Personal Comments: contexts and conditions
A history of the Victorian age records a period of
economic expansion and rapid change. If change can be measured by change
to the capital city of a country, then the history of the growth of London
during this century is revealing. When Queen Victiria came to the throne(1861),
the population of London was about two million inhabitans; at her
death in 1901, the population had increased to 6.5 million. The growth
of London and of other major cities in Great Britain marked a final stage
in the change from a way of life based on the lang to a modern urban economy
based on manufacturing international trade and financial institutions.
The literature of the time reflects these concerns from the very bigining. The Jacobin novels of the 1790s had already outlined some areas of discontent. These novels had been suppressed, as also were the Romantic poets´ political staments(such as Shelley´s pamphlets on the Irish problem and the necessity of atheism). With the younger Romantic poets in exile after 1815, the goverment was still severely criticised: when riots by unemployed ex-soldiers and other were violently suppressed in 1819, the so-called "Peterloo Masucre" became the subject of one of Shelley´s most virulent satires.
The 1820s saw the deaths of Byron, Keats and Shelley, but they also saw the greatest succes of Sir Walter Scott, whose influence on nineteenth-century literature worldwide was inmense. Indeed, the 1820s can be described as the era of the historical novel, with such followers of Scott as Edward Bulwer-Lytton(who wrote "The Last Days of Pompeii", 1834) and Harrison Ainsworth commencing their careers at the same times as Benjemin Disraeli who was later to become primer minister of Great Britain. The novel as a from became hugely popuolar and it was the novelists rather than the poets who became the literary representatives of the age.
It was Disraely whose political novels give us one of the main "labels" of the Victorian age. "The two Nations" was the subtittle of his novel "SYbil", publised in 1845. It underlines the fact that social concern and reform were sympathetic subjects for a novel many years before Disraely himself actually implemented some of the reforms descrived. Thirty years after the Battle of Waterloo, the working-class Charlist movement was still considered too radical and dangerous to be tolerated. This movement arose directly as a result of the First Reform Bill of 1832, which, although it extended the franchise and gave more people the right to vote , exclused the working classes by its insistence on property ownership. It was not until 1918 that universal suffrage, the first claim of the Charlists, was reached in Britain. Even then, it was not until 1928 that the vote wasgiven to all adult women.
©Copyright 1999/2000 Mónica Berdugo Obón