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The British Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death, on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, "refined sensibilities" and national self-confidence for Britain.
Historians have characterized the mid-Victorian era, (1850–1870) as Britain's 'Golden Years.' There was prosperity, as the national income per person grew by half. Much of the prosperity was due to the increasing industrialization, especially in textiles and machinery, as well as to the worldwide network of trade and engineering that produced profits for British merchants, and exports from across the globe.
Industrialization brought with it a rapidly growing middle class whose increase in numbers had a significant effect on the social strata itself: cultural norms, lifestyle, values and morality. Identifiable characteristics came to define the middle class home and lifestyle. Previously, in town and city, residential space was adjacent to or incorporated into the work site, virtually occupying the same geographical space. As Kate Summerscale (2009) noted, "The English home closed up and darkened over the decade (1850s), the cult of domesticity matched by a cult of privacy." Bourgeois existence was a world of interior space, heavily curtained off and wary of intrusion, and opened only by invitation for viewing on occasions such as parties or teas.
While in the preceding Romantic period poetry had been the dominant genre, it was the novel that was most important in the Victorian period. Charles Dickens (1812–1870) dominated the first part of Victoria's reign: his first novel, Pickwick Papers, was published in 1836, and his last Our Mutual Friend between 1864–5. Other famous novelist include William Thackeray (1811–1863), the three Brontë sisters, Charlotte (1816–55), Emily (1818–48) and Anne (1820–49), George Eliot (1819–80) and Thomas Hardy (1840–1928).
Robert Browning (1812–89) and Alfred Tennyson (1809–92) were Victorian England's most famous poets, though more recent taste has tended to prefer the poetry of Thomas Hardy. Early poetry of W. B. Yeats was also published in Victoria's reign.
With regard to the theater, it was not until the last decades of the nineteenth century that any significant works were produced. This began with Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas during the 1870s. In the 1890s various plays of George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) were published. Finally, Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) wrote The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895.
Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr. Wicher, (2009) pp 109-10, citing A. Wohl, The Victorian Family: Structure and Stresses (Palgrave Macmillan, 1978)
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