1. njslater
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    njslater Member

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    Why is Victorian England portrayed in such a bad light?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by njslater, Apr 21, 2013.

    The Victorians are feted as great engineers and inventors yet castigated for child poverty, disease and depraved private lives. Do you not agree that this is unfair? The fact that more was written about this period simply brought these matters to the public attention. Nothing suddenly changed at the end of the Georgian period which is consistently portrayed as a period of romance and society balls when the truth was so different.
     
  2. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    You almost sound as if you're taking offence... Where you a Victorian in past life? (did I say that right?).

    Steam punk is set in the Victorian era, I've only read a few short stories in the genre but there was no mention of child poverty... It's all about wild inventions, far surpassing what they were actually capable of.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first, you'd have to prove to me that it's true!
     
  4. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Throughout the 1800's there were many great inventors, scientists and engineers in Britain and we did make great inroads in manufacturing because of their input. This meant that what had once been a largely farming country was in need of manpower in the cities. These cities were not ready for the influx of the workers needed to man the new factories. This resulted in many families living in real poverty - several families to a small house, the only sanitation a soil stack or outdoor toilets, one or two to many houses, one water pump to many people, dirty water leading to cholera (a disease the rich attributed to the habits of the poor-a self inflicted condition and one which they didn't need to worry about. Until, that is it began affecting them.) Working hours were long - 14 hour days, 12 hour days for children aged from 8/9 upwards. The factory owners built houses which were tied to the job. They were the landlords and deducted rent from the wages. Many of these factory owners were not fair people and those who had come to the cities expecting to make a living found nothing put overcrowding, disease, poor food and illegal working practices.
    The industrial 1800's did little to help the working man who was little more than a slave to the demands of the factory owners - not all, of course, but there were many whose end game was to earn as much as possible without thought for the well being of the men, women and children who worked from dawn till dusk to furnish the profits which would then be spent on that good living that is the mainstay of romantic victorian novels.

    Prostitution was rife in the city centres with some of the gentry paying great sums for young virgins (13 was the normal age, being the age of consent) who would be offered 'good positions in wealthy homes' only to find themselves tied to a bed in a brothel and then, with no other choice, sent to earn their pay on the streets.

    Mothers were so poor that they sold their babies to 'baby farmers' who would often feed them enough laudanum to kill them. Check out the history of Britain at that time and you'll find several baby farmers who were caught out in murder and hung.

    This was the truth for a lot of people in Britain and the only thing that isn't fair is that it happened at a time when the country was producing wealth for the few while ignoring the needs of the many.

    Check out: The Cry of the Children by Elizabeth Barret Browning
     
  5. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    No. You've just highlighted the balance.

    You could take any period in history and focus on achievement, depravity, warmongering, invention etc. Why is focussing on one aspect 'unfair'? It would be different if you were trying to offer a balanced argument and yet were biassed, but as an author it would depend on what you're trying to show.
     
  6. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I don't think that the Victorian Era is portrayed in a bad light... it just portrayed like it was. By the same token, medieval times is portrayed as dark, violent and dirty... all accurate. Victorian England had its good sides, and it's bad sides.

    To truly understand something, you can't just focus on the good all the time.

    And, there's plenty of fiction where Victorian England is romanticized and idealized, you just have to look for it.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, Charles Dickens was a pretty sharp critic of that age, and his prominence tends to outshine that of most Victorian apologists. He's still in print and they aren't, so he wins.
     
  8. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    You also need to look at what was going on in the US at the same time--though in a lot of ways it wasn't as bad. Still, it was the thinking then that no restraints should be placed on business ventures: anything to make a buck. And the poor got what they deserved. There are many who want to bring that life-style back. And have done much of the ground work for achieving it. On going growth, greater and greater consumption of resources is unsustainable. The only pattern we see in nature that matches this model is the growth of cancer cells. And then we wonder why this way of thinking always ends in disaster.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Anthony Trollope's works, for example.
     
  10. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Britain were in the grips of an industrial jackpot. Factories were rife, the higher-ups made a killing out of the poor and uneducated who seemed to get worse the more they worked. They weren't paid enough to survive. Business owners became their landlords and it was always a case of 1 step forward for the average Joe on the streets.

    It was all about power, and not just power of the poor British. The Empire was expanding, needed the money to keep the Indians in tow, the Aborigines, the Native Americans, the Irish and many many more while the socialites socialised and the poor British died of unspeakable diseases.

