The Victorian Age 1832-1901 “The Victorian Age is one of strenuous activity and dynamic change, of ferment of ideas and recurrent social unrest, of great inventiveness and expansion.” David Thomson, historian
The Victorian Age A time of great optimism and self-assurance about what civilization could achieve. Victorians recognized that all was not right in the world, and they worked hard to make improvements. They firmly believed that Great Britain was the best nation in the best era history had yet produced.
Booming Economy Britain’s booming economy and rapid expansion of influence throughout the world encouraged great optimism. Britain had its industrial revolution earlier than other countries and therefore became the world leader in manufacturing.
Factories Factories dotted the land. Factory towns grew into large cities. Banks, retail shops, and other businesses expanded as a result. These changes in turn spurred the growth of two important classes: an industrial working class and a modern middle class.
The Modern Middle Class This class of people was able to live a better life because of the low cost and large variety of mass-produced factory goods. In addition, education spread to more people, literacy spread, the impact of the written word grew. “Probably at no other time before or since did books enjoy such enormous popularity and influence.”
The Modern Middle Class This class became the dominant force in British society. Their belief in hard work and strict morality came to represent the age. They also possessed a sense of social responsibility that helped to bring about reforms that gradually improved the living and working conditions of the lower classes.
A Time of Social Concern Victorian writers exposed the dark underside of the industrial age—brutal factory conditions and stinking slums that bred poverty and disease. Victorian leaders took steps to expand democracy and better the lot of the poor.
Victorian Novels The dominant form of literature The middle class loved novels that reflected the main social issues of the day. Novels were commonly read aloud in family gatherings. (This led to novelists avoiding some topics which would be inappropriate for the entire family.) Readers wanted to be guided and enlightened by authors. Much of Victorian literature has a positive, eager or earnest response to the innovations of life in the 19th century
Victorian Novels Most were concerned with people in society and with manners, morals and money. Typically a protagonist struggles to find him or herself in relation with other men and women, in love or marriage, with family or neighbors, or with work associates. Most novels were set in 19th century England, a world that would be recognizable to the reader.
Rights Throughout the Victorian Age, the elite class had the most power; although there was social unrest that demanded more power for the lower classes. 1832, the right to vote is extended to all males owning property worth ten pounds or more in annual rent (basically the lower middle class could now vote, but not the working class). 1867, the right to vote is extended to all males, including the working class. Women couldn’t vote until 1918
The Role of Women A woman’s place was in the home. Domesticity and motherhood were considered sufficient fulfillment. In the political sphere, women were second-class citizens. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t own property.
The Role of Women, continued Until 1848, there was no college open to women. The only occupation at which an unmarried middle-class woman could earn a living and maintain some claim to gentility was that of a governess. Hundreds of thousands of lower-class women worked in grueling conditions in factory jobs, mainly in the textile industry.