The Victorian era of the United Kingdom marked the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. Although commonly used to refer to the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901, scholars debate whether the Victorian period—as defined by a variety of sensibilities and political concerns that have come to be associated with the Victorians—actually begins with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. The era was preceded by the Regency era and succeeded by the Edwardian period
This inescapable sense of newness resulted in a deep interest in the relationship between modernity and cultural continuities. Gothic Revival architecture became increasingly significant in the period, leading to the Battle of the Styles between Gothic and Classical ideals. Charles Barry's architecture for the new Palace of Westminster, which had been badly damaged in an 1834 fire, built on the medieval style of Westminster Hall, the surviving part of the building. It constructed a narrative of cultural continuity, set in opposition to the violent disjunctions of Revolutionary France, a comparison common to the period, as expressed in Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Gothic was also supported by the critic John Ruskin, who argued that it epitomised communal and inclusive social values, as opposed to Classicism, which he considered to epitomise mechanical standardisation.
The middle of the century saw The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first World's Fair and showcased the greatest innovations of the century. At its centre was The Crystal Palace, an enormous, modular glass and iron structure - the first of its kind. It was condemned by Ruskin as the very model of mechanical dehumanisation in design, but later came to be presented as the prototype of Modern architecture. The emergence of photography, which was showcased at the Great Exhibition, resulted in significant changes in Victorian art. John Everett Millais was influenced by photography (notably in his portrait of Ruskin) as were other Pre-Raphaelite artists. It later became associated with the Impressionistic and Social Realist techniques that would dominate the later years of the period in the work of artists such as Walter Sickert and Frank Holl.
Popular forms of entertainment vary by socioeconomic class. Victorian England, like the periods before it, was interested in theatre and the arts. Music, drama, and opera were widely attended. There were, however, other forms of entertainment. Gambling at cards in establishments popularly called casinos was wildly popular during the period--so much so that evangelical and reform movements specifically targeted such establishments in their efforts to stop gambling, drinking, and prostitution.
Brass bands and 'The bandstand' became popular in the Victorian era typically associated with the British brass band. The band stand is a simple construction which not only creates an ornamental focal point, it also serves acoustic requirements whilst providing shelter for the changeable British weather. It was common to hear the sound of a brass band whilst strolling through parklands. At this time musical recording was still very much a novelty.
Another form of entertainment involved 'spectacles' where paranormal events, such as hypnotism, communication with the dead (by way of mediumship or channelling), ghost conjuring and the like, were carried out to the delight of crowds and participants. Such activities were very popular during this time compared to others in recent Western history.
Beginning in the late 1840s, major news organisations, clergymen and single women became increasingly interested in prostitution, which came to be known as "The Great Social Evil." Although estimates of the number of prostitutes in
When the 1851 census publicly revealed a 4% demographic imbalance in favour of women (i.e. 4% more women than men), the problem of prostitution began to shift from a moral/religious cause to a socio-economic one. The 1851 census showed that the population of
While the Magdalen Hospital had been "reforming" prostitutes since the mid-18th century, the years between 1848 and 1870 saw a veritable explosion in the number of institutions working to "reclaim" these "fallen women" from the streets and retrain them for entry into respectable society—usually for work as domestic servants. The theme of prostitution and the "fallen woman" (an umbrella term used to describe any women who had sexual intercourse out of wedlock) became a staple feature of mid-Victorian literature and politics. In the writings of Henry Mayhew, Charles Booth and others, prostitution began to be seen as a social problem, rather than just a fact of urban life.
When Parliament passed the first of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1864 (which allowed the local constabulary to force any woman suspected of venereal disease to submit to its inspection), Josephine Butler's crusade to repeal the CD Acts yoked the anti-prostitution cause with the emergent feminist movement.
Prostitutes were often presented as victims in sentimental literature such Thomas Hood's poem The Bridge of Sighs, Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Mary Barton and Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. The emphasis on the purity of women found in such works as Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House led to the portrayal of the prostitute and fallen woman as soiled, corrupted, and in need of cleansing.