    The times deserve their rep.

    Like Nee pointed out, moves are afoot to bring us back to those circumstances, hopefully there is enough education today to prevent it but look at the scabs of Victorian Britain that are still festering today besides some attitudes, look at the prisons for example. Inmates, no matter the crime, are still "housed" in those hells.
     
  11. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    For the longest time I couldn't figure out why there was such a battle over school funding in the US. You see most people can't make plans for what they'll do much further than 5 to 10 years--it just doesn't make sense to do so: there are so many variables beyond their control--but the super rich however, can and do make plans 30, 40, even 100 years ahead. So, it isn't easy to see how this action or that new law, will fit into the over-all plan to take everything away from the rest of the Earth's population. It's just not enough for them to do well...even extremely well. They also have to make sure that no one else will do well. They want their families to own everything...'til one day, a single person will own everything. 'Course, that is totally stupid because we will destroy ourselves (or they will) in the battle to win all, long before a single person could ever end-up owning everything.
     
  12. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Rothschilds spring to mind here but that's probably a whole new thread even though they financed wars in Victorian times and held complete countries to ransom. I could be wrong but didn't they take over the Bank Of England under Queen Victoria's reign?
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    NJ, why are you asking? Cos I can see in your sig you write historical fiction, so shouldn't you, like, know why there's loads of less flattering portrayals written about Victorian England?

    Like others have pointed out, it's being portrayed pretty much as it is (or was, more like). Of course there are romantic portrayals of the era as well. La Belle Époque after appr. 1870, the imagery from that time is pretty flattering, but that was probably more a French cultural thing and had less to do with Victorian England.

    I always felt it's the opposite, that nowadays we easily romanticize that specific era, perceive it as a time of decadence and vampires and gothic castles, absinthe and sexy corsets, bohemian freedom, what have you. And ignore the syphilis, lice, poverty...
     
  14. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why do you all think the novelists "romanticised" the period? I don't agree they did--since when is wife-selling to raise money (Hardy), or orphans in gangs (Dickens) romanticising? However, they were not afraid to show emotions and the beauty of nature. These days, it seems to me that this is considered a weakness--everything has to be shown as bad, if the economy is bad, everything has to be showing a kind of dystopia in order to be "realistic". Well, no, people living in poverty can still have joy and beauty in their lives, and people are not animals, they can see and appreciate it. You only need to travel to see this (I'm not talking about really, really terrible poverty here).

    Views come in cycles. From the 1940s to 1990s, popular historical arguments were particularly concerned with "de-bunking" earlier views of Victorian (and colonial) history, which had focussed on the glorious, progressive side of the Vctorian Era. For 50-60 years everything about the time became negative, including the art and design of the period and living conditions.

    Nowadays, the balance is changing back again to acknowledge its better aspect, but it also likes to show that the "Victorian era" is a myth, with much of the causes and effects of industrialisation, for example (previously looked on as early Victorian) having their origins much earlier. Nothing in history is fixed, it tends to be a persepective based on fashion and current philosophy. You decide from the evidence whether it was predominantly good, bad, or a mixture, and for whom. Then you write your INTERPRETATION.
     
  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wait, what, who exactly are you addressing here? If it's me, let me quote myself.
    I assume you were talking of the Obscure Hardy and the Oliver Twist Dickens.
     
  16. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ahew, is the Mayor of Casterbridge.
     
  17. g_man526
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    g_man526 Member

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    Without reading much of the rest of the thread, I can say this is simply a case of historiography. The way in which we perceive different periods of history changes at certain points in time. I would say also however that this is also primarily at the discretion of the author of the work (which isn't to say said author may not be strongly influenced by the present-time historiographical perception of the time period).

    I for one do like the period from 1850 through the end of the First World War; that world war excepted, it was marked by one of the most dramatic improvements in the quality of human life, but was also a time of unfettered scientific discovery and political theorization, among other things. I like the period because it was very "changeful," and planted the seeds for the world we live in today.
     
  18. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's true, but in general the women's position in the society plain sucked, so that might be one reason why I perceive the period rather negatively myself.
     
  19. g_man526
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    g_man526 Member

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    Right, there's that. I would like to point out that I actually didn't read most of the thread before responding. :p But hey, all things in relativity, because the latter part of that period did see the emergence of the modern feminist movement. But like I said, I guess the reason I look back on it favorably is because of the factors that are not strictly "human": the surge in technology and consequently in the standard of living throughout the Western world, the leaps and bounds in our understanding of the world and of human nature*, and as I said, how much of these developments serve as a sort of prologue to the world we live in today.

