The middle classes

Throughout the course of the 19th century, the middle classes expanded rapidly. Those moving up the social scale had to learn new modes of behaviour and ways of life. How was this sector of society reflected in the literature of the period, and how were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored?
The middle classes: etiquette and upward mobility

The middle classes: etiquette and upward mobility

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes

Professor Kathryn Hughes describes how the expansion of the middle classes in the 19th century led to a new emphasis on upward mobility, etiquette and conspicuous consumption.

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Victorian Christmas

Victorian Christmas

Article by:
Judith Flanders

Judith Flanders describes how many of our own Christmas traditions – from trees and crackers to cards and carols – have their origins in 19th-century industrial and commercial interests.

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Suburbia

Suburbia

Article by:
Matthew Taunton

Dr Matthew Taunton takes us through 19th-century suburbia, showing how aspirations to respectability led the Victorian lower-middle class away from political involvement. The homogeneity and apathy of the suburbs provided rich satire for writers, as well as a setting for dystopian and science fiction.

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Mrs Beeton and the art of household management

Mrs Beeton and the art of household management

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes

Professor Kathryn Hughes explains how Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management helped middle-class urban women run their households and navigate married life.

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The rise of consumerism

The rise of consumerism

Article by:
Matthew White

With increasing variety in clothes, food and household items, shopping became an important cultural activity in the 18th century. Dr Matthew White describes buying and selling during the period, and explains the connection between many luxury goods and slave plantations in South America and the Caribbean.

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Further themes

Romanticism

What inspired the iconic poetry of the Romantic period?

The Gothic

What characterises Gothic literature and what does it reveal about the periods in which it was written?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

The novel 1780-1832

From Georgian gentry to Gothic horror, what characterised the literature of this period?

The novel 1832 - 1880

How did the iconic writers of this period experiment with fantasy, sensationalism, realism and social commentary?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Popular culture

From music hall to pleasure gardens, explore the extraordinary range of entertainments on offer in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

Poverty and the working classes

How did Victorian writers respond to the shocking inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence the literature people read?

Technology and science

How did 19th century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

Visions of the future

How did the 19th-century literature reflect contemporary fears of social, political and technological change?

Gender and sexuality

How were gender roles embedded in the literature of the period and were they ever subverted?