Quest for Identity in the Victorian Era

1884 Words8 Pages
Quest for Identity in the Victorian Era "'Who are you?' said the caterpillar" to Alice (Carroll 60). This was a question she could not answer. Why doesn't Alice know what constitutes her being? Humans desire completeness, and a solid identity. Up to the age of Darwinism, that void was filled by religious faith. But with the emergence of Charles Darwin's theories on natural selection and survival of the fittest, Victorians were reevaluating their paths to righteousness. Without God as a foundation, what were life's rules? Peter Bowler argues in Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence that the old road to salvation had been damaged by one of Darwin's greatest triumphs - being the catalyst for the transformation of Victorian thought (150). Darwin made man question his belief system and, as Richard Altick presents in Victorian People and Ideas, revisions of man's destiny and place within the universe had to take form (232). "Since no divine agency could be relied upon to ameliorate his condition, man must turn himself to make whatever he can of his life" (235), thus helping himself. This idea of self-help brought Victorians in search of mens sana in corpore sano, or total health or wholeness, in which "they adopted the well-knit body as their model for spiritual health, the harmony of the self with external principles of growth and order" (Anderson). Through this model, they attempted to identify their purest and most desirable form through the use of drugs and a yearning for eternal youth. They admired Grecian characteristics as well, which was the exact opposite image Darwin placed within the Victorian mind - that man was a descendent of a hairy quadruped. All of these goals were sought after ... ... middle of paper ... ...York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. 1866. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992. Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Sign of Four. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1994. Gardner, Martin. The Annotated Alice. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. Haggard, H. Rider. She. 1887. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. "Man or Beast? The Lasting Effects of Darwin." Florida Gulf Coast University. Unpublished essay, 2001. Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996. Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 1886. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991. Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. 1891. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.

More about Quest for Identity in the Victorian Era

Open Document