• Lorretta M. Holloway
  • Jennifer Palmgren


The roots of Victorian medievalism are various, but the movement largely stems from ongoing research in antiquities starting with The London Society of Antiquaries in the early 1700s.1 This interest became more intense with the popularization of the Graveyard poets, the birth of the Gothic novel, and the republication of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur2 along with the increased availability of medieval texts (mostly French, German, and Icelandic) in translation. Some relied on these translations for their work and adaptations while others, like William Morris and Algernon Swinburne, produced their own translations of original texts; however, popular culture embraced medievalism so much that the historic Middle Ages became, in many ways, of secondary importance to the majority of Victorians. In fact, most Victorians drew their impressions of the Middle Ages from Sir Walter Scott’s novels rather than from any historical medieval text.3 As Clare A. Simmons asserts, Victorian medievalism focuses on “the individual’s needs and desires” rather than in “discovering the authentic past.”4 Thus, everything about this “history” became a matter of interpretation, not an “authentic past” but an authentic fantasy.


Medieval Period Woman Question Medieval Text Peasant Revolt Victorian Society 
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  1. 1.
    See Alice Chandler, A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1970), 15–20.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See A. Dwight A. Culler, The Victorian Mirror of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 153–154.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Five of our eleven contributors comment on Scott’s influence on their particular topic. In our opinion, Scott’s influence is one of the reasons so many texts that address medievalism of the time try to cover the entire nineteenth century, for one cannot talk about medievalism after Scott without Scott. For more information about Scott’s influence see Chandler. “Origins of Medievalism: Scott,” the first chapter in A Dream of Order 12–51; Kevin Morris, The Image of the Middle Ages in Romantic and Victorian Literature (London: Croom Helm, 1984), 184; Peter Mortensen, “The Descent of Odin: Wordsworth, Scott, and Southey Among the Norsemen,” Romanticism. Edinburgh 6, no. 2 (2000): 211–233;Google Scholar
  4. Hal Orel, The Historical Novel from Scott to Sabatini: Changing Attitudes Toward a Literary Genre, 1814–1920 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    Simmons, ed. “Introduction,” Medievalism and the Quest for the Real Middle Ages (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2001), 1–28.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    See Stephanie Barczewski, Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Marc Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Lori Campbell, “Where Medieval Romance Meets Victorian Reality: The ‘Woman Question’ in William Morris’s The Wood Beyond the World,” chapter nine, in this volume and Charles Dellheim, “Interpreting Victorian Medievalism,” in History and Community: Essays in Victorian Medievalism, ed. Florence S. Boos (New York: Garland, 1992), 39.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    William Makepeace Thackeray, “De Juventute,” in The Wolves and the Lamb, Lovel the Widower, Denis Duval Roundabout Papers, ed. George Saintsbury. The Oxford Thackeray with Illustrations vol. XWII (London: Oxford University Press, 1908), 420–435.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    There were many published accounts of this tournament, see Barbara Bell, “The Performance of Victorian Medievalism” in this volume which discusses many of the accounts and newspaper stories about the event and Mark Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981) for some of the negative responses.Google Scholar

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© Lorretta M. Holloway and Jennifer A. Palmgren 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorretta M. Holloway
  • Jennifer Palmgren

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