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The Victorian Era

Every period in the history has a specific name, related to an event, to the living conditions or to the progress made. But the first one to be named according to the reigning person was the Victorian Era.

 

It started at the beginning of the Queen Victoria’s reign (1837) and ended at her death (1901). This was a time of great changes, mostly thanks to the Industrial Revolution. The period between 1850 and 1870 was even called the Golden Years.

Despite a cholera epidemic that killed around 24,300 people, the mortality rates decreased from 21.9 per cent in 1854 to 17 per cent in 1901, thanks to improvements in nutrition and in the quality of the water, and also thanks to medical progress.

Also, we really started to worry about the environmental issues. And this is when the tea time was implemented, as upper class people wanted to impress their guests with exquisite tea and sophisticated biscuits and cakes.

This period was also characterised by its romanticism, mainly present in literature, with the new coming novel genre. We can name for example Charles Dickens or Lewis Carroll.

 

The place of the women in the society

A huge negative matter was the place of the women and their rights. Indeed, they did not have the right to vote, to sue, not even to own anything – including money. Women were meant to be domestics, to serve their husband, cleaning the home, providing them food on the table, and taking care of the children. And when married, a woman became the property of her husband, who had rights over her body.

But following the Industrial Revolution, women started entering the workforce, and feminist ideas started to spread, for example with the huge and significant women’s suffrage movement, lead by the activist Emmeline Pankhurst and her suffragettes and suffragists.

 

Advances in medicine

Many medical advances allowed to cure more diseases and to decrease mortality rate.

For example, chloroform was introduced in 1847 by James Young S, used as an anaesthetic. It became popular and used in England and Germany after John Snow – a physician in epidemiology (who knew things) – used it when Queen Victoria gave birth to Prince Leopold.

Dentistry also improved thanks to anaesthetics, while the consumption of sugar in the diet was increasing, resulting in an increasing need in teeth extractions and dentures. And those dentures, the “Waterloo Teeth”, were made from teeth of dead or punished people, or even from teeth sold by poor people in need.

Antiseptics were introduced by Joseph Lister in 1867, who, moreover, implemented hygiene standards such as, washing instruments, washing hands and wearing gloves in the hospitals.

However, medicine access was unfortunately mainly dictated by the class rank, impeding medical treatments to the lower class.

 

Technology

Most of the major advances in engineering and technology have their roots in Britain.

Great improvements in communication were made, first of all thanks to railways and rail roads originated in England: they allowed goods and people to travel and to facilitate trade and industry. And all the clocks throughout Britain were set according to the “railway time”.

Other important innovations that we all know  were the electric power, followed by the telegraph in 1837; photography, realised by Louis Daguerre and Fox Talbot in 1839; the telephone invented by Alexander Bell in 1876; and the hand-held camera in 1889.

 

Here is a list of other major innovations:

1840: postage stamp – The Penny Black 1846: modern sewing machine by Elias Howe 1848: Public Health Acts 1850: home sewing machine by Isaac Singer
1852: first public flushing toilets 1858: sewage system by Joseph Bazalgette 1859: theory of evolution by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species
1863: world’s first underground railway (The Tube) empowered with steam 1877: phonograph by Thomas Edison 1883: first electric underground train

 

Fashion

 

In the early Victorian Era, women wore corsets for giving their waist a slim and slimy feminine shape, petticoats, and then crinoline under wide and sophisticated but simple gowns with puffed sleeves. Evening gowns had a low neckline and were worn off the shoulder. Later, the gowns and skirts became flatter with only bustles behind. They wore dresses with high necklines, pagoda sleeves and jabots or tatted collars. Then, uncorseted tea gowns were introduced and worn at home, and lately, formal dresses became even more slimmer and tight, without any bustle ornor crinoline but with steel boned bodices.

Men also changed their dressing style throughout the Victorian Era, starting with long, tight and elaborated clothes with sophisticated ties, that became shorter, more simple and comfortable.

 

Morality

The Victorian manners among middle and upper class were dictated by a strict code of conduct, such as not speaking about sex or taboo things in public. But the Victorians were not exactly as prudish as we could believe now…

This appearance of restricted attitude and dignity covered up social phenomena such a prostitution or even child labour, enhancing class disparities.

 

Regarding religion, though before the arrival of Queen Victoria, the Church used to have a huge influence and power, that changed drastically. People rose against the Anglican Church and dissent started to spread to accuse the abandon of the lower class and the abuse of power.

This deflection grew with the “Crisis of Faith”, when Charles Darwin brought out his theory of evolution, calling into question Christian beliefs.

There is much to say about the Victorian Era. Our modern society could not exist today if the Industrial Revolution had not occurred, neither would have changed behaviours and the status of the women. The surname of “ Golden Age” is, in my opinion, totally accurate. And I hope that, with all this information, you will be willing to search and know more about this rich and amazing period  of our history.

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