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Author Topic: Some questions about Victorian Britain  (Read 259 times)

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Offline BeorningTopic starter

Some questions about Victorian Britain
« on: January 04, 2015, 01:13:10 PM »
I'm trying to do a bit of research for a possible RP involving Victorian Britain and I have a few questions... Maybe you could help me out?

The most important question is: what do you think was the attitude toward women's education in Britain around 1890s? Let's say we have a middle-class or upper-class family... would such a family be willing to let the daughter study at, say, Girton just for the sake of her having a higher education? Or would they be rather of the mindset that they were going to get their daughter a good marriage, so she wouldn't need any higher education? In other words: what kind of women got higher education in that era? Were this only the women that wanted to have a career - or was it actually expected from, say, upper-class women to be well-educated?

Also, I'm wondering about people from the upper class: who were they, exactly? I know that some of them were aristocrats - but who else? Were successful lawyers, doctors or scholars considered upper class?

Another question about the upper class - I know that some of the aristocrats held titles, like "Lord X" etc. But only one person in the family could be such "Lord X" at a given time, right? So, let's say the oldest son in the family currently holds the title. What about his younger brother - is this brother called "sir", too, or not? Is the younger brother's wife called "lady" or not?

Finally, when did the upper-class people live, exactly? Did they live in mansions in the country, or did they rather own houses in the cities? What about middle-class families? Did they own houses - or were they rather renting rooms etc.?

A lot of disjointed questions, I know, but I've stumbled into all these details when working on a story...

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Re: Some questions about Victorian Britain
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2015, 01:28:40 PM »
It was a general mindset that women should be educated. To what extent and such, depended on the woman and the family. Although rather than sending women to boarding schools, they would have private tutors and at that time women were not admitted to universities. Their purpose in life still was to marry and bear children (and run their husband's household).

It is my understanding that upper class = the nobility. Doctors, scholars (and shopkeepers and such) were considered middle class, although held in high regards.

In peerage you have to distinguish Life Peers from Hereditary Peers. Life peers only had one title and it was granted to them until their death. Hereditary peers didn't usually have only one title. The higher in the peerage, the more titles one had. His heir apparent assumed one of his lower titles that Lord X does not frequently use or is not known as. For example, if Lord X is known as Marquess of X, then his son would use the title of Earl of Y and his son (if applicable) would use Viscount of Z.

Brothers and sisters, even though they didn't hold titles, were still Nobility and would be addressed as Lord / Lady.

Upper class lived everywhere. Usually they had a house in London and then a holding (several) in the country, because there were the lands and subjects that belonged to their titles. Middle class families is a very broad term. Some had wealth enough to own more than the upper class, some were just scraping by. They could own multiple houses or they could just rent.

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Re: Some questions about Victorian Britain
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2015, 04:21:35 PM »
I found a great resource for all things Victorian that can be of some help, I hope.

http://www.literary-liaisons.com/articleshome.html

Namely an article on Titles and Forms of Address could shed light on one of your questions.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Some questions about Victorian Britain
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2015, 05:49:24 PM »
Oooh, thank you :) That should most helpful indeed!

Offline consortium11

Re: Some questions about Victorian Britain
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2015, 06:17:43 AM »
I'm trying to do a bit of research for a possible RP involving Victorian Britain and I have a few questions... Maybe you could help me out?

The most important question is: what do you think was the attitude toward women's education in Britain around 1890s? Let's say we have a middle-class or upper-class family... would such a family be willing to let the daughter study at, say, Girton just for the sake of her having a higher education? Or would they be rather of the mindset that they were going to get their daughter a good marriage, so she wouldn't need any higher education? In other words: what kind of women got higher education in that era? Were this only the women that wanted to have a career - or was it actually expected from, say, upper-class women to be well-educated?

It would be expected that a middle-class or upper-class daughter would be well-educated... but there was still a fairly severe divide in what she was likely to be educated in. As a general rule it was considered "proper" for a woman to be educated in things that either made her be able to hold interesting conversations (such as English, geography, French, certain history etc etc) or things that would make her a good wife (and generally related to keeping a home in order). That said the 1890's were a time when this division was starting to be broken down and things were in flux... with more and more women's colleges offering an education equivalent to boys and the 1870's having brought a number of trailblazers who had kicked in the doors to the establishment it was no longer unheard of for women to study and learn formerly "boys only" topics (laws, medicine, science etc etc).

