Random Facts About the Victorian Era

A lot of students seem to be using this post for research, therefore I thought I should probably quote my sources. Almost all of the facts come from Sally Mitchell’s great book “Daily Life in Victorian England,” which is mainly used as a resource guide for historical writers and readers. It just so happens to be much more interesting than many of the “great” academic books I’ve read on deconstructing the Victorian Era. You really can learn so much about a people based on the simple facts of their lives.

1 “Going to university” meant either going to Cambridge or Oxford. There, one did not attend classes; they simply had a tutor come a few hours a week, and attended a few lectures. One was not even necessarily expected to graduate with a degree; it was mainly a place where the wealthy youth could go and meet other wealthy youth to get connections for when they were older.

2 One regular crime committed in the era was the abduction of children for their clothes. Well-dressed youth would be captured, stripped, and left running home in their underwear. This was one of the reasons chaperones were often employed.

3 If a single man called another single woman by her first name, it implied engagement. If you have seen the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensability, there is a part where befuddled Hugh Grant befuddledly calls Ms. Dashwood “Elanor,” and says he’d like to ask her a question. By calling her her first name, Elanor knows exactly what the question will be-alas, he doesn’t get to finish. If you haven’t seen Emma Thompson’s version of Sense and Sensibility, buy it now on amazon.com.

4 Whist is like Spades, except not as exciting.

5 The “delicate” lady’s place in fashion probably lead in many ways to the Victorian woman’s high death rate. As a healthy appetite, labor, exercise, and spending a lot of time outdoors was considered manly, women didn’t eat a lot, hardly ever got good exercise, and spent a lot of time indoors, where the air was stagnant and germs ran amok. The working men got the best food and meat, and the women in the family looked after the sick, who coughed in their faces all day. Many of the middle and upper class women suffered from “Green Sickness”, which describes the skin of an anemic person. This was due to the lack of iron in people’s foods.

6 Tuberculosis (the chronic pulmonary type was called “consumption”) was the main killer of the 19th century. It accounted for half of the deaths of women from age 15 to 35; more than the dangers of childbirth.

7 Until the 1890s, when microscopes proved diseases existed, most learned people believed that bad odors caused sickness.

8 Rugby was invented because the prep schools (like the one called Rugby) had added their own rules to the game of football (soccer), such as picking up the ball and punching each other. The next time that stereotypical Southern good-old-boy football fans talk about the British being dandies, remind them that the British version of football has less penalties and only sweaters for padding.

9 For the entire century, London smelled like soot and horse poo. (There is no London Fog, either; that’s apparently a crack about all the smoke from industrial period). If you have been there recently, this might make you think better of the foul smell that comes to you right before the Tube train. Your boogers, however, will still be black. They haven’t fixed that yet.

10 Port, to the Victorians, was the masculine drink, and sherry the feminine drink.

11 In Victorian England, class did not depend on money– a working man who just won a small fortune of money at the horse tracks, and could afford a “first class” ticket on the train home, wouldn’t dream of it, knowing what class he was in. A middle class person who was broke was still middle-class. Family connections, where you were born and lived, these were more important than the money aspect. People were expected to live the way their classes dictated, and acting either above or below your class was considered wrong by people in all classes.

12 The term “Esquire” was used not by lawers, but by men aspiring to be gentlemen and the landed gentry. The “esquire” supposedly comes from the word “squire,” the apprentice to a Knight.


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