminist literature.

Matthew Arnold was much influenced by Wordsworth, though his free verse poem Dover Beach is often considered a precursor of the modernist revolution. Hopkins wrote in relative obscurity and his work was not published until after his death. His unusual style (involving what he called "sprung rhythm," essentially a rediscovery of accentual verse) had a considerable influence on many of the poets of the 1940s.

Pre-Raphaelites, arts and crafts, Aestheticism, and the "Yellow" 1890sEdit

Rossetti selbst

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: selfportrait

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a mid-19th century arts movement dedicated to the reform of what they considered the sloppy Mannerist painting of the day. Although primarily concerned with the visual arts, two members, the brother and sister Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti, were also poets of some ability. Their poetry shares many of the concerns of the painters; an interest in Medieval models, an almost obsessive attention to visual detail and an occasional tendency to lapse into whimsy.

Dante Rossetti worked with, and had some influence on, the leading Arts and crafts painter and poet William Morris. Morris shared the Pre-Raphaelite interest in the poetry of the European Middle Ages, to the point of producing some illuminated manuscript volumes of his work.

Towards the end of the century, English poets began to take an interest in French symbolism, and Victorian poetry entered a decadent fin-de-siecle phase. Two groups of poets emerged, the Yellow Book poets who adhered to the tenets of Aestheticism, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons and the Rhymers' Club that included Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson and William Butler Yeats.

Comic verseEdit

Comic verse abounded in the Victorian era. Magazines such as Punch magazine and Fun magazine teemed with humorous invention[3] and were aimed at a well-educated readership.[4] The most famous collection of Victorian comic verse is the Bab Ballads.[5]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Spielmann, M. H. The History of "Punch", from Project Gutenberg
  2. Vann, J. Don. "Comic Periodicals," Victorian Periodicals & Victorian Society (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1994)
  3. Spielmann, M. H. The History of "Punch", from Project Gutenberg
  4. Vann, J. Don. "Comic Periodicals," Victorian Periodicals & Victorian Society (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1994)
  5. Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre, pp. 26-29. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Romantic poetry
Victorian poetry
Succeeded by
Modern poetry
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