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The victorian age

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Romantic period (1776-1837)


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It was a complex and contradictory era because on the one hand it was progressive, infact there were great social reforms but on the other hand it was characterized to poverty, injustice and social problems.

The term "Victorian" derives to Queen Victoria who reigned for many years infact her reign is the longest in the history of England. It started with the first Reform Act in 1832 this reform extended the vote to all male members of the middle classes. That period was characterized to economic expansion, political development and social reforms.

In the Victorian era we have scientific and technological developments and this progress was symbolised by Great Exhibition that spread in all empire the economic situation of England, infact, it made manifest Britain's leading political and economic power. About political development we can say that in Victoria's reign alterned his governments two political parties: liberal and conservatives. To contribute economic development there was some reforms, for example the repealed of Corn Laws that maintained high the price of corn; and the People's Charter in which people asked universal male suffrage, as a result working class movement, the Chartism.

The Victorian compromise

Queen Victoria became an example of life, a symbol, a myth infact the middle classes developed her same moral and religion opinion. The Victorian are great moralist, infact they believed in same values for example respectability, family, work, sex etc. and proposed a strict code of values summarized in the Victorian Compromise, this compromise consist in an agreement between religion and science because the moralisers said that human and cultural values can be overcame with raison (the majority part of them believed still in materialism). For example Charles Darwin's on "the origin of species" said that the man is a result of human process that fights to survive. So he didn't consider the creation given by the Bible because it is weakest, he said.

The Victorian novel

All this economic, politic and social situation influenced the literature. The aspect more utilised was the novel that become a mirror of society infact the novelist spoke in own novel about this progress and changes of society. At first time it was a communion of interest between writers and readers because they have the same values: optimism, conformism, philanthropy. The novel became the most popular form because it consumed more books because in this period even the middle classes started to read. An other reason of success of novel was that the writers were in contact with his public because they maintain the interest of the story at high levels because he was omniscient. The setting is the city because it was the symbol of the industrial civilisation. The most important novelists were above all women for example Emily Bronte and George Eliot. The novelists were divided into three groups: the Early-Victorians (Charles Dickens) that have social and humanitarians themes; the Mid-Victorians (Emily Bronte) that have above all influenced by Romantic period; the late-Victorians (Oscar Wilde) that are influenced by Naturalism.


Life and main works

He was born in New York in 1819 into a wealthy family. He left school at the age of twelve for his father's death and for a difficult financial condition. So at this moment he start to work and took various jobs. In 1841 he made his first voyage on a whaling ship that marked his life and gave inspiration for almost of his novels. His masterpiece his Moby Dick but didn't give him a great success that came when his died, when was found a manuscript of Billy Budd. Since then he became one of the most important literary voices of American literature.


The plot

The story is based on the hunt of a whale called Moby Dick that had bitten off the leg of the Captain Ahab of the whaler "Pequod". In the crew there are mixes of people.

After 3 days Ahab wounds the whale but Moby Dick destroys the ship and his crew. Only one person survives Ishmael that tells the story.

The white whale as a symbol.

M. has been influenced by Owen Chase that spoke about a whale called Moby Dick. But Melville's whale is different from Chase's whale because he isn't a natural creature but a sort of evil force that the captain hates so much. He is also a symbol of mysterious force of nature so it represented the conflict between man and nature.


Moby Dick can be considerate an "American" novel because it contain some of features of the new nation as for example a mixture of races that searches an ideal. For this raison the novel is pessimist because there is the destruction of illusions.

Language and style

For the structure of novel we can say that M. uses a variety of techniques: the language is colloquial of every day; the style is figurative and many symbolic.

In the first pages there are some definitions of the whale and is translation in 13 languages. The book also contains a detailed description of the anatomy of the whale. M. is influenced by Shakespeare for his dramatic techniques.


Life and main works

He was born in Dublin in 1854. He studied in Trinity College and later in classic to Oxford. When he graduating he left Oxford and settled to London where he became a fashionable figure. In 1881 he edited poems and started a tour in United States to read about Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes. This tour gave him a great success. When he returned to Europe he married Constance Lloyd who bore him 2children but he soon tired of this wedding. He continued his career as a great talker until 1880 when he writed a sort of stories as The Chanterville Ghost, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, The Happy Prince and The Other Tales and the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. After he interest in drama and write the importance of being Ernest and SalomŔ but this gave him an obscenity reputation. Infact when ha met a young man Lord Alfred Douglas, was nick name was Bosie he was accused to have a homosexual affair and was sent to prison. When he was released he was a broken man and lived in poverty since 1900.

Art for Art's sake

W. believe in an art that it was as a cult of beauty that can prevent the murder of soul. For him the form is most important and not the aesthetic. He wrote to please himself.


The plot

D is the protagonist. He is a handsome young man that wants to remain young, he believes in eternal youth. A printer, Basil Hallward wants to paint him because he is fascinated by him. When he finished the portrait all the desires become true, in fact, the Dorian's life is linked to this portrait, that is to say Dorian doesn't grow old but the portrait is marked by his age and his corrupted life. In fact Dorian lives only for pleasure and letting people die. When artist sees the corrupted image of the portrait, Dorian kills him. One day he decided to get rid of the portrait and stabs it but in this way he killed himself. In the really moment of death his face became as that of portrait and this one returns to its original purity.

Narrative technique

The story is told in third person. The settings are described minutiosly with words that it attracts the senses. The technique used is of drama.

The typical dandy

Dorian reflects the typical dandy that is to say a man who wants to live life at the top; in which all desires and dreams becomes true. D. believes that the youth is a synonymous of happiness so, for this raison, he wants to remain young.

Allegorical meaning

This story has an allegorical meaning in fact it is based on the myth of Faust who sells his soul to devil to realize all his desires. The soul is the portrait where are recorded all experience, the corruption, the horror and all this aspect are transferred on Dorian when he died. The moral is that we cannot escape to the reality and all excesses are punished, infact, Dorian is punished with death. The bad picture can be a symbol of immorality but when it returned to its originality aspect it expressed Wilde's theory of art that it says that art survive people, art is eternal.

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