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Comparison of Romanticism and Victorian Literature

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Romanticism and Victorianism are two interlocking literary eras that occurred between 1789 and 1870. The Romanticism period preceded the Victorianism era. Romantics wrote between 1784 and 1832. The Romanticism period is famous for its prose and poetry. The Victorian era occurred between 1832 and 1901(Christ & Greenblatt, 2013). Drama became more applauded while poetry dwindled due to change in living standards. The Victorian period has renowned poets such as Rossetti and Tennyson as well as famous novelists such as George Elliot and Dickens. The Romanticism Era, on the other hand, contains the works of Austen, Byron, Keats, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelly, Wollstonecraft and Coleridge. Both eras have similarities and differences in regards to tone, theme, way of life and views.


A significant difference in literature for the two eras exists due to a difference in living conditions. The Romanticism period uses everyday language on unsophisticated subjects, mostly on nature. Wordsworth presents this idea in his poem ‘We Are Seven’ where he talks about an eight-year-old cottage girl who is a mere child. In the Victorian age, subjects reflect upon the strict rule of Queen Victoria, which oppresses the poor and causes an erosion of traditional beliefs and cultures such as religion. These values fade away depending on the country and the way of life. In Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’, society is seen to change its views on traditional religion to a more scientific perspective on life.

Pessimistic tones are prevalent in the Victorian literature due to harsh living conditions. The Romantics, on the other hand, express their work in a tone of happiness and pureness. Romantic writers use a personal tone since the poet himself narrates the story, as seen in the famous final part of John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”(Coben, 2102). The Victorian age, on the other hand, uses a real or imaginary character to narrate the story as noted in Hopkins work that was rich in unusual word combinations and word pictures. This is also the case in Charles Dickens work.


Predominant expression of isolation is seen in both eras. Tennyson’s work appears to portray alienation, betrayal and estrangement from love and life. Arnold and Browning’s literature also expresses separation. William Wordsworth, a romantic poet, in his work writes ‘I wondered lonely as a cloud’. The Victorian poet Arnold writes ‘yes! In the sea of life…..we mortal millions live alone’ (Coben, 2102).

Flops in the spiritual, moral and social life are expressed in both eras’ literature through assessment of modernity and complexity of life at the time. Wordsworth, a romantic poet, in his literature praises the worth of the natural man, the child, the individual and the downtrodden. In his piece “The Solitary Reaper”, he evaluates and expresses the ‘melancholy strain’ in the woman’s music. A Victorian, Thomas Harding, in his novel “The Darkling Thrush” expresses ‘some blessed Hope, of which he knew, and I was unaware’ while reflecting on the turn of the century.

The literature in both eras rejects the heroic concept. The Victorian Arnold, in his poetry, features a fallen hero Empedocles who is a figure to reckon. The protagonists of the Romantic era reach their maximum potential simply by surviving in the harsh societal life and hence they do not portray the norms expected by society. Romantics wrote on the ‘profound and everlasting truths concerning the human condition that guide culture towards perfection spiritually, intellectually and morally’.

In both eras, the relevance of religion is criticised. A Calvinist Thomas Carlyle expressed through his literature that ‘all religious orthodoxies, in regards to the New Industrial Age, are outmoded and insufficient’. The Romantic era embraces the Pantheism as shown by Charles Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’, where God is viewed not as a separate entity but part of the universe(Christ & Greenblatt, 2013).

Both eras, unlike their predecessors, express the significance of the individual in the word. They are also more society-oriented and represent the ups and downs of their ages. The literature in both eras may be different as a result of changes in lifestyle. However, they still portray congruence that is relevant to the history and development of literature to the point of the present world.


Christ, C., & Greenblatt, S. (2013). The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Coben, S. (2102). Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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