Walter E. Houghton prefaces The Victorian Frame of Mind by noting, "the
Victorian mind remains for us blurred and obscure. It appears as a bundle of various and
often paradoxical ideas and attitudes" (xiii). Houghton acknowledges the "fragmentary
and incoherent" (xiii) characteristics of the Victorian period, in contrast to general
assumptions defining the period simply as morally rigid and intellectually dogmatic, for instance. Much of The Victorian Frame of Mind is devoted to an exploration of the complexities of the age in revealing established generalities as actually being not so clearly defined in terms of what they are assumed to represent. An example of this is the characterization of Victorianism as a reaction to Romanticism, Houghton demonstrates this as an oversimplification as he notes Romanticism's continuing, yet often subtle and paradoxical, influence over the Victorian age.
While Houghton relies on the literature of the age as a means to illustrate the
various characteristics of the "Victorian mind," he does not limit his analysis to what is
most obviously conveyed by the writers of the time. Houghton examines the dogmatic framework behind the ideals presented by Victorian writers, as such dogmatism is often seen as one of the defining characteristics of the age. A profound difference between the Victorians and the Romantics, for instance, seems to be expressed when he writes:
Paralleling his thought in other areas, Ruskin revived the tradition of absolute "rules" which the Romantics had challenged; and though he rightly took issue with those who thought there were no standards in art, what he meant by standards was "laws of tru...
... middle of paper ...
... atheism and refinement of scientific thought. He indicates that dogmatic doctrine to the Victorians "was not only natural (given the climate of opinion) - it was attractive. They liked it. One might even say they asked for it. The prophets who put on the mantle of infallibility did so as much from public demand as from a personal sense of fitness" (154). Intellectual dogmatism, in a sense, became the "new religion" for many during the Victorian age. Houghton's examination of Victorian intellectual dogmatism reveals it to be not so much a striking contrast to Romantic revolution in poetry, for example, but rather, the next step, how ever more pronounced, of that same dogmatism that was practiced by the Romantics and their predecessors.
Houghton, Walter Edwards. The Victorian Frame of Mind 1830-1870.
Yale Univ Press. 1963
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