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The Victorian era spans the time of Queen Victoria’s reign in England from 1837 until 1901. Although the phrase “Victorian Era” stems specifically from British history, it is also generally used in relation to other western European cultures and their colonies of the time. During this period, Britain enjoyed peace and wealth during this time with its overseas empire rapidly expanding. In the West, America was being colonized by British immigrants and the Caribbean islands were also claimed as convenient shipping ports with exotic goods to offer. On the other end of the world, Britain’s East India Company took over India after defeating native rebellion and also set base in South Africa. While largely unchallenged by most other nations, a great rivalry began with Russia and there was much struggle for control over several Central Asian countries. Notably, colonies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand were approved for independent government. Stories such as the real-life serial killer, Jack the Ripper, marked a noticeable divide in income and class among English citizens.

 

Victorian Culture
The Victorians were always extremely aware of their place in society based on class and gender. Members of the aristocracy were envied and it was not uncommon for people in lower ranks to be labeled “social-climbers” in their attempts to rise in status. Propriety was expected at all times and thus governed the rather formal behavior in speech and manner. This era also gave way to a prominent rise in technology, instigated by demand for speed. Advances in science and philosophy also rose, illustrated in the case of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), which became the cornerstone of the modern understanding of biological evolution.

The Arts
With the resurgence of wealth and elegance, the Victorians relished the arts. Their works were often created with a slant towards religious or moral implications, while others indulged in whimsy. An example is the escapist trend towards paintings of fairies. In writing circles, novels became a popular form of story-telling and some of the most famous writers of the last few centuries wrote during this time, including Jane Austen, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens and Percy Bysshe Shelley. As with the painters, a sense of fantasy entered many literary works, with a significant number aimed at children. Theater was a delightful amusement of the time, with high drama as well as comedy frequently performed. Shakespeare was a favorite as well as performances of popular current novels, such as Dicken’s Bleak House.

Victorian Dress and Costume
Victorian costumes among the higher classes were luxurious and used foreign materials such as silks and precious jewels imported from foreign colonies. The formal moral codes dictated that both genders should be fully covered and appropriately dressed at all times, to the point of being prude. Corsets, crinolines and bustles were common for women, while tailored vests, coats, trousers and top hats were worn by the male gentry. Gloves were common among both genders, to avoid inappropriate touching even during a mere handshake. Lower working classes used much duller and coarser materials which were notably less fussy in order to enable them to work without hindrance. Towards the end of the Victoria era, women began to revamp their clothing, first rebelling against the tight, constraining undergarments and then refashioning them into loose “bloomers” and slips.