Victorian Literature Machines
Tamara Ketabgian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0075


Essayist Thomas Carlyle famously described the Victorian period as the Age of Machinery. This phrase captures the growing prominence of power machinery in 19th-century Britain, both as a symbol of modernity and as a formative social, political, and economic influence. While many of these machines (such as the steam engine) were pioneered earlier in the 18th century, the Victorians significantly updated and popularized them in systems of manufacture, transportation, and communication that were unprecedented in scale and complexity. Replacing human and animal power with steam and electricity, these devices spurred contentious debate on their effects on labor relations, human psychology, the social world, and the natural landscape. Machines also realized a complex relation to Victorian literary culture and aesthetics, attracting and repelling many period writers, artists, and critics. This entry, therefore, focuses on the machine in 19th-century history and literature, both as a material reality and a topic of literary representation. It restricts its emphasis to power machines, defined as complex devices that perform work or transmit force through various specialized parts and functions.

General Overviews

These overviews of Victorian machinery are divided into two categories: historical approaches, which treat the machine’s technical, social, and economic development; and literary approaches, which explore its cultural influence and its shifting role in period literature, art, and language.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.