Victorian print advertisements reveal an important cultural pattern. As the hall of commerce infiltrated the very heart of the home, Victorians with increasing fervor in the late nineteenth century gravitated toward a commercial ideal of "self-illusory hedonism." But, intriguingly, advertisers set materialism within the context of pastoral romanticism, classical culture, and evangelical conversion. It is significant that each of these contexts had egalitarian connotations.
The advertisement blended the requirements of the new and improved products of the industrial age, the desires, needs, and fantasies of a feminine market and the informed opinions, social perceptions, and gender perspective of male creators. The goods sold in the Victorian advertisement were necessarily, as a result of mass production, increasingly brand differentiated, increasingly luxurious. Female consumers, in a society, which was constantly in flux and which designated for women a central role as definers and enhancers of status, sought an image of themselves as they would like to be, a projection of some aspect of their ideal selves. Advertising agents, even unconsciously, imposed their own perceptions of society and of women. Implicitly, this confluence of industrial product, female consumers, and male agents crystallized an important Victorian vision of the good life.
The advertisement defined four ideals--the ideal setting, the ideal activity, the ideal human nature, and the ideal society--that philosophers contend are the essential elements of the good life. 1 Each was hedonistic. Advertisements celebrated an artificial environment delineated by a com