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Love Through the Ages

18. Victorian Poetry

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Victorian poetry was as popular as the novel – and one of the most famous poets of the period was Alfred Lord Tennyson. This module begins with an exploration of his poem ‘In Memoriam’, in which Tennyson mourns the death of his friend, Arthur Hallam, and laments for the sadness of a love that has been lost. Another poet of the time was Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was similarly unironic in her love poetry; here, we look at her poem ‘How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways’, one of the most famous sonnets in the English language. But Victorian poetry could also be playful and ironic; George Meredith in his poem ‘Modern Love’ describes a husband and wife who have been buried together – but would perhaps rather be apart – while Robert Browning’s poems ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ offer haunting accounts of love gone wrong. One of the intellectual keynotes of the Victorian period was the questioning of religion – precipitated, perhaps, by Darwin’s publication of the Origin of the Species in 1859. An exemplary poem in this regard is Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ Love has changed in this century; it has become sadder. The “eternal note of sadness” that Arnold speaks about in ‘Dover Beach’, permeates the late Victorian novel and poetry – and not least Oscar Wilde’s ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’, in which he says: “Each man kills the thing he loves”. That poem was published in 1898. By the 20th Century, however, we will see a completely different spirit beginning to emerge.


This course explores the theme of love from the earliest English literature to the present day – from authors that you have likely heard of, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron and Keats, to authors that are perhaps less well-known. This is a course that celebrates love in all it forms and between all kinds of people.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2018, August 15). Love Through the Ages - Victorian Poetry [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Love Through the Ages – Victorian Poetry." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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