This emphasis on female purity was allied to the stress on the homemaking role of women, who helped to create a space free from the pollution and corruption of the city. In this respect the prostitute came to have symbolic significance as the embodiment of the violation of that divide. The double standard remained in force. Divorce legislation introduced in 1857 allowed for a man to divorce his wife for adultery, but a woman could only divorce if adultery was accompanied by cruelty. The anonymity of the city led to a large increase in prostitution and unsanctioned sexual relationships. Dickens and other writers associated prostitution with the mechanization and industrialization of modern life, portraying prostitutes as human commodities consumed and thrown away like refuse when they were used up. Moral reform movements attempted to close down brothels, something that has sometimes been argued to have been a factor in the concentration of street-prostitution in White chapel by the late 1880s.
Victorian morality is a distillation of the moral views of people living at the time of Queen
Historians now regard the Victorian era as a time of many contradictions. A plethora of social movements concerned with improving public morals co-existed with a class system that permitted harsh living conditions for many. The apparent contradiction between the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity and restraint and the prevalence of social phenomena that included prostitution and child labour were two sides of the same coin: various social reform movements and high principles arose from attempts to improve the harsh conditions.
The term Victorian has acquired a range of connotations, including that of a particularly strict set of moral standards, which are often applied hypocritically. This stems from the image of Queen
Two hundred years earlier the Puritan republican movement, which led to the installment of Oliver Cromwell, had temporarily overthrown the British monarchy. During
When the monarchy was restored, a period of loose living and debauchery appeared to be a reaction to the earlier repression. See: Charles II of
By the time of
Victorian prudery sometimes went so far as to deem it improper to say "leg" in mixed company; instead, the preferred euphemism “limb” was used. Those going for a swim in the sea at the beach would use a bathing machine. However, historians Peter Gay and Michael Mason both point out that we often confuse Victorian etiquette for a lack of knowledge. For example, despite the use of the bathing machine, it was also possible to see people bathing nude. Another example of the gap between our preconceptions of Victorian sexuality and the facts is that contrary to what we might expect, Queen
Verbal or written communication of emotion or sexual feelings was also often proscribed so people instead used the language of flowers. However they also wrote explicit erotica, perhaps the most famous being the racy tell-all My Secret Life by Henry Spencer Ashbee, who wrote under the pseudonym Walter, and the magazine The Pearl, which was published for several years and reprinted as a paper book in the 1960's. Victorian erotica also survives in private letters archived in museums and even in a study of women's orgasms. Some current historians now believe that the myth of Victorian repression can be traced back to early twentieth-century views such as those of Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group who wrote Eminent Victorians.
In the same way, throughout the Victorian Era, movements for justice, freedom and other strong moral values opposed greed, exploitation and cynicism. The writings of Charles Dickens in particular observed and recorded these conditions. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels carried out much of their analysis of capitalism in and as a reaction to Victorian Britain.
Victorian literature is the literature produced during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837—1901) and corresponds to the Victorian era. It forms a link and transition between the writers of the romantic period and the very different literature of the 20th century.
The 19th century saw the novel become the leading form of literature in English. The works by pre-Victorian writers such as Jane Austen and Walter Scott had perfected both closely-observed social satire and adventure stories. Popular works opened a market for the novel amongst a reading public. The 19th century is often regarded as a
Significant Victorian novelists and poets include: the Brontë sisters, (Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë), Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Gissing, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Philip Meadows Taylor, Lord Alfred Tennyson, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope and Oscar Wilde.
Charles Dickens exemplifies the Victorian novel better than any other writer. Extraordinarily popular in his day with his characters taking on a life of their own beyond the page, Dickens is still the most popular and read author of the time. His first real novel, The Pickwick Papers, written at only twenty-five, was an overnight success, and all his subsequent works sold extremely well. He was in effect a self made man who worked diligently and prolifically to produce exactly what the public wanted; often reacting to the public taste and changing the plot direction of his stories between monthly numbers. The comedy of his first novel has a satirical edge which pervades his writings. These deal with the plight of the poor and oppressed and end with a ghost story cut short by his death. The slow trend in his fiction towards darker themes is mirrored in much of the writing of the century, and literature after his death in 1870 is notably different from that at the start of the era.
William Thackeray was Dickens' great rival at the time. With a similar style but a slightly more detached, acerbic and barbed satirical view of his characters, he also tended to depict situations of a more middle class flavour than Dickens. He is best known for his novel Vanity Fair, subtitled A Novel without a Hero, which is also an example of a form popular in Victorian literature: the historical novel, in which very recent history is depicted. Anthony Trollope tended to write about a slightly different part of the structure, namely the landowning and professional classes.
