Daily Life in Victorian England: The Middle Class and its Values

Seminar Paper, 2002

18 Pages, Grade: 2+ (B)


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Historical Context of the Victorian Society

III. Class Distinction
3.1 Aristocracy
3.2 Middle Class
3.3 Working Class

IV. Victorian Values
4.1 The Family
4.2 The Middle-Class Man and Husband
4.3 The „Angel in the House“
4.4 Self-Help
4.5 Respectability

V. Conclusion

VI. References

VII. Appendixes

I. Introduction

The Victorian age in England is generally defined by the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. Since the queen´s rulership was for such a long time, it is not possible to discuss the whole period as one homogen part. There were so many changes during the different phases of Victorias´s reign that the 64 years of her rulership may be seperated into 3 different periods: the first period which lastet until 1851 is a period of growth; England´s manufacturing and trading forces grew more and more. In 1851 the Great Exhibition in London started the second and for this paper most important period. Now England was the leading industrial country in the world; the period of supremacy had begun.The late Victorian period covers the last quarter of the century. During this phase England lost its supremacy and the society had a more critical look on the earlier periods.[1]

The Victorian values which were developed by the middle class were most influential during the second third of Victoria´s reign. During this time the middle class grew significantly and became very important (for example through the Reform Bills which enlarged the voting population as well as through their growing wealth). Because of their new role in society middle-class opinions, behavior and values were adopted by the other classes above and below.[2] Therefore, it can be said that from its beginning onwards the mid-Victorian era was and is of a special influence on the British society in past and present: “The opening of the Great Exhibition was also the opening of the Golden Age of Victorianism,...”.[3] This “Golden Age” even has been recognized at the end of the 20th century when the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated: “Victorian Values were the values when our country became great.”[4] Therefore, this term paper will discuss the famous “Victorian Values” which were developed in one class and later characterized a whole society.

How did the people of the middle class live in the middle of the 19th century? How did they practise their morals and values? What were their morals and ideals?

To answer these questions it is necessary to clarify the historical circumstances of the Victorian society and to define this society itself. Which were the classes that constituted this society? This knowledge will be a good basis for the final discussion of the values themselves.

II. Historical Context

When Victoria was set on the English throne in 1837 the shape of the country and its society differed very much from that her son Edward would reign 64 years later.

During the 19th century the population[5] grew from 8,9 million in 1801 to 17,2 million in 1851 up to approximately 26 million people in 1881.[6] Before the Victorian era the majority of the people lived in the countryside, foods and messages were transported by horses, people cooked over an open fireplace, little more than half of the population could read and write, children had to work hard and long in coal mines and factories and the political and legal power was in the hands of those who held the property; that was, in fact, a small minority.[7] In the reign of Victoria many things changed. Only some of the final results were: city dwellers, subway trains, electric streetlights in London, telegraph messages, steamships, busy transatlantic trade, compulsary education, improved legal and political status of women and much more.[8]

As stated before, the Victorian period can be seperated into three periods. The first period, which was from 1937 to 1851, is characterized by “social and political turmoil”[9] as well as rapid changes caused by industrialization and urbanization. There were many social problems in the 1840s because industrial cities were overcrowded, unsanitary and unplanned, the food prices were also very high and many people did not have work. It was the time of the Corn Laws and the Chartist movement. There were also (technical) improvements during this period: the transporting system was bettered by the installation of a railway system, the telegraph was invented and gaslights came to major streets. The women´s movement also began in the 1840s, when the first middle-class women demanded serious education.[10]

The mid-Victorian period, which will be most important for the further work of this term paper, began with the Great Exhibition in 1851 and ended in 1875. The exhibition was a very important event in the middle of the nineteenth century as it gave England the possibility to show what it had reached through the industrial revolution and all its progresses. The intention of the exhibition was to demonstrate Britain´s economic supremacy and to celebrate the triumph of peace and progress.[11] Therefore, England was characterised during those years by domestic stability, progress and growing prosperity. The standard of living grew as profits and wages rose. Many people realized that Britain had become an Empire with large overseas territories and they became proud of it. At home there was important political change because the second Reform Bill of 1867 allowed more people to vote (most of the middle-class men and the more prosperous working-class men). Social reforms lead to an improved situation of the society; for example the Factory Act of 1874 and the Education Act of 1870[12]. Finally, the influence of the queen´s life on the social attitudes began during this period when she married Alfred of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840 and they founded a large family. Through her well organized family life and the practised morals, Victoria became an idol for her subordinates.[13]

