The issue of faith was a common theme in literature throughout the nineteenth century. In an age increasingly confronted with "modern" problems, problems associated with industrialism, increased population growth, increased urbanization and dehuminization, a chaos of sorts emerged. The prevailing belief systems no longer seemed to fill the needs that they once did. As Nicholas Higgins says in Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South,

Well, I sees these people. Their lives is pretty much open to me. They're real folk. They don't believe i' the Bible,- not they. They may say they do, for form's sake; but Lord, sir, d'ye think their first cry i' th' morning is, 'What shall I do to get hold on eternal life?' or 'What shall I do to fill my purse this blessed day? Where shall I go? What bargains shall I strike?' The purse and the gole and the notes it real things; things as can be felt and touched; them's realities; and eternal life is all a talk... (Gaskell, 289)

Part of the challenge to religious faith arose from the theories of Charles Darwin, who published a book on speciation in 1859 and later, a more well-known book on the descent of man. Darwin's theories threatened not only religious faith, but also traditional ideas about humanity. The theory of evolution called into question the ancient belief in the Great Chain of Being, the Bible (for if species changed over time, the Bible's "truth" became debatable) and man's place at the center of the universe. The concept of Natural Selection led to a further feeling of loss, for "the essential randomness and the apparently wasteful cruelty of the selection process argued against any form of moral divinity" (Landow, "Evolutionary Theory before Darwin"). Ideas and beliefs that had been unquestionable were suddenly open to discussion, leading many to feel disillusioned and lacking in faith. For Alfred Tennyson and many like him, trying to keep faith amidst all of the emerging chaos was of the utmost importance. Tennyson believed that "both men and their societies must be founded on faith — or, more accurately, on many faiths, on faith between ruler and ruled, man and woman, worshipper and God." Trying to obtain and then maintain faith becomes the theme that runs throughout the "late poems of Tennyson, such as "The Passing of Arthur," as well as through Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers.

Related Material


Victorian Web Overview Pickwick Papers Idylls of the King

Last modified 1996