Away from the big cities and the literary society, Haworth in West Yorkshire held a powerhouse of novel writing: the home of the Brontë family. Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë had time in their short lives to produce masterpieces of fiction although these were not immediately appreciated by Victorian critics. Wuthering Heights, Emily's only work, in particular has violence, passion, the supernatural, heightened emotion and emotional distance, an unusual mix for any novel but particularly at this time. It is a prime example of Gothic Romanticism from a woman's point of view during this period of time, examining class, myth, and gender. Another important writer of the period was George Eliot, a pseudonym which concealed a woman, Mary Ann Evans, who wished to write novels which would be taken seriously rather than the silly romances which all women of the time were supposed to write.
The style of the Victorian novel
Virginia Woolf in her series of essays The Common Reader called George Eliot's Middlemarch "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people". This criticism, although rather broadly covering as it does all English literature, is rather a fair comment on much of the fiction of the Victorian Era. Influenced as they were by the large sprawling novels of sensibility of the preceding age they tended 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 wrong-doers are suitably punished. They tended to be of an improving nature with a central moral lesson at heart, informing the reader how to be a good Victorian. This formula was the basis for much of earlier Victorian fiction but as the century progressed the plot thickened.
Eliot in particular strove for realism in her fiction and tried to banish the picturesque and the burlesque from her work. Another woman writer Elizabeth Gaskell wrote even grimmer, grittier books about the poor in the north of
This change in style in Victorian fiction was slow coming but clear by the end of the century, with the books in the 1880s and 90s more realistic and often grimmer. Even writers of the high Victorian age were censured for their plots attacking the conventions of the day with Adam Bede being called "the vile outpourings of a lewd woman's mind" and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall "utterly unfit to be put into the hands of girls". The disgust of the reading audience perhaps reached a peak with Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure which was reportedly burnt by an outraged bishop of Wakefield. The cause of such fury was Hardy's frank treatment of sex, religion and his disregard for the subject of marriage; a subject close to the Victorians' heart, with the prevailing plot of the Victorian novel sometimes being described as a search for a correct marriage.
Hardy had started his career as seemingly a rather safe novelist writing bucolic scenes of rural life but his disaffection with some of the institutions of Victorian Britain was present as well as an underlying sorrow for the changing nature of the English countryside. The hostile reception to Jude in 1895 meant that it was his last novel but he continued writing poetry into the mid 1920s. Other authors such as Samuel Butler and George Gissing confronted their antipathies to certain aspects of marriage, religion or Victorian morality and peppered their fiction with controversial anti-heros.
Whilst many great writers were at work at the time, the large numbers of voracious but uncritical readers meant that poor writers, producing salacious and lurid novels or accounts, found eager audiences. Many of the faults common to much better writers were used abundantly by writers now mostly forgotten: over-sentimentality, unrealistic plots and moralising obscuring the story. Although immensely popular in his day, Edward Bulwer-Lytton is now held up as an example of the very worst of Victorian literature with his sensationalist story-lines and his over-boiled style of prose. Other writers popular at the time but largely forgotten now are: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Charles Kingsley, R. D. Blackmore and even Benjamin Disraeli, a future Prime Minister.
The term Victorian architecture can refer to one of a number of architectural styles predominantly in the Victorian era. As with the latter, the period of building that it covers may slightly overlap the actual reign of Queen Victoria after whom it is named.
Varieties of Victorian architecture
- British Arts and Crafts movement
- Gothic Revival
- Jacobethan (the precursor to the Queen Anne style)
- Painted ladies
- Queen Anne
- Renaissance Revival
- Romanesque Revival (includes Richardsonian Romanesque)
- Industrial architecture
There are also Folk and Shingle Style Victorian Houses. Please note that the names of architectural styles (as well as their adaptations) varied between countries. Many homes combined the elements of several different styles and are not easily distinguishable as one particular style or another. Highly decorated houses are sometimes called gingerbread houses.
