Visions of the future

From eccentric inventions to fears of invasion; from social degeneration to visions of apocalypse - how did the literature of the period reflect contemporary fears of social, technological and political change?
An introduction to The War of the Worlds

An introduction to The War of the Worlds

Article by:
Iain Sinclair

Writer Iain Sinclair discusses how H G Wells’s The War of the Worlds disturbed the public by combining journalistic sensationalism, scientific fantasy, suburban mundanity and fears of invasion.

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Class in The Time Machine

Class in The Time Machine

Article by:
Matthew Taunton

Dr Matthew Taunton reveals how The Time Machine reflects H G Wells’s fascination with class division, the effects of capitalism and the evolution of the human race.

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H G Wells’s politics

H G Wells’s politics

Article by:
Matthew Taunton

H G Wells was a committed socialist whose political writing influenced, among other things, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dr Matthew Taunton considers how Wells engaged with socialist ideas in his journalism, social commentary and fiction.

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An introduction to The Island of Dr. Moreau: science, sensation and degeneration

An introduction to The Island of Dr. Moreau: science, sensation and degeneration

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

Roger Luckhurst looks at H G Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau as a text that both provoked and explored feelings of disgust, reflecting late-Victorian questions and fears about vivisection, cannibalism and evolutionary degeneration.

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The end of the world

The end of the world

Article by:
Mike Ashley

Disease, famine, pollution and peculiar weather seemed to threaten human survival in the 19th century. Mike Ashley considers the apocalyptic literature that this climate of uncertainty produced.

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Inventing the future

Inventing the future

Article by:
Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley explores how the technological changes initiated by the Industrial Revolution inspired 19th-century writers.

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The fear of invasion

The fear of invasion

Article by:
Mike Ashley

In the 19th century, the British feared invasion by the French, terrorists and even aliens. Mike Ashley explains how these concerns were reflected in literature.

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Victorian utopias

Victorian utopias

Article by:
Marcus Waithe

The nature of the ideal society has occupied philosophers and writers for millennia. Dr Marcus Waithe considers how Victorian writers such as H G Wells, William Morris and Edward Bulwer-Lytton reimagined utopia to interrogate their own age.

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Post Darwin: social Darwinism, degeneration, eugenics

Post Darwin: social Darwinism, degeneration, eugenics

Article by:
Carolyn Burdett

Dr Carolyn Burdett explores how Victorian thinkers used Darwin's theory of evolution in forming their own social, economic and racial theories, thereby extending Darwin's influence far beyond its original sphere.

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From socialist news to fine art printing: William Morris's News from Nowhere

From socialist news to fine art printing: William Morris's News from Nowhere

Article by:
Marcus Waithe

Like many Victorian novels, News from Nowhere first appeared in instalments. Dr Marcus Waithe looks at the interaction between the form of the novel and its content, and notes how changes to later editions reflected developments in Morris’s own life.

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Further themes

Romanticism

What inspired the iconic poetry of the Romantic period?

The Gothic

What characterises Gothic literature and what does it reveal about the periods in which it was written?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

The novel 1780-1832

From Georgian gentry to Gothic horror, what characterised the literature of this period?

The novel 1832 - 1880

How did the iconic writers of this period experiment with fantasy, sensationalism, realism and social commentary?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Popular culture

From music hall to pleasure gardens, explore the extraordinary range of entertainments on offer in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

Poverty and the working classes

How did Victorian writers respond to the shocking inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence the literature people read?

Technology and science

How did 19th century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

The middle classes

How were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored in the literature of the period?

Gender and sexuality

How were gender roles embedded in the literature of the period and were they ever subverted?