The inward revolution: Troubled young men in Victorian fiction, 1850--1880

Alex Joseph Tuss, Fordham University


Recent study of the middle of the nineteenth century in England has opened new areas for literary scholarship. Among them is the presentation of the young middle-class male in the Victorian periodical and the novel. Examination of both discourses manifests a variety of viewpoints on the development of the young man, his sense of identity, and his choice of a vocation. Prevailing precepts and practice come under increasing scrutiny during the period, resulting in divergent, competing presentations of the character. The character reflects the debate during the period. He eventually questions commonly held positions, openly opposes society's conventions, and finally chooses voluntary exile from England.^ One of the early versions of the troubled young man can be seen in Lancelot Smith, a character in Charles Kingsley's Yeast (1850). The character, as well as Kingsley's afterword, paints a portrait of a confused young man. He is besieged by vast amounts of information and is unable to define himself or his position in society. Concern for such a character is echoed in Samuel Smiles's Self-Help (1859), Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's School-Days (1858), and periodical articles such as "The 'Freshman's' Progress" in Household Words (1850). The character's development can be followed through the period in Charles Dickens's Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, and Our Mutual Friend and Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret. George Eliot's Daniel Deronda provides the fullest examination of the character. The novel also experiments with a more psychologically complex portrayal of the character, defining him in defiance of the values and standards of Victorian society.^ Alfred Tennyson's poetry and Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now are employed as complementary texts. Articles from Victorian periodicals are also used to demonstrate the development of the troubled young man. Following the analysis of the major texts, there is a discussion of the shift in the presentation of the character of the young middle-class male after 1880. Selections from Walter Pater, Henry James's The Princess Casamassima, and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray are used to identify the subjective and more pronounced psychological presentation of the character. ^

Subject Area

English literature

Recommended Citation

Tuss, Alex Joseph, "The inward revolution: Troubled young men in Victorian fiction, 1850--1880" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9127048.