Victorian Prose in English Literature: Characteristics, Themes & Writers


Like the other forms of the literature, namely poetry and novel, the Victorian prose was also informed by the spirit of Realism.

While the prose of Romantic Movement was highly imaginative, written for the sole purpose of describing personal experiences, nor for exploring the realms of imaginations, but for intellectual debate on contemporary problems of religion, philosophy, politics and arts.

Victorian Realism

Coming down to the history of English Literature from the Romantic Age of Idealism to the Victorian era of Realism, one experiences the feeling of a return from solitude to society, from nature to industry, from concepts to issues, from spiritualism to pragmatism, from optimism to agnosticism, from lyricism to criticism and from organicism to compromise.

A large part of the complex of change that comes about in English Literature from early 19th century to the later 19th century can be measured from the kind of the change, the images of the ocean undergo when we move from Byron to Arnold.

The movement of Realism is generally a minor movement in the later 19th century, which began in France and was later, followed by England.

Victorian Compromise

In terms of philosophical ideas, the Victorian period, unlike the earlier periods of literary history in England, was marked by conflicting movement carried on through crusades and counter-crusades, attacks and counter-attacks.

The Victorian Compromise was a combination of the positive and negative aspects of the Victorian Age:

  1. The expansion, great technology, communication and colonial empire (Middle Class).
  2. Poverty, injustices, starvation, slums (working class).

Whereas, the Romantics could afford to withdraw from the town in the initial stages of the Industrialisation, the Victorians, facing the flowering of the Industrial Revolution had no such soft option available to them.

Therefore rather than living in solitude, writers of the Victorian Age had to cope with the process of change in which the old agrarian way of life had to make a place for the new individual civilization.


Against the chain of thinkers, including Newman, Arnold, and Ruskin, who were essentially religious, was the formidable force of utilitarian thinkers, continued by J.S. Mill and agnostic scientists like Darwin, Spencer, Huxley, etc.

Although utilitarianism was propounded by Jeremy Bentham, the philosophy came into operation during the Victorian era.

Both the state and the industry came under the heavy influence of this mechanical approach to matters of the human soul. The celebrated principle, “the greatest good for the greatest number” was the governing rule of the utilitarian thought on morals, law, politics, and administration.


Agnosticism is defined as the belief, “that nothing is known or can be known of immaterial things, especially of existence or nature of God”. The term “agnostic” was coined by T.H. Huxley in 1869 A.D.

The realization that God’s existence is neither observable nor provable drove society into a state of uncertainty.

People of the Victorian Era sought to explore and understand questions about the metaphysical world, but ultimately found no answers and were left in doubt.

Agnosticism was a means of identifying the scepticism that stemmed from the inability to logically support the existence of spiritual beings.

Comprehensive Composition

Like the Victorian Novel, the Victorian prose compositions are unusually long unlike the Augustan or the Romantic Essay, the prose writings of the period are either treatises or thesis of book size or essay of unusual length.

Unorganised Compositions

Like the Victorian Novel, the compositions are not formally, or even consciously organized, they are held together only by the argument contained therein, not by any formal design or pattern. Ruskin’s Unto This Last and Mill’s Liberty, are, strictly speaking, not the works of Literature.

However, since they advocate the humane view of life, as against the political, economic or biological, they are allied to literature. Besides, they are written in a language and style, which if not truly literary, approximates the style of literature.

  1. Read about the prose writers of the Victorian Age
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