Notable Victorian era cities include
The South End of Boston is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest and largest Victorian neighborhood in the
Victorian decorative arts
Victorian decorative arts refers to the style of decorative art during the Victorian era. The Victorian era is known for its electic revival and interpretation of historic styles and the introduction of cross-cultural influences from the
Interior decoration and interior design of the Victorian era are noted for orderliness and ornamentation. A house of this period was ideally neatly divided in rooms, with public and private space carefully separated. The Parlor was the most important room in a home and showcase for the homeowners; where guests entertained. A bare room was considered in poor taste, so every surface was filled with objects that reflected the owners interests and aspirations. The dining room was the second most important room in the house. The sideboard was most often the focal point of the dining room and very ornately decorated.
There was no one dominant style of furniture in the homes Victorian period. Designers used and modified many of styles taken from various time periods in history with Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan, English Rococo, Neoclassical and others. The Gothic and Rococo revival style were the most common styles to be seen in furniture during this time in history.
Wallpaper was often made in elaborate floral patterns with primary colour in the backgrounds, such as red, blue and green and overprinted with colours of cream and tan. This was followed by Gothic arts inspired papers in earth tones with stylized leaf and floral patterns. William Morriss was one of the most influential designers of wallpaper and fabrics during the latter half of the Victorian period. Morris was inspired and use of Medieval and Gothic tapestries in his work. Embossed paper was used on ceilings and friezes.
The term "Victorian fashion" refers to fashion in clothing in the Victorian era, or the reign of Queen
Several general style trends of the Victorian era transcend any one facet of fashion, but rather had broad influence across clothing styles, architecture, literature, and the decorative arts. Many of these had their roots in the 18th century but flowered in the Victorian age. These include:
- The romanticising of the Scottish Highlands
- The Gothic revival, which in turn generated the Pre-Raphaelites and Artistic Dress
Overview of women's fashions, 1794-1887
The Great Exhibition of 1851 had a marked impact on fashion, especially home décor, and even social reform movements influenced fashion, through dress reform and rational dress.
See also fashion by decades: 1830s - 1840s - 1850s - 1860s- 1870s - 1880s- 1890s
Methods of clothing production and distribution varied enormously over the course of
In 1837, cloth was manufactured (in the mill towns of northern England, Scotland, and Ireland) but clothing was generally custom-made by seamstresses, milliners, tailors, hatters, glovers, corsetieres, and many other specialized trades people, who served a local clientele in small shops. Families who could not afford to patronize specialists made their own clothing, or bought and modified used clothing.
By 1907, clothing was increasingly factory-made and sold in large, fixed price department stores. Custom sewing and home sewing were still significant, but on the decline.
New machinery and materials changed clothing in many ways.
The introduction of the lock-stitch sewing machine in mid-century simplified both home and boutique dressmaking, and enabled a fashion for lavish application of trim that would have been prohibitively time-consuming if done by hand. Lace machinery made lace at a fraction of the cost of the old, laborious methods.
New materials from far-flung British colonies gave rise to new types of clothing (such as rubber making gumboots and mackintoshes possible). Chemists developed new, cheap, bright dyes that displaced the old animal or vegetable dyes.
Also see: Neo-Victorian
Some people now look back on the Victorian era with wistful nostalgia. They imagine a dream world of lacy dresses, lavish balls, country house parties, and charming cottages surrounded by old-fashioned flowers (see, for example, the paintings of Thomas Kinkade).Historians would say that this is as much a distortion of the real history as the stereotypes emphasizing Victorian repression and prudery.
Also notable is a contemporary counter-cultural trend called steampunk. Youth who dress steampunk wear Victorian-style clothing that has been "tweaked" in edgy ways: tattered, distorted, melded with Goth, Punk, and Rivet styles. Another example of Victorian fashion being incorporated into a contemporary style is the Gothic Lolita culture.
sponge cake is a cake based on wheat flour, sugar, baking powder and eggs. The only fat present is from the egg yolk, which is sometimes added separately from the white. It is often used as a base for other types of cakes and sweets
A basic sponge cake is made by beating the eggs with sugar until they are light and creamy[, then carefully sieving and folding in the flour (which may be mixed with a small amount of baking powder, though some chefs consider that the air incorporated into the egg mixture is sufficient for a good rise without the need for extra raising agent). Sometimes, the yolks are beaten with the sugar first while the whites are beaten separately, to be mixed in later. The mixture is then poured into the chosen cake tin and baked. As can be seen, both methods take great care to incorporate air in the beating, whisking and sieving stages. This makes a very light product, but it is easy to lose the air by removing the cake before it has finished in the oven.