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The Victorian Era: Social Classes Of England

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1713 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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The Victorian Era social classes of England are unlike any other social system; every rule could be bent or broken (An Ancestry.com Community, par. 1). A person could be born into the lowest class, and could end up being part of the nobility by marriage (An Ancestry.com Community, par. 1). Some heiresses were married to local families (Thornber par. 10). An example of the odd rules would be how the aristocracy and gentry, in mid-nineteenth century, would become the upper class(Cody par.2). The Victorian Era is viewed as a period of great opportunity for every class.(Loftus par. 1). Each class can be divided by power, authority, wealth, working and living conditions, life-styles, education, and culture(Cody par. 2). At times, the middle class took power, not the upper class(Loftus, par. 1)The lower class was divided mainly by the wealth and working conditions of families(Channe14.com, par. 19). The main groups consist of upper class -aristocracy and gentry-, middle class, and lower class.

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The gentry were lines of land-owning families from noble men (Thornber, pars. 2 and 4). Their system of inheriting the land from their father helped the gentry, but it eventually destructed them (Thornber par. 4). A main reason was the decline of agriculture after the Napoleonic Wars (Thornber par. 4). Some of the gentry managed to keep their estates (Thornber par. 8).

Another reason for the gentry’s fall was the male inheritors’ decline into moral sin (French and Rothery 403). The landed gentry was in control until the younger sons started to put the families’ financial security in danger; they were soon sent to an outside school (French and Rothery 403-405). This moral decline was soon blamed on the parents’ teaching of their children (French and Rothery 404). Although the ‘kids’ did go to school, their circle of activity still revolved around society (French and Rothery 405).

Although one might think the gentry to be powerful, the aristocrats retain the power (Channe14.com, pars.8). The sinple definition of aristocracy is rule of the best or superior (Aristocracy, par. 2). It has the least change out of all the social classes (Channe14.com, pars.8). Most people who made up the aristocracy were politicians who came from noble families (Channe14.com, pars.8). The unelected House of Lords is mainly made up of aristocrats (Channe14.com, par. 8). If you were part of the British aristocracy, by birth, you were a gentleman (“The Gentleman”, par.2). To be an aristocrat one had to have land (An Ancestry.com community, par. 1). Oddly enough, most aristocrats were not of the richest or most powerful families (An Ancestry.com Community, par. 3).

The aristocrats were also head of the social life (Channe14.com, par.10). The great families filled the main circles, through their youth, with fashion and culture (Escott par. 2). They lived on grand country estates where they would go hunting and fishing (Channe14.com, par.10). Some aristocrats even had London estates which would opened up during certain seasons (Channe14.com, par. 10). Aristocrats eventually came to a point where they did not do anything but flaunted their wealth, and politics became a game (Escott par. 2). They realized they needed to step up their ‘game’ when the middle class began to rise (Escott par. 2).

The middle class consisted of businessman, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, merchants, and any other men just above the lower class (Loftus par. 2). To be part of the middle class, one had to take care of one’s self, their family, and one’s community (Loftus par. 4). It is safe to say that a definition of the middle class is impossible (Loftus par. 1).The dream of the businessmen in the middle class was to become part of the aristocracy (Channe14.com, par. 11). Over time, the middle class changed into a small group mainly made up of professionals, factory owners, merchants, and writers (Channe14.com, par 12). An example of one of these would be the writer, Conan Doyle (Hammer 56 – 65).

The middle class, unlike the aristocracy, made their society on right’s not by hereditary gain (Loftus par. 1). The middle class has two main sections, the upper middle class and the lower middle class (Channe14.com, pars. 13 – 17). The upper middle class was between professionals, and industrialists (Channe14.com, par. 14). Professionals were the doctors, lawyers, clergy, and top civil servants (Channe14.com, par. 14). The lower middle class was made up of mostly women (Channe14.com, par. 16). Many upper middle class men worked in banks or climb up the ladder to rule the empire (Channe14.com, par. 15). These men were usually the ones who used their riches to buy homes and became just as rich as the aristocracy (Loftus par. 3).

