Sunday, 20 June 2010

On this day...

King William IV died in 1837, leading to the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne of England and beginning arguably one of the most productive literary eras. Described by Matthew Arnold as 'a deeply unpoetical age', the Victorian era was dominated by the novel. Yet these works were not the managable romances of Austen, but heavy tomes of social injustice - their tortuous syntax leading Henry James, guilty himself of several, to name them 'loose baggy monsters'. The main culprits include Charles Dickens, author of almost a dozen major novels, George Eliot of 'Middlemarch' fame and the man of tragic persuasion, Thomas Hardy.

In conjunction with the growing suffrage movement, the Victorian era also saw the rise of the female novelist, most notably highlighted by the Bronte sisters, but supplemented also by names such as Elizabeth Gaskell. English drama is perhaps harder to find, but the one man could make up for it all, as the brilliance and wit of Oscar Wilde takes the stage by storm, preceeding the later George Bernard Shaw, and overshadowing the foreign imports of Chekhov and Ibsen. Despite Arnold's claim, Victorian literature was by no means devoid of poetry, producing Robert Browning, master of the dramatic monologue, blank verse devotee Alfred Lord Tennyson and romantic poet Christina Rossetti.

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