Since the late Victorian period is of less importance for this work, only some facts should be mentioned. Because of cheaper prices for their agricultural goods, North America and Australia became dominant in this sector. England also became dependent on imports of food. The population grew remarkably and there were more women than men, which forced women´s movements. Other strong movements that represented interests of the working-class were also encouraged and became powerful. The third Reform Bill in 1884 gave the vote to most urban workers. Generally, the domestic political and economical power was shifting. Overseas, England expanded significantly and in 1877 Victoria became “Empress of India”. Years later, when the queen died in 1901 the Victorian age was at its end.[14] During this last period critics against the Victorianism of the earlier period became audible, mid-Victorian styles and attitudes were less accepted.[15]

III. Class Distinctions

Although the following parts will mainly deal with the Victorian middle class, it is important to explain the class distinctions during the Victorian era. This explanation will help to understand the whole 19th century English society better, especially the changes within it. Finally, this will justify the extraordinary importance of the Victorian values even for members of the higher and lower classes on whom they were influential.

1.1 The Aristocracy

The aristocracy or the upper class[16] was a small number of people that stood at the top of the hierarchy of the population pyramid. It included all landowners of the nobility and the gentry. Since the modern class hierarchy was influenced by the industrialization, the class dominance moved from landowners to capitalists.[17] Although England remained socially, economically, politically and mentally an aristocratic country in the second half of the nineteenth century, the balance of power tilted more and more in favour of the growing middle class (especially frome 1850 to 1880).[18] The most significant characteristics of the upper class were their advantages given by birth and their landed property from which their income arose. Therefore, their status and superior role was generally defined by their birth and the land they owned. They also lived a life of leisure, work was not respected as “a gentleman was by definition someone who did not work[19][20] This class was very conscious of its role, privileges and duties. In 1867 Cracroft wrote how the aristocracy can be defined:

a common blood, a common education, common pursuits, common ideas, a common dialect, a common religion and – what more than any other thing binds men together – a common prestige, a prestige growled occasionally, but on the whole conceded and even, it must be owned, secretly liked by the country at large.[21]

Generally, the upper class was of a more modest and conservative character (the gentry for example lived in the country all year long) and this fact explains why its values were not as influential as those of the middle class ones on the other parts of the society.[22] They were just too old-fashioned.

1.2 Middle Class

As mentioned before, the nineteenth century brought up a stronger and grown middle class. While the aristocracy contained a number of 40,000 to 50,000 souls in 1851 there still were about 4 million people members of the middle class.[23] The class defined itself by several features: a certain income (from £150 to £1,000 a year), a certain style of family life and a certain form of employment, that preferably should be professional as manual work was not respectable.[24]. Some author´s opinion is that a much wider definition of the middle class is possible: only the fact of keeping servants shows that one belongs to the middle class.[25]


[1] David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century: 1815-1914 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1991) 221-224.

[2] Gottfried Niedhart, Geschichte Englands im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, 3 Bände (München: Verlag C.H. Beck 1987) 39-49.

[3] Thomson, England 19th Century, 100.

[4] Asa Briggs, A Social History of England, 2nd edition (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994) 249.

[5] Look in appendixes (1) for a table of population growth in England and Wales.

[6] G. Kitson Clark, The Making of Victorian England, 7th edition (London: Routledge 1994) 66.

[7] Sally Mitchell, Daily Life in Victorian England (Westport, Conneticut and London: Greenwood Press 1996) XIII-XV.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. 5.

[10] Ibid. 3-7.

[11] Michael St. John Parker, Life in Victorian Britain: The Pitkin Guide (Hampshire: Pitkin Unichrome 1999) 18.

[12] Factory Act: establishment of a maximum working week of fifty-six hours

Education Act: created government supported schools and elementary education that should be available to every child in England.

[13] Mitchell, Daily Life, 7-12.

[14] Ibid. 13-15.

[15] Briggs, Social History, 257.

[16] Some authors use the plural form of the terms upper, middle and working-class as there was a wide variety within each class itself.

[17] Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Klassen in der europäischen Sozialgeschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht 1979) 35.

[18] FranVois Bédarida, A Social History of England 1851-1975 (London and New York: Methuen 1979) 41.

[19] During the nineteenth century this definition changed and increasingly included members of the middle class.

[20] Ibid. 42.

[21] Quoted in Bédarida, Social History, 42.

[22] Ibid. 45.

[23] Ibid. 48.

[24] Christopher Hibbert, The English: A Social History 1066-1945 (London and New York: Norton and Company 1987) 605.

[25] E.J. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1976) 157.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Daily Life in Victorian England: The Middle Class and its Values
Martin Luther University  (Institute for Anglistics/ American Studies)
The Condition of England-Question
2+ (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
424 KB
Daily, Life, Victorian, England, Middle, Class, Values, Condition, England-Question
Quote paper
Julia Schubert (Author), 2002, Daily Life in Victorian England: The Middle Class and its Values, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/11739


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Daily Life in Victorian England: The Middle Class and its Values

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free