This course of lectures looks at the Victorians not just in Britain but in Europe and the wider world. 'Victorian' has come to stand for a particular set of values, perceptions and experiences, many of which were shared by people in a variety of different countries, from Russia to America, Spain to Scandinavia and reflected in the literature and culture of the nineteenth century, up to the outbreak of the First World War. The focus of the lectures will be on identifying and analysing six key areas of the Victorian experience, looking at them in international perspective. The lectures will be illustrated and the visual material will form a key element in the presentations. Throughout the series, we will be asking how far, in an age of growing nationalism and class conflict, the experiences of the Victorian era were common to different classes and countries across Europe and how far the political dominance of Britain, the world superpower of the day, was reflected in the spread of British culture and values to other parts of the world.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, communication was slow, even relatively short journeys were uncertain and time-consuming, and people were dependant on the forces of nature for energy; this lecture charts the development of new modes of communication, from the railway to the radio, the telegraph to the telephone, the steamship to the motor-car and examines their efforts on perceptions of time and space.
The Victorian age began as an age of realism, in literature and art, and of nationalism and romanticism in music and culture. By the end of the century, however, the high noon of Victorian culture was starting to give way to more disturbing developments - the disintegration of musical tonality, the emergence of abstract art, the eruption of the 'primitive' into cultural styles and the arrival of modernism onto the artistic scene. This lecture examines the characteristics of Victorian culture and the reasons for its decline.
The nineteenth century, above all in Europe, was the age of the 'demographic transition', from high birth and death-rates to low ones; people's health improved, they lived longer, the devastating visitations of epidemics like smallpox, typhoid and cholera gradually disappeared. This lecture explores the reasons for this change, and looks at its effects on culture and society, attitudes towards death and suffering, disease, debilitation and at the end of the century, degeneracy and the Darwinian struggle for survival.
Victorian' came in the twentieth century to stand for sexual repression and social convention. Personal life was governed by complex and rigid rules of behaviour. Like other aspects of Victorian culture this began to break down in the fin-de-siécle. Yet recent research, discussed in this lecture, has undermined this rather simplistic picture and begun to explore some of the contradictions and complexities of Victorian attitudes to marriage and sexuality. The place of women in Victorian culture was by no means as passive or subordinate as conventional images of the era suggest.
If there was any single belief that characterized the Victorian era it was Christian belief. Religion pervaded social and political life to an extent almost unimaginable today. Yet this was also an age of major scientific progress and discovery. Ranging from Darwin's Origin of Species to Strauss's Life of Jesus, new techniques and approaches undermined faith in the literal truth of the Bible. This lecture looks at the relationship between science and religion and attempts to explain the growth towards the end of the century of 'secularization' and 'dechristianization' in the mass of the urban population.
Science and religion came together to help shape the attitudes of the British and Europeans towards the rest of the world, whose inhabitants were increasingly regarded as socially inferior and spiritually ignorant. This lecture looks at how these ideas framed the growth of overseas Empire in the latter part of the nineteenth century, how Britain and those European states that possessed colonies governed them and what were the consequences for politics and ideology at home, above all in the growth of the Social Darwinism, racism and extreme nationalism that led to the end of the 'Victorian' era in the First World War.