VICTORIAN BRITAIN: An Introduction
For my new Lockdown course beginning on Monday 5th June
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times', wrote Charles Dickens at the start of his novel 'The Tale of Two Cities'.
And so it was in 19th century Victorian Britain. Life had never been so good for Britain's expanding middle class. They were predominant in politics and in business. Yet life was not improving but was actually worsening for Britain's industrial working class living in slum conditions in the cities.
It is a conflicting Age, because there were both public and private initiatives to relieve the appalling situation the industrial working class found themselves in. This was no hypocrisy for many were motivated by Christian morality, preached enthusiastically by the churches and chapels. Charles Kingsley caught this view in his children's book 'Water Babies' where he wrote, 'Do as you would be done by'. Kingsley himself, a clergyman of The Church of England, was a strong supporter of 'Christian Socialism'.
A conflicting age where ideas and actions often clashed, for example
Established Religion v Darwinism
Advances in medicine v Treatment of the mentally ill
Abolition of slavery v Attitudes to indigenous peoples of The Empire
Increase in male suffrage v No votes for women
LP Hartley, himself born a Victorian, wrote at the beginning of his book, 'The Go-Between',
'The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there'. And, despite the fact that many of my generation knew Victorians in our childhood, today we find it as difficult as those who never knew a Victorian. The past is slipping away as the Victorians have slipped away. Yet it is important to seek an understanding of this period which forms the basis for our society in the 21st century.