Dec 11, 2015

Victorian Era: 1837 to 1901

Queen Victoria
Much has been written about the Victoria Era, a period of history named after Queen Victoria that lasted from 1837 to 1901 in England. It's culture, architecture and fashion extended to America as well. Indeed, it had become an international culture for a time.
It was a part of the Industrial Revolution that jump started Western civilization into the modern world with technology and innovation. Britain and the United States as well as other places in Europe were a part of the beginning of the industrial age. It brought good things and also brought bad things, like child labor. The world was changing and it was occurring quickly in terms of historical events. Science was unraveling mysteries and new discoveries and techniques were part of it in many areas of science that included medicine, archaeology, astronomy, et cetera. It also ushered in a period where people were interested in the paranormal, sometimes fascinated with not just death, but researching life after death.
It was a time of prosperity as well as poverty. Victorian writers wrote about the society, the paranormal, scientific and archaeological discoveries; as well as the series of inventions that took place during that period. Christmas traditional celebration and decorations were boosted during the Victorian era. Hollywood made films about the era with films like "Meet Me in St. Louis". It was during this era that Christmas cards were handmade and stationary companies started printing them for the season.

Those that invested in those inventions and built factories or owned the mines that produced steel to make the wondrous 'new' age things became part of the wealthy elite. People that had been previously rural moved to urban areas to find skilled and unskilled jobs. Country families would come to towns to stay with their relatives while they sought work to make a new life.
By 1850, half of England's former peasant class were in Britain's cities; which in turn demanded that apartment housing to be built and the new Victorian architecture was incorporated to make homes for the middle and upper class. The middle class grew during this period and their homes still stand today, a testament of their workmanship and historical value to renovate. The Victorian culture and innovative designs that represented both classic and industrial age architecture and production was renovated through the Steampunk phenomenon – a Neo-Victorian renaissance. It was an age of art and elegance and the Victorian fashions crossed the ocean to the United States. It was also a new age concerning sexuality, but still had some taboos.
The age or era was, of course, named after Queen Victoria who was the longest lasting monarch in England's history. She took the position at the young age of 18 and lived 68 years past that age. She took over a time when England was no longer infatuated with royalty and the way things were handled. The democratic system was a new way of doing things, which added to the disenfranchise of the royals popularity. Queen Victoria, among other things, has been credited with bringing respect of the English back to the throne. She was adored by the majority of English and respected in the United States and elsewhere.
The Victorian government was one of the earliest constitutional monarchies in the world. While she had limited power, her advice was sought by the Parliament and the Prime Minister.
The industrial growth caused growing pains in England, as well as in the United States, where there were not enough jobs to employ enough people. The middle class had to compete with immigrants looking for the opportunity to work and live in better conditions than their native country they left.
In Victorian society, marriage became the most important part of the life of a Victorian girl. Girls were taught early about marriage and how to take care of a family. For a mother, the marriage of her daughter was extremely special, as well as the the groom and his family.
Dresses that women wore underwent a drastic transformation and learning etiquette was also an important part of middle and upper class society.
Today, Victorian style furniture is still made for those who like its style; most fitting if one has a Victorian style home. The furniture during the Victorian era was inspired from a combination of Gothic, Tudor, and Neoclassical; with some new alterations. Tables were usually made from mahogany, rosewood, and oak, often topped with marble or granite; and like today, the table served several purposes.

