“Often in Moby-Dick one catches an echo . . . of the cosmic mischief of Thomas Carlyle.” — David Bromwich, TLS (9,24.10): 22.

1. Carlyle the Victorian Sage

Carlyle, the first of the great Victorian sages or wisdom-writers, had an enormous influence upon his contemporaries, in large part because he offered the example of one who had survived spiritual trials. The structure of those sections in Sartor Resartus dramatizing this process appear repeatedly in works of later authors. Where, for instance, does the Carlylean pattern of abandonment of old faith (see "The Everlasting No"), indifference, and final belief in a universality of meaning appear in Dickens, Tennyson, and others you have read?

2. Carlyle the Survivor of Religious Crisis

In addition to providing both the example of someone who had survived spiritual crisis in a Romantic age and a structure by which to communicate that crisis, Carlyle had other important influences on the art and thought of his time. They include his emphasis upon the social and political importance of literature, particularly his argument that literature was replacing religion as a source of spiritual knowledge, convinced many writers (and readers) that novels and poetry were important and that the writer had the role of a prophet. Where in Arnold, Ruskin, Tennyson, and Dickens do you find the effects of this Carlylean emphasis? In what ways do Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, and other modernist writers reject Carlyle and in what ways do they simply extend him?

3. Carlyle and the Grotesque

Carlyle's sage-writing ("Signs of the Times" is the first example) made major use of grotesque and fanciful images, expressions, and characterizations. What has this Carlylean technique and mode of thought to do with Wemmick, the opening of Great Expectations, and the whole matter of Miss Havisham? To what extent do modernist writers of fiction use such grotesqueness?

Carlyle and Virtuouso Interpretation

Similarly, Carlyle's practice of making unexpected interpretations of often trivial details of contemporary life not only had a major effect on Ruskin and Arnold but also on realistic writers like Dickens, Gaskell, Eliot and others. What effects does Carlyle's approach have on the voice and tone of novelists?


Victorian Overview Thomas Carlyle

Last modified 9 February 2014