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The Differences Between Romanticism & Victorianism


Romanticism and Victorianism are distinct European literary and artistic movements that are grounded in specific historical eras. Romanticism is typically considered to have taken place from the 1770s to the 1830s, and is characterized by emotionally laden language and praise of nature. Victorianism, on the other hand, existing during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), makes use of more restrained language and dwells on social concerns such as poverty. Both movements were, to some extent, reactions to cultural changes.

Historical Backgrounds

Romanticism was in part a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. As urbanization and factory production swept across Europe in the 18th century, writers looked to nature as a way to reclaim a way of life that was being threatened. Similarly, increased economic inequality through the 19th century led Victorian writers to want to expose the horrors of poverty. Disenchanted by the decline of religious belief in Europe, poets and novelists saw their role as chronicling the bleakness of the modern world.

Idealism vs. Realism

One of the chief markers of Romanticism is a deep belief in the power of nature. Poets such as Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge are famous for looking to the natural world for inspiration in a corrupted world. This idealism led them to write sonnets (short 14-line lyrical poems) that contemplate the beauty of nature. By contrast, Victorian writers had little faith in nature to overcome the problems of the world. Poets and novelists such as Hardy, Tennyson and Browning depicted the world as dark and disturbed. Charles Dickens' novels, meanwhile, showed the misery of the working poor.

Emotion vs. Restraint

Romanticism is also known for its emotional outbursts, what poet William Wordsworth called "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." Romantic poetry is notable for its sudden expressions of joy, sadness and excitement. Victorian literature, on the other hand, takes literature as a deliberate craft. Making use of careful structure, Browning's "My Last Duchess," for instance, is a poem that uses irony to play with the reader's expectations. Similarly, Victorian novels are known for their long and complicated plots.

Use of Language

The differences between Romanticism and Victorianism are apparent in the contrasting ways in which they use language. Because Romantic literature is emotionally expressive, it often uses phrases such as "Oh!" to give the impression of a sudden onrush of feeling. This over-the-top use of language gave way to a more restrained use of language in Victorianism. Because Victorian literature sought to document the world as it really was, it tends to use modern expressions and language, and makes less use of flowery metaphors and images.

About the Author

David Coodin began working as a writer in 2005, and has been published in "The Walrus." He contributes to various websites, writing primarily in the areas of education and art. Coodin holds a Ph.D. in English literature from York University in Toronto.

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