The middle class’s economy and financial variations were made by differences on background, politics, and religion (Loftus par. 3). They mainly came from political coherence (Loftus par. 4). Emphasized by competition, thrift, and self-reliance, the middle class began to rise into power (Loftus par. 4). All their success was due to their principles on individuality (Loftus par. 5). Every middle class person, through hard work and self- reliance, could have had economic and social success (Loftus par. 5). Many critics, like Thomas Carlyle, were fearful that the middle class’ individualism would be a threat to the community (Loftus par. 5). Much of the middle class’ success came from the political economy as well as the social economy (Loftus par. 8). They were always ready for improvement; it was key to their culture (Loftus par. 8). The middle class defined themselves by attempting to make the lower class see their potential (Loftus par. 9).

The lower class was more commonly known to the Victorians as the working class (Channe14.com, par. 18). The workers of the working class can be divided into six groups: high-paid labor, regular standard earners, small regular earners, intermittent earners, casual earners, and ‘the lowest class’ (Channe14.com, pars. 18 and 19). The largest group division were the regular standard earners, which had more people than the other five groups put together (Channe14.com, par. 20). The regular standard earners were men who made their wages from the Victorian economy; as it rose, so did their wages (Channe14.com, par. 20). When the economy boomed, people had less children, which meant more time for relaxing (Channe14.com, par. 20). The Victorian Era was the best time for one to spend their days in leisurely activity (Channe14.com, par. 24).

As life became better for the higher working classes, who are known as ‘deserving poor’, the poor became more desperate (Channe14.com, par. 21). While the deserving poor get charity, if and when they need it, the ‘lowest class’ gets nothing (Channe14.com, par. 21). This class made up about a quarter of all the outskirt areas (Channe14.com, par. 21). Some of these people may be criminals or unemployed, but each of them live in conditions beyond their control (Channe14.com, pars. 22 – 23). Times became so bad that one might have seen another selling dog droppings (Channe14.com, par. 22).

Country poverty was even more sad (Channe14.com, par. 23). Most people survived on eight pounds a year (Channe14.com, par. 23). Some teenagers were forced to join gangs and mothers had to give their babies opium so they would not cry (Channe14.com, par. 22 – 23). Though, if one of these men could save enough money to start a small business, he could move up into middle class (Loftus par. 11).

The Victorian era was the best time for leisurely activity (Channe14.com, par. 24). The upper class, middle class and lower class began to fade away shortly after this end of this period (French and Rothery 402-422). As stated earlier, the Victorian Era gave opportunity to most everyone (Loftus par. 1). Each class’ opportunity was shown through power, authority, and wealth (Cody par. 2). At the close of this era, the higher middle class sat with the upper middle class at operas in the royal box, thus showing the opportunity in the classes (Channe14.com, par. 3). Interestingly enough, there are a few noble families still left in England today (An Ancestry.com Community, par. 18).

Work Cited

An Ancestry.com Community. 31 March 2010. “English Social Classes.” 08 November 2010 .

“aristocracy.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010 ed.

Channe14.com. 2010 “Time Traveler’s Guide to Victorian Britain.” 2010. .

Fordham.edu. 2010. “Modern History Sourcebook.” 2010. .

French, Henry and Mark Rothery. ” Upon Your Entry into the World: masculine values and the threshold of adulthood among landed elites in England 1680-1800.”Social History. 33 (4 Nov. 2008) : 402 – 422. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Brandon Public Library. 01 November 2010. .

Hammer, Joshua. “Sherlock Holmes’ London.” Smithsonian January 2010:56-65

David, Cody. The Victorian Web. 2002. The Victorian Web. 22 July 2002 “Social Class.” 27 October 2010 .

David, Cody. The Victorian Web. 2002. The Victorian Web. 22 July 2002 “The Gentlemen.” 01 November 2010 .

Loftus, Donna. BBC. 15 October 2010 “The Rise of the Victorian Middle Class.” 08 November 2010 .

Thornber, Craig. Cheshire Antiquities. 2010 “The East Cheshire Gentry.” 08 November 2010 .


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