The historical terms, Victorian Age or Victorian Era, referred to the things and the events that happened during the reign of Queen Victoria in England from 1837 to 1901. Some adjectives to describe the people and things of this period would be prudish, strait-laced, and old-fashioned. Another characteristic of the Victorian society was that many of the upper class individuals were snobbish and that they looked down upon others, especially the lower class individuals. In addition, this era came before the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the 1920’s. Many women were still thought of as being inferior to their male counterparts, even if they were wealthy.
Two examples of literary works that show some of the characteristics of the Victorian age are The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell. During the Victorian age, there were immense changes in society, advances in the sciences, and it was also the beginning of the Industrial Age. A number of the literature produced during this period reflected on these changes and celebrated them. Some literary works criticized the changes being made and made a mockery of them as well.
The literary genre, the novel, also came on the scene during the Victorian Era. Some Victorian writers that also emerged are Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Oscar Wilde. Victorian writers always responded to the conditions around them. Queen Victoria influenced her world and she also influenced the literature that used conditions in the Victorian world as its subject. Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is set in the late Victorian age in England.
Here, he uses satire to get his point across about how it was to be an aristocrat during the Victorian Era. In the play, Wilde portrays many characters as being prudish, snobbish, and very formal. Many times, it is a person’s name that determines social status. Like today, a name such as, Hilton, Kennedy or Rockefeller might suggest that one is a descendant from one of these wealthy families or it may mean that you may have some social status. The character of Gwendolyn is set on obtaining social status by marrying a man named Ernest.
In Act I, Gwendolyn says to Jack, “…my ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you” (Wilde 1769). There is also the ideal of love at first sight.
Jack, whom Gwendolyn thinks his name is Ernest, is willing to lie to her in order to get the girl that he wants. To get a better idea of how it was to live in upper crust Victoria, it is best to view the movie, The Importance of Being Earnest. The viewers will get a better sense as to how the Victorians dressed, how they spoke, among other things. Elizabeth Gaskell, like many other women writers, opposed the patriarchal societies. They expressed their opinions and views through their literature.
In her writings, Gaskell shows how male domination can make females seem powerlessness. The Old Nurse’s Story is a Victorian tale that tells of Lord Furnivall who is an overbearing father who had control over his wife and daughters. Lord Furnivall was the type of man who looked down upon all females. He was depicted as a “fierce dour old man, and had broken his wife’s heart with his cruelty” (Gaskell 1329). Lord Furnivall was so cold hearted that he banished his own daughter and granddaughter from his estate.
The passage reads, “…there was a great and violent noise heard, and the old lord’s voice above all, cursing and swearing awfully, – and the cries of a little child, – and the proud defiance of a fierce woman, – and the sound of a blow, – and a dead stillness, – and moans and wailing’s dying away on the hill-side! Then the old lord summoned all his servants, and told them, with terrible oaths, and words more terrible, that his daughter had disgraced herself, and that he had turned her out of doors, – her, and her child, – and that if ever they gave her help, – or food, – or shelter, – he prayed that they might never enter Heaven” (Gaskell 1330). There were also incidences in the tale where Lord Furnivall’s organ would play by itself, even though he was dead. We see this in the passage where it says, “…but it was a very strange noise, and she had heard it many a time…folks did say, it was the old lord playing on the great organ in the hall, just as he used to do when he was alive…and I thought it was rather pleasant to have that grand music rolling about the house, let who would be the player; for now it rose above the great gusts of wind, and wailed and triumphed just like a living creature” (Gaskell 1324). The nursemaid then says, “I opened the organ and peeped all about it and around it, as I had done to the organ in Crosthwaite Church once before, and I saw it was all broken and destroyed inside” (Gaskell 1324). This particular incident shows that Lord Furnivall’s spirit still lives on and still has control over the people, particularly the women, who are living in his home.
He may not have been physically there, but he still had the power to place fear in others. The Victorian Age is a very important time in our world history. It was a time of flourishment for the arts and literature as well as other things. The characteristics of this period defined what this era was all about. They are well known and will continue to be. Works Cited Gaskell, Elizabeth.
“The Old Nurse’s Story.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. 7th ed. Vol. 2.
New York: Norton & Company, 2000. 1319-33. Wilde, Oscar. “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.
Ed. Julia Reidhead. 7th ed. Vol.
2. New York: Norton & Company, 2000. 1761- 1805.