Also, I'm wondering about people from the upper class: who were they, exactly? I know that some of them were aristocrats - but who else? Were successful lawyers, doctors or scholars considered upper class?

It's actually hard to say.

The strict class system had been breaking down pretty much since the late middle-ages and the Industrial Revolution (and second Industrial Revolution) was one of the biggest attacks on it. Land owners and factory owners had gathered a great deal of wealth; in many cases more than the traditional "upper class" aristocrats and there are more than enough examples of impoverished nobility selling their country estates and townhouses to these "nouveau riche". But was that enough for them to be considered "upper class"? Is wealth alone ever enough to be considered "upper class"? Even when many of these rich people bought titles, was that enough to make them "upper class" or did their more humble backgrounds preclude that? The issue is little different to today... is someone like Mark Zuckerberg who started from a fairly middle-class background but is now one of the wealthiest people on the planet "upper class"? How about Fred Goodwin... working class background, first in his family to go to university but, before his disgrace, was a knight and one of the most senior banking figures in the UK.

My suspicion is that rather like today there's no clear definition of "upper class" and people make their own interpretation of whether someone is or isn't. I also suspect that divide is largely class-based as well; the working class people would see those with new money as upper class, the "traditional" upper class would see them as middle-class people who had got lucky and lacked their breeding.

With lawyers, doctors and scholars, as professions themselves these were all seen as middle-class regardless of how successful one was. So if someone was already upper-class and went into those professions they'd still be upper class but a successful lawyer wouldn't become upper-class if he didn't have the background.

Another question about the upper class - I know that some of the aristocrats held titles, like "Lord X" etc. But only one person in the family could be such "Lord X" at a given time, right? So, let's say the oldest son in the family currently holds the title. What about his younger brother - is this brother called "sir", too, or not? Is the younger brother's wife called "lady" or not?

"Lord" is largely a generic term to say someone is a peer (duke, marquess or marquis, earl, viscount, and baron), with barons generally being the only ones to use it as a title rather than "baron" itself. The children of a peer can use what is known as a courtesy title which generally take one of four forms:

1) If the father has multiple titles the eldest son can take one of the lesser ones. So if the father is the "Duke of X" and the "Earl of Y", the eldest son could style himself the "Earl of Y" even though the father held the title.

2) The sons of dukes and marquesses who didn't have a courtesy peerage as described above (either because the father lacked additional titles or because they were not the eldest son) could be called a "Lord" and their wife would be called a "Lady" but this title was not passed down to their children.

3) The younger sons of earls and all children (including daughters) of a viscount or baron can use "The Honorable" as a title (i.e. "The Honorable Generic Name"). This is only used when describing someone in the third person however or introducing them; it is not used when one talks directly to them. Again, it is not passed down. Wives would share their husband's title but a husband would not.

4) The daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls can be referred to as "Lady". This is not inheritable and their husband gains no courtesy title for marrying them.

"Sir" is used in two senses; one is much as today when we use it colloquially to refer to someone more senior than us or if we're trying to be polite. In the formal title sense (i.e. S="Sir Generic") it would only apply if the person had been knighted or if they were a baronet (a hereditary title but not a peer). Note that a baronet is always referred to as "Sir"; they cannot call themselves a baron. The wife of a baronet was formerly titled "dame" but frequently referred to as "lady". Children of a Baronet have no courtesy title.

Finally, when did the upper-class people live, exactly? Did they live in mansions in the country, or did they rather own houses in the cities? What about middle-class families? Did they own houses - or were they rather renting rooms etc.?

Upper class people; both, normally depending on circumstances. The richest would have both a large country home/estate and a townhouse (possibly more than one) in the city while those with less money would generally have one or the other; the normal tendency was to try to keep the family estate and then rent/make do/not bother with a place in town.

Others: Unless a house was inherited, frequently rent. To own a home was probably the reserve of the upper middle-class and landlords; even fairly well off middle-class people tended to rent.