What led to the decline of the Victorian era?
The Victorian era, which spanned from 1837 to 1901, was a period of unprecedented prosperity, progress, and innovation in British history. According to Shepherd, named after Queen Victoria, the era is characterized by rigid social mores, technological advancements, and imperial expansion (4). One of the defining features of the Victorian era was its focus on family and community. The Victorians believed in the importance of a strong family unit, clear gender roles and a strict moral code characterized by family life. The era was also marked by a strong sense of community, with people relying on each other for support and social interaction. Shepherd also stated that the Victorian era was a time of significant cultural and artistic output (6). The era saw the emergence of new artistic movements, such as the Pre-Raphaelites, who rejected the classical ideals of beauty and sought to capture the natural world in their art. The era was also marked by a flourishing of literature, with authors such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters producing some of the most enduring works of English literature. Technological innovation was another defining feature of the Victorian era. The era saw the development of the steam engine, which transformed transportation and industry, as well as the telegraph, which revolutionized communication (Shepherd 4). The era was also marked by significant advances in medicine, with the development of anesthesia and antiseptics leading to major breakthroughs in surgery and patient care (Shepherd 5). The Victorian era was also a time of significant social progress. The era saw the abolition of slavery, the expansion of the right to vote, and the emergence of the feminist movement, which sought to challenge gender roles and fight for greater rights and representation for women. The era also saw the growth of philanthropy and social welfare as people sought to address the social problems that had arisen as a result of industrialization and urbanization (Shepherd 6). However, towards the end of the 19th century, the Victorian era began to decline, ushering in a new era of social, political, and economic change (Shepherd 7). The decline of the Victorian era was influenced by technological advancement, a decline in British imperial power and social unrest.
Technological advancements played a crucial role in the decline of the Victorian era, as new inventions and innovations fundamentally transformed society and challenged traditional ways of life. According to Ploeger, the Industrial Revolution had already brought about significant changes in British society, but the latter part of the 19th century saw even more rapid technological advances that led to a period of rapid social and cultural change (3). One of the most significant technological advancements of the period was the telegraph, which revolutionized communication by allowing messages to be sent instantly over long distances; This had a profound impact on society, as it allowed businesses to communicate more efficiently and effectively and facilitated the growth of the global economy (Ploeger 3). The telegraph also allowed news to be disseminated quickly and easily, leading to a new era of journalism and mass media. The telephone was another game-changing invention of the late 19th century. Like the telegraph, it transformed communication by allowing people to talk to each other over long distances. The telephone allowed businesses to communicate even more efficiently, and it also profoundly impacted social life, as it made it easier for people to stay in touch with each other regardless of their location (Ploeger 4). The rise of new technologies like the telegraph, telephone, and electric lighting challenged traditional ways of life and disrupted established social norms. They created new opportunities for businesses and individuals and new problems and challenges. For example, the growth of the telegraph and telephone industries led to concerns about privacy and the potential for government surveillance, while the spread of electric lighting led to worries about light pollution and its impact on the natural environment (Ploeger 4). Thus, technological advancements played a crucial role in the decline of the Victorian era, as new inventions and innovations fundamentally transformed society and challenged traditional ways of life.
A decline in British imperial power marked the decline of the Victorian era as other European powers, and the United States began challenging Britain’s dominance on the world stage. According to Parsons, while Britain was still a major global power in the late 19th century, it faced increasing competition from other nations and a series of challenges that undermined its imperial authority (4). One of the major challenges to British imperial power came from economic competition. Other nations, particularly the United States and Germany, began to develop their industries and economies, challenging Britain’s traditional dominance in these areas; This led to a decline in Britain’s economic power as other nations could produce goods more cheaply and efficiently (Parsons 5). The Boer War in South Africa began in 1899 and was another major challenge to British imperial power. The war was costly and controversial, and it highlighted the fact that Britain’s military technology was no longer superior to that of its rivals. The Boer War also increased anti-imperial sentiment in Britain, as many people questioned the morality and necessity of the war. Also, the Decline of British imperial power was driven by changing attitudes and values within British society (Parsons 5). The Victorian era was characterized by a belief in British superiority and a duty to civilize and modernize the world. However, by the end of the 19th century, these attitudes were being challenged by a growing awareness of the injustices and inequalities of imperialism; This led to a decline in public support for imperial policies and undermined the legitimacy of British imperial power (Parsons 7). Thus, the decline of the Victorian era was marked by a decline in British imperial power as other European powers and the United States began to challenge Britain’s dominance on the world stage.
The decline of the Victorian era was particularly marked by social unrest, as people challenged the established order and demanded change. According to Kumar, one of the major causes of social unrest in the Victorian era was economic inequality. While the era was marked by significant economic growth and industrialization, this growth was not shared equally among all members of society (2). The working classes, in particular, faced harsh living and working conditions, low wages, and limited opportunities for upward mobility; This led to a growing sense of discontent among the working classes, which erupted into a series of strikes and protests in the late 19th century (Kumar 2). Another major cause of social unrest in the Victorian era was political disenfranchisement. For much of the era, only a small portion of the population was allowed to vote, and even among those who could vote, there were significant restrictions on their ability to participate in the political process; This led to a growing demand for greater political representation, particularly among women and working-class men (Kumar 3). The decline of the Victorian era was also marked by growing social movements and cultural changes that challenged traditional norms and values. Thus, while the Victorian era was often associated with stability and prosperity, it was also marked by social unrest as marginalized groups agitated for greater rights and representation.
In conclusion, the decline of the Victorian era was a complex and multifaceted process marked by various social, economic, and cultural changes. While some factors, such as technological advancement and shifting geopolitical power dynamics, played a significant role in the era’s decline, it is also essential to recognize the social and political unrest that characterized the era’s later years. Marginalized groups agitated for greater rights and representation, cultural norms were challenged, and social crises highlighted Victorian society’s deep-seated problems and inequalities. However, the Victorian era was also a time of significant achievements and innovations, from technological progress to social welfare and philanthropy, and these legacies continue to shape British society today. Ultimately, the decline of the Victorian era paved the way for significant social and political changes in the 20th century, and its lessons continue to resonate in the modern era.
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Kumar, Tribhuwan. “Representation of Victorian society in the poetry of Mary Howitt.” Utopia y Praxis Latino Americana 25.12 (2020): 215-221.
Parsons, Timothy H. The British imperial century, 1815–1914: A world history perspective. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.
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