What do you think of when you hear the word “romance” when discussing literature?
Romance (…in terms of literature)
Romance in literature actually means a literary work that has a mix of humor and male-female relationship issues that are central to the work. While a “romance” to some is simply a love story, a “romantic comedy” delves into deeper issues about human relationships while maintaining a witty tone.
The Victorian Romance
Victorian romances are more along these lines. In addition to the witty dialogue and the relationships between men and women, Victorian romances, such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, also set out to examine social issues. They often showcase leading ladies who are impoverished, yet inherently moral, and male protagonists who learn that money and character do not necessarily go hand in hand. George Bernard Shaw is a Victorian playwright who makes these same issues central to Pygmalion: A Romance in Five Acts.
When was the Victorian period?
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from June 1837 until her death, on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain.
What did Victorian Literature Focus On?
Victorian novels tend to be idealized portraits of difficult lives in which hard work, perseverance, love and luck win out in the end; virtue would be rewarded and wrongdoers are suitably punished.
They tended to be of an improving nature with a central moral lesson at heart. While this formula was the basis for much of earlier Victorian fiction, the situation became more complex as the century progressed.
Analyze Eliza as a dynamic character and then decided whether you believe Higgins is a static character or a dynamic character and explain why. Make sure to use specific evidence from the play and refer to specific actions and scenes.
While in the preceding Romantic period poetry had been the dominant genre, it was the novel that was most important in the Victorian period. Charles Dickens dominated the first part of Victoria's reign: his first novel, Pickwick Papers, was published in 1836. The three Brontë sisters also published significant works in the 1840s. A major later novel was George Eliot's Middlemarch, while the major novelist of the later part of Queen Victoria's reign was Thomas Hardy.
Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson were Victorian England's most famous poets. Algernon Charles Swinburne is also considered an important literary figure of the period, especially his poems and critical writings. Early poetry of W. B. Yeats was also published in Victoria's reign.
With regard to the theatre it was not until the last decades of the nineteenth century that any significant works were produced. This began with Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas, from the 1870s, various plays of George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) in the 1890s, and Oscar Wilde's (1854–1900) The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895.
Facts to know Before Reading
About the Author:
Although George Bernard Shaw is known as one of the greatest British playwrights, he is actually from Ireland. He moved to London when he was 19. He soon became one of the best know social reformists and playwrights of his time.
About the Play:
Pygmalion takes place in London, England in the early 1900’s. There was a strong class system in existence at this time and it is portrayed in the play. Because of the large variation of education between the class systems, there were many different ways of speaking in London at the time, or many different dialects. This is the basis of the play Pygmalion: the differences in class system and they way people speak and are judged by their speech.
About the Characters:
There are three main characters within this play: Professor Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, & Colonel Pickering. Here is a little information on each of them.
Colonel Pickering studies language and phonetics and he is part of the upper class. He is first seen as “Gentleman” in the play.
Higgins is first seen in the play as “Notetaker” but we soon come to find out his identity through dialogue. He is a professor of phonetics which means he studies and is an expert of people’s speech patterns. He is of the middle class.
Eliza Doolittle is a very poor and dirty flower seller who belongs to the lower class. She is first seen as “Flower Girl”
This play is very representational of how Shaw perceived the social and economical class system in London during his years there, but it is also somewhat of a comedy.
Higgins is a very sarcastic, dry witted man who has an answer for everything. Matched up with the whiny ignorance of Eliza, there are many comedic scenes.
The Title of the Play:
The name Pygmalion comes from a Greek myth in which a sculptor named Pygmalion sculpts a beautiful statue of a woman and falls in love with her. Aphrodite then makes the statue come to life so they can be together. See how you can relate this myth to the play as we read.
About the Movie:
Pygmalion was adapted in a very popular movie version entitled My Fair Lady in 1956. The movie version, which is a musical and a little different from the play, stars Audrey Hepburn and won 8 Academy Awards the year it came out. Famous songs from the movie version include, “The Rain in Spain,” I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “On the Street Where You live.”
Many movies and tv shows today use this play as a reference or basis for current ideas. Pretty woman is based on this play and even Family Guy has spoofed Pygmalion .
“Pygmalion” is classified as a Victorian romance. Victorian refers to the time period in which it was written. The Victorian period refers to Queen Victoria and lasted from the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s.
Romance in literature focuses on relationships and heroic deeds. They typically have witty dialogue and convey a strong moral. They are somewhat fanciful or extravagant. In addition, Victorian romances usually focus on a strong, moral female character. Victorian romance male characters usually portray that money and character do not necessarily go hand in hand.
After reading “Pygmalion” and seeing the path that each of the characters follows, what can be learned from this play? What do you think the moral of the play is? In your own words, explain what you think the message of this play is, and explain where in the play you developed the idea from. What characters or actions can we see this message in?