The Victorian age-historical and social background
Victoria became Queen of England in 1837.
Workers lived in slums in terrible hygienic conditions. They often organized demonstrations and protests against the owners of the factories.
The Chartism were the most important workers’ movement. They wrote a People’s Charter in which they asked for more rights for workers.
The Poor Law, in 1834 established that workers had to live in workhouses, where the destitute could find accommodation, a bit of food and a lot of work to do.
Protectionism was abolished in favor of free trade, that is the selling of goods with no taxes on the products bought from a foreign country.
These years were marked by developments in medicine, engineering and technology:
-Railways developed quickly.
-Steamships carried goods, raw materials and people.
-New sanitary measures were adopted.
-Gas lighting was introduced in London.
The Great International Exhibition of London took place at Crystal Palace in 1851 and it showed Britain as the world’s leading power. It was opened by Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, who was interested in science and technology.
During these years a few social reforms were introduced:
-The Mines Act (1862): it forbade the employment of women and children in mines.
-The Second Reform Bill (1867): it granted the right to vote to town workers.
-The Emancipation of religious sects (1871): it allowed Catholic people to work in the government.
-The Trade Union Act (1875): it made the activities of trade union workers legal.
-The Third Reform Bill (1884): it gave the right to vote to all male workers.
The Victorian compromise was the attempt to find a solution to the deep gap between the rich and the poor.
Marx and Engels’s revolutionary theories were linked to the terrible living and working conditions of workers. They influenced English socialists in the last years of Victoria’s rule. In 1848 the Communist Manifesto was published.
According to the utilitarian philosophy, best represented by Jeremy Bentham, the value of a thing was determined by its utility, and an action was right if it brought about the greatest happiness forict cultural rules were created and people were supposed to follow them. For example, the upper and middle classes refu the greatest number of people.
The Victorian society was full of contradictions: stressed the word “leg”. On the other hand, they were the main cause that led many poor women to prostitution. They were obsessed with order. Identity was important and it depended on gender, class and race. Both men and women had their own places to stay. As to men, their place was the outside world; as for women, they had to stay at home and if they had to go out, they needed to be accompanied by a man in order to be protected.