Society has developed just like the other facets of the Victorian era. Homes were built with parlors, today called the 'family room' where guests were entertained and families congregated. As parlors became a common factor in architectural design, parlor games were invented. Christmas was a special time of the year, and Victorian society began the tradition of Christmas cards, usually handmade; and homes decorated inside and out, with brightly lit trees with candles until electricity brought about the invention of electric lights. Needless to say, the Christmas tree was not lit when no one was around – and only for brief times for as the tree stood awhile the branches would become dry and flammable.
Skilled and unskilled workers sometimes found themselves out of work because machinery has taken their place as the Industrial Age brought higher production. The textile mills and other industries still needed workers to attend to the machines and other production duties.
The cities became overcrowded, which brought about more problems, like lack of jobs, which in turn raised the poverty level. Children of poor families did not have the time for parlor games, if they even had a parlor, but instead worked in factories to help support the family to pay for the rent and other expenses as well as food. Child labor became slave labor. They worked long hours, up to 16 hours per day, for little pay. The working conditions and the stress lowered the life expectancy to only 25 years old. Laws were made prohibiting them from working more than 12 hours, but working conditions remained gruesome.
Effectively, Victorian society's wealthy were getting richer and the poor became poorer.
In regards to the Victorian society's view of death, customs and practices were changing; less superstitious traditions remained due to the advance of science, discoveries, and knowledge. The pauper's grave. If there were not enough mourners to attend, some Victorians hired them. The professional mourners were called mutes. Mourning attire was worn by the widow with full black and what was called a weeping veil.
Victorian era has been called the cult of death because of the importance they put upon the cemetery and fascination with death and life after death. But death was part of life, for three out of every twenty babies died before their first birthday; despite innovations in the medical field. Most often death occurred in the home and the entire household would be involved in dealing with it. Windows were closed, clocks were stopped, and mirrors were covered. Bodies were not sent to a funeral home or parlor, generally. The bodies were kept in the home until time for the burial. Rules and regulations were initiated that concerned proper death procedures and funeral rites. It would be a scandal to not abide those rituals. The procession to the burial site was a spectacular sight. Until the 1870s, funerals and the accompanying processions were elaborate and expensive. Victorians had to provide a decent burial for family members, even if meant financial hardship to the survivors. The worst disgrace would be buried in a pauper's grave. In cemeteries and private burial grounds on estates, great monuments were built to the dead as well as ornate mausoleums.
Victorians put great value on education. Before the era, there were few children who attended school; a majority never learning to read or write. For some, the only formal education they had were at Sunday school. Importance of education was instilled into Victorian society, which helped that to change greatly. Upper class children, of course, still had all the refinements and best educational institutions to choose from to attend. Nannys were sometimes educated and were tutors. Most upper class boys at the age of 12 were sent off to private schools with the best educational opportunities, while girls would stay home after age 12 to learn the necessary skills to operate a household. However, upper class girls had what they called 'finishing' schools to learn etiquette and the important things concerning Victorian upper class life.
Everyone else would sometimes attend trade schools and learn a skilled craft, like woodwork, and cooking became a part of the curriculum.
As previously mentioned, the value of proper etiquette was high on the list of Victorian standards, and it did not matter whether it was upper class or the lower class – everyone was expected and required to pay attention to the standard etiquette. For example, tipping one's hat when greeting a lady and it was considered rude to speak loudly or in any way that would draw attention to oneself. This was especially true for dining conversation. Ladies must always be seated before men.
Men wore gloves, but were required to remove them before being seated; but women did not remove them until after being seated. Ladies were taught to be respectful toward men and men were taught to treat women delicately. It was considered rude to use a man's Christian name (first name) in regular conversation. Salutation was always begun with 'Mr.' and then the surname [last name]. It was a sign of respect.
The attire, or clothing, of the Victorian era was virtually created by hand; which required a visit to a seamstress or tailor to get the proper fitting and then create clothing by hand. In the late Victorian era, about 1907, most clothing was created by machines and in factories. That put seamstresses out of business, forcing them to work in the clothing factories. The benefit of the industrial age clothing is that many types of clothing were available in one's size, once established, so there was no need for a fitting most of the time. Handmade clothing made it more expensive, so when industrial production became the norm, less expensive clothing would have lace or some fancy trim.
Chemists had improved on colors and dyes, so clothing toward the end of the Victorian age were more colorful. It improved the look and afforded the consumer more of a selection. The middle Victorian era featured lavish and decorated dresses, some with trains that dragged the floor. Bonnets replaced hats for the ladies, and umbrellas to keep the sun and rain off were a common site on the Victorian street. It was vulgar to wear a dress that showed any of the leg when passed the age of 16.
The Victorians loved to eat, but most ate only two meals per day; and if there was lunch, it would be a light one. Supper was usually served late, like 8pm (or later), not 6pm. Large breakfasts were the custom, and because lunch was either skipped or light; Victorians were very hungry by the evening meal. Breakfasts and suppers often featured up to a nine-course meal; so supper, at least was a feast. Each course was a small portion, however. Those with money ate very well when it came to the two main courses of the day.
Tea parties became a fashion for Victorian women, and afternoon tea became a tradition for both gender. Recipes began to be published and popular; which afforded women the opportunity to learn new recipes as well as cooking techniques. Recipe books were important to Victorian women; those that could afford them.
One of the changes brought upon by the Victorian era and Queen Victoria was that slavery was abolished by the Act of 1833 in England. It took longer and a civil war in the United States before slavery was abolished.
The railway was a symbol of Victorian progress that moved goods, food, and people faster than canals and horse-drawn wagons. It also afforded people more job opportunities to operate those railways. Rail carriages or coaches were designed like a horse-drawn coach, at first, and it had foot warmers, oil lamps, closed sides, and a roof. It was also divided into class categories, such as the 2nd class rail coaches were roofed, but had open sides. 3rd class coaches had no roof and passengers were blistered by sparks and choked from the smoke coming from the steam engine that pulled the carriage/coaches. By 1846, a law was passed that required that all rail carriages/coaches have a roof.
