As a whole, the literature of the period is critical of the age rather than representative of it. The popular philosophy of the time was Utilitarianism. It was the philosophy of a commercial people, whose chief aim and achievement was material progress. Utilitarianism appears in the imaginative literature of the time only to be criticized and vilified.
Everywhere, in the poetry of Tennyson and Arnold, in the novels of Dickens and Thackeray, in the art criticism of Ruskin and the literary criticism of Carlyle, we get the same note of social criticism, the same dissatisfaction with contemporary ideals. “Complacency and optimism are the Keynotes of the Victorian Age in everything but its literature; mental struggle and spiritual dissatisfaction are the keynotes of its literature.”