The Rebellion Against Victorianism
The 1890's was in time for transformation for the English
society. After Queen Victoria died the heart of the
Victorian culture seemed to fade. England was beginning to
experience economic competition from other states and a
gradual decline from its former pinnacle of power.
Politically, the Parliament experienced some fundamental
power shifts after the turn of the century. This essay will
address the climate of change in the English culture and
its expressions. The changes occurred in two separate and
distinct time periods. These time periods are the turn of
the century from 1890's to World War II. The second period
is WWII to 1970's.
The new century brought about an end to the old and stuffy
Victorian life-styles. The social stigmas of women and
their behavior was challenged and change by the rise of
feminism in 1910. Women began to protest against the system
for women 's suffrage. One instance these "violent women"
ran around in the city smashing store windows to get
notoriety for their cause. Books such as the Odd Women,
featured a fictional representation of "professional
women". They were classified in two categories, both an
attack on the social institution of marriage. The first of
these new women were out only for fun. The second was the
concept of an asexual being who did not need a man. These
women owned their own flats and had various jobs usually
secretarial in nature.. The book expressed an uncomfortable
period of transformation. Working women were not completely
accepted by English society at this time. The book
portrayed different lives and how they coped with their
The male character was also in a state of change. This
change brought about the term "new men". These new men were
classified by a "sexual anarchy". This movement was
predominantly a middle class, liberal expression. Many were
young male artisans who were homosexual . The word
homosexuality was created by an amendment to criminal law
which had declared all acts of sodomy as illegal. Previous
to this amendment the act of homosexuality was punishable
by hanging. Doctors and scientist had seen homosexuality as
a disease, thus the need developed for a "cure". Sexuality
became all inclusive.
There was a large aesthetic movement which was also
inherent in this "new" culture. This movement classified
art as being done for art's sake. Art was now being viewed
as separate from society. This meant that art could be a
personal expression rather than a group think project.
These attributes coined the term the "Decadent Movement".
The England was experiencing tremendous growth in its
economy and political change during this time. However,
this growth was also shared by to other rival countries,
Germany and the United States. England had a fear of the
massive economic strength of the United States. England, at
the turn of the century, was no longer the international
hegemon it was a decade previous. This caused the English
look introspectly at itself.
The political change occurred inside of the Parliament. The
conservative House of Lords began vetoing new liberal
budget proposals. Both the Prime Minister and the House of
Commons were liberal in their political affiliation. The
vetoing created a deadlock in the government. The Prime
Minister and the House of Commons proposed a referendum
which would nullify the House of Lords power of veto over
the budgetary matters. This was presented to the House of
Lords with an ultimatum. If the referendum was not passed
the House of Lords would be flooded with liberal Middle
class citizens. The referendum was then passed and the
deadlock broken. This shift of power was crucial in the
infrastructure of the political system of England.
World War I left a tremendous impression of reality on the
English. Their confidence was compromised due to the
ineffectiveness in combat and their dependence of United
States aid for victory. This is the true end of all of the
glory held by the British Empire. The English were left
with a tremendous national debt totalling at $7 billion
dollars. England would never be a hegemon in the
international community again.
World War II brought a feeling of unity back to England.
"The Battle for Britain" with the inspirational radio
speeches of Winston Churchill inspired national pride to
the British. The period of decline enhanced by WW I, a
large debt and the Great Depression had traumatic effects
on the English psyche. The civilian bombing planned by
Hitler tried to enhance this feeling of despair. However,
it accomplish the exact opposite. The children of England
were sent to the country side. These children were
predominantly working class children. When the upper class
saw the state that these children where in the showed pity
and concern. Other factors which brought the populace
together was a consolidation of national opinion, full
employment and the previous mentioned speeches of Churchill.
Thus, it can be seen that the period of 1890's to the end
of World War II marked the end of Victorianism. This end
was achieved by both internal and external factors.
Internal institutions of Victorianism in cultural and
social structures were slowly eroded by sexual identity.
The concept of "The New Woman and New Men" challenged
traditional values inherent to the Victorian class
Structures and morality. The event of the two wars brought
the external reality of Britain's role in the international
community home. Both English dominance and hegemonic
imperialism were curbed and set into perspective during
this time period.