What Is Victorian Morality?
Victorian England gave birth to many modern amenities we use today, including the telephone and the telegraph. Cities grew and expanded to urban centers, and the burgeoning middle class pushed for social justice, which we can still see today.
This kind of morality was highly controversial at the time and still is today. That’s why we want to help you understand this controversy. That way, you can decide if these ethical views are serving your relationship or not.
Ready to find out how this morality translated to the pages of literature and influenced great thinkers like the infamous Sigmund Freud? Then check out this article because we’re answering those questions and more.
The Most Common Features
During the lifetime of Queen Victoria of England, the Victorian era took place from 1837 until her death on January 22nd, 1901.
This era has gone down in history as a time of significant growth and progress for the middle class. It was also a time of evangelism, with many churches calling for higher moral principles and standards from their congregations.
Both the middle-class growth and the rise of evangelism are thought to have influenced the ethics of the time. Namely, these two factors affected ethical issues surrounding gender equality, censorship, and sexual repression.
We’re going more in-depth on each of these issues next, so keep reading.
Women were increasingly participating in paid labor during the Victoria era. This period is also viewed as the birthplace of feminism, with the women’s suffrage movement gaining traction at the end of the 1800s.
Despite these facts, though, women experienced extreme restrictions on their financial, social, and political rights.
Women couldn’t vote, own property, or sue in a court of law. This severely restricted class mobility for women in Victorian England. It stemmed from the belief that women were objectively inferior to men.
A married woman was considered the property of her husband. Typically, this meant her husband “owned” her body as well, allowing him to own both her children and her consent.
In Victorian England, questionable practices regarding consent weren’t the only strange sexual practices around. Women and, to some extent, men had to abide by severely strict rules of sexual conduct.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were on the rise in 1800s England. This was due, in part, to the Regency period that took place before Queen Victoria was crowned. The Regency period was partially inspired by the extravagance and loose morality seen in Louis XIV’s court in France.
Compared to previous years, morality during the Victorian period encouraged sexual repression for both men and women.
Men were encouraged to avoid masturbation in Victorian England. Despite modern advances in science and medicine, religious figures spread rumors that masturbation was the cause of STIs like syphilis and even mental health disorders.
Victorian England was rife with a shadow world, where prostitution and pornography were a closely guarded secret among the male elite.
During the Victorian period, there was a common saying: “Men are polygamous; women are monogamous.” This quote perfectly introduces the idea that men and women were held to different sexual standards.
Women were considered not sexual beings compared to men. So, they were expected to remain “pure” until marriage. A pregnant, unmarried woman would be viewed as a social outcast, which led to many a shotgun wedding.
Some evidence suggests upper-class Victorian era women were expected to participate in prostitution and pornography with their husbands—still, the majority of reports from the time point to a more polarizing view of gendered sexuality.
The one Victorian-era moral that affected men, perhaps more than women were censorship. We’ll discuss that topic next.
Mrs. Grundy was a fictional character in the late 1700s playwright Thomas Morton’s work. Grundy herself never appeared on stage. Still, the play’s protagonist continually referred to his nosy neighbor, Mrs. Grundy, and her disapproval for the play’s goings-on.
Mrs. Grundy became a Victorian symbol for the oppressive censorship considered righteous during the time.
The late 1700s saw the introduction of the Treason Act and the Seditious Meetings Act. These laws restricted gatherings and outlawed specific conversations. These laws were mainly applied to the growing middle class, who had just hosted an uprising in nearby France.
For example, authors and artists couldn’t speak out against Christianity. They couldn’t represent overly sexual or otherwise obscene content in their works. According to a famous passage from George Orwell, minority opinions, in general, weren’t tolerated in the years following the end of the Victorian period.
The End Of Victorian-Era Morality
Moral codes and ethics have risen and fallen over the years. Yet, the role artists and authors played in Victorian morality’s downfall is relatively unique.
We’re talking about some of the heroes who saved England from Victorian ethics next. Check it out.
Charlotte Bronte And Feminism
Charlotte Bronte was a writer and poet during the Victorian period. You may also recognize her sister, Emily Bronte, as a famous writer. Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre when Victorian gender inequalities were in full swing.
Within her novels, the eldest Bronte espoused surprisingly progressive views for her time. However, modern scholars now view her ideas as inhibited by the views of women at the time.
In this way, Bronte serves as a perfect representation of women for the time. Her position in society trapped her. Yet, in her novels, she described heroines who could think freely, deeply, and with high moral character.
As if she was prophesying about years to come, Bronte’s image of the Victorian woman prevailed. Only a few decades later, women attained the right to vote.
Oscar Wilde’s Critiques Of Censorship
Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and writer who published his works during the Victorian period. Unlike Charlotte Bronte, Wilde was celebrated in England for works like The Picture of Dorian Gray.
However, that doesn’t mean his work was without critic. The Picture of Dorian Gray is arguably the most popular of his works. Yet, it almost didn’t exist after the backlash he received for having a gay protagonist, which was decidedly un-Victorian for the time.
Indeed, Wilde was prosecuted in the late 1890s for having illegal affairs with men. Even with Wilde's strides to improve censorship during his time, he could do little to change the public’s mind about repressive sexuality.
It would take a few decades and a psychiatrist named Sigmund Freud to finally free people of their Victorian-age ideologies about sex.
Sigmund Freud On Repressive Victorian Era Sexuality
Sigmund Freud was a psychoanalyst born in the 1850s Austria. Though he practiced in his home country, much of his work responded to the Victorian ethical views of sexual repression.
