Queen Victoria became Queen at the age of 18. She married prince Albert and they had together 9 children, so they became a symbol of family.
It was an age of reforms. They made the First Reform Act giving middle-class men the vote; they made the Factory Act and Ten Hours Act changing working hours’ conditions.
They established workhouses thanks to the Poor Law Amendment Act. Workhouses were unpleasant so that people could improve their situation on their own.
Through the Chartist movement people wanted the vote for all adult males and secret ballot, but the movement failed.
Through the Second Reform Act all skilled working men had the right to vote.
In 1851 the “Great Exhibition” took place in the Crystal Palace, where England showed all its latest technologies. This event increased the power of the middle class, it showed the expansion of the industry and the technological development.
When Russia became too powerful, Crimean War began. The real hero of the war was Florence Nightingale who led the nursing team during the war.
Queen Victoria made the Third Reform Act giving the vote to all male householders.
Trade Unions were legalized with the Trade Union Act.
Victorian cities had gas lighting, many buildings like museums, railway stations, schools and hospitals. Women had more rights, but they still lived a domestic life.
The Victorian Compromise
The Victorians were great moralizers, they believed in hard work and had a strong sense of duty.
The lower classes were less respected than the middle class.
Respectability consisted in the possession of good manners, a house with servants and a carriage, charity and a regular attendance at church.
The figure of husband was predominant in the family.
There was also a deep concern for female chastity. A fallen woman, that is a single woman with a child, was discriminated by the society.
Optimism sprang from the economic progress, and optimism was so strong that British considered their role as supreme. Despite of the scientific progress, many diseases could not be cured.
Sexuality was repressed in public and private forms. It led to the denunciation of nudity in art.
Victorians hide under a mask of optimism, philanthropy and respectability the real evils of society that were poverty, class distinctions, the secondary role of women, hypocrisy, racial discrimination and a sinful private life.
The Victorian frame of mind
In this period there were a lot of philosophical movements that influenced the values of Victorian Age. For example, Evangelicalism by John Wesley that gave importance to humanitarian causes, morality and Bible reading.
Another important movement was Utilitarianism, founded by Jeremy Bentham.
Hippolyte Taine believed instead that man is the product of three factors: race, environment and the pressure of the past on the present. He stresses the influence of heredity on men’s behavior.
Another important movement was Darwinism by Charles Darwin, according to which man descends from apes and the world is ruled by the law of natural selection, so that only the strong survive while the weak perish (Theory of Evolution). He challenges the religious theory of creation.
Another important philosopher was Schopenhauer. He affirms that God free will and the immortality of the soul are man’s illusions. He denies the existence of God.
All these movements are didactic, they wanted to show the problems of society.