History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: 19th Century Society

Victorian Values

well-dressed gentleman in top hat

Public respectability

The values of the Victorian era were those of the middle class, and indeed they show the rise of the middle class as the group dictating morality to everyone else. As the moneyed class, these folks still had little claim to social respectability, which relied on the possession and inheritance of land. In order to lay claim to social respectability, middle-class Victorians devised a new moral code that could be exhibited publicly. It was partly based on romantic notions of the Gothic era, which was seen as a time of noble knights and untouchable ladies. But it also included the values inherent in the faith that science could solve problems.

Scientific management

Policy development went hand-in-hand with medical achievements, as statistics provided a postivist way to examine problems, such as the cholera epidemics.

book Workbook document: Chadwick's Report on Sanitation (1842)

Note that in this document, Chadwick relates the scientific management of sanitation to the betterment of society. That's very Victorian. Industrialization and trade had created the wealth and luxury of the middle class. The lower class was a constant reminder to them that poverty and ugliness were part of the life created by industrialization.

Gothic revivalHouses of Parliament

You can see it in the architecture, the art, the literature and the manners: a romantic view of the Middle Ages. While in reality medieval times were gritty, Victorians saw it as a time when men were great and women were ladies.

One example is the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The standard of art was based on rules deriving from the Renaissance artist Raphael and his followers, and included restrictions on light, shadow, poses of figures, and idealized beauty. Reacting to paintings they considered frivolous, these young English artists were drawn to the 15th century for their inspiration.The pre-Raphaelites are known for their use of alternative subjects and natural light, but they tended to use medieval settings.

woman kneeling before man, both in medieval dress
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
St. George and the Princess Sabra (1862)
couple in flowing garments
Edward Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin (1874)
woman with long red hair
John Millais
The Bridesmaid (1851)


6. Women's Role->