Literature in the Victorian era is a response to the economic, political and social changes that have accrued in that period. Each of literature is only a difference in how faithful the record is, and in what point of view is the reaction and what values are advocated. The diversity of Victorian literature–exception of play area—indicates that Victorians enthusiastically reacted to the realities of that time in all possible ways. Furthermore, It shows Victorians were expressed various kind of thoughts of different classes.
The Victorian Era was a time of material affluence. In this period, Britain has built many colonies abroad. Britain was crowned with “the empire on which the sun never sets”. It is true that the enormous wealth which earned from overseas colonies and achievement of the industrial revolution have made the Victorian era as an era of unprecedented richness. However, this material abundances did not necessarily guarantee spiritual abundance. The discrepancy between spiritual abundance and material abundances inevitably led to conflicts between religion and science. It gave rise to a strong sense of scepticism about traditional religions in the Victorian era. Scientists from the Victorian era, such as Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, and Robert Chambers, shaken the earlier religious system through the certification of natural science. With the development of natural science and the advent of the theory of evolution by this scientists, humans were no longer the lord of creation in the shape of God. These values and perspective of Victorian times made the British people fell a great sense of spiritual empathy and anguish over religious doubts.
Besides, there has been a conservative view of women throughout history. The idea of rejecting the gender role has been socially unacceptable until the mid-18th century. Especially in the Victorian era, women were traditionally required to remain as a stereotyped character of women. The women were supposed to be vulnerable, and they always had to lean on the arms of “gentleman” walking along the countryside trail or leading to a dinner table. Women had to stay in restricted and confined areas by relying on men.
Also, there was a clear distinction of role between men and women in Victorian. In the value system of the middle class in the Victorian era, the family has to be central. The role of men has carried out economic activity in society, and the role of women is limited to keeping their homes properly. Women were accused of losing their elegance and damaging their femininity when women left her home and worked in society. Therefore, It is no exaggeration to say that middle and upper-class women spend the day doing knitting and embroidering in the house, educating the servants and organising parties were the most critical thing in women’s lives.
The effort to find the identity against these conservative views began to emerge gradually from the end of the 18th century. This influence can be found in several works of the 19th century. In this paper, we mainly discuss literature as a response to 19th century by analysing ‘In memoriam’ by Alfred Tennyson and ‘North and South’ by Elizabeth Gaskell.
There are several attempts to overcome the differences of class and gender in ‘North and south’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. The various behaviours of the characters of the ‘North and South’ reveal the vagueness of differences of class and gender in the Victorian era. Gaskell attempts to blur boundaries of those in ‘North and South’ by using the elements which were commonly believed that only male writers could handle.
Britain, a dominated Christian society, has gradually undergone the secularisation process. The Victorian era, along with the 12th and 17th centuries, was considered the most religious era in England. Since the 1870s, the religious situation has changed dramatically, while forming a strong scepticism against the orthodox Christian conviction that could be seen in the mid-Victorian period. The Victorian era of the 19th century was the society which is full of materialism, hypocrisy and snobbery. It was also a time of religion and political turmoil. This change caused conflict among the Victorians’ faith. The rapid development of natural science, especially Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, shocked at philosophy and religious fundamentalism. How many people suffered from religious conflict in the Victorian era can be seen from the reaction of people when ‘In Memoriam’ was published in 1850.
‘In memoriam’ by Alfred Tennyson is a collection of poems that he has written over 17 years, missing his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem evoked sympathy and empathy for readers by faithfully expressing the scepticism which is beyond control. He expressed the deep anxiety that had placed the belief of his contemporaries. The popular success of ‘In memoriam’ is evidence that Victorians’ unconscious scepticism of religion. The readers in the Victorian era accepted his poem because In memoriam seemed to reaffirm the belief that facts from Darwin’s theory of evolution eventually did not undermine the essence of the Christian faith. It also does not show the anxiety from science, giving comfort to people who were in the spiritual chaos and darkness of the Victorian era. The process of mourning in this poem express as a process of reaffirming Victorians faith and confirming their belief in God’s existence, while shows willingness to escape from the world of scepticism and darkness. In memoriam is the response to the anxiety of Victorians. It is the confession of scepticism and faith, in which the poet accurately record his religious changes in the face of death. Christians have believed for 200 years that scientific research in the natural world supports their faith. However, In the Victorian era, even if God’s plan existed, It seemed to be nothing more than a brutal, cruel and wasteful plan. Nature, like Tennyson’s intense expression, was “red in tooth and claw'(Tennyson, 80) to the Victorians. The scientific evidence that people have relied on is fundamentally questioned, the Victorians have to “And faintly trust the larger hope’ (Tennyson, 55). Comparing with convinced scientific knowledge, religious beliefs seemed vague and empty. The untenable religious truth seemed fruitless and frail. When he lost faith in God, he feels that “I falter where I firm trod’ (Tennyson, 79). He cannot receive consolation from this nature. Nature only give the Victorians hopeless. However, he breaks away from the world of darkness and scepticism and experiences peace in the world of faith. He is honest with him with the eyes of truth. When he pursues truth with all his heart and soul, the light of truth appears in the poet’s heart. At this moment, he reaches the point of absolute peace in a firm belief in God. After his friend’s death, he meditates on human condition for 17 years. In other words, he continues to meditate on human life and death, the soul and body, the moment and eternity, and theism and atheism. It leads to the belief in the existence of God that human knowledge and reason cannot be explained. He starts with scepticism and finally gets the answer by convincing God of his infinite love and the eternal youth of humans.
‘In memoriam’ is a psychological path to overcoming despair by a personal reflection on the meaning of death. Besides, as the phycological pathway overcomes its scepticism and despair, he embraces this process as a belief in God. This process of overcoming does not mean attempt to solve problems in the Victorian era. It is a response of the Victorian era’s anxiety. He finds hope for the Victorians in his struggle. The hope that he finds is about faith in God. After all, he accepts that human life coexists with joy and sorrow, good and evil, life and death, and religion and science. In this aspect, In memoriam is not merely a loss of friendship from the death, but rather an immortal lover who was able to empathise with anyone by believing in the care of God and the immortality of his soul. ‘In memoriam’ does not stay at the level of the poet’s emotion, but instead looks at how despair and scepticism about religion are overcome in the Victorian era.