Victorian era

The Victorian Era
Part I – Overview of an Era
"We are of the time of chivalry....We are
of the age of steam."
-William Makepeace Thackery
An “Age of Transition”
The Quest for Self-Definition
Never since the beginning of Time was there, that
we hear or read of, so intensely self-conscious a
Society. Our whole relations to the Universe and to
our fellow-man have become an Inquiry, a Doubt.
—Thomas Carlyle, 1831
Rule Britannia?
Between 1800 & 1850:
• population doubled from nine to eighteen
• Britain became the richest country on earth
– first urban, industrial society in history
By 1890:
• 1 in 4 people on the earth were under
British rule
General Characteristics:
The Victorian Era was marked by:
• Momentous and intimidating social
• Mind-blowing inventions
• extraordinary energies
• Land owning aristocracy lost power
• The insecure, “ever expanding” urban
middle class gained power
– Businessmen
– Professionals
• Millions of rural workers forced into
Best of Times/Worst of Times…
the rapidity of events produced:
• wild prosperity vs. unthinkable poverty
• humane reforms vs. flagrant(extreme)
• immense ambitions vs. devastating doubts
• An age of great achievement, deep faith,
indisputable progress AND destruction,
religious collapse, vicious
Reform and Revolutionary Fears
Every social sector fought for privileges and
feared the unchecked rights of the others:
• Campaigns to extend voting rights
– Men
• Middle class
• Working class
– Brought on fears of an armed insurrection
– Feared class warfare
Arguments for and against trade unions
Women’s equality
Separation of church and state
The complexity of British culture:
• Thwarted all attempts to define a collective
identity or a clear sense of purpose
• Victorians suffered from both “future
shock” and information overload:
– steam-powered printing presses
– Railways & Telegraphs
– Journalism and junk mail
Self-Consciously Modern:
• people were sure only of their differences
from previous generations
• traditional ways of life transforming:
– Life was now perilously unstable
– The world was now astonishingly new
We Are Not Amused…
Victoria and the Victorians
"Few of us, perhaps, have realized till now how large
a part she had in the life of everyone of us; how the
thread of her life [bound] the warp of the nation's
-A newspaper quote on the Death of the Queen in
“… the head of our morality”
During the tumultuous time, The Queen
ultimately came to represent:
• England & Empire
• Stability & Continuity
• Duty, Family, & Propriety
• A stern, conservative, durable symbol of
her dynamic, aggressively businesslike
Royal Representations
1830’s - A “Decade of New
• 1837: Victoria is shown as a
fairytale, teenaged queen
• Radiated youthful enthusiasm
to match the decade’s early
Royal Representations
1850’s – “The MatronMonarch”
• Now married to Prince Albert
(sans the can)*
• Settled into a stable,
productive domestic image
(she gave birth to 9 children!)
• Matched the productivity
boom of 1850’s industry
* As in the famous prank-call joke of the 1950’s-60’s
Royal Representations
1870’s - “The Widow of Windsor”
• Reclusive after Albert’s early death in
• Projected a world-weary gloominess
• Her aging was reflected in Britain’s own
sense of maturation as an Imperial world
An Exception to Her own Rule:
Victoria herself was study in contradiction; a
publicly projected image that held a privately
unfulfilled ideal :
• World’s most powerful woman, but did not
support the “mad, wicked folly of Women’s
• Her face was known around the world, but she
lived in constant seclusion
• Held as an icon of motherhood, but hated
pregnancy, childbirth and babies
What is a Victorian?
• The adjective "Victorian" was first used in
1851 to celebrate the nation's mounting
pride in its institutions and commercial
• This historical/literary period is defined by
the duration of a monarch’s rule, rather
than any one unifying idea as was the
case with the Romantics.
Victorian Behavior
Stereotypically, “Victorian” social
conduct is governed by:
• Strict rules
• Formal manners
• Rigidly defined gender roles
– Relations hampered by sexual prudery
– Intense obsession with a public appearance
of propriety (private facts were often the
compete opposite!)
Contradictory Behaviors
Perceived Image:
• Energetic
• Phenomenal work ethic
• Sense of duty towards the “Public Good”
• Self-confident
• A Society of “over-achievers”
Contradictory Behaviors
Their contemporary literature hints that:
• Work obsession = deliberate distraction
• Public responsibility = an excuse to ease doubts:
– Religious faith
– Gender roles
– Class privilege and Imperial rule
• Conservatism = FEAR OF CHANGE
– Dominate the moment to keep the future (which was
uncertain) at bay
– Great discoveries = unexpected, often distressing
Related flashcards
Create flashcards