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The Victorian Age

The word Victorian comes from Queen Victoria, that ruled from 1837 to 1901, and became the symbol of the nations. It was the era of progress, of inventions, of stability and of the huge social reforms but it was also the era of poverty, injustice and social unrest.

Victorians were huge moralizers, they promoted a values’ code that reflected the world as they wanted it to be, based on:
1. Duty
2. Hard work
3. Respectability (that distinguished middle class from lower classes; it’s a mixture of morality and hypocrisy, severity and conformation to social standards)
4. Personal charity (done by middle class because philanthropy was for every kind of poverty)
The middle class values dominated the Victorian family life. Family was a patriarchal unity represented by the husband. Victorian society was interested in woman’s chastity, and fingle women with a child suffered of the worst punishment in the society: they were emarginated.
Sexuality was repressed in its public and private forms, and moralism led to the denunciation of nudity in art, and the rejection of words with sexual connotation on the vocabulary.

In the late of 19th century, patriotism was influenced by the ideas of racial superiority. It emerged that some races were destined to be guided by others, and for British people, they were the superior race that had to impose its life style.

The Victorian emphasis upon moral conduct was influenced by Evangelicalism.

Utilitarists denied human and cultural values and they were sure that every problem could have been overcome by reason. The keywords of their philosophy were: usefulness, happiness and avoidance from pain.

The utlititarian philosophy was criticized by many intellectuals of their period (Darwin, mill) and Mill thought that progress came from a mental energy.

Moral and religious certainties were shocked by a scientific work by Charles Darwin “on the origins of species” (1859). Arguing that man is the result of an evolution process and that only the strongest species survived the fight for life, Darwin denied the view of the Creation given by the Bible.

Victorian Age started in 1832 with the first Reform Act. The nation was identified with the queen. It was a period of imperial expansion, politic developments and social reforms. The merit of these achievements belongs to the queen, who reigned constitutionally, in fact she never overruled the Parliament and became a mediator between politics parties. During her reign, the principal parties were Liberals and Conservatives, who alternated Government. Between 1882 and 1906 the labour party was born, from the requests done during those years by the working class.

Britain’s leading industrial and economic position, was symbolized by the Great Exhibition of 1851, where all goods coming from all over the Empire were exhibited. It was housed in the big Crystal Palace and the profit were used to create new museums.

In that period poor people lived in segregate areas called slums. They were quarters characterized by squalor, illnesses and crime, so th Government promoted a campaign to clean up the cities:
1. Professional organizations were found to regulate and control medical education and research;
2. Hospitals were built;
3. Were introduced: Water, gas, lighting, paved roads, places of entertainment and shops;
4. Prisons, police stations, board schools and town halls were built;
5. In 1829-30 the prime minister Robert peel established the metropolitan police.

The Nothern abolitionists who included the middle class, started to organize themselves in the Republican Party, whose candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won the presidential elections in 1860. The civil war began in 1861 and ended in 1865 with the abolition of slavery, but it didn’t grant blacks the equality and economic security. They were free, but poor and homeless. A wave of resentment and violence, embodied by the racist movement of the Ku Klux Klan, that frightened the blacks and their families. The so-called “black codes” were created, that segregated the blacks in schools, hospitals and transport means.

In the middle of the century, a group of intellectuals and writers developed a movement known as “New England Reinassance”. The term indicated the beginning of an American literature with brand new style and themes. The key-ideas of Trascendentalism were:
  • The whole of reality seen as a single unit: A concept that adapted properly to the reality of the melting pot of a country where people from all over the world created a national unity;
  • The contact with nature was the best way to reach truth and the conscience of unity of the things.
  • The oversoul was the spiritual principle that linked everything together;
  • Man was the emanation of the oversoul, and the emphasis laid on his identity, on his self-education.
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