Victorian Fashion

Use the links below to access information on this unit:

Victorian Brooch

The Victorian Age PowerPoint

Robert Louis Stevenson PowerPoint

Robert Louis Stevenson


Character List

Vocabulary and Phrases

Vocabulary Web

Identifying Mood

Chapter 8 Partners

Dark Side

Age in Review

Victorian London

The Victorian era was a period of dramatic change that brought England to its highest point of development as a world power. The rapid growth of London, from a population of 2 million when Victoria came to the throne to one of 6.5 million by the time of Victoria's death, indicates the dramatic transition from a way of life based on the ownership of land to a modern urban economy. England experienced an enormous increase in wealth, but rapid and unregulated industrialization brought a host of social and economic problems.  Some writers such as Thomas Babbington Macauley applauded England’s progress, while others such as Mathew Arnold felt the abandonment of traditional rhythms of life exacted a terrible price in human happiness.

The early Victorian period (1830–48) saw the opening of Britain’s first railway and its first Reform Parliament, but it was also a time of economic distress. The Reform Bill of 1832 extended voting privileges to men of the lower middle classes and redistributing parliamentary representation more fairly. Yet the economic and social difficulties associated with industrialization made the 1830s and 1840s a “Time of Troubles,” characterized by unemployment, desperate poverty, and rioting.  The Chartists, an organization of workers, helped create an atmosphere open to further reform.  The “condition of England” became a central topic for novelists including Charles Kingsley, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Benjamin Disraeli in the 1840s and early 1850s.

Although the mid- Victorian period (1848–70) was not free of harassing problems, it was a time of prosperity, optimism, and stability.  The achievements of modern industry and science were celebrated at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park (1851). Enormous investments of people, money, and technology created the British Empire.  Many English people saw the expansion of empire as a moral responsibility, and missionary societies flourished.  At the same time, however, there was increasing debate about religious belief.  The Church of England had evolved into three major divisions, with conflicting beliefs about religious practice. There were also rationalist challenges to religion from philosophy (especially Utilitarianism) and science (especially biology and geology). Both the infallibility of the Bible and the stature of the human species in the universe were increasingly called into question.

In the later period (1870–1901) the costs of Empire became increasingly apparent, and England was confronted with growing threats to its military and economic preeminence.  A variety of socialist movements gained force, some influenced by the revolutionary theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  The literature of the 1890s is characterized by self-conscious melancholy and aestheticism, but also saw the beginnings of the modernist movement. 

Robert Louis Stevenson

STEVENSON, Robert Louis Balfour (1850-94), Scottish novelist, essayist, and poet, who contributed several classics to the world of children's literature.

Stevenson was born on Nov. 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, the son of an engineer, and studied engineering and then law at the University of Edinburgh. Since childhood, however, Stevenson's natural inclination had been toward Literature; eventually he took up letters seriously, soon making his way into the first rank of contemporaneous writers by the excellence of his style.

Stevenson's popularity is based primarily on the exciting subject matter of his adventure novels and stories of the fantastic. Treasure Island (1883), a swiftly paced story of a search for buried gold, portrays good, in the form of the boy Jim and his friends, against evil, as personified by the pirate Pew and the one-legged Long John Silver.

In the horror story The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), the extremes of good and evil mushroom startlingly in one character when the physician Henry Jekyll discovers a drug that changes him, first at will and later involuntarily, into the monster Hyde.

The action in Kidnapped (1886) is triggered by a stolen inheritance, that of young David Balfour, who subsequently becomes party to the perilous escapades of the proud Highlander outlaw Alan Breck. Other high-adventure stories include The Black Arrow (1888) and The Master of Ballantrae (1889).