Above all things, let no unwary reader do me the injustice of believing in me.
This book makes no claim either to be comprehensive or to be based on original research. It is a general introduction to various aspects of the Victorian age, written, as far as possible, on the basis of some of the more recently-published professional works on the period.
Whether they have studied the Victorian age at school or not, most people have some knowledge of it. School studies tend to concentrate either on the political activities of Peel, Palmerston, Disraeli and Gladstone and the failure of the Chartists, and rarely extend beyond 1885; or they concentrate heavily on the horrors of the factory system and the inadequacies of public health and hygiene. Among some adults, Victorianism is synonymous with the exploitation of the working class and the evils (or, increasingly of late, the absurdities) of Imperialism. Others see it mainly as a period of religious hypocrisy and cruelty to children. Over against these, others, believing what journalists tell them about the ‘decline’ of the British in the twentieth century and their failure to find a ‘rôle’ for themselves, see the Victorians, by contrast, as admirably full of bounce, bustle and achievement. Yet others see the period through a nostalgic haze as being cosily quaint, so that Victoriana of all sorts, dismissed as hideous by Edwardians and Georgians, become fashionable curiosities and receive the earnest attention of conservationists. Its machines, once seen as symbols of the enslavement of the masses, acquire aesthetic value; and