In this topic guide we outline the Victorian era and its characteristics. We first give you a definition of the period before focusing on gender roles, social class, Britain as an empire and a colonial power, and Victorian literature. Learning about these aspects will help you understand a very significant period in British history. It will also make it easier to read and understand texts from this period.
If you want a brief overview of the Victorian era, you can find it here.
The Victorian era is sometimes also referred to as the Victorian age. In this topic guide we use the term “era”.
Here you can read an extract from our webbook:
The Victorian era is widely considered a golden age of English literature, particularly because of its novels. In fact, the novel became the dominant genre during that period. This was partly due to improvements in education which meant that more people could read, and partly due to the emergence of cheap books and magazines.
Many novels were first published in serialized form in periodicals, which meant that the stories needed to be highly entertaining to make people buy the next issue. (A bit like Netflix series today). Thus, Victorian novels typically contain complex plots, plot twists, cliff-hangers, and lots of colorful characters. They often feature a disadvantaged hero or heroine trying to make it in society.
The novels were extremely varied in terms of themes and style, especially in the second half of the century. They ranged from the comedy of Dickens to the dark, Gothic romances of the Brontë sisters. Later, horror novels and detective stories emerged.