During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1902), England lived a period full of changes and extensions in every field.
The Parliament had to face the problems of the workers with a series of Acts ( The Factory Act, The Ten Hours’ Act; The Mines Act; The Public Health Act) to improve the working conditions, limit the hours of work and the exploitation of the children and women.
In 1884 the Third Reform Bill enlarged the suffrage to all male workers.
Ireland found his leader In C. Parnell that demanded the Home Rule in 1880, but it was not approved till after the First World War
In 1854-56 the dispute on the borders between Russia and Turkey originated the Crimean War, during which Florence Nightingale founded the Red Cross.
In 1887 Queen Victoria became Empress of India and the Empire enlarged its dominions to Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus and parts of Africa.
In 1899-1902 the Boer War burst out in Orange and Transval
Queen Victoria died in 1902. Her son Edward came to the English throne trying to follow his mother’s steps.
In 1911 the Money Bill is signed; in 1912 The National Insurance Scheme is approved to assure the workers a sum against sickness and unemployment; in 1906 the Liberal Party wins the general elections.
Ireland gets the Home Rule (an independent Parliament) but the Protestants in Ulster do not want to be included in the scheme. The Sinn Fein (in Celtic language: ourselves alone) is created by the Catholics. In 1916, at Easter, the members of the Sinn Fein rebel in Dublin calling complete independence, but they are defeated and executed (Easter Rising). Subsequently they form an Army, the Irish Republican Army or IRA that uses terrorist methods. The English parliament decides not to move directly against them because it understands the importance of the support of small nations during the 1st World War. A police force, the Black and Tans is sent to sedate the rebels.
During the First World War Britain and Germany ally against France. But William II of Germany wants to challenge Britain on the sea and tries to get influence on the Balkan States. This represents a danger for Russia for the control of the Mediterranean and for England as in this way Germany can control Egypt and India. So Britain starts an alliance with France (Entent Cordiale) and Russia (that supports Serbia).
In 1917 Russia collapses because of the Bolshevik Revolution and in 1918 the Peace Treaty is signed in Versailles and the League of Nations is founded in Geneva.
The war leaves heavy economic consequences: the value of the money falls; the taxes rise; there are difficulties in transports because of the loss of shipping and machineries; the exportation of coal diminishes and the iron, steel an textile industries decline, whereas the U.S.A. and Japan develop economically.
In 1918 the Liberal Party disappears and is substituted by the Labour Party
In 1921 the women over thirty get the vote and Great Britain recognises Ireland as a free state in the British
Commonwealth of Nations
Under the reign of Queen Victoria, literature developes thanks to the improved ways of communication and a new printing system; it becomes a means to confute ideas and reveal thoughts.The Early Victorians – Dickens Thackeray, Trollope, the Bronte sisters and George Eliot – do not form a coherent body. What they have in common is a special climate of ideas and feelings, a set of fundamental assumptions.
They were conditioned by their public. They identified themselves with their age and were its spokesmen the later novelists were writing against their age (criticism). The first Victorians were not uncritical, they were not radical. They accepted the society in which they lived without opposition and questions. they voices the public’s doubts and fears.
During the last period of the century novel writers search for an escape “travelling” in their self and putting in evidence the contrasts between classes and races and the contradictions of colonialism.
Aestheticism brings to the extreme every attempt to escape from the real world supplying a way to avoid frustrations and uncertainties, reacting against Utilitarianism and moral restrictions, and breaking the social conventions by means of free imagination.
The main authors are R. L. Stevenson (who writes about the duality of man); R. Kipling (who deals with the problem of colonialism) and O. Wilde (who becomes the mouthpiece of Aestheticism)
During the Victorian Age it did not exist a proper English drama and most of the plays performed were still belonging to the previous periods.
Actually, there were some innovations, but they concerned the stage as a physical structure, more than the dramas and their contents. The theatres became richer in scenarios and furniture to give more realism to the performances, but as a consequence they were also more expensive, limited the repertoires and changed the meaning of some classical pieces.
The audience was mainly composed of people of low education that asked the theatre entertainment and suspense. For this reason the most successful performances were farces and melodramas.
Besides, the Victorian stage was based on a star system, as there were very famous actors in that period, but it meant high salaries and higher costs for each play.
A new hint came from France with the comedies and melodramas of Eugéne Scribe (1791-1861) and Victorien Sardou (1831-1908).
The former believed firmly that the most important function of the theatre was to entertain people, as the public wanted to escape problems.
Sardou built complex situations with characters superficially drawn and the happy ending for the ones who deserved it. He concentrated on ingenious constructions and effective scenes and wrote some plays for the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt.
The greatest contribution came from more distant countries. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) and August Strindberg (1849-1912), respectively from Russia and Sweden, inquired into the psychology of men and provided deeper studies of women. But the most influential writer for the English stage was Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) who changed the usual way of making a drama starting the action from the climax and proceeding with flashbacks or flash in the future and speaking about social problems and attacking the hypocrisy of the middle classes using a realistic language and rejecting the common-place morality.
Both O. Wilde and G. B. Shaw ‘s production were influenced by these innovations-