If you know anything about the infamous Freud, you’ve probably come across his intriguing and sometimes disturbing ideas about sex and child development. Freud believed the buildup of sexual energy contributed to many of life’s problems. He also thought discharging libido (e.g., having sex) was a healthy way to alleviate those problems.
These ideas were in direct contrast to the sexually restrictive views of morality during the Victorian era. So, too, were Freud’s ideas that repressing sexual desires or sexually abusing someone was more likely to lead to mental health problems than, say, masturbation.
Rationality focuses less on what religion or society has to say about gender equality, sexuality, and censorship. Instead, it relies on science for truth. Without thinkers like Freud and the rise of rationality, psychology, and even therapy might not be the practices they are today.
Is Victorian-Era Morality Causing Tension In Your Relationship?
The Victorian era ended over 100 years ago. Still, morality stemming from the Victorian era remains active in some circles in modern-day America.
Did you grow up surrounded by the principles of this morality? You may not realize it, but these beliefs could be affecting the health of your relationship with your partner.
Get in touch with one of the accredited therapists at ReGain to discover how couples counseling can help you learn a more modern way to approach your relationship.
How many years did the Victorian Age last?
The Victorian era was ushered in with Queen Victoria of England. It lasted throughout her lifetime and ended when she passed away in 1901. From 1837 to 1901, historians recorded specific events such as rapidly expanding cities and their subsequent push for factory labor. The beginning of long work hours and the start of the Crimean War are notable events during the Victorian period.
What are the main characteristics of the Victorian age?
The Victorian period is a very distinct point in human history. It lasted from 1837 to 1901 with the reign of Queen Victoria of England, and it ushered in many changes that can still be felt today. In fact, modern society is based primarily on the religion, morality, and social norms of Victorian society.
Back then, materialism and practicality were at odds. Wealthy people could afford opulent living, expensive clothes, and the newest technologies. However, the poverty-stricken population was forced to work long hours in hot, dirty, dangerous factories to supply goods and services to the ever-increasing demand. Expansions brought on by the Industrial Revolution meant a change in how citizens conducted their life.
One of the main characteristics of Victorian culture is the enhancement of the arts. Victorian literature is still studied today for its unique iambic pentameter and controversial subject matter, although Renaissance writings inspired it. In general, Victorian values are based on a system of cherry-picked inheritance wherein the most favored aspects were chosen over others. It was the beginning of materialism, capitalism, and justified excess.
What are Victorian ideals?
To understand the ideals of Victorian society, you must understand what brought about the Victorian period. For example, the era was marked by an increased appreciation for material wealth and practicality. It was also organized based on a hierarchy that Queen Victoria of England headed. Thus, the events that unfolded between 1837 and 1901 are still impacting today’s world.
Victorian ideals are an unspoken but widely accepted code of conduct. They determine how males and females interact with one another and society. There’s also a large focus on individual race and a widespread concentration on religious matters. Occupations were thought of as important, while each citizen moved from an agrarian lifestyle to something more industrial and lucrative. Thus, Victorian Britain is often synonymous with class, elegance, politeness, and sexual modesty.
In fact, Victorian ideals had different standards for men and women. Females were expected to act chaste and pure lest they been viewed as socially awkward, improper, or unfit to wed. There were even restrictions on their speech and love lives. As for the men, they had a lot more freedom of expression. Therefore, one of the main characteristics of the Victorian era is its obsession with separating by gender and class.
DID YOU KNOW: It was considered improper to mention your undergarments above a whisper. Instead, they were referred to as “unmentionables” and practically denied an existence altogether.
What is Victorian compromise?
During this age, Victorian people promoted a specific way of life that could not be realistically sustained. The Victorian Compromise is, therefore, a term coined by Lawrence Friedman back in the mid-Victorian era. It described a mindset wherein citizens lived under a mental and political contradiction. In short, their lives and values did not directly reflect the realities of their world.
It became known as the Victorian Compromise at about the same time as the Industrial Revolution. There was much progress in the land at that time, creating new wealth and establishing families for generations—the rising living standards made for an opulent lifestyle that was often seen as the epitome of success. Meanwhile, there was also poverty in the land. So, a great chasm started to form.
Victorian people then began promoting a certain lifestyle to manifest those changes and improvements in their own lives. The expanding empire meant that many people would fall through the cracks. Thus, the era is defined by this contradiction and founded on likewise principles. For example, people prized respectability and morality but were often found as hypocrites in favor of forced conformity. And while charity was taking root in Victorian society, too was promiscuity, materialism, and strife.
Interestingly, that’s why Lawrence Friedman coined the term in the first place. It shined a light on the fact that Victorian people lived double lives. Their standard against sin and vice was only a public spectacle in many cases, causing a so-called “compromise” on the middle and upper classes.
Was the Victorian age justified?
Many argue over whether the Victorian era morals, social standards, and dogmas were justifiable or not. Some think they were, citing the expansion of industry and its subsequent effect on the average person’s way of life. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution changed how citizens worked, played, and planned for the future - moving the once agrarian population into a system that could sustain growth and provide wealth.
Meanwhile, other people think that the double standards and means by which the English empire expanded were not justified. They cite that the progress of the upper and middle class was founded on exploitations of the lower class. In an article, Victorian citizens were mapped based on economic levels. That map revealed an income disparity that lived right next door to extreme wealth. Thus, many speculate that the lines were too thin to be accidental.
What were typical Victorian values?
Was Victorian society a moral one?
Where did Victorian morals come from?
What is Victorian ideology?
What is the ideal Victorian man?
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