True, much of this giving came with strings. Most Victorian charities were aimed at those sections of the working classes disposed towards helping themselves. Its overall impact, however, should not be underestimated.
Victorians, it seemed,simply could not understand why anyone would voluntarily choose toparticipate in such revolting and degrading activities.
Life expectancy at birth, in the high 30s in 1837, had crept up to 48 by 1901. One of the great scourges of the age - tuberculosis - remained unconquered, claiming between 60,000 and 70,000 lives in each decade of Victoria's reign.
The Victorian era saw considerable expenditure on monuments to civic pride. The competitive ethic which drove so much business enterprise was channelled by local worthies into spending on opulent town halls and other civic buildings.
Death rates in Britain as a whole remained obstinately above 20 per thousand until the 1880s and only dropped to 17 by the end of Victoria's reign.
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The historian Asa Briggs refers to the following period of the Victorian era as "The Age of Improvement. This was also a period in which industry, technology, and science were celebrated with renewed vigor.
Such a biased idea was one of many doublestandards in Victorian society, which demanded unquestionablecompliance from women and none from men, since the women were thoughtto be controlled by their sexuality and were thus in need of regulation.
One Victorian malecontemporary writing in a letter to a friend described the perfect wifeas nothing more than an extension of his household surroundings: “ofcourse at a certain age, when you have a house and so on, you get awife as part of its furniture” (Kent 91).
In reality women held animportant position as wives since they took care of the household, anyservants, helped with their husband’s work, and managed the finances,however from the male’s point of view, women were nothing more thanoverly emotional and mindless creatures ruled by their sexuality, orsimply “the Sex” (Vickery 389).
The 19th century did not pass away peacefully.Â The machine had come to so dominate European society that the men of the age could not do anything but unleash it on less technological societies.Â However, this was a false bravado, like Kaiser Wilhelm II, who for all his military bluster and naval construction, panicked when he realized the inevitability of mobilization.Â Glorifying the nation was the only way to absolve the machine of the ills it had wrought.Â For all the social anarchy of the age, men sought to redefine the lines of control, to delineate themselves from women, the lower classes, and savages and set the rules for an orderly society of their own making.Â The arrogance of this generation would lead to debacles like Passchendaele and the Somme, as millions of lives were sacrificed at the altar of modernity.
During the Victorian era, Britain could claim to be the world's superpower, despite social inequality at home and burgeoning industrial rivals overseas. How did it happen?
Rebellions and war in the colonial territories made the public increasingly more aware of the costs of empire. Various events challenged the sense of England's endless prosperity as a world power, such as the emergence of Bismarck's Germany and its threats to English naval and military positions and the expansion of the American grain industry, driving down the price of English grain. Socialist movements grew out of this discontentment, as well as a melancholy spirit in the writing of the end of the century. Oscar Wilde's making a pun of "earnest," a typical and sincerely used mid-Victorian word, is typical of a dying Victorianism.
'When Britain really ruled the waves, in good Queen Bess's time' was the assessment of the late Victorian age's leading satirist, WS Gilbert. (He put these words into the mouth of a spoof peer of the realm in the comic opera 'Iolanthe', which he wrote with Arthur Sullivan in 1882.)