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Religion and Reality: Victorian society as seen through art and poetry by Joyce Markham

Abstract: Christianity was an essential part of life for Victorians in all strata of society. The numbers and sizes of Victorian churches that can be seen in our towns and cities today is a testament to the numbers that attended church in that era. This article analyses two works with different themes within the Victorian Christian tradition as represented by William Holman Hunt’s painting The Festival of St Swithin (The Dovecot) (1866) and Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem Benediction (1893). Holman Hunt’s painting is a visual expression of Tractarianism, a theological debate discussed in the first part of the nineteenth century amongst theologians in Oxford. The Dovecot is an allegory that details the critical points of reform that the Tractarians wanted to introduce into the Church of England. By contrast, Swinburne’s Benediction is a roundel poem popular among the more ordinary churchgoers. The death of children was more common in Victorian society than it is today, and many parents would have struggled to come to terms with losing a young life. The poem may have helped people through the grieving process. These two works open a window on religion and reality in Victorian society, and their relevance in modern society is assessed.

Date created: 
Monday, June 6, 2022
Attribution for this resource:
Religion and Reality: Victorian society as seen through art and poetry by Joyce Markham, All rights reserved.