20th June, 1837. The Birth of an Era: Victorian Britain
On Tuesday, 20th June 1837, at 6 o’clock in the morning, Princess Victoria was awoken by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, because the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain wished to see her. She greeted them in her dressing-gown and slippers, and they informed her that her Uncle, King William IV had died a few hours earlier, without any legitimate heirs, therefore, she was to become the Queen of England.
She wrote in her diary:
‘Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure that very few have more real good-will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.’
Queen Victoria was an avid diarist. You can read more extracts from her diaries, here.
The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne arrived at nine o’clock with the Declaration which the young Queen was to read to the Council accompanied by her two Uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex. Her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey a year later on 28 June 1838.
When Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, in London, on 24 May 1819, nobody would have imagined she would be Queen of England, and Empress of India. She was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III, who died shortly after her birth. She became heir to the throne because her three uncles, who were ahead of her in succession, George IV, Frederick Duke of York, and William IV, had no legitimate children.
Industrial and Technological Expansion
Queen Victoria is associated with Britain’s great age of industrial expansion, economic progress and, especially, Empire. At her death, it was said, Britain had a worldwide empire on which the sun never set.
While Queen Victoria’s reign was a time of great material prosperity and economic growth, industrialization and urbanization brought new social difficulties. Urban poverty and the poor treatment of many in the working classes were major results of the newly capitalized and industrialized economy, and political pressures mounted throughout the nineteenth century to address such problems before they amounted to a great crisis.
The Victorian Era was also a time of tremendous scientific progress and ideas. Darwin took his Voyage of the Beagle, and posited the Theory of Evolution. The Great Exhibition of 1851 took place in London, displaying technical and industrial advances of the age in medicine, science and technology.
Modern psychiatry began with men like Sigmund Feud toward the end of the era, and radical economic theory, developed by Karl Marx and his associates, began a second age of revolution in mid-century. The ideas of Marxism, socialism, feminism gained strength at this time.
Britain’s overseas trading surpassed that of Italy, France and Germany combined, and in 1870 it was nearly four times the size of the American overseas markets, and at home industry was flourishing.
Britain was called “the workshop of the world.” The hard-working and industrious Victorians represented the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution: the railway, the postal service, telegraph, telephone, steam ships, spinning machines; steam engines, electricity, photography, antiseptic surgery, vaccines, stethoscope, among others.
Reading and Writing in the Victorian Era
In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, reading had been a privilege available to the upper-class elite. Books were very expensive and most of the population were unable to afford them. Jane Austen’s England of the turn of the century had very little to do with the country in which Charles Dickens lived.
In the 1830s and 1840s a new form of printed text emerged: a lengthy prose fiction serialised in one-penny or two-penny weekly parts. These were usually stories involving adventure or Gothic-like elements. Many had no planned, pre-written end; they just continued until the public were no longer interested in the story. Some penny weekly novels in the 1850s and 1860s were serialized over four or more years.
Reading became less of a privilege of the wealthy and more of a pastime of the common British citizen, as a result, magazines provided monthly installments of news articles, satiric essays, poetry and fiction, enabling many authors to easily share their work with the public, and helped launch the careers of prominent Victorian writers such as Dickens, Eliot, Tennyson, and the Brownings.
Have a look at this list of Victorian authors
I would compare these technological advances and this change in literary market to the present day digital technology, self-publishing industry and Social media.
The Victorians were avid readers of serialized and popular fiction, much as we are readers of ebooks and blogs!
Pictures used are in the Public Domain.