OK, so I decided that after hearing about my paper, you all deserved a copy of the final copy! So here it is! I"m posting it!
Faith in the Victorian Period
What is faith? Is it believing in something you can’t see, or just having faith in something you truly believe in? In the case of the Victorian period, faith was simply having a belief in something. Whether it was belief in God, people, science, or love, faith was having a belief. Faith during the Victorian Period was extremely important. With death rates sky- rocketing, poverty rising, and living conditions sinking, it was crucial to have a faith in something to keep your life going with purpose. However, due to the scientific discoveries made by people such as Charles Darwin, and other scientists, faith started to be tested. People started wondering how accurate the church actually was, if the church was even legitimate, and what it was they could actually have faith in. What would the culture allow them to have faith in? The question became: Do I have faith in God, faith in love, faith in science or faith in people?
Faith in God seems to be the most obvious form of faith. During the Victorian period, the Bible was one of the most popular books read and taught among all people (in class notes). It makes perfect sense that most Victorian’s had faith in God. However, when Charles Darwin proposed the idea of evolution, this type of faith started to be questioned. It became a question of who God was, how he did what he did, and did he exist? Alfred, Lord Tennyson was one of the most popular writers of this time. Perhaps he understood clearly what faith in God truly meant. Or perhaps this piece is his way of discovering who he truly was in his faith. He makes it clear in his piece “In Memoriam A. H. H.” just what it is that he is questioning. He begins by saying “Strong son of God, immortal Love…” proving that he at least has some faith or at least acknowledges God (1261). However, in this piece he goes on to ask questions and approach a Godly faith in a way that can bring a mere person to tears. While during this time period, things were being tested, and people were losing their way, he was discovering what it was that he himself wanted out of this faith. It is clear that he is not firm in his beliefs and at this time, I’m not sure that anyone was. Right before he had written this piece, he had lost his best friend, thus testing his faith even more. But he goes on through his entire piece speaking to God and asking his forgiveness. He points out how important it is to have faith in God so that you can deal with things such as death. At this point in the Victorian period, death was everywhere (in-class notes). Throughout the entire piece he points out in different ways why you should have faith. One of the most famous parts about this piece is the fact that he refers nature to God.
“When on my bed the moonlight falls,
I know that in thy place of rest
By that broad water of the west,
There comes a glory on the walls: …” (1276).
Tennyson has a way of connecting nature to God and speaking of his place of rest. While many may see this as his place of sleeping, it is clearly where his body will rest after death. It is important to understand that Victorian’s also believed that there was more after life. Tennyson also points this out in his poem when he talks about his friend who has just passed away. Faith in God, yes, but during this time it was becoming harder and harder to continue this faith without having enormous doubts. Tennyson proves that it is possible to keep your faith in God, even when science is telling you it may not be likely.
At this time, when people were losing their faith in God, they started turning to having faith in love. Whether this faith in love had to do with family, a significant other, or just love of a friend, it did not matter. People started to believe that love could overcome all obstacles. It was thought that if you lost everything in your life, but kept the ones you loved, life would still be ok. It is quite obvious in Tennyson’s piece “In Memoriam A. H. H.” that he has complete faith in love. While he has just lost a huge love of his, his best friend and his sister’s lover, he still remains faithful (1260). Throughout this piece Tennyson struggles with his faith, and at the end he finds the love of his life, along with finding his faith. It proves that throughout the hard times, as long as you have love, you can survive. Faith in love was also stressed in family situations. Having a loving family was very important to the Victorians. However, it is stressed most in Tennyson’s piece.
With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul. (1290).
It is obvious in this stanza that love and faith go hand in hand. He has faith in love, and without love his faith will not be fulfilled.
Faith in science may not be something people think of when someone says “faith”. However, with the new discoveries, people started realizing just what science could do. It was at this time during the Victorian period that Charles Darwin discovered the idea of Evolution. This shook the entire culture and beliefs of the Victorians. Tennyson also approaches this topic in “In Memoriam A. H. H.” It wasn’t about the fact of what science was proving, it was about what science could do. Thus far in the Victorian period, science had already brought them the Industrial Revolution. While this was not necessarily the greatest for the people of the time, they had faith that it would eventually do good things for all the people. Alfred, Lord Tennyson however, approaches it in a different way saying:
To shape and use, Arise and fly
The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die. (1288).
It is clear that he is accepting Evolution in this passage. It is not quite clear what his opinion is in this passage, but the acceptance of it is clear. He goes on to say how this new revolution has tested his faith in God and how he is not sure how to handle it. The culture of the Victorian’s was to have faith in God, but faith in science was definitely making its way into the lives and minds of the people.
While science was making it’s way into the faith world, people were still turning to other people for faith and hope. During the industrial revolution, living situations were harsh. People were relying on and looking to other people to give them hope, and a reason to live. While children were still working in the factories, many families relied on fellow feeling. They relied on other people giving them a helping hand and lifting them back up. This however, seemed unreasonable and unimaginable to some people. Tennyson again counteracts this assumption in his piece. He talks about the hope of people and what they can do for you. Whether they just make you happy, or whether they help you financially, that people can help. For instance, it is obvious in this piece that Tennyson had tons of faith in his best friend. He speaks of the happiness he brought him, and the sadness that is upon him after his death.
Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved. (1262)
It makes it quite obvious that Tennyson looked up to him and found lots of strengths in him also. It is not quite clear whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. If we have faith in a certain person, and that person passes away, do we lose faith? Or is it faith in people in general that Tennyson means by his passages? It is not only Tennyson who finds faith in people. It has been said in previous Victorian pieces that the fate of the world lies in the hands of children (in-class notes). If this is true, then faith in people is a necessity. It was a must to believe that people could change the world at this time. With so many deaths, so much poverty, and so much cruelty going on, people had to make the change happen. Perhaps faith in people was the most legitimate form of faith.
Again I ask, what is faith? Does it change when someone questions it? When someone dies? When science makes a break through? Is there even an answer to this question? In Tennyson’s eyes, there are many definitions of faith. He even explores the different possibilities of faith. The Victorian’s had faith in lots of things, and also doubted their faith in these things too. The Victorian’s lived in a time of love, loss, heart- ache, and sorrow. Without a faith, it was hard to live and think your life had a purpose at all. With new discoveries, industrialization, human doubt, and death surrounding, faith was crucial to survival. The question should not have been: “What is faith?” it should rather have been “Do you have it?” Tennyson believed that faith was the key to survival and true happiness. Tennyson pointed out that believing in science, God, love, or people was not what was important. What was important was that you believed (1290)