    * After all, it is in this time that political and philosophical thought was beginning to look past the Enlightenment at romanticism, which in turn birthed both fascism and socialism, and we all know how significant those turned out to be.
     
  20. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wasn't getting at anyone, although I do particularly disagree that Trollope idealised England. He simply showed one side of it, a side that is also bourne out by the letters and diaries available to me from that era written by members of my family.

    It seems that sadly I must once again completely disagree with erebh's take on things. Just as an example (I disagree with just about everything you wrote but it would need a discoursive essay to explain everything, and I haven't time):

    Factories were rife, (not in the SW of England they weren't) the higher-ups made a killing out of the poor and uneducated who seemed to get worse the more they worked. They weren't paid enough to survive. (no, this is a misconception I'm afraid: the wage of the average man increased steadily while profits lessened--sorry, but my first degree was social and economic history) Business owners became their landlords and it was always a case of 1 step forward for the average Joe on the streets. (not sure what you are on about here, possibly you are thinking more of Ireland)
     
  21. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I will fall over the day you agree with me

    Sorry, I thought the OP was about England - not your little corner of it.
    The poor worked minimum 10 hours per day, 6 days per week doing menial work or hard labour - where did they find time for an education? And they were lucky few who had jobs.
    The wage of an average man might have increased while profits lessened - that doesn't mean the average Joe had disposable income
    If you don't understand the concept of 1 step forward (2 steps back) then... I don't know what then. It's the same today. Average Joe wins £100 on a horse, you can bet his car breaks down going to collect it!
    And Victorian Ireland? Don't get me started.

    But let's paint it your way, England under Queen Vic was an Eden, full of flowers and sweet scented air. The Royals fed peasants from glittery soup wagons and Robin Hood didn't need to work. Everything was lovely!

    Maybe you'd fair better putting away your letters from your family as they represent just one family and take a look at something broader such as http://www.victorianweb.org/history/work/nelson1.html
     
  22. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because you havn't time I've narrowed the site down a little for you. from M.W. Flynn, in Edwin Chadwick, 7, 17-18 An average labourers wage was 12-15 shillings per week. A basic house with saintation in a paved street was 30 shillings per week http://www.victorianweb.org/science/health/health9.html This is before food for himself and his family - now tell me what you don't agree with...
     
  23. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I should say by "family papers" I have a huge extended family that stretches to several different countries, and documentation of various kinds goes back about 300 years. Apart from estate records, one branch were doctors; another were clockmakers and owned a bell foundry; a coachbuilders became a car manufacturers; another relative was an architect etc so we have interesting business records as well. You'd be surprised what family history turns up--I'm sure there are other people here who have even more interesting backgrounds.

    Incidentally, university librarians are very helpful to people doing historical research, particularly the University of London's at Senate House. You don't have to be a student (or even need to go to them in person) to apply for help to them. London Metropolitan Uni library is another I have spent many hours in researching women's studies.

    I never suggested Victorian England was an Eden, but I think a slightly more positive and enquiring approach is just as valid as a hugely negative and Marxist-inspired one.
     
  24. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    To me this is all so much simpler. The good of the Victorian age has seeped into our daily lives, the inventions and discoveries made in that time lay at the very foundation of pivotal points in engineering and science. My point being, the advantages have survived through the ages and we have drastically improved on them. We also improved on the negative, there is much less poverty in western countries nowadays. However, it seems to me we haven' t quite learned our lessons yet. Atrocities very similar to the ones during the victorian age are happening right now in third-world countries. It's sad and it makes me feel quite powerless, I can not possibly hope to feed the millions of poor and hungry by myself.

    So yea, I think that until we actually manage to eliminate (or significantly reduce) the abuse of workers, children, women and men alike, i think the victorian age will remained to be viewed in a negative sense. Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist still hits home today because similar enough situations are happening in this world right now, until that is fixed the victorian age will remain as a grim reminder to the cruel nature of mankind.
     
  25. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    It seems I have seen more people romanticizing the past than demonizing it. I think it depends on what you read and what circles you run in. It is probably a personality thing as well. Some writers look at the glass half full, others half empty, and others just say there is water in the glass. ;)
     

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