The Foundations of Daily Life: Class, Tradition, and Money
The quality of daily life for people in Victorian England rested on an underlying structure determined by social class and shaped by traditional ways of life in country, town, and city. English society in the nineteenth century was still highly stratified, although some of the former class distinctions were beginning to blur by the end of the period.
The concept of class is sometimes difficult to understand. In Victorian England it did not depend on the amount of money people had--although it did rest partly on the source of their income, as well as on birth and family connections. Most people understood and accepted their place in the class hierarchy. When the railroads designated different cars for "first class," "second class," and "third class," passengers knew where they were expected to ride. Even if a working man had just won a lot of money on the races and could afford an expensive ticket, he would not dream of riding home in the first-class car. Class was revealed in manners, speech, clothing, education, and values. The classes lived in separate areas and observed different social customs in everything from religion to courtship to the names and hours of their meals. In addition, Victorians believed that each class had its own standards; and people were expected to conform to the rules for their class. It was wrong, people thought, to behave like someone from a class above--or below-- one's own.
In the strictest legal sense, England had only two classes: aristocrats