Among the extensive names on the list of Victorian authors, there were: Max Beerholm, Walter Besant, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Robert Browning, Robert Buchanan, Samuel Butler, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Carlyle, Benjamin Disraeli, Bertram Dobell, Marie Corelli, Arthur Conan Doyle, George du Maurier, George Eliot, Marianne Farningham, Edward Fitzgerald, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Lear, John Stuart Mill, Henry Morley, Thomas Moore, Gerald Massey, Beatrix Potter, Samuel Rogers, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Anthony Trollope, Oscar Wilde, and Isaac Williams.
The Industrial Age was affecting the United States during the Victorian era, and the English society created by Queen Victoria caught in America. It was the Gilded Age for Americans and fashion was mimicked from the former mother country in clothes, morality, as well as etiquette. Streetcars [pulled by horses] and trains were a familiar site across the nation, and the suburb of the middle and upper class was created. The wealthy began to winter in Florida made more feasible by the railroad system.
Unlike in Europe, arts was funded through private donations, not government funding. It became popular for the wealthy to found opera houses, symphony orchestras, and build museums, especially art museums. New wealthy families arose amongst the established upper class society, which became known as the 'new rich' and so the 'old' rich created a special society made up of “proper families”. It was not easy for the new wealthy folks to become part of that society. In New York City, one could buy their way into the old society family group or if their children married into an old family.
The poverty that the Industrial Age brought on, as well as events like the Potato Famine, encouraged vast amounts of immigrants to come to America to seek their fortune during the Victorian era between 1837 and 1900. Some stayed in the cities, while others took advantage of the land opportunities that the American West offered.
Immigration was not monitored in the Victorian era, thus the masses that arrived in the United States found there was not enough jobs to go around. With more workers than jobs, some of the wealthy owners of industry took advantage of the situation and generally did not properly compensate nor ensure safe working conditions existed for their workers. When the 20th century was ushered in, this prompted the socialist movement that had already taken root in Europe; which in turn enacted the labor union movement. Today, there are regulations that counter that problem of fair wages and safe working conditions; however, the trade unions have become part of the economic problem in that the wages are inflated to such a degree that of union workers that the cost of living continually climbs higher than union and especially non-union wages can keep up. What occurs is businesses close down, particularly small business that is the backbone of the economy in the United States. Another problem today, due to political leadership not paying attention to history, have an uncontrolled amount of immigrants entering the United States and the job force; primarily illegal immigrants. At the beginning of the 20th century, immigration control was regulated and Ellis Island was established to screen immigrants for health issues. While there Ellis Island closed down decades ago, the practice of screening immigrants for health issues, criminal records, and quota based on employment availability still exists. However, the process is ignored by the federal government that is in charge of enforcing immigration regulations; which has encouraged more illegal immigrants who cross the southern border of the US in alarming numbers, with the incentive that amnesty will be provided by scheming politicians who see a voter base for their political party. It is unfair to legal immigrants and has caused several problems in American society that include crime increase, the importation of the Central American criminal cartel, and fraudulent activities concerning identification and unlawful welfare benefits. It is a constant battle for the border security force, frustrated in arresting illegal immigrants more than once after they have been deported; as well as the exasperation of seeing a vast amount of illegal immigrants entering the United States – to the point of realistically considering it to be an invasion. Those problems existed in the Victorian era with similar results.
As in England, Victorians in America found they had time for entertainment, for the middle and upper class. Parties held by society members were elaborate and parties planned to outdo other parties. High society parties were published in the social columns of newspapers. Victorian mansions had ballrooms, most large enough for an orchestra.
Victorian architecture in the United States was elaborate, romantic, and appealed to the emotions. The size and structure of a house made known the amount of wealth the owner had. Houses were large with many rooms, but most often they were small; except the entertainment areas. Houses were set either in the middle or the back of lots and the exteriors were painted with bright colors. The interiors had heavy drapes, dark wood, dark wall paper, and hardwood flooring. Many houses had two hallways and two staircases; one grand staircase for guests and one plain for the children and servants. The back halls and private rooms were not decorative, usually plain with whitewash and wooden floors. The public areas were designed to display elegance, virtue, and wealth. It was an age of materialism, like the modern Yuppy period, and Victorian houses grew exponentially with the wealth of the nation.
Victorian Mansion turned into Bed-and-Breakfast
Today, some of those Victorian homes still stand, preserved by the historical society and private ownership; but little of what good came out of the Victorian era in society remain. Architects still design and home builders still build Victorian homes, but with modern conveniences and energy saving devices and structure. Most Victorian mansions and large homes have been renovated and turned into bed-and-breakfast establishments.
Today's society, however, does not reap the benefit of socialization that the Victorians had, however, because with texting and other gains in technology has created an unsociable society whose communication skills beyond texting is deteriorating. Literally, society has isolated itself with the social circles with no personal contact. And while advances such as the Internet has made the world smaller and vast amounts of information available to anyone with a computer and connection; society is losing personal social interaction.
In the Victorian era, women could not vote nor did they have an equal position in society. Marriage, especially a good one, was important. Today, thanks to the government and their social experiments, marriage has become less important and the divorce rates are higher as well as single parents. Abortion has become the government's recommended and taxpayer financed birth control. Americans are less independent and more dependent upon the controlling government social programs designed for social engineering. About 47% of the population is either on welfare program(s) or are employed in either state or federal government institutions. Big government and socialism, like pure democracy, eventually kills itself. Indeed, democracy ends up as a welfare state because the mob rules, not the law; and the law is the Constitution of the United States that limits government power and designed to provide a check-and-balance system that has almost been completely ignored by politicians on both sides of the political aisle.
It is no wonder that some Americans yearn for the Victorian era, at least the positive aspects of it; especially the strong family unit.

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