Victorian England: Aspects of English and Imperial History 1837-1901
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Money, too, flowed both ways—the empire was a source of profit, and emigrants sent money home to Britain—as did goods such as jute , calico cotton cloth, and tea. Dramatic expansion of the empire meant that such goods came to Britain from all over the world. Between and the empire grew, shifted its orientation eastward, and increased the number of nonwhite people over whom it exerted control.
India became central to imperial status and wealth. There was significant migration to the settler colonies of Australia and New Zealand and later to Canada and South Africa. Britain took control of large parts of Africa including Egypt , Sudan , and Kenya , which together were home to about 30 percent of the African population. The same period also saw the start of anticolonial movements that demanded freedom from British domination in India and elsewhere.
These would ultimately lead to decolonization after World War II. This half-century of growth was followed by an economic depression and from until by a modest recovery. With the earliest phases of industrialization over by about , the British economy expanded. Britain became the richest country in the world, but many people worked long hours in harsh conditions.
Yet, overall, standards of living were rising. Most families not only had a home and enough to eat but also had something leftover for alcohol , tobacco , and even vacations to the countryside or the seaside. Of course, some decades were times of plenty, others of want. Relative prosperity meant that Britain was a nation not only of shopkeepers but of shoppers with the rise of the department store from mid-century transforming the shopping experience.
Increased wealth, including higher real wages from the s, meant that even working-class people could purchase discretionary items. Mass production meant that clothes, souvenirs, newspapers, and more were affordable to almost everyone. More access made British cultural products more important.
Not only did they reveal much about the society from which they emerged, but during the Victorian period Britain was the cultural capital of the English-speaking world including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Victorian performance and print culture were rich and varied, a blend of melodrama, spectacle, and morality. Theatre thrived. Melodrama —which featured evil villains, virtuous heroines, and intricate plots—was the most important and most popular genre early on; later, sensation drama became popular.
Even more popular were music halls , which featured varied programs of singing, dancing, sketches, and more; these emerged in the s, and by the s there were hundreds across Britain, some seating thousands of people. Music halls attracted people of all classes. Print culture was also large and diverse, aided by relatively high literacy rates. There were hundreds of magazines and newspapers available at ever cheaper prices. Novels were another key feature of Victorian print culture. By mid-century, Britons of all classes could afford and read novels.
Some were aimed at highly educated and well-off people, others at less-educated readers looking for appealing and exciting stories. Penny dreadfuls and sensation novels, seen at their best in the work of Wilkie Collins , thrilled their readers.
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Victorian novels were often quite long, with complicated plots often centred on marriages and many characters. Many, especially those by Charles Dickens , are still read today.
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Info Print Print. For the first time in history, population growth and economic expansion went hand in hand. The empire over which the sun never set consisted not only of the colonies of conquest and settlement — with India the jewel in the imperial crown — but also of a vast informal empire of free trade, within which British investors and traders dominated foreign markets.
By the s, when Britain responded to international competition by scrambling for new colonies in Africa alongside its European rivals, imperialism had become a matter of national policy. At the same time, empire had become a source of pride for most British people, and its influence was felt in daily life in numerous ways: the increasing range of raw materials and foods available; the prevalence of members of the armed forces and colonial service in Victorian society; and the great many people who went to sea, emigrated, or had relations who did.
London loomed large in the Victorian imagination as a metropolis of vice. With its many newspapers, journals, periodicals and circulating libraries, it also became an inspiration for literature most notably, of course, for the novels of Charles Dickens as well as a place where it was created and consumed in vast quantities. It was also the greatest city and port in the world, and not to mention centre of commerce and culture, in the world.
As the seat of the court and of society, it was increasingly a magnet for the rich of Europe, and later North America. Georgian and Victorian Britain saw, arguably, more extraordinary intellectual progress than any previous age since ancient Greece. The advances achieved in science, technology, engineering and medicine were staggering. This was an age that changed the way human life was perceived. Great scientific leaps often resulted in a crisis of religious faith.
Yet it was also an age that saw the greatest burst of church building and foundation of charitable institutions since the Middle Ages.
Victorian culture, particularly its art and architecture , was often rather conservative in its outlook — perhaps understandably. This was, after all, a society in the grip of more convulsive, complex and disturbing change than had been experienced by any previous culture in human history. Find out how Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrated their birthdays, and what the gifts they exchanged tell us about their private lives.
The architectural profession is largely a Victorian creation. From the s, architects began to experiment with a profusion of styles. Although England in the late s was still ruled by a propertied upper class, there had long been a degree of social mobility. Although the Victorian era was a period of extreme social inequality, industrialisation brought about rapid changes in everyday life. Overseas trade and an extensive commercial infrastructure made Britain in the 19th century the most powerful trading nation in the world.
In the Victorian period the growth of the railways made it possible to transport food to markets much more easily. June 20, : Queen Victoria takes the crown at the age of The granddaughter of King George III, her father died when she was just 8 months old, and her three uncles also died, putting her first in line as heir to the throne. The government provides damages to slave owners, but nothing to slaves. More than 70 millions letters are sent within the next year, a number tripled in two years. As queen, she was the one to propose. During their 17 years of marriage until Albert died of typhoid in the couple had nine children.
Parents failing to comply are fined or imprisoned. March 28, : France and Britain declare war on Russia, launching the Crimean War, which largely surrounds the protection of the rights of minority Christians in the Ottoman Empire. His legacy includes reform for Ireland, establishing an elementary education program and instituting secret ballot voting.
March 7, : Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell is awarded a patent on his invention of the telephone, and, three days later, famously makes the first phone call to Thomas Watson, his assistant.
May 1, : India, which has been under British rule since , declares Queen Victoria empress, under direction of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. She is succeeded by Edward VII, her eldest son, who reigned until his death in But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!